Indie developer and author (and podcaster!) Mat Bradley-Tschirgi discusses his beginnings in journalism and indie development, his upcoming book, The Films of Uwe Boll Vol. 1: The Video Game Movies, and makes a surprising revelation about an upcoming video game to which both he and Boll are attached.
You read that right: a game project from the mind of notorious (former?) filmmaker Uwe Boll is forthcoming, and this is a chat with the man making it happen. Let the intrigue and concern wash over you.
To help us close out Season 2, Blake J. Harris makes a surprise appearance to reflect on his early life and career, the success of Console Wars and the upcoming television adaptation from Legendary Entertainment with producers Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. We also discuss his new book, The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook and the Revolution that swept Virtual Reality published by HarperCollins in February. By necessity, this leads to a discussion of Palmer Luckey and the political whirlwind surrounding his departure from Oculus in early 2017. Finally, Blake teases what’s coming up next in his incredible writing career.
I’m so glad we finally caught up with Blake. Without question, he is gaming’s leading modern historian and to spend an hour in a discussion with him is like an opportunity to help capture gaming’s story in some small way and I was grateful for this chance to do so. As you’ll hear later in the conversation, Blake’s efforts to simply do the right thing in the circumstances in which he found himself have led to his being misunderstood by people from all walks of life in spite of his hugely popular writing, and not enough outlets have stepped up to help him set the record straight. By the end of the show I trust you’ll understand when I say we need a lot more of Blake’s way of thinking in journalism and writing in general. Listen, learn, and let’s discuss.
Thank you once more to everyone who made Season 2 so incredible. The site will stay busy and so will our community at Patreon. Interview shows will return in September! Please don’t hesitate to reach out over the summer. Thanks all!
Those of you who follow the site, the GameDev Breakdown podcast, or our community over at Patreon know that we recently had the pleasure of an in-depth discussion with Joshua Davidson, a Gearbox senior sound designer working on Borderlands 3. I first reached out to Joshua after reading his excellent writing about his experiences training for and eventually working in the game industry, and the resulting podcast interview became one of the show’s most popular episodes in just over a week. I was thrilled that listeners connected with Joshua’s story and that fans of his work enjoyed pulling back the creative curtain for a rare glimpse into the development of a series they love, and I was just as pleasantly surprised when his story started to reach other outlets. Unfortunately, not everyone covered the story with the same professionalism, nor attention to detail, and I feel a certain responsibility to help set a few things straight.
To illustrate what went wrong here, I’m going to simply provide a chain of events, adding commentary where I think it’s warranted.
April 21 – I released a one-hour podcast with Joshua Davidson of Gearbox software. The topics included his early life and education, the beginning of his professional career (including his time at Volition), and finally, his time at Gearbox Software and his work on the Borderlands series. Near the end of the interview, he dropped the following teaser regarding the game’s audio engineering:
“We haven’t really talked about this yet, but I’m gonna kind of give a little hint…on Borderlands 2, we shipped with 300 gun assets. Like, over 300 individual .WAV files of gunshots to cover all the manufacturers, all the different gun manufacturers and their variations, basically. So, whenever you picked up a bandit shotgun, or you picked up a Hyperion submachine gun in the game, in all the previous Borderlands games they all sounded like, y’know, the same gun essentially, no matter what rarity they were and things like that. So the Hyperion SMG would always sound like the Hyperion SMG, Jakobs shotgun sounds like a Jakobs shotgun…but that was like 300 something assets. Right now…we’re like sitting at 7,500 individual gun sounds for this new one, and what changed is, well yeah, we have more memory, but what changed is the design of the audio for this. And I have to give big props to Brian Fieser and our code team, our audio code team for developing a system where we could basically play audio Legos with all the gun parts. So whenever you get a certain gun part, every time you get a new gun, it takes y’know, 6 or 7 different parts and then slaps them together, and each one of those parts has a gun sound on it. So it just clamps together to form one new sound. It’s a totally modular experience.”
We felt great about this podcast and received awesome feedback.
April 25 – SupMatto on YouTube releases a video titled “Borderlands 3 – Master Vault Hunter Mode & The MASSIVE WEAPON System & Sounds (25 Times Larger!)” The video prominently features the clip of Joshua’s explanation above. Matto does seem to grasp the quote’s meaning and links back to me, Joshua, and even Code Write Play’s Patreon community in the video description. He’s been established in the Borderlands community as a leaker, and the video neared 100,000 views on the day it was released. It’s good that positivity about Joshua’s work was getting out there, but I’m sure he was also a little concerned about this association in the eyes of his employer (I’ve since been assured that everything is fine).
April 25 (later that day) – Undoubtedly desiring to participate in the telling of his own story (rightly so), Joshua takes to Twitter to summarize the technical information he explained on the podcast, very graciously interacting with folks interested in his work and excited about the upcoming game.
So yeah….#Borderlands3 is currently sitting at just over 7,500 individual .wav files for the weapon firing sounds.
For perspective, BL2 shipped a little over 300 .wav files to cover all the guns and their manufacturers.
And yes, we’re still not done. Pew pew! #GameAudio
April 27 – PC Gamer picks up the story, publishing a 200-word article about–not the podcast–just the tweet. Is that inexcusable journalism? I’m not into the “one tweet equals one article” model myself and definitely never tried to get away with it as a freelance journalist, but no, this is not the biggest issue, and I’m still glad Joshua’s tale is being told again for the first time in several years. Still, several outlets managed to provide readers and listeners with the full context of our podcast interview, and not doing so stands out to me like covering a tweet about a presidential debate instead of covering the debate. I attempted to diplomatically approach both the author and PC Gamer and received only the following response that day:
cheers Todd, I’ll take a look when I get the chance
Whether he looked into it, I can’t say for sure, but the article remains unchanged with no further responses. This is the point at which my former editors would have expected me to explain and/or address the situation immediately, and they definitely had me include the occasional link to an outlet much smaller than mine. This is professional gatekeeping at its absolute finest, but a more significant issue remains: without the full context, this is very easy to misinterpret, which happened immediately.
Also April 27 – Around the same time I was speaking up to PC Gamer about benefiting freely from my work, VGR.com went ahead and wrote an article about an article about a tweet, and as any game of telephone goes, came up with something that may or may not end up true, but certainly wasn’t supported by the original message. By this time Joshua had expressed frustration to me that his name was associated with outright fabricated information. Although I was not credited or associated with the incorrect information any more than I was the correct news, I did reach out to the responsible senior writer of the post at VGR to explain the context of the statements, PC Gamer’s decision not to include it, and my interest in not seeing my guest attributed falsely, now that my work had been buried by countless sites in search engines with no source links. To the author’s credit, he reached out with a sincere apology and committed to fixing the error later in the day, creating a correct posting, and linking to the original source of the news. As of the time of writing several days later, he hasn’t.
So here we sit: Gearbox’s story is being told far and wide, incorrectly in a few places, and crediting our work in even fewer. My desire to highlight these issues is partially selfish, however selfish it is to desire to be recognized for your work, if anyone other than the guest is going to be recognized, but first and foremost I want to look out for the people I write about and record with. If I could say with any certainty that an article or a recording was going to put a guest in a negative light with their employer to any degree, I simply wouldn’t do it. A few downloads or a little more site traffic does not gain me enough to adversely impact someone’s life.
In a recent podcast I spoke briefly about someone’s lament that “game journalism is dead,” which I denied, but agreed that it was at a significant disadvantage because of the ethics and standards in place with some industry employers. People on the journalism side of the fence attribute any criticism to several fringe movements online that do exist, but do not nullify many real issues at play in games coverage that negatively impact people’s real lives. I’ve been there to see it. Simply put: if the gaming community–I’m including players, developers, journalists, bloggers, and every kind of enthusiast–can’t start to take seriously how their actions impact the people around them, these subgroups are going to remain fragmented and distrusting of one another forever.
Jordan Lemos is a WGA award-nominated scriptwriter working at Ubisoft in Québec, with writing credit on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the words of Socrates himself. He’s been a Twitter pal for a while now, and for some reason, we have the conversational energy of the cousins you have to separate at Thanksgiving dinner.
Jordan’s path into the industry was far from easy. Pay close attention as he describes the roles and responsibilities piled on him while working with previous employers and the type of thanks he got when typical industry issues came along. It’s no coincidence that he has such specific ideas on how the industry could improve life for the writers that help make games so compelling, and its relationships with them as career professionals.
This show was a ton of fun to record, and I appreciate Jordan’s time. Call us, Beat Saber team!
Joshua Davidson is a senior sound designer working at Gearbox Software in the Dallas, Texas area. After leaving Full Sail University in 2007, he Contributed to Red Faction: Guerilla and Saints Row 2 at Volition in northern Illinois before heading south to work on Borderlands, Borderlands 2, Battleborn, and Borderlands 3 after making the move to Gearbox.
In addition to building a stellar career in AAA games, Joshua has done some great writing and speaking about his time in the industry. His deep-dive into how he went from high school hopeful to graduate to industry pro has bounced around the web some before landing at Medium–it’s a must-read for anyone outside the industry looking to make their way in. He also returned to Full Sail years later to give a great talk on his industry run that you can now watch at YouTube.
In this week’s show, Joshua provides some updates on the last few years of his career you won’t hear about in his earlier presentations, we discuss some recent trending industry news, and Joshua provides some of the advice he would have liked to hear on his way to the top.
This was an awesome discussion and I really appreciate Joshua’s time. Go support him on Twitter and check out his killer work in Borderlands 3!
If you don’t think you’ve read or at least seen any of David L. Craddock’s phenomenal books on the game industry and game development, check again, you probably have. Some of the greatest stories of the development space have been captured in David’s phenomenal pages, including Blizzard’s early history with Diablo, tales from the days of NetHack and other early Roguelikes, and more recently, Yacht Club Games’ action-packed development of Shovel Knight for Boss Fight Books. He kindly agreed to Skype in as Humble Bundle closes out its Boss Fight book bundle promotion (you still have about two days!) and his insight was every bit as interesting as I expected.
This is a must-listen for writers of any kind, and I’d also put it on the required show list for anyone running or connected with an indie studio. David has explored and documented not only the development of many games we know and love, but the culture, the energy, and the trials of the people creating them–and his knack for framing captivating tales from their accounts is second to none.
I first interacted with Reyan Ali over Twitter just about a year ago. I’d just partnered with Microsoft to do a series of podcasts at GDC which was a total blast, but it caused me to miss the Classic Game Postmortem on the legendary NBA Jam. I tweeted out the presentation with great entusiasm once it hit YouTube, and Reyan and I became fast friends, vowing to do a podcast segment together before the launch of his book. Since that time, I’ve followed with great interest as we inch ever closer to the release of his definitive telling of the game’s incredible story, which will be published by Boss Fight Books.
Reyan’s promotional Twitter account (linked below) is full of incredible memorabilia and history, and that’s no coincidence–in the process of writing NBA Jam, he’s amassed nearly 70 interviews with the developers, motion capture actors, celebrities appearing in the game, and a woman with a less-than-timely (though damn respectable) tattoo. If you grew up playing NBA Jam, Reyan Ali and his book are the closest things you have to a time machine.
Reyan’s career has included fantastic writing and interviews across a wide variety of topics, and you can read his coverage in many great publications. The history of one of the greatest video games of all time is in highly capable hands.
Story-driven games are often revered as the height of artistic game development. For as dearly as we all hold Rocket League, it can’t match the impact of Mass Effect or tug at the heart strings like Red Dead Redemption. To create a project that stays with your players, you need to design a world for them to experience.
When we last spoke with Ray Marek, we casually discussed the downfall of Toys R Us (where he met Todd), the indie publishing experience, and even great games for horror fans. We had a great time, but Ray has much more to offer the indie dev crowd.
This time around, Ray shares insight into the creative process of writing for the universes, planets, and characters we love learning about in comic books, using methods directly applicable to next-level game development.
And yeah, we talk about our favorite Mexican food.
Thanks again to Ray for his time and excellent insight.
My first team jam was Ludum Dare 19 in December of 2010. I’d already been studying game development about ten years, and had finished my first “game” around 2002 at 17 years old. I made plans to have a friend from college come over and stay at my townhouse in Southern Illinois for the weekend, and we’d create a genius RPG that would surely launch us to global superstardom.
I guess that joke doesn’t work as well these days, now that a certain member of the Ludum community just bought the most expensive house on Jay-Z’s street.
Both of our girlfriends at the time planned to hang out at least some of the time, so my partner decided we needed to class things up when it came to sustenance. I did want to be a gracious host, but when I asked if there was some special kind of Mountain Dew or Doritos his lady friend preferred, he declared he’d be taking over the food preparation completely. I didn’t get it, but my girlfriend ate worse than I do. Wherever she is now, her sinks probably only dispense orange Gatorade. Anyway.
When Friday evening arrived, my buddy showed up with a carload full of groceries. He said he’d mostly be preparing one big fancy meal on the first night, and there would be enough to last us all weekend.
“Great!” I thought. “He must be making spaghetti!”
What he set about preparing was some kind of slow-cooked, red wine roast beef. I ended up letting him use my desk to code some XNA Framework magic, while I spread out my laptop, tablet, keyboard, and peripherals on the kitchen table next to the oven. The smell was pleasant, but very noticeable immediately. No problem! A nice little reminder that our hard work on Friday night would be rewarded with an amazing dinner. In like five hours.
As the hours started to pass, I noticed the smell getting stronger.
“It’s cooking,” I thought. “That’s what cooking food does.” But I’d be lying if I said the smell wasn’t becoming a distraction. It still wasn’t unpleasant, but it wafted my direction and my thoughts increasingly drifted back toward it.
When dinner time finally arrived, hours and hours later, we had a fancy group dinner, just as promised. It was a break uncommon for a weekend code-athon and everyone seemed to enjoy their smelly wine meat. After food and brief relaxation, we packed up the leftovers in the fridge and headed back to our battle stations. This was when I first realized we might be in trouble.
With everyone else either coding, leaving, or thinking about their next orange Gatorade, I sat alone in the kitchen, wondering how the smell had not dissipated at all. We were no longer cooking. We had either consumed or sealed every part of the meat in the refrigerator. Was it the dishes in the sink? I closed them up in a dishwasher that I seem to recall didn’t even work, and decided to get some rest to clear my head.
When I woke up and came downstairs, my partner was awake and coding. If the smell had changed at all, it had gotten worse. Had he abandoned all goddamn respect for himself and heated up more of this shit for breakfast? He said he had not. Didn’t he smell it, too? If he did, he pretended otherwise. I cooked scrambled eggs; the smell cared none at all.
By early afternoon on Saturday, I started to worry the smell had picked up a psychological component. I asked my girlfriend, but she was busy scouring the garbage for partial Gatorades and couldn’t be bothered. Somehow, I was cranking out graphics and audio like a mad man. My partner and I teamed up on the writing, and something I love about the game is what an opportunity it was to cram just unlimited weird humor into this humble little Windows 95-looking package. It was my first group game project and the good memories attached to it should not still be saturated with booze beef odor in my brain. But that’s my reality.
Saturday evening we grinded away at our tasks, discussed issues, content, and design, and ate more juice jerky. What did it matter now? We were all irrevocably tainted.
Sunday morning, we landed on a playable game loop. We had most of a day left to test, discuss, and enhance as desired. But I seem to recall we didn’t. It was not long after that time that my partner left, perhaps tacitly admitting “We have given a game, but we have ruined your home. You will have to destroy this place.” He took the leftovers from the fridge, but they don’t make bleach wipes for what was left over in my soul.
The clothing I wore was never the same. I’ve washed garments from that weekend and had people confirm that it smells like wet mystery meat. The game was well-received (though ratings that old on the site aren’t really legible anymore) and we were truly proud of what we’d done. Still, I can’t help wonder what we could have accomplished if I hadn’t spend so much time weighing the pros and cons of standing up and yelling “DON’T ANY OF YOU ASSHOLES SMELL THAT?”
Unlike my ex, who thinks bottled water is fine, now that Gatorade also makes a powder, I do value smart, responsible nutrition. This cautionary tale is not a Pizza Hut and Taco Bell endorsement. My most successful code weekends were probably the couple that happened to coincide with meticulous eating plans I’ve adhered to in the past, particularly low-carb strategies that were heavy on food prep. By all means, keep a little cheat candy or soda on hand, but grab a 2-liter. Walk to the fridge and take a gulp, not a can. Grab a tiny, individually-wrapped Reece’s cup. You’ll get bored and walk away. I think it’s when you are able to sort of focus past eating entirely that the magic really happens in your other endeavors.
Just please, don’t soak meat in wine and cook it for five hours in the middle of your jam space.
Todd Mitchell is an indie software developer with games journalism experience who still smells like roast beef and regret. Follow him @mechatodzilla