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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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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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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GDC2011: A Fabulous Drift, Part 3

Game Development, Games for Fun, Gaming, Life No Comments

Part 2, found here in case you missed it.

Thursday morning was all about recharging the batteries. With some sweet sessions lined up and some awesome parties later in the evening, it was time to take ‘er easy.

No Cliffy!

Industry Lessons Learned and Applying Them to the Road Ahead presented by Cliff Bleszinski of Epic games was first up on the docket.

CliffyB gets a bad rap with the haters, of which there are plenty. When I walked in, a group of 40-something media types were already starting with the negativity, sitting in the back corner of the room as I walked in.

“Oh, what’s he wearing? His hair looks douched up.”

And so on. Everyone all aboard the CliffyB hate train, right guys? Cause that’s cool!

Anyway, I thought Bleszinski gave a really great talk, one of my favorites from the entire conference, actually. I felt like he was being honest and just speaking from the heart, and really that’s what I want to hear from people at GDC.

In essence, his talk was all about being a “Power Creative” and how to create and control your IPs. He basically said all the things I wanted to hear from someone in his position, and I think also confirmed in my mind why I think he’s as successful as he is (see: speaking being honest and speaking from the heart, above).

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GDC2011: A Fabulous Drift, Part 2

Game Development, Games for Fun, Gaming, Life 2 Comments

Mr. Iwata makes me sleepy after a night of heavy drinking.

GDC2011: A Fabulous Drift, Part 1, found here.

The previous day put the hurt on me. The thick drapes were drawn tightly and not a single photon passed through my 25th floor window. All the better, because any amount of noise of light would have made me throw up anyway.

8:45 am. Time to roll out of bed and see what Nintendo has to offer.

Clothes on and I’m out the door, my roommate whom is equally hungover is stumbling along with me. I vaguely recall telling him the keynotes are generally skipable, but he really wants to go as it’s his first GDC, and I decide to prove to myself, and him, that I am capable of doing this.

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GDC2011: A Fabulous Drift, Part 1

Game Development, Games for Fun, Gaming, Life 1 Comment

Pixel Wall at GDC

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is one of those events in life I look forward to every year. When people ask me “What is GDC?” I always tell them the same thing:

“GDC is a lot like college. You pay a bunch of money to learn a bunch of stuff, you meet a bunch of awesome people, then you go to parties at night.”

My love for thinking and talking about games, meeting other people in the games industry and having a good time with them afterward has no bounds.

After GDC, I make sure to spend time exploring the city. San Fran is a fabulous place with so much to offer and so many great adventures to partake in. For me, GDC and enjoying SF go hand in hand. My advice to all would be game developers (and everyone, really) is something you’ll hear often, and not just from me: Don’t draw the inspiration for your craft only within your craft itself. Why? Because your medium becomes derivative and lacks innovation. People need to inject creativity and be inspired from outside sources to keep things fresh.

My solution? Go create your own real life adventures! Have fun. Put your self in places and situations you wouldn’t normally go into. Go people watching and explore all the city has to offer. Study the world at large and at the very least, you’ll have a good time and see something new.

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The Girl in Your Ear

Game Development, Gaming 2 Comments

Oh yeah. Tell me what to do.

I have this conversation fairly regularly. You know. The one about The Girl in Your Ear.

Come on. It happens in plenty of games. The sister of Girl Hacker, another ever-present game character stereotype. Sometimes, they are one in the same.

“Girl in Your Ear” is a character you can picture in most games. She’s as cliched as red barrels and wooden crates.

  • Cortana from Halo.
  • Guardian Angel from Borderlands.
  • Navi from Ocarina.
  • Minda from Twilight Princess.
  • Lucy from Assassins Creed.
  • Alyx Vance from Half Life 2.
  • Elena Ivanova from Vanquish.
  • Anya Stroud from Gears of War.

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Rhythm Games and Carrots

Game Development, Gaming 2 Comments
Rock Band 3

The proverbial “carrot-and-stick.” A mechanic. Some unlockable. A reward that keeps the player playing. The motivating factor.

I’m playing through Rock Band 3 and I’m liking it. It feels cozy. Warm. Like home. I’ve played this game before, but it’s presented in a just different enough way to keep me playing. They’ve fixed some things. Swapping between profiles and characters is finally fixed. Character customization is cleaner by having currency removed. The way the “career” is presented through road challenges seems more accessible and forgivable than in the past.

But the problem I’ve had with all music games since day one is that the incentive to get better at them for me is nearly non-existent. Once I get to a certain level of play, there’s no external motivator to push me to improve, which I would like to do.

I want to be clear. Maybe there’s incentives for other gamers, and some people are probably more self-motivated to improve, but for my play through of Rock Band 3, proper incentives are often missing. The game often works against itself and its players and I’ll explain why. And maybe some ways to fix them.

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