Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Artist You Never Heard Of… Learned How To Program

So I wrote an article for the IGDA Perspectives Newsletter...

Well I guess I can start by saying when it comes to walking down a sidewalk with more than one hat on, things can generally get a little heavy and unsociable. So this doesn’t change when we’re talking about jobs in the game industry. The world is getting over it, but like many businesses… we have no idea how much money, work, and talent is needed to create a project and distribute it to an audience. When you tell your neighbor, cab driver, or train stranger that you make games, you then have to explain to them that you didn’t make Halo, or at least not by yourself. Not only are bigger games a team project but a studio production. We’ve all gotten the “You should make a game like Call of Duty, but better…”, when you just explained that you do pixel art. However a lot of how the world sees us is why we’re such a close family. All we are are a group of out casted nerds that share similar skills and a want to birth our own creations. The majority of the industry moved from other fields and shared a talent and a like for games. Today this is probably more different than similar in video, because of the difference in industry age. However the same rules can apply because we depend on each other in the same way. An artist can learn to do illustrations and rendering techniques specific for games to help a team out. Or your programmer might find it easier to learn by programming in a game engine instead of coding outside of one.  We all have our reasons to have the coolest jobs in history, but do we all really really need each other?

When you see Epic is looking for a Game Programmer, Ubisoft hired 3 new Artists, or Nintendo is changing their Lead Designer, one can ask what do these titles mean to us. Why do we only judge them by what they can do under a title, verses who they are and everything they can bring to a game. The fact is that the more a studio (or its game) becomes more of a business, the bigger the studio has to get. The bigger a studio gets, the more hats are required. And the more hats that are required, the lesser one person actually does for the game. This is one of the causes of the grey line and back and forth between staying Indie and becoming a AAA studio. Delegating responsibility, time management, the art pipeline, programming the
engine, programming the game, marketing and relations of the team, these are all things that can’t be over looked. Of course a bigger studio still has a building full of talented people, but this topic is more subjective to indie development because of its freedom. The idea that “this HAS to be done, so I should learn how to do it” is applied more. I know what you’re thinking, when dealing with salaries and human beings, it’s incredibly important for people to establish rules and lanes that they should stay in… which can’t be overstated. We all know that working outside of titles can be dangerous to teams, resulting in not making it passed preproduction. A programmer might decide to do half of the artists’ job through script, or an artist might redesign the gameplay with just a change in the level. However when you’re a group of friends with a gaming idea, Unity 3d, and internet access, you’re focus is making something cool not assigning titles. When teams are able to communicate, pull their own weight, and keep the goal in mind, even teams of 4 or less can wear all hats comfortably.

                Even in college, my personal experiences taught me that groups and team projects are fictional creatures of the populous that can never be tamed and those that tried… were driven crazy. It’s always been easier for me to work on my own, mainly because I wasn’t counting on someone that could eventually leave. I’ve been on a lot of teams that ended up failing because the lack of team work, schedules conflicting, programmer losing interest, and disagreement about direction. So once it dawned on me that I was able to program, I decided I would focus on my own games, unless I was getting paid to work on a project. Because unless you guys are best friends/family, have no other obligation and won’t for years, or getting paid, it’s hard for a group of people to devote their time and skill towards the development process from beginning to end. That’s just life #TrueStoryBro... It happens and it’s okay, but understanding this I decided to be by myself until I can afford some help. That’s at least how most Indies do it. Developers grow once their game can generate some money, or at least a publisher. The downside is you just run into all the issues of doing EVERYTHING yourself. The more hats, the heavier the pressure, and the more reclusive you have to become to achieve the same goal. This is a double edge sword because you need to talk and market to people to learn what you need to finish the game and sell it. So I’ve been having my artsy, creative side struggle with my programming, logistical side. Not everyone can do both, but finding a balance along the pipeline process is key for those that can. Even having one partner means my game would have twice the brain power, two times the amount of ideas and contacts, and twice the amount of work getting done. It can definitely be overwhelming and sometimes depressing by yourself. Being only one incredibly attractive yet talented individual, I feel like I can only either focus on finishing my game, or focus on talking about it. Now that I’m writing it all down, I’m thinking this really sucks lol… But I wouldn’t change it for anything.

                Part of the reason why bigger studios give Indies so much respect is because they were able to overcome all of this and produce something that was exactly what they envisioned without caring about the return. Also one unlocks the achievement of being a Badass, assuming the title of Indie Rockstar. If a guy named Notch could quit his company to work on his own games. Then generate enough money from a prototype to make his friends quit their jobs and start a studio. Then become millionaires BEFORE the game’s release. Then anyone can be inspired to turn an idea into a success. The message wouldn’t be “making a game all by yourself”. The message would be to work on something personal until it’s personal for your friends, then until it’s personal for the world. At the same time however, that “making a game all by yourself” is labeled on the Rockstar or face of your game, which some will love or grow to hate. Especially if the publicity is all negative in spite of the truths, it can totally distract from the game itself. Of course I’m talking about Phil Fish and his game Fez. It’s his creation, but he wasn’t the only one working on the game. And despite how awesome of a concept Fez was and is, the face of it was an internet fueled, raging, opinionated face of Phil. Of course he’s just a guy that made a game, but the internet has ways of taking things out of control. The very medium of independent games is the internet because of that very fact. The interconnected web can turn your at home, unfinished project into an award-winning, ad-whoring, house hold name. The accessibility of the internet can give a nine year old the tools to create the next best game. Maybe because he doesn’t even notice the symbolic hats, he just realized he can do something cool and went for it. That’s the kind of reality that I envy, the one where we make our own… physically and virtually.

The topic was "Wear the Hats, All the Hats"... I had a lot of fun with it!
Read the published version here.

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