Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gaming School: How I Learned To Stop Worrying (About Grades) And Love To Ridicule Everyone

I KNOW that Daytona USA is already out for PSN and is coming out tomorrow for XBL.  But this is something that must be said.  Let's be straight--today was just a s***ty day.  I know some people don't want to hear it but here goes anyway.  I'll try to make it as quick as possible.

And I know that this is a "controversial" post, especially if anyone who knows me in real life reads it, but I debated whether or not to post it.  Spent too much time on it anyway so don't want to let it go to waste.


At game school (FIEA), one of the things we do for this semester is work in teams of five and make a game in two weeks.  We make a total of five games.  I already finished my first two games: 30 Seconds or Less and A.R.I.  I'm proud of my work.

The third round's theme was "immersion" or the act of making non-linear gameplay.  Ours was for this big MonsterMedia touch TV, kind of like a big iPad.  We made a 2D game codenamed "MonsterBlocks" in which the goal was to escort a frog across the screen by dropping tiles from the sky (Connect-Four style) in order to aid/hinder him.  It was really a shallow idea that hinged on that level-editing mechanic--kind of like a sordid combination of Tetris, Lode Runner, and Frogger.

Our game did not fare well.  Our team had one producer (normal guy), two programmers (me and this Chinese guy), and two artists (two girls, hoohah).  First day on the project, ideas clashed.  In the end, the tile-dropping idea was made concrete.  I personally thought it was too shallow and had my doubts on the MonsterTV platform, but popular vote wins, right!  Let's begin working, huh?

The producer then e-mails everyone a list of vague instructions on what we should do next.  Then he goes AWOL.  Bear in mind that the Producer's primary job is to CONCEPTUALIZE THE GAME AND AID THE TEAM TO VICTORY.  Since producers are generally useless outside that realm, many producers at FIEA learn how to code, design art, write scripts, or record sound effects.  All our producer did was pop in occasionally then go away.  It stunk.  We weren't "motivated" to work hard.  For my first two games, I worked on them purely out of self-interest and pride.  Here I just got pissed off since our team was so disorganized.  I was running back and forth (in my mind, that is) trying to figure out what to accomplish.

To be fair, the game itself wasn't that bad...the art was good and the controls were alright (disregarding the touch screen).  If you took something like this, tweaked it and put it on a different platform, it would be okay.  EDIT: But it seemed like our team was willing to take the hit on presentation day and there was not a whole lot that could be done since I haven't talked with the producer and because I'm slaving away at whatever menial tasks I was assigned.

Tuesday at 2 am, me and my Chinese buddy finished cramming our game all while our producer stood around offering little nitpicks and staring at everyone else's games.  Later, after we got a half-night's rest, we presented our MonsterTV game to the cohort.  Out of the seven MonsterTV games, ours was the only one that didn't elicit any smiles or laughs out of the crowd--it was boring.  A lot of the minute details I added or polished weren't even shown during the demo.  Our producer just popped in and winged the whole thing as I stood there and took potshots for making a lousy game.  Bear in mind that ALL OF US get the same grade on the game so if he tanks, then I tank too.

As an angst programmer, I shall throw him bus.
Although I will admit he's a nice guy so I do so with chagrin.

Speaking of producers, I'm going to say this too.  Out of the three game design tracks here at FIEA, there are way more producers than programmers.  How can that be--all these producers but not enough programmers to design the games?  I'll tell you why--because the idea of being called a "Game Producer" is a big ego boost to some.  As a matter of fact, when I first read up on FIEA, I was all gung ho over being a producer!  You're like the architect of a building--you get to tell everyone what the game will be like!  On the other hand, those lousy programmers...the ones who are lazy, introverted, and don't shower (not me though).  They're like the construction workers.  They do all the bitch work.  No one wants to be a programmer and deal with all that math/logic/puzzle solving.  They want to be PRODUCERS and be the boss of it all!

Herp derp, I'm just a helpless programmer!!!

If you take a look at the homework the Producers have, they have to write up so many game documents, it's nuts.  Enjoy it, guys!  You want to design the games, right?  Then sit there and drown in all that ink.  Attend all the meetings, give the public speeches, and take the hit when the game sucks.  There's more to being a producer than writing down ideas and telling everyone what to do.  Some producers already get the picture (they're specializing in programming/art), others do nothing.  Just a friendly wake-up call for producers, that's all.


It gets better!  To tack on to an already bad day (seeing my game crash & burn in front of a crowd of 70 people), it turns out that my classmates think I'm useless!  What do I mean?  At the end of each project, each person gives out "Peer Ratings."  You sit down on a computer and rank each teammate (excluding yourself) from best to worst in four categories.  Categories are" Easiest to Work With", "Put in Most Time", "Most Creative", and" Number One Player".  Then after you rank them, you give them a final score of 1 through 5.  In other words, it's the digital version of Survivor...in total secrecy, go figure out which person(s) to screw over.  Brilliant.

Eric, you go home back to Louisiana, do not pass go, do not work for Sega, do not make Daytona USA 3.

Example: So I have four teammates named Bob, Joe, Gus, and Sam.  I'm ranking them in terms of Number One Player.  Now Bob did a lot of work, I put him at #1 with a score of 5.  Gus did a lot of work too but just a little less than Bob so I put him at #2 but give him a 5 anyway.  Sam did some work so I put him at #3 with a score of 4.  Joe was more or less expendable so I rank him at #4 with a score of 3 (he still helped a little).

Now everyone in the class got to see their rankings compared to everyone else (in terms of position on Top 4 lists, not scores).  They saw them in secrecy so you don't know how anyone else besides you fared.  Just for my first two games alone, I fared MISERABLY.  In terms of "Easiest to Work With" and "Most Creative," I ranked in the bottom 10%.  Like 60th out of 65th.  As for "Put in Most Time" and "Number One Player," I finished somewhere in the middle (35th place).

Now some of you are probably snickering at the scores and saying "Eric, you're a loudmouth who deserves to fail."  No, these scores are horribly flawed.  Utter bull for multiple reasons but here's one: I KNOW for a fact that I busted my ass on both of these projects.  As a matter of fact, 30 Seconds or Less was my baby.  A good soldier never leaves a man behind...so I polished the hell out of the game when everyone seemingly lost interest.  No really, I went around asking for help but I was uncertain what everyone was trying to do.  If I waited up for everyone, then the game would look less polished for the final presentation and our project grade would drop.  And as for A.R.I., I worked on that to keep up with my earnest teammates.  I think that I did an adequate job on those!  But here's more things to think about:

First and foremost, I'm a PROGRAMMER.  With Asperger's, mind you.  Regardless, I'm actually positive and complimentary with my teammates.  We're "friends," we say hi to each other.  So if I'm not an extrovert when it comes to socializing, that means I'm horrible at this job?  Plus, interacting with other teammates...isn't that the Producer's job?  He's the glue that holds the project together?  So because I'm not up and at em all the time, I'm not easy to work with?  If I am easy to work with, then doesn't that NEGATE the Producer's purpose anyway???  To coordinate efforts among each other???  WTF???

And the second thing--most creative.  First, saying someone's "most creative" is a misnomer.  There's two kinds of creativity.  First is artistic creativity--the ability to paint pictures, write poems & stories, and create music.  This is the kind of creativity that comes to mind which just about everybody.

A Bob Ross video game: more fun than Gears of War and Rage (yeah I went there).

Then there's pragmatic creativity--the kind of creativity that involves solving problems.  Now programmers aren't known for being very imaginative but they are known for solving logic/math problems!  Like imagine if you will that you're MacGyver.  You need to escape from a burning building.  You can blow a hole in the wall, get a fire extinguisher or build a makeshift helicopter and fly out of there.  All viable options to solving the problem at hand!  You just need to put the pieces together in your mind and then do it.

That's a different type of creativity...one that involves getting an idea onto the computer screen somehow.  Like in 30 Seconds or Less, getting the delivery system/arrow pointer working.  And the drifting/smoke effects...my God that made a world of difference!  One teammate said "It made the game not boring."  All of that was a LOT of work in trying to setup the code, graphics, and UI.  Yet apparently my accomplices didn't see that in me.  At all.  So according to them, I'm a creative as a doorknob.  Kind of like Ethan Albright, the lowest-rated player in Madden (and his personal response to the man himself)...

It’s also pretty wonderful that my awareness rating was 59. You make it sound like I wake up in the morning, helplessly s*** and piss myself, then lose three of my teeth before I discover that I am trying to eat a rock for breakfast. F***, John, I understand you saying that I am slow and lacking athleticism, but a rating like this pretty much labels me as retarded. Rod “He Hate Me” Smart has a 52 in this category. Electronic Arts is saying that seven rating points separate me and the breathing embodiment of the perfect oxymoron. Rod Smart struggled to arrange words in sentence form. Cave men had better hold of the English language. The only actions that separate point values of ignorance at this embarrassing level are things like using your own toothbrush to wipe your ass. I basically edged out Rod by my lack of shit teeth. If I take a night school class, could you bump me up to a 60?

And for hilarity's sake...

I have received the impression that you feel that I am lacking in the agility category. I should consider a walk through my living room where I don’t crash through a wall or kick over furniture a resounding success. My agility rating on your game is 33. It makes it sound like I just topple over if I start walking too fast. Ted Washington is rated a 40 in agility. He is listed at 365 pounds. If Ted Washington tied a white lady up and made her wear a metal bikini, he’d look just like Jabba the Hut.

Oh, and as for the other two categories (and all in general).  Isn't this just a matter of outrunning your teammates?  Like if you and and a friend are in the woods being chased by a bear, you're not outrunning the bear, you're outrunning YOUR FRIEND (bear will kill the first person he gets).  So in the end, doesn't this whole contest involve sucking up and trying to outperform each other?  Oh, but that's good right?  But ever since when did this become a competition?  I mean, work good for YOURSELF and the game's sake, not to go nuts and play macho head games with your "accomplices."  Getting them to think you ran in circles all last night getting the game to work and thus they rate you higher.  Come on, man!  You know someone's tried that before.  Care more about looking good than the game itself.

And one more thing.  Consider this.  What if there's someone out there who just doesn't like me for personal reasons?  Like if they read my blog and say "Oh, this guy doesn't like Burnout, therefore I don't like him."  EDIT: Or, to a lesser extent, some members on the team are best friends and only see value in each other.  What's to stop them from voting the way they do?  Nothing, apparently.  Either way, I'm getting the shaft.  Brilliant.

Then there's the number ratings that people assign to you.  Okay, never mind the rankings (other than that they should give you the whereabouts on what your score is).  A 1 through 5 score is relative!  Like in game reviews, most of us think that 7 is an "average-to-good" score.  However, some shift to the left and say that 5 is an "average-to-good" score.  So his 5 is another guy's 7.  So if I get on this computer and rank everyone in the 3-5 range (cause everyone contributed), what if someone else gets on there and starts handing out ratings in the 1-3 range because he sees these numerical ratings from a different perspective than I?  So basically, he's killing me while I let him off the hook.

Did I mention that we're being graded on how well our peers rate us?  I think I've been fair in my evaluations of my teammates thus far (as well as very generous).  Since my "Easiest to Work With" rating is rock bottom, that means that it is unanimous that everyone I've worked with previously (eight people) thinks I'm a terrible person to work with.  Which I see as "Eric, you're a lousy bastard."  So do I still see these people as good friends?  Or do I sense some bad vibes with me?  Can I even look these people in the face and give a genuine "Hello" anymore?  You have realize how much I suck at maintaining friendships so stuff like this really takes a toll on me.

Oh, and did I mention we haven't tallied the ratings for the third game yet?  The Monster Blocks game that tanked?  So every team does private post-mortems in which they talk about what went well and what didn't.  This is a viable time for me to come out and say who dropped the ball on this project (and we know who).  But if I come out and say sternly, "You need to do better," wouldn't the same person get his feelings hurt and then turn around and rate me lowest on "Easiest to Work With" because I'm such an asshole?  So isn't this a fragile game of politics at here?  You need to be tough but at the same time you have to do what all good little employees need to do: KISS ASS??  What do I do??

What goes on inside my brain at any given moment.

In the end, we are on edge with each other.  Anyone says anything threatening, we take each other out.  IT'S G-D WAR GAMES PEOPLE.  This is what this peer rating system is--IT'S A GAME.  It's not a valid means of grading each other.  It's a load of ass.  And like I said before, this wouldn't bother me so much if you weren't kicked out if your GPA fell below a 3.0.  Oh well, this class is already half-over.  I'll be done soon.  Much ado about nothing I suppose. I could roast 'em some more but I won't bother. What's past is prologue.

EDIT: Well I've had a discussion with a few people about this today.  Some are understanding where I come from.  Things can get better from here.  Don't worry about this too much.


  1. Your blog is always a great read, and is one of my favorites. Keep up the great work, Eric!

  2. Thanks Shenmue Fan, you're a good man...