Unofficial Iron Galaxy Employee Podcast: Episode 1

Some of us at Iron Galaxy put together (what is intended to be) a weekly podcast. We call it, "After Hours".

We talk about:

Chicago vs. Orlando, how we got our jobs, good beer, honey whiskey, why games are so secretive, old Midway, getting fired, how to get a job in games, Twitch, Beat-em-ups, and more!

Listen to it here.

Tune in next week for more Production values and a 4th guest.

This is unofficial. Not branded. This isn't an Iron Galaxy Podcast, just a show that happens to have Iron Galaxy people on it. If that makes sense.

Next week: More production value!

Let me know what you think!

We'll also take some emails for next week!

Send questions to: sbeynon@irongalaxystudios.com

@stevenbeynon

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Valiant Hearts is the most respectful war game, ever.

Both genders and multiple nationalities in the war are represented.

Valiant Hearts is the only game I’ve played that respectfully encapsulates war. It delivers a narrative that’s jam packed with themes of personal hardship and sacrifice while giving the player enough historical context. It represents multiple viewpoints of World War I and never really paints any side as bad. This game isn’t about fighting in combat or the greater politics, but instead the human elements take center stage.

The game’s cartoony approach to the narrative and art never really detract from the overall tone. There are plenty of light hearted scenes, humor, and even a cute dog companion. However, unlike games like the new Wolfenstein that can’t manage multiple tones, Valiant Hearts successfully delivers the grim realities of the war.

While certain scenes of brutality such as using massive piles of corpses as cover from machine gun fire can set a distracting juxtaposition for some folks, it never hindered my experience. I would argue that this juxtaposition of art and narrative serves the purpose of stealthily exposing the player to the brutality of the war in a comfortable setting. The game never downplays any grim reality.

Valiant Hearts does a good job of entertaining the player but takes time to show the player how fucked up the situation they’re in really is. The narrative constantly reminds the player of the enormous death toll and the futility of the war. The macabre environment and depressing atmosphere leads to a constant sense of dread. However, that constant dread is alleviated by the friendly art style. The art allows the commentary on the war to be communicated without it being a heavy handed drag.

Each character is well executed despite not having any real dialog.

One of the most impressive parts of the game is the historical context. Each section of the game utilizes one of the horrifying innovations of death as a gameplay mechanic or obstacle. This includes using a tank to move through a battlefield, cutting through barbed wire, or using a gas mask to survive deadly chemical weapons. These real world obstacles translate as game mechanics well, but the expertise lays with how the developer communicates why these innovations were deadly and the hurdles soldiers had to go through to overcome them. You will learn why gas attacks were so deadly and the game will show you how barbed wire was one of the deadliest new tools of war.

The human elements are executed with such respect and gentleness that it makes them stand apart from other interpretations of war. One of the main characters is a soldier drafted into the German army, forced away from his wife and newborn son. This son grows up without a father and the wife is left without any information on whether her husband is alive or not. Another character is a civilian nurse travels from Paris to the frontline healing horses, Germans, and French. She doesn’t care about the war or the uniforms, but wants to do her part in taking care of the sick and injured regardless of creed.

That’s only two examples of a surprisingly large cast. The story does a good job at showcasing the soldiers efforts in the war on different sides and the efforts of women and civilians.

Valiant Hearts is also sure to show the player the gruesome conditions of trench warfare. It gives us a glimpse into the minds of the soldiers whether this be how female nurses played a massive role in the recovery and moral of the injured men and how an Infantryman would trade valuables for dry socks. It also shows the player that disease and simple shrapnel wounds killed more soldiers than bayonets or bullets.

It’s this attention to detail and historical care that makes the game credible and a decent tool to teach people about a war often glossed over in history classes despite it taking the lives of over 40 million people. One historical element like the invention of Dog Tags is explained and even used as a plot point.

What the most beautiful thing about Valiant Hearts is that its human elements are not married to WWI. Most of the things it teaches about the mindset of soldiers and the strain combat are probably applicable to all wars. With the game never actually handing you a gun, it illustrates that war is more complicated than shooting people with different uniforms and that those different uniforms are also worn by humans that are in the same situation as "the good guys".

Heartbreak, families being torn apart, PTSD, patriotism, mutiny, and soldier's alcohol dependency are all tackled.

Note: My job at Iron Galaxy is going well. I totally have a new level of appreciation for games that are good and come out. Because holy shit there's a lot that go into games. Especially spreadsheets. Soo many spreadsheets.

@stevenbeynon

7 Comments

I got a Producer job at Iron Galaxy

"I don't know anything about game development."

-Me at an interview

I just accepted a job as a Producer at Iron Galaxy, to be specific, a Production Coordinator.

I don't really know how to absorb this. I've been training myself for almost a decade to be a Journalist. I've written tons of things on this site, other blogs, and a newspaper. I even finally managed to cement a permanent gaming column in my local paper.

Growing up I never had much interest in making anything creative. Instead of going to a traditional high school, I went to a trade school and studied film production and got some very basic Directing and Producing training there. But my passion was always in Journalism.

This summer my one internship I had lined up bailed on me and I needed something to do. Anything writing related was either not accepting interns or not returning my phone calls.

At PAX East I asked Dave Lang about some sort internship at Iron Galaxy. Basically I asked if he wanted someone to make coffee for the crew during the summer. It was a half serious discussion, I just thought it would be cool to hang out in Chicago and possibly make some contacts. My only other experience in the game industry is my short Whiskey Media/Giant Bomb internship.

To my surprise he said that he might have something for me. A week later I sent him my resume after I sent it to Time, The Cincinnati Enquirer, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, HBO, Comedy Central, and a bunch of local places. He raised my offer as an intern with Management position at Iron Galaxy's Florida location.

I'm a person that gets excited about new opportunities and jumping in the pool to learn how to swim. I am literally that guy who will do something just to say he did it. Sometimes that's incredibly dangerous. But I'll admit the drag of college made me feel really unproductive and depressed. I'm not dropping college, I'm still signed up for online courses, but that degree will have to take a few extra semesters in trade of establishing a potential career and a fresh experience.

Shortly after a phone interview with five people, Iron Galaxy flew me out for an interview. It was the first time I was flown anywhere for a job other than Afghanistan so it was kind of nice. I'm only 23, so I have never gotten a chance to go anywhere for free. That's when it sunk in this was a Big Boy job. I'm talking 401k's and stuff. Grown up things.

Half way through an interview with senior staff they offered me a Producer job in Chicago. I couldn't agree faster. It's close to my home in Cincinnati and I have more interest in Chicago than Orlando. I always wanted to try a metropolitan area. You know, over priced apartments, cramped living space, cock roach potential, getting shot, and pizza by the slice.

I hope to keep some sorta blog or do some project relating to the early days of my job and go into more detail later. I figured a lot of people want to know how to get into the industry. Is my job desirable? I don't really know. But I know it's frustrating not to have a clear picture of how a job you want works. So I'll try to paint a clear picture later.

If you have any questions, ask them and I'll try to get an answer for you.

This weekend my girlfriend and I are looking at apartments. We'll see how that goes. My start date is later July.

Regardless of me not ever thinking about being in this side of the industry, it's an interesting opportunity. Like all of you, I really like games and respect this business. To have any involvement and opportunities to have the smallest impact is something really special.

When I walked into an office to be interviewed by Dave Lang, I tried to hand him a resume and he responded, "Resumes are stupid!"

@stevenbeynon

Dave Lang was tagged in this picture on Facebook pre-job interview.
129 Comments

My call to game devs: No more trashcans, let me take you seriously!

What a totally “meh” E3, right?

While nothing at E3 was relatively new or will set the stage for preliminary excitement like Gears of War for the 360 or anything, it did highlight something that has been bothering me about videogames for so long.

It’s that games are completely stupid and are only held back by themselves.

We’re at a dividing road between titles that set out to completely immerse a player into its world like The Last of Us and games that set out to deliver a very well tuned “gamey” experience like Dark Souls or Rogue Legacy.

These gamey titles are experiences that focus on the mechanics and fine-tuning those while delivering an experience that’s simply fun. Games like Street Fighter IV and Fez aren’t necessarily trying to offer an immersive experience. But instead they revolve around a design philosophy where fun takes precedence over a greater narrative. Or at the very least wouldn’t serve well in those fancy guided demos we see on stage every year.

My issue was highlighted by the traditional guided demo we saw with games like The Division, Rainbow Six, and Call of Duty. Those guided tours through those worlds looked thrilling and better than my experience will likely be. I have heard those demos described as, “the model home of videogames.”

There is a very large place for “gamey” videogames. Divekick, amiright? I love what they do and typically prefer them to the immersive narratives. Mainly because I don’t think the story driven game has been done well a lot.

This isn’t due to a lack of vision or technology, it’s due to games like Bioshock holding on to “gamey” ideas. I would argue Bioshock leans more into the narrative driven game but holds on to too many artificial elements for me to take seriously.

I remember playing Bioshock Infinite in front of my girlfriend. She was into the sky city and all the cool narrative hooks. But after seeing me dig through trash cans every 10 seconds made it difficult to pull her in and for me to take the game seriously. Seeing a game tackle racism and religion only to be followed by an endless stream of audio logs and robbing corpses sets a very awkward tone.

Those goofy gamey elements play well in something like The Elder Scrolls, when that game is so artificial and revolves around collection stupid shit anyway. But Bioshock!? Remember how silly Joel looked in The Last of Us the second you got a flamethrower? How often did you have to stop and press ‘Square’ to collect ammo in Wolfenstein: The New Order?

I want clearing a home in Rainbow Six: Siege look as smooth as it was demoed. What will it really look like? Will that floor that’s eligible to be blown up glow yellow? Will bad guys act independently and just run after you for you to press ‘R3’ to execute a single slash of a dagger and kill them? Or will that victim (that flag) really panic? Are those walls destructible? Will I get awkward button prompts that communicate when I can infiltrate the house’s window?

I’m not begging the game industry to move forward and tackle social commentary tomorrow. However, if I’m going to have a serious discussion about a game’s narrative, I can't have the juxtaposition of half that experience being digging through trashcans and audio logs.

What do you think?

Also, I'm moving to Chicago very shortly for a job. It involves videogames! Please PM me or get with me on Twitter, @stevenbeynon for any tips on where I might want to live. I know NOTHING about the city. Any help is appreciated.

51 Comments

Cards Against Humanity gives out Oatmeal at PAX East

Cards Against Humanity gave out Pwnmeal at PAX East this year. It was just Oatmeal...but with exclusive Cards Against Humanity cards in the oatmeal.

I actually ran into one Giant Bomb user that threw away the oatmeal, not knowing there were cards in them. There were 27 cards in all and were totally randomized in the packs like trading cards.

11 Comments

Military Games and Their Gross Underdevelopment

In one of my last blogs I wrote about how Battlefield 3’s expert sound design pointed out I had the mental disorder, PTSD.

I’ve been on a quest to seek out a good military sim that encapsulates dismounted Infantry operations.

The only thing we really got is Arma, and that isn’t good enough. It’s a shame Arma 3 is severely underdeveloped. It’s a real stretch to call it a “sim”, it’s more like a traditional shooter with less flair and complicated mechanics for the sake of being so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting in a profession and criticizing games for not completely emulating it.

Playing Madden probably doesn’t nail what it’s like to play American Football (although I’m terrible at both) and mastering a kick-flip in Skate takes less time than mastering a real kick-flip. Yet both those games capture the atmosphere and more nuanced elements of their source material.

What would it take to make a good military sim?

The bulk of actual combat is just throwing bullets in the general direction of the enemy. Or sometimes silhouettes. Soldiers aren’t killing someone with literally every bullet fired, like in some modern shooters.

The key to a military sim is nailing suppressing fire and AI that acts like a team.

Most bad guys in game just act alone and have no awareness of their buddies. If your squad is doing all sorts of fancy maneuvering and executing proper security, the enemy needs to be doing the same thing.

Real combat is about maneuvering. It’s about communication and moving slowly. I challenge developers to making shooting at a hillside for 45 minutes fun in the context of a game.

If the amount of people you actually kill in an entire military game that holds on to being accuracy is in the triple digits, it’s likely too bombastic.

Full Spectrum Warrior provided the puzzle that's applicable to real life warfare. I want that but with the visual and audio fidelity of Battlefield.

Imagine a shooter like Dark Souls. A game that's punishing, but fair. You can'y go storming in like Call of Duty and fight everyone at once. You movements would have to be deliberate.

@stevenbeynon

35 Comments

Amatuer Dumptruck: Polygon's Colin Campbell about his Game Journalism book, Piranha Frenzy

I had a quick conversation with Polygon's Senior News Reporter, Colin Campbell.

He just put out a fictional story called Piranha Frenzy.

This book follows videogame journalist, Kjersti Wong, a female immigrant who works for the best (and worst) game publication. She struggles to articulate her feelings about a game in her review.

Her world shatters once that review is put out.

This podcast is spoiler free.

You can follow Colin Campbell on Twitter.

Listen to it here.

@stevenbeynon

1 Comments

Reviewing Broadway? The Book of Mormon review

EDIT: Saw The Book of Mormon and really digged it. This review is a tad more formal than my usual stuff. It's going in a newspaper.

The Book of Mormon manages to satirize, offend, evoke laughter, make powerful statements on religion, and be heartwarming and irreverent all at the same time. The show brings in $19.5 million every month on average, making it the most successful musical in four decades. The show also recently swept through the Tony awards winning virtually every major award including Best Musical, Best Actress, and Outstanding Music.

Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame and musical writer, Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon stems from Parker and Stone’s huge success in writing music for South Park along with their satirical take on American exceptionalism, Team America: World Police (2004).

The show is certainly much more crude than most Broadway goers are probably used to. There are tons of subtle (and not too subtle) sexual references and vulgar language. Yet like the past few years of South Park, the vulgarity isn’t there for shock value like Family Guy.

The musical tells the story of two Mormons on a missionary trip to Uganda to convert locals. The pair try to share their religious text that they believe is the third part of the Bible, The Book of Mormon. Only one of the missionaries have actually read the book and the Uganda village is more concerned with the war, famine, AIDS, and poverty that have always plagued them. The Mormons try to convince the villagers to seek help through Christ and slowly the pair question if faith is enough to combat serious problems.

The Book of Mormon certainly has the South Park flavor of sensibility and edge. The show points at the absurdity at Mormonism, and that is arguably just a platform to lampoon against religion as a whole. On the surface, the entire musical satirizes organized religion and challenges the credibility of Mormonism.

Yet, The Book of Mormon manages to be gentle at the same time. Yes, it presents people of faith as cartoonish and gullible. For instance in the song “I Believe”, the protagonist is recovering his faith and sings lines like, “And I believe God lives on a planet called Kolob, and in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”. Those two statements are official stances the church takes and the character totally sings these lines as genuine beliefs, but is presented with a wink and nod to how silly the established church can be.

The Mormons are still presented as great and optimistic people that are just out there in the world doing their best. The ending is heartwarming and communicates that no matter how ridiculous or illogical religious doctrine might be that doesn’t take away from its power.

The Book of Mormon has the potential be offensive but it still managed to be one of the most harmonious pieces of entertainment I’ve seen. Stone and Parker are far more endearing to religion as opposed to someone like Bill Maher. On the surface there are constant jabs at religion, AIDS jokes, and suggests that the Mormon profit Joseph Smith was a total fraud. The show also flirts with the idea that religion is in a vicious cycle of reinventing itself to gain control over people. Upon further examination, nothing in the play comes off as malicious. Instead it feels like it’s trying to communicate that while a lot of beliefs are silly, Mormons are still incredibly charming.

I laughed at all the songs and jokes and appreciated the smart score. The Book of Mormon had me walk away appreciating the Mormons. It commands the audience to still respect these people. Despite being apart of a church, the group manages to be extremely devout, polite, and hardworking people. The play is more of a friendly hazing than rude. Stone and Parker continue to be the masters of crude humor while building a subtle and powerful punchline in the background.

Below is a video from the play showcasing the song I referenced:

@stevenbeynon

13 Comments