Author Archives: Miller

Hyperbole – or why Diablo 3 is the most dissapointed I’ve ever been in a game.

Let me say right off the bat that I almost certainly got my moneys worth from this game. I paid $100 (Collector’s edition you know), and I certainly got more enjoyment than I’ve gotten for other things I’ve paid $100 for, but it doesn’t change my overall opinion.

So let’s get the hyperbole out of the way first. Two months ago today Diablo 3 was released, and in looking back over these two months now, I’ve never been more disappointed in a video game. I may even go so far as to say it has essentially killed PC gaming for me.

Before that, a few stats! I work as a game developer, so I have a lot of friends/associates that are in the industry as well. A very large number of them were stoked about Diablo 3 as I was, and they were on my RealID list. In addition, I’ve played World of Warcraft since launch, and have quite a few folks from there on my list as well. Those first few days after launch my friend list was completely full of folks playing. It wasn’t uncommon to see 20+ people on at any given time.

I just logged on a minute ago and looked at all my friends. It tells me the last time they’ve been on, and aside from a single outlier, not a single friend of mine had been on in 18 days. I had 2 friends who were last on 18 days ago, the vast majority of folks were last on 30-45+ days ago, which means they only lasted 2-4 weeks in the game. Do I have enough data to form any valid statistical conclusions out of this? Of course not, but the fact that the first two weeks the game was out, i had approximately 95% of my friends list playing the game, and these last two weeks I’ve had only about ~3% of my friends list even *log on* (who knows what they did in that time) is damning for a game Blizzard has stated they wanted to last for “years”.

Why has the game been so disappointing though? What prompted such a bold statement to begin with? It’s a combination of things. I won’t even get into launch day problems because they’ve been re-hashed over and over again, but it’s an indicative outcome of their mindset (if you ask me).

There is no way the sheer number of people waiting to play at launch was a surprise, after all they stated themselves that it was the game with the largest number of pre-orders ever. They’ve been running the most successful MMO for years now, they new what it would take to have a successful launch. It would have been expensive though. They would have had to stand up enough servers to handle the launch rush and then had a ton of excess servers doing nothing a couple days later when everyone had settled into their normal playtimes and habits.

Do i understand that? sure. That doesn’t change the fact that they looked at the situation and decided having a large group of their customers having a horrible (and essentially non-functioning) experience was an acceptable byproduct to save some money. Completely inexcusable and the Blizzard I remember from the past would have never made that choice.

Of course, this is all because the game requires a connection to Battle.net to do anything, always online. This is done for the sake of the auction houses (which I’ll get to shortly), but you can’t even *access* the auction houses in game! I mean, really? The vast majority of the game is spent staring at the AH UI which is horrible to begin with. You could have just as much fun playing multiplayer Excel.

I’m no stranger to making a call on whether a particular nasty bug can be shipped or not. It’s an unfortunate necessity when doing any software development, and games are no exception. I’ve shipped games with bugs in them, we all have. Most times these bugs are found very late. Yet some of the bugs in Diablo I wonder how they could have been found late, and how they could have decided it was ok to ship with them.

For example, once you’ve reached maximum level, you get a stacking buff called Nephalem Valor. The “expected” game play needs you to have that buff maxed out at all times. You can lose the buff by leaving the game or changing skills. However, that’s not even true. Let’s say for example, you accidently drag one of your abilities off the toolbar for a moment (not hard to do in a game that requires frantic clicking).  Instantly you lose all your stacks, even if you drop the ability right back where it was. So naturally they have a “lock toolbar” command yes? I mean, World of Warcraft had one seven years ago. Nope, not only do they not have one, they said they would try to add one in a few patches.. ie, months down the line. I mean.. seriously, what? It takes months to add a single boolean variable option which they’ve already *half* implemented? Come on now, seriously?

of course, you don’t even need to do that. You can go to your skill list in the UI and look around, check out some other skills, but ultimately go back to the same skill set you had. You better make sure you click cancel there though, otherwise, if you click OK, you lose your stacks then too.. Even if you DIDN’T CHANGE anything. I mean, come on?

Doesn’t get any better either. What if your internet had a hiccup and you got disconnected for 2 seconds? All your stacks gone. Oh, if loot had dropped and you were about to pick it up when that happened you lost the loot too.

I said a few seconds ago that the stacks of the valor buff were the “expected” way to play, and I gather this because anything that was *not* playing in this way, they’ve nerfed to the ground. Want to kill a enemy with a lot of magic find? Oh, well we’ve made it so those enemies ignore magic find. Want to break vases for gold? Well they drop nothing now. Want to clear a dungeon that’s pretty hard and then collect stuff from the chests? Oh, well chests now ignore magic find too.

The entire *point* of Diablo was farming items, and Blizzard has continually nerfed every ability folks had to farm items somewhat quickly. Why? To “promote a stable economy” or something, but who the hell cares? This is supposed to be an action RPG, I want to play, and get powerful. I want to do this without being forced into the auction house.

Before i get to the auction house though, I just want to reiterate that I sincerely believe someone(s) at Blizzard has lost their way. They’re treating Diablo like it was an MMO which it wasn’t. They’ve continually sacrificed the fun to make something “balanced” (again, who cares?). They’ve continually punished *real* players to try and stop the “bots” from “ruining the economy”, which is ridiculous and has failed anyway. The economy is already ruined, and it has been since the game launched. After all their fixes, has it gotten better? No, prices continue to rise, gold continues losing its value.

The items themselves aren’t even that interesting like they were before. There were items in Diablo 2 that let me use other classes abilities! Now all I get is some +int or whatever other stat I’m going for. On Inferno difficulty you’re essentially forced into 1 or 2 builds for your class to have a chance (so much for build diversity), and the *entire* gameplay is based around gear. Getting 1 shot by an enemy you never saw is not skill. Getting a bit of gear so you can maybe survive that one shot isn’t skill. Kiting an enemy to kill them is skill, but hey, they decided if you couldn’t kill them quick enough, they enrage and insta-kill you. So the little skill you could use is laughed at and you’re told once again “no, get better gear”. Oh, and they *punish* you by dramatically increasing the repair cost of the items if you happen to die. As mentioned, you *will* die, because you will be one shot from something off screen you never saw. Or a huge lag spike (always online remember) will kill you. I feel sorry for those folks playing hardcore. The entirety of Inferno is predicated on you finding better gear.

Will you find this better gear while playing though (even after the “increase in drop rates” – which doesn’t even come close to counteracting the nerfs they put in place)? Possibly, anyone can get lucky, but almost certainly not. You have to get extremely lucky three times in order to get a good item. First, you have to have an appropriate level item drop. Then that item needs to have rolled the right stats for you. After that, the item needs to have rolled into the high ranges of those stats. All of it is possible to happen, but the odds are dramatically stacked against you.

So what do you do? You have to go to auction house, and it doesn’t take long to realize how terrible that is. You can either pay an extraordinary amount of gold for an upgrade, or if you’ve been unlucky and not found anyting to sell (so you don’t have much gold to use because you spent it all on repairs), you can spend real money on upgrades. Everything in the game seems tailored to encouraging you to go to the auction house to get gear. Fun has been sacrificed all over to get you to go there.

Myself personally; any upgrade I could get will cost me millions of gold I don’t have. I will never *ever* purchase anything from the real money auction house because I won’t be giving Blizzard anymore money. So my choices are to bang my head into the desk while I farm the same areas over and over again, never getting anything remotely useful to anyone and never having any sense of progression, spend real money to get said progression, or stop playing. It’s not a hard choice at all.

In Diablo 2 I almost always felt some sense of progression. In Diablo 3 once I hit the level cap (which was extremely easy to do), it basically stopped.

I’m tired of writing so I’m going to wrap this up, and I didn’t even get to some of the other problems Blizzard has caused, such as the “Hey, you paid for the game, but you can’t play it for 3 days” (even if it was a “mistake”, how could you *ever* release that), or the huge nerf of IAS (improved attack speed) items. Imagine the guy who paid $200 in real money for an item to log in the next day and find the items power was cut in half. Yeah, that’s real fair.

To finish with the hyperbole I started with, Blizzard has completely and utterly failed me as a gamer with this offering and their reputation has been soiled tremendously in my eyes. So much so, that I won’t be picking up Mists of Panderia, nor probably any other game they make in the forseeable future. I used to respect that they made games that were fun above all else, but they’ve lost that in my eyes. Ruining the fun of a game to increase it’s profit is a losing strategy, and the Blizzard I remember from 15 years ago would have never been so naive to believe the opposite.

I have every Blizzard game made in the last 15+ years. If there was a collector’s edition of the game, I have that as well. They were the definition of what I considered a great video game company. It saddens me immensely that I’m now saying that in the past tense. Given the only PC games I’ve *really* played over the last 5+ years have been Blizzard games, Diablo has effectively killed PC gaming for me as well.

How Amazon made me a hypocrite.

The title is a little unfair, Amazon didn’t *make* me a hypocrite, they just enabled me to do so and I just didn’t realize it at first…

A little back story first! The other day, I wanted to buy a song. For those of you interested in what song, it happened to be “Cool Night” by Paul Davis. It’s a great song! That’s neither here nor there though. Now sure, I could listen to it on Youtube for free, but I wanted to put it on my phone which I use as my portable music device.

So I went to Zune to go buy the song and discovered that I couldn’t. Zune found the song in it’s library just fine, but it was grayed out, I couldn’t purchase it. Now, I know why I couldn’t purchase it (Zune doesn’t have license to sell some songs — this isn’t a unique problem to Zune, for years you couldn’t purchase Beatles songs digitally anywhere), but it didn’t stop me from complaining on twitter about it.

“WHY WON’T YOU TAKE MY MONEY!?!” I lamented. I *wanted* to pay the artist (well, I guess his family or his record company more likely since Paul Davis is dead) for his work, and was told “Nope, go away.” Why on earth would *anyone* refuse to sell their work to someone, that seems completely ludicrous!

Err, wait a minute. A while back I made my latest book available through a program Amazon offers called KDP Select. This makes my title available for free borrowing to members of Amazon Prime and allows me to have “sales” days where I can give my book away for free, but in order to join this program I have to list the title on Amazon exclusively for a period of 90 days (it auto-renews at the end of every period unless you opt-out before the renewal).

When I first heard about the program, I thought it was a great idea! I signed up and was happy about it. Yet, looking at it now, I’ve just done the exact same thing I was complaining about a few minutes ago. If someone with a Nook wanted to buy my latest book, they *wanted* to give me their money, I would be telling them “Nope, go away.” Pot, meet kettle.

Unfortunately, this epiphany happened a few days too late so I’ve already been auto-renewed in the program until September, but after that (and all future books) will be available on as many platforms as I can manage, and “exclusivity” will not be something I give in to again. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon and the Kindle, but I don’t like being a hypocrite.

I wonder if all authors go through this…

I’ve talked about my “next” book here a few times. I even got off on a few rants about religion since my “next” book had a very strong religious component to it (you may have even called it an allegory). Yet, even though I have almost the entirety of the plot mapped out in great detail, and even a lot of it written down, I can’t seem to finish it.

Not because of a lack of writing though, but because an entirely different story has taken over my mind. I spent weeks (which turned into months) trying to force this new story back so I could finish my “next” book. Alas, I could not, and eventually (ie, now) I gave up. The story inside of me that needs to be told right now is this new idea, and that will now become my “next” book.

It all started with a simple idea. “What if one day you woke up and discovered you had an ability that changed your life? How would you handle it?” This simple question is the heart of the new book.

For fans of my previous fiction book, I can say that this one is much more psychological than simply gruesome. Of course, that can be even scarier sometimes, so maybe that’s for the best! I plan on having this new book published before Labor Day this year, which gives me a scant two months to finish it up and get it out there. Luckily, I’m almost there!

Once this one is out there, then I will go back and finish the one I was working on earlier this year. Well, unless I get engulfed by yet another great idea. As the title implies, I wonder if all authors go through this song and dance of starting one book before getting side tracked with a completely different book/idea. I need to just let the stories come as they do, rather than trying to force them out. That never seems to work for me.

Little kids say the darnedest things!

When you see your five year old playing with his imaginary friend “Jonathan” you play along with him. Sure, you can’t see his friend, but it’s kind of cute, and look at how imaginative your kid is! Of course, kids get older (as they often do), and soon your little five year old is now eight.

Of course, even at eight, he’s still pretty young. He still talks to Jonathan, but there’s not a lot of harm in that.. You gently hint to him that maybe, just maybe, Jonathan isn’t real. Of course, your kid knows that isn’t true, after all, he can see Jonathan! You talk to other parents and they all same the same thing; it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of it.

As your kid gets older you worry more and more. He’s a teenager now, and he still talks to his friend Jonathan. You try to reason with the child, show him that Jonathan isn’t real and doesn’t exist, but nothing works. Your child is talking to Jonathan daily now and you’re beginning to worry so you take him to a doctor. The doctor provides medication and therapy, but nothing seems to work, your child still talks to Jonathan every day. Worse yet, he is now saying how Jonathan tells him to do things.

Your child has grown into an adult. He still talks to Jonathan daily, but no one aside from your son can see him. No one believes Jonathan is real. Your son has been deemed to have very strong mental issues and is currently locked away in a home because they believe he might be a danger to himself or perhaps even others. Sure, he says Jonathan is only telling him to do good things, but he’s already talking to someone that no one else can see, who could risk what he might really do.

Now your child is 35 years old. He’s spent the majority of his adult life in various hospitals and homes refusing to acknowledge the fact that his friend Jonathan isn’t real, and still talking to him every day. His life has been tragic. Oh, not because he’s been in a hospital for all of his adult life, but because he missed one very important detail.

According to half of this country, had the friend he spent his whole life talking to been named “God” rather than “Jonathan”, he’d be fully qualified to become President of the United States.

Those kids, they really need to think about the names of the imaginary friends they have before they start telling everyone about them.

I am an atheist, and so are you.

My upcoming book has a very religious thematic story which almost certainly comes as a shock to those who know me well. My house is secular, and if I ever do get on the topic of religion I never come down on the side of those who have faith. I picked the topic I did for this book series though quite intentionally; namely that using religion as a framing device you can make very powerful moral statements. Since the main protagonist of this first story started out as an atheist and needed to be “converted”, it was an interesting thought experiment to try to write something that would convince me to change my mind. I can’t say that I am as naive as my book characters though.

In doing research for the book though I’ve realized I have a lot to say on this topic that doesn’t quite meet the narrative I’m going for in the book. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject and I hope that I won’t plagiarize much some of the very intelligent folks whom I whole-heartedly agree with (such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens). Let me also preface this with a disclaimer of sorts. I will almost certainly say something someone finds offensive, so if you’re one of those people, well you’re probably religious, so remember those teachings and forgive me.

As the title of this post says I am an atheist. I do not believe there was a creator of the universe. I do not believe there is any type of being who spends time watching what I do, reading my thoughts, listening for my prayers, caring how I use my body sexually, or any of that (honestly, I believe it to be the height of narcissism if you actually do think that). What’s more, I think you are an atheist as well, and it doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone is an atheist.

Take for example myself; if a Christian walked up to me and asked “Do you believe in God?” and I told them no, most every Christian would agree that I must be an atheist. I have denied the one true god. What if the situation were changed though? What if a Muslim walked up to that Christian and asked “Do you believe in the one true God Allah and that Muhammad was his prophet?” That Christian would say no, and be considered an atheist to that Muslim, just as he considered me one. Actually, ask people if they believe in Thor, or Zeus, and most will say no to that as well. Why? They were considered God’s just as the one’s nowadays. It seems quite logical that every person on the face of the earth would be considered an atheist by someone, hence we’re all atheists. Of course, logic and religion rarely mix so I’m sure folks will disagree on that.

I’m also quite annoyed at how many people who consider themselves religious like to imply (if they are not outright saying) that my lack of belief in their imaginary friend makes me less moral than they are. Let’s ignore for a moment the total hypocrisy in that (if there’s one thing religion is good for, it’s for hypocrisy) and just look at the morals of, say a Christian. Take this thought experiment.

Imagine two young men. One was born into poverty, one was born into excess. The one born into excess used his wealth to hire the best lawyers in the world while he went off on an immoral display that would embarrass Satan if he existed. He lived off his family’s fortune and never worked a day in his life. He tortured animals when he was a child. He abused drugs, he raped women. He became a serial killer, kidnapping and murdering young children. He caused pain and suffering to all families he came in contact with.

Now imagine the other young man born into poverty. He worked hard his entire life. Studied hard in school, became educated. He pulled himself and his family out of poverty, became a doctor. He then developed the cure for cancer, saving the lives of millions of people around the world. He had a loving family and made everyone around him better and happier.

I have a hard time imagining anyone who would say the first man was more moral or a better person than the second. I know for certain that I would not; the second man was a better person and much more moral than the first. Yet, let’s add a few more details. The first man was born to a Christian family in the United States. On his deathbed he realized the error of his ways and found Jesus and accepted him as his one true savior. This was very sincere, and he truly believed and repented. The second man however was born in India and was raised under Hinduism which was his belief system. He did not believe in the one true God, or Jesus.

So according to Christian beliefs, the first man is going to spend an eternity in Heaven while the second will spend an eternity being tortured in hell. Actually, let’s go a step further. Many Christians believe that at the end of days Jesus will come back to earth to save all those who believe in him in the rapture. He will lead the armies of God into battle against the armies of Satan (in this case, including any who doesn’t believe in him). Which means that if this event were too happen before those two individuals died, Jesus would be trying to *kill* the man who spent his entire life helping others while the child molester/raper/murderer fights alongside Jesus and the cause of “good”. Who in their right mind would call this behavior “moral”?

I’ve read the bible. I honestly can’t see how anyone can read the bible and come out as anything but an atheist. Plainly put, God is simply evil. No one can truthfully read the bible and believe that it teaches anything about morality. It’s contradictory amongst itself; take for example the ten commandments. One of the commandments is “Thou shall not kill” (how that one gets listed after idolatry and some of the others is baffling). Well, don’t kill unless of course a woman wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night, then stone her death. Don’t kill unless you see your neighbor working on Sunday; he certainly deserves to die. Then again, God killed the entirety of the human population save Noah and his family, so what’s a little more genocide.

The world (rightfully) considers Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews to be one of the most evil acts in human history. Some even consider him the “antichrist”; pure, unadulterated evil. Yet when God himself murders almost the entire human population, that’s somehow not evil. “God moves in mysterious ways.” As if our feeble human minds are incapable of determining what God’s intentions are, yet when something happens we believe is good, we thank God and say “God is good.” This is intellectually dishonest at best; blissfully ignorant at worse.

Millions of young children die every year. Before you’ve finished reading this post, very likely a young child somewhere in the world will have died. Some of these millions of children that die each year undoubtedly have parents praying for them; the children themselves may be praying. Many, along with the parents, are scared and going through unimaginable pain and grief. Yet, the prayers will not be answered. Worse, many of those children will be spending an eternity in hell because they don’t believe in the “right” god. Any ‘being’ that would allow millions of young children to die every year, causing such pain and misery for the families is evil. Either that or incapable of helping those children; in which case, why call this being “God”?

Of course, “God has a plan” is what you will hear. This is the most ludicrous statement I ever heard as it completely eliminates the possibility of free will. You cannot have free will if God has a plan. Also; if he does have this master plan; why does he allow evil in the world to begin with? He must be a sadist as well as a psychopath.

Despite all this, religious people tend to believe that *I* am the one who lacks morals? I do not need an imaginary friend to tell me what’s right from wrong; particularly when that imaginary friend preaches bigotry and hatred.

Why is this important at all though? Why shouldn’t I just let people believe what they want (which seems to be a common refrain)? Let’s ignore for a moment the hypocrisy of the religious folks who constantly try to push their beliefs unto others and look at the larger question. Why are religious beliefs any different than any other beliefs? If someone wants to believe that heroin is what keeps them going in life, why shouldn’t we just let them believe that? Of course we don’t, we put them in jail. If someone wanted to believe that 3+4 was equal to 132, would we let them believe that? No, they’d be told how they were wrong. Just because billions of people believe something doesn’t mean it has any semblance of truth. The entire idea of “faith” is believing without evidence, and in any other area of our life doing such a thing would be considered ill-advised at best and outright crazy at worst.

On top of that, our country is sliding in decline so fast it is unimaginable. The only real good “products” we make anymore are in the high tech industry and industry born of science and mathematics. Yet, almost half of the citizens of the United States don’t believe in evolution. We have people actively fighting to stop teaching evolution in school so they can teach more religious “intelligent design”. Ignore the separation of church and state for a moment and think about that. The religious folks are using mythology from over two thousand years ago to fight a war against science. The future of the world will be coming from science, not from a book that supports slavery and killing innocent people of thought crimes. Yet, if these people have their way, we will abandon science to wallow in superstitions from two millennia ago. The fall of America will come because our population will become too stupid and brainwashed to do anything on the world stage. We’re already a laughing stock when we have so many people (who are doing quite well) running for President of the United States who willingly say they don’t believe in evolution. I’m ashamed that these people could get any votes; much less the millions they will get.

These people also don’t stop to realize that the very reasoning they don’t believe in evolution simply proves God doesn’t exist. They say “anything so complex as humans couldn’t have been evolved, we had to be created, and God created us.” Yet, by extension this means God is more complex than humans, which means by their own definition he *had* to be created, and so on until an infinite regress.

This doesn’t even approach some of the other world religions, such as some of the extremists who flew planes into the world trade center because they believed that is what god wanted and they would be rewarded for this. Then you hear Christians telling us how evil they are, ignoring the fact that Christianity was responsible for more terrorism so far in the world than the Muslims have been; did they forget about the Crusades? We even called those times the dark ages.

So it’s very true that I am an Atheist. There is simply no evidence to believe anything different. Of course, so are you, and so is everyone else in the world. I suppose this means I can never run for political office now…

Still writing, but delayed!

I was hoping to be finished with the manuscript for the next story by now, but the combination of forces conspiring against me has put me a bit behind! Silly work getting me busy. I still expect to have it done soon though, hopefully before the end of this month!

Introspection

As I gaze into a mirror of my soul.

Do I have the courage to examine the man looking back at me?

What if he’s desolate and lonely, full of despair; a broken down wreck of loathing?

Why can’t I hope he’s happy and vibrant, instead of this monster?

I want to peer in, to find out who I am

But fear holds me back; my mind left to wonder

Am I the person I hoped I would be?

Or simply an imposter, faking it for the rest of the world.

 

I suppose it’s inevitable..

I would like to preface this post with the following disclaimer; I am not on the XNA team, nor have I been on the XNA team in almost two years. Do not mistake anything below for an “insider scoop” of anything because I do not know what their current plans are, nor do I know what their future plans are. Everything below relates to XNA version 1.0, and there are still folks who worked on later versions over in that organization. With that out of the way, I shall continue!

Shawn Hargreaves announced the other day he was leaving to move over to the Windows Phone team after six years working on XNA. I’m sure this isn’t a surprise to anyone who keeps even a rudimentary pulse on the XNA scene is subscribed to Shawn’s blog and has read it. However, for me it was a little bit bittersweet.

As the title of this post implies, I suppose it is inevitable. After all, as Shawn points out, he was working on XNA for over six years, and that’s a very long time to be doing one thing. However, with Shawn’s departure, from my recollection everyone that busted their asses to get the first version of XNA out the door has moved on from that team (not entirely true; there is still one person left in that organization who was there at the start of the XNA project, but he’s been on a different role now for quite a while).

The team that started XNA wasn’t very large to begin with, and we weren’t all “publicly popular” (such as Shawn, Kluch and myself), but the small group of us that were there from the start had a huge unknown challenge in front of us, not even sure if it would really work. We had a completely unrealistic release schedule (you want us done before the end of this year? right), were writing everything from scratch, and we had exactly zero customers.

I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished with that first release, and it was probably one of my favorite times at Microsoft. We almost felt like a bit of a startup within the company, and we were successful beyond our original ideas. By version two we had the concept of an “App Store” before Apple did (not to take anything away from Apple, there store is obviously more successful than XBLIG), and people were making money.

As often happens though, time goes on, new people are hired, other people leave. Inevitable. While I was there, we always prided ourselves on our ability to make good hires, so I’m sure the people that remain are top-notch, but it is still somewhat sad for me to look back and realize that everyone that made version one of XNA what it was has now moved on to other adventures in their career. I will always look back at those times fondly. Working with that group of people was a pleasure.

As for what line of code of mine that is executed the most, I can’t say actually since I had a hand in almost ever piece of the xna runtime. It’s impossible to run an XNA game without using some of my code, even now with me gone for a few years. In the runtime itself, it’s probably the graphics device creation still (even though that was changed in v4).. By now it could be the predicated tiling work or even the intro “XBLIG screen” that you see before every game. We should have collected metrics on this kind of stuff!

Books after NaNoWriMo

I’ve already written about why I love books and everything there still stands, but the truth is there’s more to it than that, as I’m sure most folks who enjoy writing will tell you.

Even when it’s unintentional, it also gives the writer the opportunity to make social commentary (for lack of a better word). While I doubt you would find anything most folks would call “social commentary” in my first book, it was intentionally morally ambiguous, leaving questions that as an individual you needed to ponder, applying your own social and moral values to the situation. I like that I get to ask deep (potentially thoughtful) questions, while at the same time unveiling my opinion on the subject, even if it is not necessarily directly apparent.

You see, the thing is I utterly despise people who make constant inane social commentary on the various social mediums I frequent. Most times, they’re delusional at best, following the latest in a long line of demagogues incapable of critical thinking on their own.  On the occasions that they are, they will find people who are not constantly arguing with them. I suppose some folks find the conversations intellectually stimulating (or perhaps they like trolling), but I for one do not, so the majority of the time I ignore them and go on about my day.

Were it public and up front, my social commentary would be brutal. I can’t understand how politicians can continue to get elected on a platform of “we want the other side to lose” rather than “we want to do what our voters need”. I can’t understand the hypocrisy that comes from all sides in government. Our country is falling apart before our eyes, and everyone is so blind trying to beat the other guy, everyone forgot there was a government to run. I can’t understand anyone who thinks the Republicans are 100% right on all issues, much like I can’t understand how anyone thinks the Democrats are either. I believe if our founding fathers saw the country we are right now, they would wonder what they ever fought the Revolutionary war for since we have basterdized the names of those that did. Don’t even get me started on organized religion.

Before I turn into the one of the folks I despise though, that last paragraph will be one of the very few times I outright give some of my views on social issues. Instead, they’re scattered in my writings. I had a particular topic I wanted to tackle during the NaNoWriMo time frame, and I’m really enjoying this story. It’s too long though, and even though it isn’t done yet, I know it has multiple climaxes, so I’ve decided to split it up.

So I suppose this is my announcement of my second fiction book, which will be part one of three (or four, depending on how detailed I want the backstory of one of the major characters to be, he deserves his own book if I get into it). Now, the genre will be the same as the last one, still a horror novel. It will certainly be less gruesome than the previous though, not that I particularly mind the gore, but I think some people latched onto that more than the message hidden beneath it.

My hope is to have each one done in just under three months, which would line up with part one out before January ends followed by part two before the end of April and part three by the time summer is making the days warm up here. I fully expect to be unusually busy at work this year though (working on secret games we haven’t announced yet of course) so I don’t have a great deal of confidence yet, but those are my goals.

I’m actually more excited about this series than I was about my first book, which is actually a bit of a surprise. I was super excited about that one.

Writing games and writing platforms..

Much like my love of fiction books, I have been a gamer for basically as long as I’ve been able to be. I have no idea where it started, but the first time I really I remember playing games was at a pizza place back in Saint Louis called Pantera’s. I played all kinds of games back there, although I remember wasting way too many quarters in Rastan. Before that there was Spy Hunter and if we go back far enough, even Pole Position. I’m sure there was probably others before that, but we’re edging back to the limits of my memory, I’m not *that* old after all.

At the time I was playing these though, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that there were people who actually created these wonderful things. Sure, it seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time I was a young kid, I probably would have believed that unicorns and fairies made the games I loved. I knew there was some kind of a computer in there, and that’s what I wanted, but we were quite poor at the time and couldn’t afford one.

Luckily, my mother saved up for a year and she was quite excited to finally give me a computer for Christmas one year, and boy was I excited to get it. It was an amazing piece of hardware called the TRS-80 (that has a nickname now of “trash 80″, but I didn’t care, it was a real computer). Looking back at that now, it’s kind of funny, the very first thing it said when you turned it on was Microsoft (MS did the BASIC for the system). Who would have thought that 15 years later I would actually be *working* at Microsoft, the computer had given me an inspiration I didn’t even realize.

The system came with the BASIC mentioned above and it was fascinating to me. I could type things and stuff would happen. I devoured the few “tutorials” in the book that came with the system and was anxious to find anything more I could. I started out probably the way many kids back then did, by copying huge chunks of text out of a magazine, not necessarily understanding what was going on, but being amazed by the results. Well, after running it the first time, realizing it was broken and then spending hours painstakingly trying to find the single spot I had messed up typing.

With that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I would write games, and despite not even being a teenager yet, I was going to write the best game the world had ever seen. It was here that I learned a very powerful lesson; that being that writing a game was hard. I wasn’t even remotely qualified to do this.

I spent the next several years learning how to be a developer in general, always thinking of games in the background, but learning the basics. I learned new languages, being fascinated by the power of Pascal before migrating to C, and then discovering Visual Basic and realizing that as a development language, this was the beginning of a boon to developers everywhere. It had a low barrier to entry and could explode at any time.

Now, I still wanted to be a game developer, and I still didn’t think I was qualified to be one, so it was then that I decided what better way to become qualified than by opening up game development to the masses and help *everyone* become qualified. By now, I was already working at Microsoft and migrated over to the DirectX team and began a project that intended to bring the power of DirectX to Visual Basic. I’ve told this story many times, so I’m sure everyone knows by now that DirectX for Visual Basic turned into DirectX.NET which turned into Managed DirectX which turned into XNA. By the time I looked up I realized that I had been writing platforms for an entire decade, and still not writing games.

That’s when I switched. I moved over to Microsoft Studios (then Microsoft Games Studios) and started making games. So here we are now, a year and a half later. What have I discovered?

Despite both of them being writing code, and actually, even somewhat related code, the two activities are so very far apart. There are so many things you need to take care of for a platform (such as robust parameter validation) that you simply don’t need to worry about in a game. On the flip side, writing games has extra constraints you just don’t see on the platform side such as game designers. Ok, sure, you could argue that program managers help define the “mechanics” of APIs much like a game designer helps define the “mechanics” of the game, but once the program manager has defined the mechanics, she is done. The game designer must also make those mechanics fun.

There’s so much more creativity required when writing games as well. Sure, there is some creativity in designing API’s and functionality and feature set on a platform, but it’s not nearly the same magnitude. Actually, I suppose that isn’t fair, there is a lot of creativity in developing a platform, just not the type of creativity that excites me the way writing a game does; coming up with narrative, etc.

It’s also taught me that despite spending a decade making game development easier to do, I still have so much to learn. I would feel comfortable developing a platform completely on my own (hell, I have done it before), while I’m not sure I could say the same thing about writing a game. The work game designers do (and the way in which they think about things) is a skill I need to learn, and I’m thankful I have the opportunity to learn from a group of people who are amazing at what they do. Some of my coworkers have done design work on some of my favorite games of all time such as Command and Conquer; Gears of War; Alan Wake; Dungeon Siege; the list goes on and on.

That isn’t to say that I worked with less amazing people before (I’m sure everyone knows who Shawn is, which would disprove that), it’s just a different type of awesome. Developing a platform, the cool things we normally get to see could best be described as tech demos, and while they’re amazing in their own right, you normally have to wait for your customers to write something awesome to fully realize your initial vision.

If there was one thing I missed about being on the platform team it was the intimate knowledge of what was coming next. I just don’t have that anymore, and it is frustrating. I wish someone would say something about XNA and Windows 8 just like everyone else does. However, for where I was in my career and my life, making the transition to making games was definitely the right move for me. I can flex my creative juices and expand in the areas I am weak in.

It’s nice to realize that your dream job at eleven can still be your dream job at thirty six.