October 2005

Reality versus virtual.

So which one’s more real?

Yesterday the Weather Guy at the station I work in comes up to me and says “My sources tell me you’ve got a blog. I’m going to investigate and confirm if this is true or not.” Without thinking I tell him just to visit jeffool.com and he’ll be redirected to it. I actually regret it. The accusatorial tone in which he said “My sources tell me you’ve got a blog.” was hilarious. It’s like he’s just discovered some hidden treasure. (Maybe he was expecting pages of me crying about high school and dark poetry?) I guess I should’ve at least let him feel like he ‘discovered’ something, rather than leading the way. Ah well, sorry Chris. But it’s okay pal, you’re a solid cat.

I never really gave much thought to someone I know in real life finding this. It doesn’t bother me; rather it’s interesting. It brings up that whole debate of self versus virtual self. CmdrTaco of Slashdot fame had quite an interesting experience himself the other day.

Blizzard said he couldn’t use ‘CmdrTaco’ as his name. That’s a shame. Who am I, if not Jeffool?

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Wideload Games’ Alexander Seropian

I told a pal of mine “Dude, Alexander Seropian said he’d answer a few questions for me!” He responded with “Who?” and I wept a solitary tear.

Okay, not really. I sighed heavily and said “Damn it… He made Bungie. Y’know. Folks who did Halo? Then he dumped that and made another company, Wideload Games and just released Stubbs the Zombie.” Of course then my pal went “Ohhhh.” (Of course a Mac-loving friend of mine’s jaw hit the floor when I told him that.)

1. On a scale of 1 to ‘hippopotamus,’ how was working on Stubbs and how was your foray into studio-model game production?

Alexander Seropian: For the most part I’d say full out hippo. Launching a brand new company, business model, and game at the same time is a big challenge, but we had a lot of fun and we learned a lot. Apart from the really long hours at some times, it was a blast.

Personally, I set out to build a work environment that’s focused on being creative and the business model that supports it. We’ve done that, but we still have a lot of potential to fill. I’m looking forward to taking Wideload to the next level.

2. Do you think that the studio model will become the norm, or will it remain an alternative production model?

AS: Yes, I think so. Games will continue to get more expensive and complicated to produce and the quality/accessibility bar will continue to rise. Both of those reasons are big drivers for the Wideload production model. Will every studio be set up like mine? No. But I think most studios will begin using some of our techniques.

3. Every project has its own setbacks and challenges. Did the studio model help easy any difficulties in the process, or produce any new ones that you’ll know about next time?

AS: Our model enabled a lot of things for us. But of course, this project wasn’t without its hiccups :) The obvious big wins or us were the things we foresaw – being able to work with talent without restriction to location. Avoiding a fifty person overhead. Being able to switch up personnel quickly. There were lots of subtle things that we didn’t expct – like how much work it is to get accurate bids, things like that.

4. What is the size of your core team at Wideload, and how does your team break down by field?

AS: The core team is about a dozen evenly split between programmers, designers, and artists.

5. Were those your starting numbers, or did you ever need to change the team size to better suit the project?

AS: The core team has been consistent throughout the project.

6. As a developer who’s doing something completely different in the means of production, have you considered also trying alternative means of distribution (Steam, etc.)?

AS: Yes we did, but I felt like there were only so many of those groundbreaking nuts we should try to crack at once.

7. Recently Stephen Spielberg signed a deal to work with Electronic Arts on three games. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9690079/) Do you think that, aside from a development model, there are things that games can learn from films?

AS: Absolutely. Film is an ancient form of entertainment compared to videogames. Film can teach us a lot about storytelling. One thing that we tried to do from the beginning was to make writing an important part of our development process. It’s amazing how important good writing is and how catastrophic crappy dialog can be to the whole experience in film or games.

8. Gaming is an industry that’s largely publisher branded. Do you think that the attachment of a popular name like Spielbergs will draw attention away from the designers/developers who will actually be making the game?

AS: I’d say no. Regardless of Spielberg’s involvement, games bearing his name will be judged on the one thing that matters: how fun is it? From that perspective, I really hope they team him up with some talented game designers. I think that will be the telling part of the equation.

The film studios have tried to make games many times without much success. Game making is a different literacy from film. I’m guessing spielberg understands that fact considering he sold off Dreamworks Interactive long ago and is getting back in through a partnership with EA.

Much love to Alexander Seropian. He was a swell fellow to bother answering my curiosities. For the record, this was actually intended to go along with Corvus‘ “Blogs of the Round Table” which usually kicks out pretty good articles. I’ve intended to participate in them all, but have never quite gotten that ‘timing’ thing down.

And for the record, I’m going to start calling cool things ‘hippo’. “That is so hippo.”

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Help me catch up?

Okay, so after being offline for about a month, I’ve been trying to catch up with all the stuff I’ve missed. The two that really have my attention thus far have been the Revolution controller and Greg Costikyan putting his money where his heart is, in Manifesto Games. Talk about something truly commendable.

So, while I’m going back and reading the (literally) hundreds of blog posts I missed, is there anything as equally ‘wow’-ing that I’m leaving out?

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