My turn to be a little upset.

Did you ever take any kind of computer programming in school? Ever program on a little TI-8x calculator? How about your VCR? The first real game I wrote was a Tetris clone, C++ and DirectX 7. (DirectX…oooooh you miserable, hateful thing.) It was just under 1000 lines of code. I wrote it out first by hand (as in, with a pen and paper) to make certain that everything linked together. That’s one big aspect of programming: making sure that everything you do works with everything else and doesn’t break anything else. Like, for instance, everyone’s favorite leaky monolith Windows. “Reclaiming resources” was black magic. Weird black magic, where you could tab out of the game then back in and see little “Start Menu” icons tiled all over my tetris blocks.

I finished the game part: blocks fall from the sky, you set them down, make lines and they clear; no sound, no scoring, no menu system. It took me roughly two months of working each night after my real job. Would’ve taken me another month for scoring. (Not the numbers, the code behind those numbers.) Would’ve been nice to have a little help, but that gets tricky because having it all in one brain makes it “easy” to figure out what’s happening where. Keep in mind: this was *Tetris*, which is a very, very simple game.

Modern games can’t be stored in just one brain. Try to imagine, literally, over a hundred thousand lines of code all geared towards one purpose. One entire team works on the graphics engine, another for the art, one for the animation….Let’s use WAR as an example. The Tome of Knowledge is a complicated menu system/quest log/database. It’s not just graphics. It’s a crap-ton of data, which needs to be stored, organized, optimized, and tested. For it to not be hackable, it’s got to check in frequently with the server, which is a beast (don’t get me started on networking, it’s amazing the Internet works at all). And their piece has to not step on the feet of combat where the real speed in networking is needed. Oh, there’s another team there. More teams, more minds, more coordination. And this is an MMO, so we have design teams, maintenance teams, and dev teams for the server farms as well. If something breaks and you fix it, the fix might break something else. Happens all the time. In fact, what you break might not be your team’s responsibility at all. Who handles it? It was your fault, but not your job anymore. Communication, coordination, meetings, and MASSIVE log files rule the lives of all game developers.

Game devs make tremendous sacrifices. They frequently work 12-16 hour days, right through the weekend, sleeping in the office for months or even years before release. Many companies do not treat their game programmers well because so many kids wanna try it, so there’s a big pool of people to draw from. So you don’t get the usual cushy treatment in the game field like you would at Google or Microsoft. Your company only gets funding for so long, and you have to release it while you still have funding (or you don’t release). So your salaried programmers work round the clock. No time for friends, families, fun, nothing. You work. You’re a game developer.

Something tells me that Mythic treats its employees fairly well (despite the fact that EA is legendary for how poorly it treats its peons), but they *still* make huge sacrifices. They work round the clock, long freakin hours, seeing their families only sparsely. You know, in that tear-jerky “Where is daddy?” kind of way. Daddy is living his dream, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. He eats as he works. Have you paid attention to the times some of those devs are posting on WHA? After midnight in their own time zone is not unheard of.

Those are sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make. I want a job where 10 hours a day during heavy periods is ok and I have weekends to, you know, do the friends and family thing. Be a game developer? Not when I can make my money in a more relaxed atmosphere. But that brings me to my next point: I don’t complain on the forums when the beta servers come down. I do not curse at the developers when something in the game goes quirky. That game is HUGE beyond your comprehension. The tiny little client that actually fits on your little 100gb hard drive is just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s some context: last time I saw a talk by Google they told me that their system was running on a set of server-farms consisting of over 30,000 computers. Yes, thirty thousand. Several die an hour. They die, as in, completely fail and stop working. You can get a job at Google where you replace a dozen computers a day as they die. WAR probably runs on fewer than 30k (I’d guess ~1k)…but a server reset isn’t as easy as you resetting your “sweet rig”.

Point is this: Mythic’s employees are making tremendous sacrifices in their personal lives to bring us this game. Each time the game is “delayed”, that extends the amount of time they need to go like a rocket train through sleepless week after sleepless week. For what they do, they deserve not just your respect. They deserve your undying freakin devotion.

If you have ever, ever posted anywhere that the game designers “have their heads up their asses” and that they “don’t listen to players” and “they promised X so far as my time playing this beta is concerned” you should march to WHA right now and post an apology. A serious one, in which you admit you don’t know what you are talking about and have never written a line of code in your life.

Man. That kind of stuff really ticks me off. I hope it ticks you off too.

~ by thade on August 15, 2008.

8 Responses to “My turn to be a little upset.”

  1. I am currently studying programming at university with an eye to being a developer. This post makes me both happy and sad.

  2. It’s a lifestyle choice, my man. If you want to be a game developer, esp as a coder, it’s a long and hard rode. And, to my knowedge, it doesn’t get easier. However, if you love making games, my understanding is that it’s quite a rush. =)

    If normal software dev is your shtick, there are many organizations that are very laid back and treat you very, very well. Don’t lose heart. Again, the hours can get long, but really, that can be said of any career where you expect to make 3x that of an average family.

    This post was more geared towards those that make the comments that they do.

  3. I just wanted to say I really, really liked this article. A rant, yes, but well-thought out, reasoned and passionate. Nice read!

  4. […] of salt. If you want to see a great write up about what these developers go through, head over to Archmagery for a good […]

  5. Aye, it does tick me off too. I know far too well what it’s being a software developer.

  6. Here here! While my husband isn’t a developer, he works in IT in areas where he works his normal hours plus he’s on-call 24-7. I’ve seen him disappear completely for 2-4 days straight, and believe me when I say it sucks for both him and the family. I can’t imagine being a game developer, knowing that thousands (if not millions) of people are slamming you publicly if the tiniest thing goes awry.

    While I may not always agree with the choices the devs make, I give them respect and mad props for all the work that they put into creating their games… ultimately they’re putting their lives on hold so that we can have a fun game to play and a hobby. It’s not like they’re working on world security or something, so it’s all a matter of keeping things in perspective.

  7. Really great write up. Thanks for the soap-box rant, it was a great read, articulate and well thought out.

  8. this kind of attitude ticks me off majorly. I hate it when people blame stuff on the devs or the company, especially when its something that they didn’t even do… Just because someone owns them repeatedly doesnt mean they are OP. they just suck.

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