Imagining the Next Generation of Games
A few days go I walked into the Starbucks by my house, hoping to find a nice seat in a corner and get some work done. When I stepped into the pleasantly fragrant lobby and looked up, however, my hopes were crushed.
The place was packed, every table and chair accounted for, minus a few tiny seats at a bar table too small to fit my laptop. As I walked over to get in line (begrudgingly stink-eyeing the people who occupied all three of my favorite spots) I noticed something peculiar:
A lot of folks had tablets.
In fact, there were only a few people in the entire lobby not using tablets. I observed lots of iPads, a good representation of Kindle Fires and other e-readers; as far as I could tell, everyone else at least had a smartphone. Walking through the lobby after ordering my drink, I peeked discretely at the screens I passed. Some folks were gaming, others reading Facebook; many had their earphones in, watching netflixhuloutube or whatever.
Interesting, I thought as I walked across the street to a different, less crowded Starbucks. The tablet craze is here to stay.
Are laptops doomed to be replaced by tablets and smartphones? That’s a pretty safe bet. Yet, I sense a bigger shift in the wind: a convergence that will define an entirely new generation of video games. It all comes down to Microsoft…
Microsoft revealed two enormous projects in the last month to complement the upcoming launch of Windows 8: SmartGlass and the Surface.
SmartGlass is an application that turns your favorite tablet/phone into a second screen, speaker, and/or controller for your Xbox. Demos at E3 showed a Madden player drawing new hot routes with his finger; a clip of a Halo fan reading extra information unlocked in Campaign mode, then accepting an online invite from his friend. While these demos were certainly cool (read about the rest of them here), they really only scratch the surface of potential applications. Microsoft hopes to launch SmartGlass on every major platform, and has already released its development kit to partners. If MS is successful in universal distribution, and the application doesn’t suck, we’re looking at every person with access to a smartphone (192.4 million in the US by 2016, source) or tablet as a potential user of our next-gen games.
Here are the biggest points that come to mind about SmartGlass potential:
Mobile control schemes (touch gestures, gyroscopic control, etc) can now be a part of our traditional console control schemes.
- We can provide alternate touch controls for, say, the casual gamer mom who’s never touched a controller but plays consistently on her iPhone. Suddenly she can try out that adventure Xbox game with her son in a way that’s familiar to her.
- We can create additive controls to add depth to our games.
- Example: Puzzle elements that utilize touch gestures and gyroscopic rotation.
- Touch gestures are perfect for customization. Why not let players finger-paint their car in Need For Speed?
Build on the strengths of mobile social networks.
- Mobile frameworks for every important social platform already exist, and gamers love to share—user-created content, achievements, pictures and videos, smack talk, theory-crafting, etc. We need to provide easier ways for our players to share, and SmartGlass integration may prove to be a perfect solution.
- You ranked first in that last match? Pick up your phone, tap the screenshot button in SmartGlass, tap and drag to crop it, click the “Share to Twitter” button that pops up, and make sure to mention your rival (@loudmouth_haloboy666) in the caption. Your tweet is on the way before the next round has even started.
Promoting social sharing will get more people talking about our games. For free.
We can provide a portal to participate from anywhere.
- Blizzard has done this with World of Warcraft Remote. Players have free access to character & item searches, talent calculators, limited auction house browsing, and more. For a $2.99 subscription, they have premium access to guild chat, whispers/tells, and the fully functional auction house.
- Even if SmartGlass is limited, such as only working through WiFi, we can still use it to promote/complement our mobile applications and drive discussion on official forums.
- Your player dies three times on hardcore mode, and SmartGlass pops up with a link to a forum discussion about strategies for the challenging level.
- What would Call of Duty Elite, Battlefield 3 BattleLog, Starcraft II stats & replays, etc. look like on mobile?
- How much more would they be used as easy to access mobile services integrated into the official Microsoft platform?
- Blizzard-style premium mobile subscriptions would sell astronomically well to the Xbox market, considering the overpriced products like the $49.99 CoD: Elite package.
SmartGlass could provide another (better?) platform for monetization.
- It’s generally easier to tap that “BUY NOW” button than it is to scroll awkwardly through layers of menus and push the right button on a controller. Play to the intuitive nature of touch and instant gratification of digital content.
- 66% of smartphone users shop on their device (source). Now is the perfect time to establish SmartGlass a go-to source for those users looking to research, discuss, and purchase our products.
- What if SmartGlass incorporated an AppStore type of interface? Again, even in the most restricted circumstance, the application could still drive traffic to outside links like, say, a mobile page for purchasing down-loadable content.
Enter the Surface, a tablet designed and manufactured by Microsoft that features a touch keyboard built into the cover, usb slots (which means we can use a mouse), and compatibility with all Windows 8 software (on the pro version of the device). If Microsoft plays their cards well, we’re looking at the Surface as being the first tablet with all the functionality of a laptop. Perhaps even right out of the box.
I might have found the replacement for my rather suddenly unappealing Laptop.
But here’s the fascinating question: What if Microsoft integrates SmartGlass functionality into the Surface? Suddenly, we’re dealing with a universal gaming controller, capable of playing touch based mobile-style games, traditional PC titles on Windows 8, along with everything SmartGlass brings from the Xbox.
If Microsoft pulls that off, we’ve got an exciting future ahead of us as developers, because the market for mobile, PC, and console games will begin to converge. We’ll have more ways to make our games accessible; more ways for our players to participate.
We’ll be heading towards a new platform perfect for every kind of gamer. This may seem like a long-shot, but there’s no denying the trend of inter-connectivity emerging in game technology, especially in Microsoft’s recent announcements.
By realizing the potential that products like SmartGlass and the Surface have to change the next generation of games, we’ll better seize the opportunities for truly innovative development that will inevitably present themselves.
Diablo 3 overrides all my misgivings because it’s just so damned much fun. We often decry the game industry’s stubborn unwillingness to evolve, dishing out the same old stuff over and over. Sometimes, however, the same old stuff - and Diablo 3 is unmistakably SOS - hits the mark so squarely and elegantly that it quenches a thirst I forgot I had.
Q:I too am considering a move to Seattle. My wife and I are still in the early stages of planning this move but any advice you could pass along about making such a bold move would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
We’ve learned a lot, hopefully this is helpful.
The FutureWife and I spent all day yesterday browsing around online trying to check out where we could afford to live. As you might know, it’s a bit of a nightmare.
Most of the “we have aggregate rental listings here” websites kind of suck. Because of reviews, mostly. They’re not credible, and most are some combination of poorly written, terribly outdated, and contradictory. It’s hard to believe all reviews aren’t just from the same person spam posting out of rage, or written by the landlord pretending to be a tenant.
So, in your search, I’d suggest ignoring most reviews. Some on Yelp.com were decent, though most were also outdated.
We found that Padmapper is great, especially for getting a picture of where listings are. You explore a map of the country, zoom in on seattle, and it shows all the listings from craigslist and a few other more ‘official’ sites. You can filter lots of stuff, like pricerange.
Another helpful part of Padmapper is Walkscore. I think I saw you were wondering about having only 1 car. Walkscore comes up as one of the tabs when you click on a listing, which will have a score from 1-100 based on how closely located it is to stuff. Kind of nice.
We found google street view helpful for seeing what some areas were like. Padmapper also has that as a separate tab when you click on a listing.
We still don’t know where we’ll be living. I don’t think we will until we visit in a few weeks and see everything in person. I also don’t know where I’m going to be working, although FutureWife will probably have a fulltime job waiting for her.
I’d suggest trying to visit like us. We’re calling ahead now to set up appointments with all the different complexes. Frustratingly, nobody answered at each complex I called, nor has anyone returned my voicemails yet. Email, however, seems to work pretty well. We’ve had 5-6 actual humans email us back.
We’re trying to be careful and stay prayerful. So far, things are falling in place right when they need to. If Jesus wants you in Seattle, it will happen!
Certain about Seattle!
Gretchen (aka FutureWife) and I decided to head into the wonderful town of Frederick and get some work done at the unusually comfortable grocery store called Wegmans. They have fast internet and a coffee bar here, stay open until midnight, and there’s lots of seats laid out in a nice little set of rooms pretty far away from the “grocery” part of the store.
Woah! We just watched two skinny, heavily tattooed individuals with very red necks cruise by our table on one of those motorized carts meant for handicapped customers. Huh, one gentleman chose to sit in the basket. This day’s fantastic already.
Anyway. Red necked individuals misusing grocery store equipment have nothing to do with the upcoming discussion. Or, perhaps, they do. I’m here to talk about moving to Seattle, Washington. That’s 2715 miles away from these amateur comedians, which I take as a pretty bold tally mark under the “Pros” column. Seattle: 1. Maryland: 0.
Maryland isn’t a terrible place, really. I like it here! Most of the time. Living near loved ones is fantastic, and yet, my unwavering determination to work in the game development industry led FutureWife and I to set our sights somewhere else. At first, it was Florida. I’d found a fantastic looking school called “Full Sail,” and holy internet marketing, Batman! They throw 5 ads in your face any time you’re browsing somewhere visited by the college-age-video-game-playing-male demographic. Eventually, their marketing worked its magic on me. I’d been hooked, and as I called and became involved in the “admissions process,” everything seemed too good to be true.
Their game development program impressed me, on paper. I spoke to a few individuals enrolled at the school via twitter about their experiences, and each one pretty much had the same thing to say: It was mindbogglingly difficult, and most people lured into starting there dropped out.
That part actually impressed me, because “mindbogglingly difficult” is exactly what I’m looking for. I’m heading straight for the challenging opportunities. I’ve realized that anything less isn’t worth it.
Sadly, I’m not meant for Full Sail this fall. The challenging program, while full of awesome coursework and stuff (again, on paper), is just too costly for a degree that isn’t nationally accredited. If, for example, I ever wanted to apply for a real university’s graduate program, the Full Sail degree wouldn’t fulfill the undergraduate prerequisite. We decided that I’d rather not start school in the fall anyway, so I left the prospect of Full Sail behind.
So how did FutureWife and I end up picking Seattle? Put simply: Jesus. No, really, hold on. It’s almost as if God decided to throw a map in our face. In the last month, we’ve met (about) ten billion people who, upon learning of our Seattle ambitions, wouldn’t shutup about how awesome it is, or how much their family loves it there, or how much they want to go back.
A few weeks ago, I struck up conversation with a random customer at Starbucks, a gentleman visiting the Capital with some friends. Turns out, he not only lives near Seattle and loves it, but also works at Starbucks there. We Facebook’d each other and he’s actually been answering my unrelenting barrage of questions ever since!
Divine intervention or not, we’ve learned a lot about Seattle. Excitement builds on excitement, and I haven’t even told you the best part:
There are over 80 video game companies there. Companies like Valve (Steam, Half-Life, Portal), Bungie and 343 Industries (Halo), NC Soft (Guild Wars), 5th Cell (Scribblenauts), Spry Fox (TripleTown), ShadegrownGames (Plank, props to Mr. Burns) and so many more. Huge and independent studios alike. Seattle’s also home to other companies you’ve probably heard of, like Microsoft, or Amazon.
There’s no shortage of opportunity for someone as focused, driven, and passionate as myself.
Yesterday, we decided to make The Seattle Plan official. We’ll be visiting the city in a few weeks, since this would all be silly unless we checked it out first, but I’m pretty sure it’s a done deal.
Quite frankly, I’m not revealing everything just yet. I’ve been working on something as remarkable as it is time-consuming, and it’s almost ready to go public. This mysteriously remarkable something is about to help me deliver on the promise I made in my last post.
You ready for me to knock your freakin’ socks off?
‘Quick’ is a Relative Term
Launching this blog has been an extremely educational experience. I wanted to post a quick update to discuss where I sit today, what I’ve been learning recently, and what I’m feeling called to do next.
During the process of writing my first couple posts, I’ve talked a lot about passion. Passion not just for video games, but music, art, storytelling; subjects that took over my heart, disciplines I spent countless hours developing. Yet everything seemed to come back to games in all the work I did. I imagined orchestral scores reminiscent of Martin O’Donnell’s work in Halo (it’s on iTunes if you want to experience some hardcore nostalgia). Actually, my first adventures into photoshop and the 3D modeling world were to make my own mods for Halo PC. Every avenue of the arts I explored somehow led me back to games.
That was no coincidence. I was meant to be heading towards a career in games, using all the facets of passion I’d discovered in high school to develop games. In my last post, I described exactly what my dream job would look like. While my interest in making games certainly includes the art and design side of the process, what really fascinates me is game-play. I realized in my research that my dream of developing game-play aspects, especially in a senior position, would never come into fruition unless I learned to code. Programming and the prospect of trying to learn it had never really set me on fire. Suddenly, in the context of coding elements like artificial intelligence and game-play mechanics, that’s changed. Explosively.
I started yesterday.
It’s difficult, but riveting. My good friend Chris met up with me to get me started. He’s been rubbing his knowledge off on me since we were thirteen. Thanks to him, getting started was actually pretty easy!
A few days ago I stumbled on to Games Industry Mentor, a podcast by an environmental artist at BioWare named Aaron Canaday (website, twitter, podcast website, podcast itunes). Mr. Canaday started the show as a resource for aspiring game designers and developers looking for foot-in-the-door kind of advice.
It’s fantastic stuff.
I listened to Episode 12: Programming 101, hoping to gain a little encouragement and direction. That was a good move. The two guests on the episode, both senior programmers (also) at BioWare named Edgar Glowacki and Aaron Otstott, offered mountains of advice for any kind of person interested in the programming side of this industry. I quickly realized after clicking play that I needed to take notes. 700 words worth, as it happened.
I’d like to discuss everything that popped to me a little bit further than I have time for today, but I’ll note a few things that were particularly important:
- Of the disciplines within a typical game studio’s programming department, game-play programming is probably where my ambitions fit best.
- Choosing C++ as my first language is the harder route, but it’s the unsung standard language of the industry and will be expected of me.
- Starting in QA has always been one of the easier ways to get into the industry. It isn’t easy anymore. Moving up takes a lot of work, a lot of networking, and a lot of luck. Yet, I still feel called to pursue a QA position. Probably while still learning C++.
- “Be passionate” and “be humble” were probably said a few dozen times each. That’s my kind of language!
- Figuring out and communicating a sincere passion for development is vitally important, especially during interviews. I might already be kicking some serious ass in this regard.
I’m certainly off to a fantastic start in my quest to make this happen. Everything I’ve learned so far, every piece of advice I’ve absorbed, it brings me closer to my goal. Yup. This is, without any doubt, the industry I belong in.
I’m learning a ton. That’s great. I’m ready to take it further.
It’s time to get hired.
Dream Job Description
“Okay, Chuck.” you say. “I get it. You think you’re talented, or whatever. So what exactly would your ‘dream job’ be called?”
Please, please. Call me Charlie.
There are hundreds of different roles within a typical modern day game studio, and like some kind of jerk on the internet, I haven’t been very specific thus far. I should really point out that Game Design and Game Development describe two very different disciplines within video game creation, even though both are used interchangeably to describe making games. In my humble little brain-dictionary, Design is done by the “art department,” and Development is done mostly by programmers. Designers figure out what the game will look like, developers make the game work and play the way it should. This may sound like silly semantics (and a little alliteration?), but I’ve chosen to make these distinctions because the gap between both disciplines is widening, and requirements for each are becoming more specialized. In fact, many universities now offer separate degrees for design and development.
As a pretty artistic guy, I took a deep interest in the design side of making games during high school. Even before taking that 3DSMax course I mentioned in my last post, I had developed a vast understanding of Adobe Photoshop on my own, and have since learned a thing or two about other professional-level digital art tools such as Maya and Zbrush. Creating art content for games comes naturally to me; I’m good at it.
Yet, the more knowledgeable I’ve become about each part of the art/design side of game creation, the more apprehensive I’ve felt about pursuing it vocationally. Something keeps shooting down the idea before it gets very far. It don’ feel right in mah gut, yaknow? I’m sure all of my design knowledge will prove itself beneficial, but I’m not destined to be the person responsible for creating art content; modeling characters, levels, weapons, and so forth.
So if design ain’t my thing, that leaves development! Oh, by the way, I have zero programming skills. For some reason, I was never very interested in the tedious art of coding. Considering I just finished claiming that Game Development was done “mostly by programmers”, this should raise an alarm for you. The hard truth? Unlike art, programming does not come naturally to me. I was not a born a coding-voodoo-genius-guru like my buddy who landed a salaried programming job with security clearance immediately after high school. Fortunately for me, programmers aren’t the only cog in the game development machine. There’s another, less programming-centric cog I might just be perfectly shaped for.
At the AAA tier of the industry, the name for this particular cog varies from company to company: Senior Developer; Lead Developer; Chief Director; Project Lead… let’s not worry about more semantics. Basically, this is the guy responsible for managing most, if not all, parts of a game’s creation. This guy’s like a movie producer and director combined. He manages and delegates most of the work involved in a production; he maintains a “big-picture” vision of where he wants a game to go, how it needs to play, feel, and sound. He needs to be a master storyteller; a pseudo-psychologist that understands what players will experience while they play. He is often responsible for planning development milestones and meeting deadlines of publishers and other superiors. Along with his team, this guy checks every asset, idea, and feature against his vision for the game, adding and cutting as necessary. He’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but his co-developers are Justices with votes in every ruling. He needs to collaborate openly with his co-developers and designers, humbly accepting the fact that most of the great ideas that will make the game stand out will come from his peers, and not himself.
I’m only vaguely beginning to scratch at the surface here, and this job is starting to sound sort of complicated, right? I know! Isn’t it fascinating!?
No, I’m serious. Everything I just described may seem like a stressful nightmare to you, but I see a plethora of interesting challenges intertwined in satisfying, fulfilling work. This guy I’m describing, let’s just call him a Lead Developer, has my dream job. That Lead Developer position can be VERY different depending on the circumstances—studio / publisher / weather conditions / whatever—but regardless, games are projects that need to be managed. I can’t imagine a better place for me to focus my passion.
Aaaaaaaanyway, I can finally say I have a solid vision of where I want to go professionally.
We’re full circle. Next, I begin the process of deciding where I will pursue a university level education. Maybe. I’m strongly determined to pick a school in a city full of game studios. My soon-to-be wife (I hate the word ‘fiancee’) and I are carefully considering all of our options… and man, we have a lot of options. Seattle? Raleigh? Bangkok? Some place in Iceland!? We could go anywhere! Okay, maybe we should stay in country. Still working on my bilinguality.
Obviously, we’ve got a bit of work ahead of us before we’re really able to make a decision. My goal? To reach out to every single video game studio that tickles my fancy. A paid job offer may sound like a laughable expectation, but that’s where I’m going to start. In my next gamedev post, I’ll be documenting my quest to get a job offer. Every irritating response I receive, all the rejection on the phone thrown my way as I call unceasingly until I talk to the right people… I’m putting every detail here.
This is going to be hilarious.
Growing Up; Dreams About the Future
Today I begin the process of deciding where I will pursue a university level education.
There! I said it! After three years, I finally know that I am truly, honestly, wholeheartedly ready to start school.
No, I don’t think you realize how unbelievably earth-shattering this is. It deserves a calamitous celebration! Someone call the mayor… okay, okay, I’ll shut up. This sounded a lot funnier in my head. But honestly, just ask anyone who knew me during High School. They’ll all tell you the same thing:
I was the worst student ever known to mankind.
Unfortunately, I had a very substantial lack of motivation throughout my high school years. When I graduated, ”formal” education was the last thing on my… agenda, if I even possessed such a thing back then.
The problem was really very simple: I only worked on things I found interesting.
Of course, I found most classes entirely uninteresting, and full of uninteresting homework. By the start of my Junior year, I had mentally checked out of any class that didn’t set me on fire. I did the absolute baseline amount of work I needed to pass, but nothing more. And yet, those years were some of the most important years of my life. Why?
It was during high school that I discovered my passion.
Yes, yes, I played games an enormously inappropriate amount, but that wasn’t all I did! Actually, I worked extremely hard during high school. Just not towards making good grades. Sophomore year I discovered an amazing love for songwriting; I spent countless hours after school working in recording rooms where I taught myself to sing, play piano, and guitar. Junior year was my own little creative renaissance. Thanks primarily to Calculus class, I filled notebook after notebook with the creative concoctions of my daydreaming: rough character sketches, elaborate plot outlines, and hundreds of songs. I took a bus to another school just to take a course about 3D Studio Max, and then spent many afternoons creating my own weapons, armors, and other cool things I wanted to try importing into my favorite games.
Instead of crappy FM radio, I listened to video game soundtracks. I imagined and composed epic scores of my own. I played daily, and not just to lollygag away the time; I studied other players until I could beat them, learning every intimate detail about one game, then moving on to the next. I invented new ways to use in-game mechanics and dreamt about the ways my own game-mechanics would work some day. Nowadays, I can’t play a game without meticulously analyzing all of its nuts and bolts.
I’m really not trying to toot my own horn here, or convince you I’m anything special. All this passion for music, art, and games didn’t help me earn a very impressive GPA. I was immature, undisciplined, stubborn and lazy. I had no idea what I was doing, nor where I wanted to go. When I finally graduated, I placed near the bottom of my class and had nothing to show for all the work I had done. Totally unfortunate!
My sheltered closet-nerd lifestyle imploded very quickly after high school, yet this burning passion for all these hobbies stays with me even as my focus shifts towards the “next step of my life”.
I’ve spent the last three years on a path very different from most guys and gals my age. I wasn’t meant for college after graduating. Instead, my love for music led me to tour with a music ministry band. I traveled with 5 other volunteers and played nearly every day for the best type of audience a musician could ever hope for: Christians. Even if you’re terrible, you’ll never get booed off a church stage. Gretchen was our band’s beautiful drummer, and rather predictably, I fell totally in love with her as we worked together that year. In two months, I’m marrying her. Since finishing our travels on the road, Gretchen and I have been working full time, planning our wedding, and trying to figure out where we’re going to live for the first years of our marriage!
Somewhere during that year I became a grown-up. Crazy. My laziness and lack of discipline? I threw those out to prepare the way for my new dream.
I dream of starting a family with my beautiful wife, living in a quaint little neighborhood in a nice part of town, teaching our kids to ride bikes, play sports, and of course, play vidya games! I know, that sounds awesome, and yes, It’s going to take a lot of work to support. I’m ready. I’m ready to take all of my passion for games and make it my profession.
This is no pipe-dream, my friend.
This is a calling, emboldened by my all-consuming passion for music, for art, and for design. I see endless opportunities to use those talents as a game developer. They are part of what is going to make my work stand out as my career begins.
I may have had a false start, but I will never regret the things I’ve learned these past few years.
At the very least, I hope my story entertains you. Putting these thoughts into words is certainly teaching me more about myself. But I’m sharing this post with you because you’re awesome. So one last thing before you go.
I would be honored to hear what you’re thinking! You’re way cooler than I am, so please, do me a solid favor and let me hear your perspective. Whatever your perspective may be, good or bad, tell me about it.
Have any advice for me? Any questions? Blogging is a totally new “adventure” for me. I’m definitely not done designing the layout of this page, but what do you think so far? How’s my writing? If you like what I’ve started here, tell me how I can make it better! Or just send me some encouragement. Do you hate this and find it totally boring? You should totally tell me why if only to put me out of my misery and save a little of the internet’s bandwidth!
If you go ahead and look to the right of this post you’ll see the big annoying words that say “Respond to me here!” Those buttons take you to my twitter or facebook, whichever you prefer. Or, if you happen to have a Tumblr account, you should totally follow me send me a reply. EDIT: Oh hey, I added that cool little question-mark button on the top of the website if you just want to ask a quick question!
Comments or not, thanks for taking the time to check me out!
This is a calling, emboldened by my consuming passion for music, for art, and for design. I see endless opportunities to use those talents as a game developer. They are part of what is going to make me stand out as I begin my career.