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Worth Reading: 02/21/2014

The impending closure of Irrational Games has given the industry much to think about.

I just finished watching expert-level Spelunky player Bananasaurus Rex finish establishing a new world record in Spelunky, having accumulated more than $3 million by the end of his lengthy run.

That might not sound crazy to you, but that's because you don't play Spelunky. And I now have a better understanding of why people get so fired up about big game tournaments like EVO or The International. Spelunky is a deeply competitive game, it just doesn't happen in a single arena.

I don't want to take too much away from the thoughts I'm starting to gather for an eventual piece on Spelunky, one I'm hoping to publish next week, but the thrill of watching a true virtuoso play at an extremely high level is mesmerizing. Bananasaurus Rex spent more than nine hours on his record-setting run, and while it's easy to look at his record as a depressing reminder of a high you will never yourself reach, I find it inspiring. It shows there's still room to grow in Spelunky.

Hmm, hmm, hmm.

This is slightly off-topic, but also want to thank the Giant Bomb community for some of the rigorous debate that's taken place in both my review of Assassin's Creed IV: Freedom Cry, and the podcast I recorded with Kotaku writer Evan Narcisse about the game's touchy content. We may not all see eye-to-eye on the matters I find important, nor the conclusions I draw about them, but that we have such varied conversations is a testament to what makes this site great. I'll cheers to that.

Hey, You Should Play This

And You Should Read These, Too

Being a reporter covering the video game industry is a weird thing. Most of the time, it's not exactly about life-or-death, leading to occasional existential crisis moments of "what am I doing this for, exactly?" Leigh Alexander touches on one of entertainment journalisms biggest issues in a nakedly honest fashion, especially as it relates to how we balance the info we gather with the info we disclose. This piece is both a form of reporting and an editorial, the mix of which does a great job of conveying some of the stressors I deal with every day, as well.

"No one talks to the games press officially. I wish they did, but I get it. They want to keep their jobs. Let's just say multiple people within a studio were willing to risk their careers to confirm to me that yes, in fact, if their game didn't sell extremely well, like exponentially more than its predecessor or "well" according to a matrix of time and cost investment and desired profit, that their studio would be closed in a year.

What good does it do anyone, the story about the conditional but likely imminent closure? Who does it help and serve? What good does it do to risk my friends' jobs and their confidence to patch together the plausible but potentially biased story about all the extra unfinished or un-implemented content from the wildly over-budget and over-scope game? The story about the high stress, the high turnover, the difficult-to-work-with creative lead?"

***

The faces we associate with the games we play are largely the result of a targeted marketing campaign. Yes, Ken Levine is the chief creative behind his games, but he didn't build them on his own, and we rarely hear from those people. Yet, those are exactly the individuals being fired with Irrational Games shuttering. Brendan Keogh's experience meeting the grunt-level developers behind Spec Ops: The Line helps reinforce points made in Leigh's piece, as well. Games are made by people--lots of people. It's easy to forget that when we only think of one.

"It’s not a problem unique to videogames. In any creative form, as we instinctively try to picture the creator behind the artwork, and it’s much easier as an audience to boil the author down to a single person: the director, the lead singer, the conductor. But this obscures the realities of how that work was produced and why it is the way it is.

Often, when we play a game and lament about an obviously terrible design decision in one stage and ask nobody in particular “Urgh, why would they design it like that?” the answer isn’t that the creators were idiots, but something much more mundane such as: two level designers worked on different floors of the studio, or a post-it note fell off a monitor."

If You Click It, It Will Play

Some Crowdfunding Projects Worth Considering

  • Treachery in Beatdown City is a 2D RPG brawler that was part of a story I wrote last year.
  • Lana Polansky is raising funds to attend the GDC talk she's supposed to give next month.
  • Tim W is hoping to spend more time writing about independently made video games.
  • Pixel V2 is an updated version of a rad-looking, smartphone-controlled pixel art LED screen.

Tweets That Make You Go "Hmmmmmm"

Oh, And This Other Stuff

Patrick Klepek on Google+
72 Comments
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Posted by keklolbur

Cool beans

Edited by Ekpyroticuniverse

I think it is hard to sit on the outside and guess why bits of bioshock changed or were dropped. Maybe they did not fit or just didn't work out the way originally planned.

Posted by johnham

That Tweet from @bfod is an amazing distillation of the "is this a game" question.

A "game" has certain trappings that don't necessarily exist in a lot of narrative-driven experiences. Defining a "videogame" as something distinct, but with varying amounts of shared DNA, ends-around that problematic question in a great way.

I also thought that Leigh Alexander piece was great and clarified the Irrational situation somehow, by making it even murkier.

Posted by KoolAid

I thought Leigh Alexander's piece was fantastic! Honest and informative.

Posted by Deathpooky

I posted this on the Bombin' in the AM video, but might as well repost here since you linked to Leigh Alexander's article here:

The main thing I find strange about the whole journalism discussion is that I've never thought of journalism that way, at least primarily. While a story helping bad situations or otherwise shining a spotlight on things that need correcting could be good outcomes, I've always thought that journalists are there, first and foremost, to provide their readers with truthful information they want, within whatever ethical boundaries they have.

The possible fact that Bioshock Infinite was having trouble, that financial issues may have been occurring that could affect the studio long term, that the studio had high turnover, and that Ken Levine is a terrible boss - all of that might not be helpful to the studio, to the game, or to the employees to have out in the open. But it's still news and something lots of people would want to read.

That a journalist would stop and say "is it going to help the game or the company or the people to report this" is one of the reasons I think you had the snarky comment regarding only putting forward companies' PR lines. That's almost the opposite of the adversarial relationship you'd want from journalist. In any other industry finding out that a company was hemorrhaging money and struggling to put out a flagship product would be huge news that no journalist would hesitate to report, even if it hurt the company or people involved.

Posted by Fobwashed

That article by Leigh Alexander is a very good read. The stuff that's sorta been sliding out the sides in regards to what happened at Irrational is very disconcerting.

Also, that tweet by Mike Bithell is super true. The less you have to worry about optimizing code the more you can work on the actual game. It took me 2 weeks to get something functioning right and an additional 2 months to get it to run fast and lean. Turns out the fastest and easiest way to optimize code is just to run it on a faster CPU...

Edited by Sooty

It's pretty easy to understand why people get fired up over EVO and The International no? Clutch moments, high skill barrier games with masters of them playing against each other.

Posted by RetroVirus

That Metroid Mod was pretty cool. Love that the ghost was the giant Metroid.

Edited by joshwent

@patrickklepek You finally changed the little blurb before your crowdfunding links!

Care to mention what made you take out that other kind of sarcastic one?

(also, I'm not usually one to point out simple spelling errors, but I had to stare at "Total War ome 2" for a while before it made sense.) ;)

Posted by johnham

@deathpooky I think that Leigh chose not to report this because:

1. To do so could alienate current/potential sources of information.

2. Nobody was willing to corroborate on the record, which leaves her twisting in the wind, and looking like a total shit-talker if none of these things actually came to pass.

I definitely don't think the "who does this help/who does this hurt" question directly affected her decision not to publish something, but as a living, breathing human being, I definitely understand why those questions would weigh on her personally.

Posted by freewriter55

That Leigh Alexander piece was great, thanks for linking it. Games journalism is a weird thing at times, but it's almost stranger that we get brief glimpses into the 'inside baseball' sides of it. I can't think of another medium that actually has public looks into how journalism in and about that medium works.

Online
Edited by adeliawerdmann

@keklolbur:

my co-worker's aunt makes $70 hourly on the computer. She has been without a job for seven months but last month her paycheck was $19034 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site

w­w­w­.­j­o­b­s­6­1­.­c­o­m

Posted by Deathpooky

@johnham: Leigh's hypothetical is that if she had multiple people on the record and willing to risk their careers to corroborate the Irrational stuff she still wouldn't have reported it because it wouldn't have done them any good to have that information out there. That's what I find really strange and the opposite of journalism in almost any other industry.

Troubles that could tank a studio involving a highly anticipated product by a huge name in the industry with tens of millions of dollars behind it is a huge story that journalists should be falling over each other to corroborate and report, not handwring about whether it's fit for public consumption or whether it would be good to have the bad news out there.

Posted by aceofspudz

The important thing to take away is: Leigh Alexander was in the loop.

Posted by BigD145

The Kate Cox piece read like a pile of drivel. Luckily it's not a word salad. Slogging through those is painful. Going off on "someone" (I don't know who but they're a moron and shouldn't be listened to) that goes off on non-AAA's not being games? The premise of "only AAA's are games" is flawed and basing another premise on that isn't going to get you anywhere. She owns a 3DS, a game console. She, a gamer, plays games on it. What's the hubub?

Posted by tdous

@patrickklepek Thanks for the classic GFW clip! I miss a regular dose of Shawn Elliott.

Edited by pocketroid

Touch Dr. Mario drug, get dizzy

Twitch Plays Pokémon was neat and easier to personally get invested in at first, when it was a small community without guides and forum coordination. It moved slow, and my inputs actually had an impact. I was part of the Borg. It has become a whole different monster, now - more of a spectator thing. I wonder what the future brings? Will it increase in popularity and continue for months? Completely die if the Elite Four is beaten? Will other games do this and get popular?

Posted by LikeaSsur

"Video games are not games?"

Well, it definitely made me go "hmmmmm."

Edited by Lazyaza

Bishock video made me realize just how much of what I was looking forward to in the game wasn't in it or was dramatically reduced in scope or use. Which is why I ended up feeling quite dissatisfied with the general gameplay of Infinite. It ultimately ended up a far shallower duller game experience because of all the stuff they didn't include. Dunno why but even the original Bioshock felt like it had more dynamic gameplay even though it technically didn't.

Posted by Robopengy

In other words, Irrational <>

Edited by MarkWahlberg

@deathpooky said:

I posted this on the Bombin' in the AM video, but might as well repost here since you linked to Leigh Alexander's article here:

The main thing I find strange about the whole journalism discussion is that I've never thought of journalism that way, at least primarily. While a story helping bad situations or otherwise shining a spotlight on things that need correcting could be good outcomes, I've always thought that journalists are there, first and foremost, to provide their readers with truthful information they want, within whatever ethical boundaries they have.

The possible fact that Bioshock Infinite was having trouble, that financial issues may have been occurring that could affect the studio long term, that the studio had high turnover, and that Ken Levine is a terrible boss - all of that might not be helpful to the studio, to the game, or to the employees to have out in the open. But it's still news and something lots of people would want to read.

That a journalist would stop and say "is it going to help the game or the company or the people to report this" is one of the reasons I think you had the snarky comment regarding only putting forward companies' PR lines. That's almost the opposite of the adversarial relationship you'd want from journalist. In any other industry finding out that a company was hemorrhaging money and struggling to put out a flagship product would be huge news that no journalist would hesitate to report, even if it hurt the company or people involved.

'The people have a right to know!'

People might want to read it, sure, but as she points out, that's not a story she would be able to get at in any meaningful way, without - and this is my opinion - putting way more effort into it than it deserves, at least at that stage of the process. I don't think she was saying 'I won't do this because it's bad for the company' so much as 'there's not enough story here to be worth it'. Like, every film blog/outlet/whatever was shitting on that John Carter movie for weeks before it came out, which was like, fine, but none of them were actually putting out factual, useful information other than 'there's a lot of money flying around and the director seems a bit of a dumbass'. While I totally agree that insider scoops (Scoops!) can be really interesting, putting out a brief blurb saying 'yo shit is kinda fucked over here, but maybe it'll get better I dunno' is much less appealing than, say, a more in-depth post-mortem. Which, granted, is probably not likely to happen either - Jeff always laments 'there's probably a really good book to be written about this'.

In any case, it's probably for the best that they all aren't knee-jerk publishing every scandalous tidbit they hear.

Edited by garbagewrappedinskin

1972 - 2010: The struggle to prove video games are art

2011- present: The struggle to prove the DVD menu of Citizen Kane is the greatest video game

Edited by veko

In relation to @bfod's tweet, I disagree. A minority of "video games" aren't games sure, but most video games are game. Try applying that logic to other types of games. Is Monopoly a board game or is it a 'chance-based, economy simulator?' Is billards a game or is it a multi person, physics puzzle?

Some 'interactive video experiences' (?) aren't games but most are.

Edited by bybeach

Something about this whole Bioshock thing bothers me. I saw it during the GOTY discussion. I'm not saying anyone is being blatantly dishonest or whatever, but there seems to be a train a rolling. Now Levine himself has certainly added fuel to the fire, though he may have strove to be nothing but honest, for his part.

I will check this out for a while. I truly enjoyed Bio-shock Infinite. And strife and struggle in a human enterprise is nothing new, by any means. My best wishes first, to all to the men and women who lost their employment. Do not feel judged because there were survivors other than you. It is often the way of the world. I hope your talents shine elsewhere. And soon.

Not necessarily with game journalism, but I am a little hostile to journalism in general lately. Maybe Leigh Alexander is to be commended to holding to a pro. value, for after all that is my very beef. But I am not happy with some of the stridency lately. It does not seem even handed. It does not seem impartial.

Posted by Glottery

Might finally grab Spelunky, once that mod gets released to the public.

Posted by Redhotchilimist

@lazyaza said:

Bishock video made me realize just how much of what I was looking forward to in the game wasn't in it or was dramatically reduced in scope or use. Which is why I ended up feeling quite dissatisfied with the general gameplay of Infinite. It ultimately ended up a far shallower duller game experience because of all the stuff they didn't include. Dunno why but even the original Bioshock felt like it had more dynamic gameplay even though it technically didn't.

I felt the same way after watching that video. By the time the game came out I had forgotten most of it, but now I'm bummed those exciting scenes from the demos never happened, as well as the implied open areas and unscripted encounters. They were probably tricks for the demos all along I suppose.

Posted by DukesT3

Personally I can never link games and journalism as one thing, I just can't.

Edited by NickM

The thumbnail for this article is from Bioshock 2, which has very little to do with Irrational. Just saying.

Posted by OneFreeman

@bybeach: What you've written is not nearly as intelligent as you think it is.

Posted by NoelVeiga

Man, Leigh Alexander really, really, really personally dislikes Ken Levine.

Like, really.

I don't have a huge problem with that. It's a small-ish industry at the top in the US, people know each other, and people who know each other sometimes dislike each other. It's a bit weirder to watch that colour coverage so much without an open acknowledgement. If that piece had opened with "I think Ken Levine is an intellectually dishonest asshole, let me tell you why", I would have found it less distasteful.

As it is, I´m just a bit disappointed for my time that Patrick accidentally goaded me into reading a piece from Alexander again. Every time I think her good prose will carry a decent payload, every time I´m confronted by the equivalent of an mid-50s Hollywood critic drunk on pretend power, airing petty grievances and passing them as artistic-minded analysis.

As for what she does say and the discussion above in this thread... I find it interesting that rumours about how well behaved a film shoot is are frequent, but the flipside is how little people care in terms of the final product doing well. Everybody knows shooting The Shining was hell on earth, nobody cares now or then, as far as engaging with the movie goes.

Every time that discussion is had it's the same deal: Why won't they tell us? Because we have knee-jerk reactions to it. If you treat gaming coverage like WWE storytelling it'll be handled like it.

Posted by OneFreeman

@noelveiga: Man I got the complete opposite from the article. She seems to truly respect Ken Levine.

Edited by Shortbreadtom

That Mickey Mouse thing was awesome and strange and I don't get it

Edited by Shivoa
@fobwashed said:

Also, that tweet by Mike Bithell is super true. The less you have to worry about optimizing code the more you can work on the actual game. It took me 2 weeks to get something functioning right and an additional 2 months to get it to run fast and lean. Turns out the fastest and easiest way to optimize code is just to run it on a faster CPU...

Agreed. Although there will always be a cutting edge which can make things that are only possible out there (Valve are currently betting big on VR and the 20ms or less requirement for the round trip from sensor reading to new image displayed on the headset), the democratisation of game development is very cool. This also ties in to very low cost game engines that are good enough (although the number of Unity titles that comes out with what seems like 200ms+ input lag on some platforms/configurations is less than great).

It's (or at least was in a lot of places) the conventional wisdom in low cost server software development (bespoke projects, etc, not Amazon/Google engineer stuff): it's cheaper to buy faster servers than to pay the salary of software engineers to build it to run faster. Especially with the ramp up of performance a decade ago, getting the software to perform fast enough could be done by: a) paying some expensive devs for 6 months of work to optimise the code base and then releasing or b) paying no one and waiting 6 months for faster servers to come out that would run the existing code base at acceptable speed. Seeing that move to this performance area of real-time rendering is pretty exciting, give it another 5 years and it'll be at that point for even low power devices (billions of potential customers).

Posted by LackingSaint

*pushes glasses up nose* Patrick you do realise that on the front-page link to the Article, you used promotional art from BioShock 2 which was NOT developed by Irrational, right? You should be ashamed.

Posted by jdevdawg

Patrick, the body of your post has nothing to do with the title:

The impending closure of Irrational Games has given the industry much to think about.

Posted by patrickklepek

@jdevdawg said:

Patrick, the body of your post has nothing to do with the title:

The impending closure of Irrational Games has given the industry much to think about.

Huh? That's what the first two stories are about. :P

Posted by jdevdawg

@patrickklepek: Sorry, I guess I thought you were going to talk about Irrational closing, not about Spelunky. I caught the latest Bombin' in the AM and got what I was looking for about the Irrational story. Thanks.

Posted by BigBob

The Kate Cox piece left me scratching my head in confusion. Just in the last year, I spent a ton of time with Fire Emblem: Awakening, Etrian Odyssey IV, Rune Factory 4, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, and The Starship Damrey. All of those are 3DS titles, and every single one of them I would consider a "hardcore" game.

I spent more time playing Spelunky than any AAA game last year. Is Spelunky not a hardcore game? I don't know where she got this idea that you aren't a "gamer" if you don't play AAA titles. I do scoff at the idea that middle-aged moms who play Candy Crush are "gamers" (mainly because I doubt we'd have much to talk about), but you're missing out on a ton if you only think the games with the prettiest graphics are worth playing.

Posted by MocBucket62

@patrickklepek: Just a quick error to point out, you forgot to put the R in Rome when bringing up the Rome II DLC story. Enjoyed the segment as always and now I kind of want to play Spelunky Metroid style.

Posted by ChuckDeNomolos

I think the Alexander article feels passive aggressive in a way that's distasteful to me. Trying to hint at a wicked, blow the doors off the joint story is kind of strange, and I'm not sure what the aim of the article is beyond trying to turn the conversation into more whispering about terrible Levine might be, instead of about how the conditions affected the company top to bottom But reporting on if one should report while hinting at incendiary information comes off as passive aggressive. I will say, however, if that story was written, I'd read it, and hopefully any other articles in response.

I should say, I like her writing, and agree on a lot of her points on Infinite. I wish she could do a guest spot on Bombin' the AM, but I'm guessing the usual reaction to her from the community puts a damper on that.

Posted by nickhead

I'm really excited for the Metroid Spelunky mod, although I was expecting Samus to be a smaller, exaggerated model like the existing characters.

Edited by nickhead
@bigbob said:

The Kate Cox piece left me scratching my head in confusion. Just in the last year, I spent a ton of time with Fire Emblem: Awakening, Etrian Odyssey IV, Rune Factory 4, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, and The Starship Damrey. All of those are 3DS titles, and every single one of them I would consider a "hardcore" game.

I spent more time playing Spelunky than any AAA game last year. Is Spelunky not a hardcore game? I don't know where she got this idea that you aren't a "gamer" if you don't play AAA titles. I do scoff at the idea that middle-aged moms who play Candy Crush are "gamers" (mainly because I doubt we'd have much to talk about), but you're missing out on a ton if you only think the games with the prettiest graphics are worth playing.

I think her point was that a majority of people DO think that about these great handheld games, and she was defending them. I personally know people that write off handheld games for that exact reason, because they're not on a console or PC.

Posted by BBQBram

Man, Leigh Alexander really, really, really personally dislikes Ken Levine.

Like, really.

I don't have a huge problem with that. It's a small-ish industry at the top in the US, people know each other, and people who know each other sometimes dislike each other. It's a bit weirder to watch that colour coverage so much without an open acknowledgement. If that piece had opened with "I think Ken Levine is an intellectually dishonest asshole, let me tell you why", I would have found it less distasteful.

As it is, I´m just a bit disappointed for my time that Patrick accidentally goaded me into reading a piece from Alexander again. Every time I think her good prose will carry a decent payload, every time I´m confronted by the equivalent of an mid-50s Hollywood critic drunk on pretend power, airing petty grievances and passing them as artistic-minded analysis.

As for what she does say and the discussion above in this thread... I find it interesting that rumours about how well behaved a film shoot is are frequent, but the flipside is how little people care in terms of the final product doing well. Everybody knows shooting The Shining was hell on earth, nobody cares now or then, as far as engaging with the movie goes.

Every time that discussion is had it's the same deal: Why won't they tell us? Because we have knee-jerk reactions to it. If you treat gaming coverage like WWE storytelling it'll be handled like it.

Basically what I was going to write.

Posted by BBQBram

That Bioshock Infinite comparison video is great but it's just scratching the surface. I've probably spent far too much time obsessing over the changes from those demos to the final game.

Edited by KittyVonDoom

Came here expecting to find something about Bioshock 2.

I feel clickbaited :/

Posted by grapesoda

@kittyvondoom: Me too, I don't think one paragraph and a link to some other article is justification for that headline.

Posted by Swiftoid

I still miss GFW Radio. The Brodeo 4 Lyfe.

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