Man, Schindler’s List was Fun!

Game Development, Gaming No Comments

Written shortly after Call of Duty: World at War was released (2009ish), but decided to clean it up and (finally) post it.

When we interview designers, one broad (but very important) question we ask them sometimes is “What is the most important aspect of design to you?” 99% of the time, the reply will be some form of “It has to be fun!” Everyone will look at each other, nod and agree, and move onto the next question. However, I’m beginning to think that isn’t necessarily the right answer. In fact, I think that answer points to a bigger problem with the medium in general – the name.

A common problem I see from the news media or people not familiar with video games is that people generally associate games with a toy or something only children and young people should “play with.” I think there’s still a fairly heavy stigma associated with post college-aged people playing games, especially if they’re hardcore gamers. I think a large portion of society expects people to “grow out of games” as they age and entertain themselves with more “serious” forms of media. I can’t really blame anyone; the word “game” is right in the term “video game” so it has to be fun, right? Isn’t that what games are all about? Playing and having fun?

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Living the Dream

Game Development, Life, Seattle, Stories 6 Comments

I wrote this a while back but never posted it. It’s a bit of a noir / gonzo take on game development, so take that as you will.

8:45 am. A combination of rustling coming from the bathroom and the repeated squeal of the cell phone alarm going off wakes him up.

Groggy, he pulls the cover over his head. Sagan puts his nose up over the edge of the king side bed, saying good bye to his dad. Tail wagging, Sagan wishes he could see more of his pack leader, but daddy has been really busy lately.

“Common! Sagan! Yes… I know. I miss him too. We need to go.”

Sagan won’t leave the side of the bed and has to be dragged away.

“Love you hon, have a good day… when did you get in last night?”

“Not sure, 2 I think…” he gurgles out from underneath the comforter.

No response that he can remember. Shuffling of feet and paws and slamming of doors and vehicle engines. He’s home alone again.

Gotta wake up. Shower.

Rolling out of bed, he holds onto the wall, still sleepy and shaky on his feet. He turns on the shower and goes back into the bedroom to pack his running gear for later in the day. He imagines the brief period of about an hour where he can just run, uninterrupted. The music is nice too.

Back in the shower, the water is hot. Too hot. Nearly scalding, he turns it down. Once behind the pure glass and metal stall, he slowly turns the heat back up. He’ll repeat the same scalding mistake tomorrow.

Cleaning himself, he thinks about the day before. A level needs to run faster, the frame rate is still suffering. If it’s not taken care of, his boss and their bosses will be upset. They’ll go into meeting rooms and talk about him. He knows that people are working on the problem and it’s a high priority for the team to fix.

Ultimately, it’s out of his control.

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Space Pioneer Chronicles #1 – Resources

Stories No Comments
Future US Flag

During the acquisition of 2776, this new American flag was drawn up to represent Earth at the center of the New Planetary States.

He sat swiping his hand across his PC.

Patiently waiting for the drives to spin down and begin the atmospheric breach process, he stayed mentally detached from the series of events about to unfold. The entire song and dance was a mechanical procedure he’d been through tens of times before. Scared? Nah. He’d gotten to the point where it might as well be a trip to the head. Luckily, there were no “snakes” on this trip.

Two boring months of travel and a year or so of hard labor, but the pay was worth it. Land on the asteroid, establish basic living quarters, gather up as much ore as possible and return home.

Except this time it wasn’t ore and it wasn’t an asteroid.

The ExxonMobilShell corporation, after developing it’s own ship fleet hundreds of years ago (along with many other companies), began sending out mining vessels to local system asteroids:

“For the sole and express purpose of seeking rare universal materials in order to ensure the security and future existence of the human race.”

Once those ships could travel between the stars, all of those rich, deposit-filled asteroids were theirs for the taking. Pure profit, especially if they were partially funded by the government.

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Captains of Industry

Game Development, Jokes, Life, Stories, Uncategorized No Comments

The sun was trying its damnedest to press through the thick clouds above Megalocorp.

Deep within the corridors of this titan of technology, two game designers solemnly walked into a small conference room and slid the heavy glass and metal door behind them. Mismatching, cast away chairs from various cubicles haphazardly circled a small round white table. Cardboard boxes from an office move years ago were still piled in the corner. Definitely a place where birth is given to creative inspiration. Definitely.

The two plopped down and signed nearly simultaneously.

“So, we never really talked about what happened,” he let the words hang in the air for a moment, hoping the other designer would carry the thought forward. When his counterpart didn’t, he pressed on.

“How do you feel about what happened? You know… how it all went down?”

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@thejessesnyder turns Q’s into A’s (September 2012)

Game Development 8 Comments

At the end of September (2012), I was in the mood to write about some game development topics. Then people starting asking questions and giving topics I could give a short answer to, but were too long for twitter. So, I decided to just ask twitter what they wanted to hear about and I’d try to do my best to give good, honest answers. Below are the questions I could answer without losing my job. If I didn’t answer your question, it means it wasn’t worth getting fired over.



Chris Salerno Chris Salerno @HaloFanForLife

@thejessesnyder What stresses are there living up to a storied franchise in Halo? As well, talk about your being the first dev/lead at 343.

The “stress” question comes up quite a bit. I cut my teeth on Call of Duty, one of the largest franchises known to mankind. Having the opportunity to work on CoD taught me about the realities of making AAA games. While there are always surprises, having done it enough times it’s easier to know what to look out for and to avoid mistakes. You learn about what typical problems arise, you get a sense of what is possible to make or what an idea costs to make real, you can identify when something is good and when to push that idea or feature forward (or kill it) and so on. Halo is no different. While the Halo and CoD are very different games in many ways, the way they are developed is not completely dissimilar.

That’s the career side of things anyway. Having enough experience to enjoy the confidence of dealing with problems, and having enough experience to identify when you’ve struck gold.

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343rd Dimension: Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage 2012

Life, Running, Seattle, Stories 4 Comments

Ragnar Introduction

Ragnar. The word said aloud sounds beastly. Guttural.

A few friends of mine in the game business completed a relay race called “Ragnar SoCal” which is when I first started learning about the series. Each Ragnar race is a 200 mile relay that takes place in various locations across the United States. Washington DC, Utah, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California, Las Vegas, Wisconsin, and more. Runners come in teams of 12 (or 6 if you’re an “ultra” team) running the entire relay, non-stop, night and day.

That often means little or no sleep for around 20-30 hours, no real meals, and a whole lot of running.

Being a runner who likes taking on bigger and bigger challenges, Ragnar seemed right up my alley. I love seeing new places on runs and this seemed like a scenic race. Running and taking a van tour across 200 miles of the US is a great way to tour the country and to reinforce how safe and friendly the US truly is.

I knew there were a few runners around the studio, but convincing 11 other people at 343 Industries plus finding volunteer van drivers was going to be a challenge of its own.

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Things I See When Running At Night

Life, Running, Seattle 1 Comment
  • The parked yellow Corvette that reminds me I’m close to home. It once seemed so far away.
  • Teenagers gathered in a circle, up to no good behind a fence. They are as startled by me as I am of them. They thought they were alone, as did I.
  • Stone, chiseled monolithic signs for neighborhoods that are all crafted in the same fashion. My mind flashes to Pleasantville and the Truman Show.
  • Are those dogs barking in the song I’m listening to? Sick feeling in my stomach. There are no dogs in this song. A glance across the street and I see a lady holding back her dog as it rears up on it’s hind legs, teeth gnashing.
  • Vehicles that drive much faster than they would during the day. I never see the drivers. During the day, they wave. I imagine the night drivers do the same.
  • A couple taking a walk alone. I’ve only ever seen them once.
  • My breath. Always my breath.
  • An older, classic, gutted car along a remote trail. The doors are open while rain pours down hard. It makes me run faster as I go by.
  • The expanse of lake. It’s ringed by lights, but no light exists on it’s surface. The large mass of water might as well be a black hole.
  • Another group of teenagers. I run up from behind, around, then past them. They smell like cheap deodorant. They could probably catch me if they wanted to, but maybe not.
  • The light from by headlamp reflecting off the fog hanging in the air. I can’t see more than 15 feet in front of me.
  • Groups of mailboxes that look like people. I become startled for a moment, but realize I’ve just given myself a boost of adrenaline. I can’t feel my legs for the next 45 seconds.
  • Multiple people who I almost run into as I simply didn’t see them. On approach I dodge to the left, out into the road. Maybe they thought I was playing chicken with them.
  • A wooden bridge that crosses a creek in the woods. It dumps me at the edge of a small, new, and well kept suburban playground. I feel unsettled.
  • The stars on a clear night. Lack of streetlights, while dangerous, is an acceptable trade-off for a beautiful sky that is hard to keep my eyes off of.
  • Hills. Ooooooh, hills. My calves burn then stop working when going up them, my shins stab with pain when going down them.
  • Light, reflecting from large drops of rain. Some of the rain drops pass before me, splashing onto the ground. Others soak into my pants. Others gather in puddles which I step into.
  • Pretty snow fall which has collected into large, uneven, icy sheets of death. Five mile run turns into a two mile run because I can’t make it up the hill without traction.

This list was generated bit by bit over the past year. I finally decided to post it as I haven’t seen anything new in a while.

The 2011 Seattle Marathon

Life, Running, Seattle 4 Comments

Near the starting line of the 2011 Seattle Marathon

The day was like any other. Except I got up at 6 am, ate a quarter cup of blue berries, a half cup of granola and a half cup of yogurt then went back to bed for 45 minutes.

I was worried about weather. Seattle is known as a wet city, and the forecasts had a 56% chance of rain. Upon waking up to eat, it was still dry and 50 degrees out. Warm. Things were looking up.

At 6:45, it started coming down. Then the wind kicked in.

I’ve trained in bad conditions, but never on the long runs. I’ve run in sub-freezing temperatures, but for only for five or so miles. Rain and wind for up to maybe ten.

On with the shorts and the tank top, the standard wear for the 20+ mile runs. Overheating may become an issue, better play it safe.

Phone in armband. Headphones in phone. Shoes on. Chip tracker on. Race number on chest.  Five cliff shot gels in my pocket.

And away we go. Nothing but rain the entire drive to the Seattle Center. Oh man.

Snap decision. After a last minute switch to a long sleeve technical shirt and pounding a Cliff Gel, and I’m out stretching. They’re already calling the Full Marathoners into place. I jump over the barrier and start stretching. Five minutes to start.

I rip my phone out of it’s arm pouch, and with my headphones dangling I snap a photo of the start. I try sending out a tweet, but it takes forever to upload and panic sets in. I still need to get my GPS tracker on, my music going, plus put my armband, head phones and so on back together. Maybe next time.

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And Further More, I’m Working on Halo 4

Game Development, Gaming 6 Comments

A while back Halo 4 was announced. As you might have suspected, I’ve been pretty busy working on the game. It turns out the campaign for a Halo game requires a pretty intense amount of effort. Who would have thought. I guess people are pretty into Halo or something.

I was actually the first designer hired at 343 Industries, but at the time the studio didn’t have a name. It was called something generic like “Halo Internal.” Woooo. In any event, I was the first designer to take the plunge (there were other designers that had come and gone, but they were pulled from other parts of Microsoft).

I didn’t start as a lead either. I was just coming off a crazy amount of Treyarch crunch (which if you ask around, is some of the most legendary crunch known to mankind) and was looking to get down on some level building, scripting and prototyping. You know, hitting reset on the ol’ work life balance button. However, after working at 343 for a bit, they asked me to be a lead, and being a lead on a Halo title is not something you tend to turn down. Don’t worry, I like to stay pretty hands-on with the tools in addition to having an outlook calendar full of meetings.

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Stories, Uncategorized No Comments

“Six Nineteen. Ascernity Administer on approach.”

“We have you now. All signs read clean. Welcome back, Ripper.”

He waited patiently at the door. For all they had learned and understood about The Universe, they still hadn’t figured out how to create personal teleportation devices.

Doors. Just like us. They always end up making doors of their own.

Sure, they could teleport planets across systems and use asteroids as their own personal weapons against would-be invaders, but small scale objects? Impossible. Well, at least until someone figured it out. It was only a matter of time, but the lack of personal teleportation was getting annoying.

And time was still a one way street. A tough nut to crack.

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