26 Mar 2011

An Appreciation of Developers

Earlier this week I stumbled on a brilliant idea from Scarybooster. For a couple of years now he’s been running Developer Appreciation Week, a chance for us to say thanks to all those in the video games industry who make our lives that little bit better.

I know I’ve been a grouchy malcontent recently, poking holes and picking problems. Yet to be fair, Scarybooster has a point. I honestly can’t remember the last time I stood up and said “You know what, for all its faults you still made a bloody great game that I’ve had great fun playing.” Sure, I might think certain things could be better but that doesn’t mean that the fatalistic “everything sucks” approach is the right one.

That said, there are some groups of people within the video game industry that I wanted to single out for special thanks. While I appreciate the work of everyone who spends their day job producing this form of entertainment, I reckon these folks deserve a particular mention.

The Quest Writers

Some of the most memorable MMO and RPG moments I’ve ever experience have come from questing. From the ones that reveal to me just how deep the storyline is through to those that just make me laugh out loud, the role of a quest writer is often overlooked. These are the people that turn the light and fluffy lore that Chris Metzen et al. think up and turn it into a detailed and consistent gameworld.

They’re also usually responsible for creating and naming NPCs, along with most of their dialogue. This in itself is a big deal – making sure that each questgiver is placed correctly, has a meaningful number of quests and is internally consistent is hard enough, but multiply that by the number of questgivers in a zone and the number of things to keep track of is immense.

Finally, they do a great job at making each race, zone and culture feel unique and different. Maintaining a consistent gameworld is one thing but making each part of the levelling process feel different is another. For moving away from the grind of “kill ten rats” and into something more, I thank you.

The Coders

I’ll level with you, I’m a coder. Or rather, I’m a former coder who’s now been promoted and now designs stuff for other people to code. Sometimes when I reflect on it I get a teeny bit of envy – “I could have been a game programmer” I’ll think to myself when I’m on the train home from a day at the office. I’m only kidding myself though. The people who write video games have a dedication to their craft that far exceeds my own.

It’s strange that when you write a good game engine people barely notice it’s even there. It’s only when you develop something that’s picked up by the media as groundbreaking that you get a name for yourself. These days a game engine is more of a team effort, requiring a number of specialist disciplines and a group-minded focus.

Beyond the traditional coders, I’m also grateful to those that develop tools and interfaces for the fans and hobbyists to use. From packaging level editors and scriptwriters with your games, to allowing users to build upon your game through interfaces like LUA. These people add so much more to their games by inviting us to become creators ourselves.

It’s like the door being left half-open in the sausage-making factory. Most of us will just walk on by and never pay it much attention, while others will walk in and have a go at making sausages themselves. There are some folks working in the industry now that started out by making levels for Doom or Quake in their spare time.

The Project Managers, Producers and Admin Staff

Hang on, I know what you’re thinking. “Wait up Gaz, these folks aren’t developers, they’re just hangers on that get in the way of making great games!” And I’d listen, smile and tell you how wrong you are. These are the people that let the coders spend their time coding and the writers writing. They’re the ones that keep the artists drawing and the musicians playing. Why? Because they make sure it all happens together.

If you’ve played a few video games you’re probably aware of everything that goes into producing one. But how do you coordinate all of that together so that your game is ready to go on the shelves by a given date, or so that it doesn’t go massively over budget and never makes any money? And if you’re a kick-ass level designer or programmer do you really want to be spending your time with all this stuff?

It’s often that these people are the unsung heroes of the gaming industry. They make sure that the game is made with a steady eye on how much it costs, when it will be finished and how good a game it is. If you ever hear the mantra of time, cost and quality (TCQ) you’ll be talking to one of these.

These folks are just as responsible for making sure that the games we play are a success and that studios can go on to produce more great games in the future. This is a big burden and one we don’t give them enough credit for.

And Finally

Before I wrap up I want to give a big thanks to everyone who works in the video game industry no matter what part you play. You often give up time with your friends, family and loved ones because you’re passionate about what you’re working on, because you want to create the best work you can, because you care about the people who will be playing your game. For those who have battled their way through crunch time and come out the other side, you have my respect.

I feel like I’m borrowing from Larísa, but I’ll raise a glass to you. The people who spend their time crafting incredible worlds for us to explore and play in. The people who produce things that fill me with childlike wonder and awe. The people who can show me things beyond the boundaries of my own imagination.

You are all awesome.

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