Experienced Points: The Video Game Industry is Going Through Very Awkward Growing Pains

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 8, 2014

Filed under: Column 30 comments

I have an odd column this week. It actually began as a Diecast question. (Which I’ve misplaced. Sorry!) It was something along the lines of “Why are games so stuck in a rut?” But it didn’t make it into the Diecast. Then I tried to turn it into a blog post. Then the thing sort of took on a life on its own. I started with speculating on what was going on at the major development houses, and wound up with this long comparison to Hollywood.

Also, I’m talking about Hollywood. Hopefully I didn’t butcher the history too hard. There’s only so much catching up you can do on Wikipedia before you have to buckle down and start writing.

Still, it’s nice to be positive for once. Or if not positive, then at least not-negative. Hm. Maybe it was still kind of negative. But it was negative in an understanding way. Sorry. That’s the best I can do.


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30 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Video Game Industry is Going Through Very Awkward Growing Pains

  1. Ciennas says:

    Awesome article. I think the biggest problem is that people are trying to do Hollywood comparisons to the video game industry- they’re related industries, but totally different under the hood. I think that’s part of the problem- everyone can see how to make a movie, even if they’re not great at it. Making a great game requires more than just looking at what you see.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      It’s a lot like the difference between testing software and testing a book. When you proof read a book, you can be reasonably sure that you’ve experienced everything the audience is likely to experience. You probably understand the whole thing, and know what is possible within the confines of the story. Movies are basically the same. You watch a screening, and then you have seen the whole thing.

      But when you read through source code, or even use the software… how can you tell when you’re “done”? You can’t! Exhaustive testing is difficult in direct proportion to the emergent complexity of the system, which also goes some way to explaining why so many games are linear corridor style, since they are so much easier to comprehend and test.

      But, what else can we do? What analogy is there for games (and software in general) that will help us understand them? We make analogies with movies because they are the closest thing under our control. A better analogy for software and game development might be chaotic forces of nature like the weather, but that’s hardly encouraging to those hoping to understand the process.

      1. Henson says:

        “What analogy is there for games (and software in general) that will help us understand them?”

        City planning? There are lots of variables in urban development, and the questions of how and in what ways they interact is up to a lot of guesswork; a predicted yet unknown result without extensive testing.

        1. Muspel says:

          That’s probably an accurate analogy, but it’s not very helpful for helping people to understand game development because most people are unfamiliar with city planning.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        “What analogy is there for games (and software in general) that will help us understand them?”

        You still dont know?Car analogies,of course.

      3. ehlijen says:

        I think the closest in media would be Choose your own Adventure books?

        You can proofread it all from beginning to end, but that doesn’t mean every path through it makes sense. You have to go through every choice, which means going through many sections more often than through others.

        In essence, those books are very simple programs.

        1. Nettle says:

          Or more simply: board games, and to a lesser extent pen and paper RPGs.

          Board games is probably the easier one to use as an analogy in terms of rules interactions and the need for rigorous play testing.

      4. Ciennas says:

        Actually, catering and event planning in general would help explain game layout and design. Both use the same skills, in that you have to build a place to spec, and predicting what most of your clients will do, while having a few contingencies for emergencies/unexpected events/actions.

        And as for programming, and all the behind the scenes stuff? Sculpting, painting, and designing a funhouse are all apt for the different parts of the behind the scenes bits. The funhouse has a bunch of analog programming you have to do if you want to make it activate the proper bits, and most everyone has at least seen one in action, so you could explain it.

        (Ooh! Computers themselves would help explain it. You have to build them a certain way to make them work at all, and a skillful maker knows how to make them perform miracles.)

  2. Benjamin Hilton says:

    In my first ever CS course in college we would have a day or two off every month because our professor would be at some tech conference or other.

    At the time I just assumed he used these as an excuse to skip class every now and then, but looking back I realize that he was probably just trying desperately to stay abreast of all the changes.

    1. Greg says:

      Depending on the conference he was probably presenting his own research as well as learning the latest developments of his peers in his field. CS research moves quickly and most of it gets disseminated at conferences.

  3. Tizzy says:

    Good to see that, even in an overall optimistic article, there is always room to slip in a dig at HL3.

  4. A. Hieronymus Bosch says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it so much, Shamus. I mean, it’s awfully hard to talk about the evolution of cinema without talking about negatives.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      That was an awfully subtle shot you took.

      1. Muspel says:

        Yeah, but it’s an interesting take on the subject.

        1. Tizzy says:

          A good angle, in other words.

          1. Aruges says:

            Cut it out, you guys!

            1. Trix2000 says:

              I regret my actions now.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                I’ll give you some credit for that.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  I suspect this conversation was scripted.

                  1. Michael Miller says:

                    I dunno, I thought it lacked direction…

                    1. postinternetsyndrome says:

                      I love you guys.

                    2. Grudgeal says:

                      Either way it’s making a scene.

                    3. Imposing Snail says:

                      This is too much to take.

                    4. Benjamin Hilton says:

                      Well if you don’t like it, oh well.

                      This is Shamus’ Gaff er whatever you call home where your from.

                    5. Mephane says:

                      In this thread: evidence that Shamus shares an audience with Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

                    6. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Dont act so surprised about that.

  5. fdgzd says:

    Good article. I do have one niggle though.

    You still expect half-life 3? Oh you sweet summer child.

    1. Trix2000 says:


      …wait, you are? Drat.

  6. *Cracks knuckles*

    Time to bust out some film geek stuff, baby.

    I would say that the case for cinema beginning in 1894 is much stronger than in 1913 for a number of reasons. The first commercial viewing of a film was in October(I think) of 1894. That year, WK Dickson, the man most responsible for the development of the film camera, was already testing sound. Experimentation in color also abounded.

    In 1903 Edwin S. Porter directed The Great Train Robbery, often considered the first narrative film. Before that, films were novelties and more documentary. If you want a crude video game analogy, you can think of films pre-Train Robbery as like Pong. The Great Train Robbery was more akin to something like Donkey Kong or Pac-Man.

    DW Griffith, the most important man in the history of narrative in film, was already making films in the early 1900’s. He had seized on Porter’s innovations and was making a number of both major and minor innovations himself in the narrative technique. Others were making innovations as well, the Russians in particular were doing a lot of experimentation on film editing.

    In 1913, a number of film makers moved out west to California for a number of reasons. One was space, as the film industry was located in New Jersey at the time and they needed bigger facilities. The other reason was an attempt to escape the patent trolling of Edison for whom WK Dickson worked.

    The move to Hollywood was minor. It offered more space, but also a wide range landscapes for use such as mountains, beach front, desert and forests. The move to California however did make the huge leap forward an easier one. It would allow DW Griffith a chance to do something on a truly epic scale. The problem with selecting 1913 (the move out west) as the beginning of American film is that 1913 is still only pre-1915. 1915 would see such a dramatic shift, that nearly everything before it would appear on first glance to be made irrelevant.

    In truth, it wasn’t. All the innovations and progress made in the twenty years between 1894 and 1914 were all absolutely necessary for 1915 to happen. Without Pong, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, there couldn’t be Super Mario Bros.

    American Film officially began in 1894, but it was still in the womb so to speak. 1915 saw the birth of Modern American Cinema, or what is normally considered the silent film period (1915-1927). So what happened in 1915? DW Griffith released his three civil war epic, A Birth of a Nation.

    “He achieved what no other known man has achieved. To watch his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel; the emergence, coordination and first eloquence of language; the birth of an art: and to realize that this is all the work of one man”

    – James Agee


    “Classic or not, ‘Birth of a Nation’ has long been one of the embarrassments of film scholarship. It can’t be ignored…and yet it was regarded as outrageously racist even at a time when racism was hardly a household word.”

    – Andrew Sarris

    Birth of a Nation innovated such staples of film language such as the close up and cross cutting. It is the most racist and offensive film in the history of American film and also the one that became the prototype for how narratives functioned in film for the entire world with the exception of Japan. Every single movie you have ever seen your life (with the exception of anything pre-1915 or early Japan) has been influenced by Birth of a Nation. The way that all movies are shot, framed, edited, structured, how they build tension, manipulate the audience and so on, all come from Birth of a Nation.

    For more, here’s Roger Ebert on Birth of a Nation: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-birth-of-a-nation-1915

    After that, movies changed forever and never went back. If you want a good idea what film looked like before cross cutting, check out Edwin S Porter’s Life of an American Fireman.

    So, in short:

    1894 is the birth of the American Film Industry.
    1915 is the birth of American Cinema.

    I prefer 1894 myself, as things were already moving in the direction of DW Griffith. 1915 was when it took its final form, in a very loathsomely racist film. Seriously, watch Birth of a Nation. Its so racist, it cast white actors in black face to play horrible racist caricatures. Also, the Klu Klux Klan are the good guys in the movie. It’s mind blowing in its racism.

    Woodrow Wilson loved it.

    1. This. I was simply going to say that the post-Silent Era is better described as “Classic Hollywood”, w/the big, sprawling epics being but a part of that.

      Edit: This is apretty good, related read: http://www.beckerfilms.com/HollywoodMovieStudios.htm

      Edit Edit: As is this, which covers the watershed moments, and can also be referenced if someone claism such-and-such video game is the “Citizen Kane of Gaming.” http://www.beckerfilms.com/genius.html

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