If you are wondering about the slowdown in posting on this site of late, I refer you to the title of this new blog post. It would appear that I am coming home so mentally fatigued at this point, that I don't have much left in me except the desire and ability to zombie out in front of the television screen or World of WarCraft.
I'm not complaining, though: At this point, all of us who have jobs, let's be thankful that we have them. And, hey, I love my job. It's ridiculously fun and rewarding, and a privilege, really, to be paid to do this for a living. In my younger days I had some of the same crappy jobs as everyone else: I washed dishes at a Japanese restaurant; I was a delivery boy in Los Angeles; I served burgers at a craphole in Berkeley where the most common customers were insane homeless people, stoned students, and, on one memorable Saturday afternoon, a 300 pound naked guy who walked in, sat down, and poured a big tabletop container of sugar into his mouth until the police came in and carted him away. I've also had dreary white collar jobs, where I sat in my cubicle all day in a frozen state of boredom and misery, fantasizing about stabbing my incompetent bosses and running off to Hawaii to sell pineapples on the beach. So, yeah. I consider myself awfully lucky now.
Still: refer to the title above. As I get deeper into the collaborative process here, it becomes clearer and clearer to me just how complicated the business of making a game is, and the near miracle it is to get all the people involved aligned and understanding of what it is you're trying to do, to get the money and time you need, to stay true to your vision while making all the inevitable and heartbreaking compromises. And I say all this while still only being one foot--at most--down from the tip of the iceberg. I know I haven't seen anything yet, really.
It was inevitable, of course, but I find it kind of funny that a lot of people ask me now if, knowing what I know now, would I go back and change the way I reviewed games? Would I go easier, knowing how difficult it is? The answer to that is a resounding no. I would not. I do understand more deeply why a lot of developers can't stand the press, or have no respect for them. Frankly, the majority of the gaming press doesn't deserve much respect---though I said that throughout my career in the press, so that's nothing new and no change of heart on my part. The lack of common journalistic standards and practices, the often weaselly ethics, and, heck, the sheer inability to form grammatically correct and cogent and interesting sentences all speaks to a subset of the media that is really nothing more than amateur fanzines with a budget. Still, not ALL the gaming press is like that--and certainly every site linked to on this blog to the right falls into a different category entirely. These are smart, literate, educated people writing with intelligence and insight and humor and perspective about a hobby that many of us love. That takes skill, too--just like game development.
So even though I have a much deeper understanding--though I still have a long way to go---of what goes into making a game, how compromises arise, how elements you would think would be "no brainers" to have in a game suddenly become impossible to do for reasons outside your control, I still would not go back and change the way I did my old job. Why? Because this shit doesn't matter. Not to the consumer, not to the folks spending their money hoping you are going to entertain them. This is our problem, not theirs. Consumers don't need to know or care how much of your heart was invested in the game, how many dinners you missed at home because you were working late, how, well, you *really* would have had this cool multiplayer component but there wasn't enough time. As Tony Soprano's mom would say: Poor you. It's neither the critic's job nor the consumer's concern to take into account how sincere you were in your efforts. No matter how great a person you may be, how hard you worked, how much your team *tried* to get things right, the only thing that matters in the end is what's in that box (or digital download!). The game disc doesn't come with a written explanation of what you tried to do, or a list of reasons why, okay, yeah, maybe the marketing and PR from the past year, and on the game box itself, doesn't quite match what's in the game. If you failed to deliver, if you blew it, if you didn't meet expectations---that's not the press's fault, or the consumers.
Oh yes, like I said, plenty of critics are morons, and might be reviewing your game for all the wrong reasons, or with terrible attitudes, or with unfair expectations. Nothing you can do about that, really. What you can, do, though, is be honest with yourself while you're making the game, to realize that those decisions you're making have consequences, and to separate out the more valid and intelligent criticism from the nonsense and noise. Being blind or hostile to criticism, to dismiss it all as "they don't get what we do" does you no favors in the long run.
All of this said, I am stating here, though, that if MY game doesn't get the 10 out of 10 it so richly deserves--especially given everything we have to deal with!--then I will personally hunt and kill every no-nothing, lazy, incompetent "critic" out there. Why don't you guys try making a game yourselves!
(err, sorry, this post was originally supposed to be about Lost and BSG and Depeche Mode and The Verve and almost hitting Level 80 in WoW. LOL.)