Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made
September 05, 2017
Jason Schreier documents ten stories of one of the hardest, most demanding, and creative jobs that exists today—making video games.
There are no industry standards to follow. Deadlines are never met. Crunch-time can mean 80 to 100 hour weeks, and sleeping at the office. Your personal and family life will suffer. The job sometimes "seems to never end." Always on the cutting edge of constantly advancing technology, it is work that has been likened to "constructing a building during an earthquake." It is an industry whose traditional funding model meant " dealing with cancellations, layoffs, and bad deals."
And, yet, the video game industry in the United Stated generated over $30 billion last year.
How that happens has never been better chronicled than in Jason Schreier's Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made.
Say you want to make a video game. You've got this killer idea—it's about a mustachioed plumber who has to rescue his princess girlfriend from a giant fire-breathing turtle—and you've convince an investor to give you a few million dollars to make it happen. Now what?
Each of the ten chapters tells the story of a different video game and how it was made. And the stories are insane. It is mostly the story of intense, life-consuming work. It doesn't matter if the work is being done in an independent company, or in a parent's basement, the hours needed to get a game done—and to remove bugs once it is done—are, to put it bluntly, unhealthy. But most in the industry don't believe games can be made without "crunching" at the end, and that crunch time can last for a very long time. Eric Barone, who built Stardew Valley by himself, spent almost every waking hour for five years of his life on the game. It made him a multi-millionaire, but it also made him go a little crazy. Gaming company Blizzard took ten years to release Diablo III, and that was built on a world that already existed in two previous iterations. And, when it finally launched, it was a disaster:
At 12:00 a.m. Pacific time on May 15, when Diablo III went live, anyone who tried to load the game found themselves greeted with a vague, frustrating message:
The servers are busy at this time. Please try again later. (Error 37)
Even when that issue was resolved, it took two additional years after launch to get out the bugs and tweak the game in response to players' complaints. It showed great dedication to the players and they stuck with it and eventually delivered a game that was fun to play and people loved, but it also meant that those working on the game didn't get the usual break from work once a game is delivered. It's common for those working on a project to take a month or more off after delivering a game.
[P]eople who worked on Diablo III—some of whom had been on the game for nearly a decade—wouldn't get a break. Anyone who's spent a great deal of time on a single project knows how relieving it feels to finish—and how when it's done, you never want to look at it again.
It is grueling work. Some of the games cripple the companies that built them. Star Wars 1313 was never actually made. All ten of the stories make one thing abundantly clear, summed up a developer who tells the author "Oh, Jason, it's a miracle that any game is made." To non-gamers, it seems more than a little crazy, all this just for a silly game to play. But the same could be said about professional football, which is expected to generate $14 billion in 2017, less than half that generated by the US video game industry. Market research firm Newzoo estimates the global gaming market to be worth nearly $100 billion. No wonder the work tends to be so high-stakes, and so high-stress.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is an engrossing look into an world of work that, in addition to presenting technology and programming challenges, provides stunning visual art and compelling storytelling. The products that come out of all that work are worlds of their own, and those all-nighters pulled by artists and developers and programmers eventually translate into all-nighters for the players who stay up to inhabit those worlds and complete the games.
I haven't played video games in years, but this book is just as hard to put down as I remember good games being.
We have 20 copies available.