Video games are some of the most vibrant, interactive displays of art we have in the world today. Whether you love the pixel art of Mario or the awe-inducing scenery of Uncharted, games immerse us, create diehard fandoms, and inspire and bolster our own art and creativity. But the fact is, it’s a miracle some of these games we love are released at all; and, in the case of Star Wars 1313, some of are victims of painful deaths. How in the world are these creations we love made?
The simple answer is: with a lot of programmers, artists, managers, and composers. However, the answer is a little more complicated than that. Jason Schreier’s new book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, aims to dive deeper into how games are created and released.
For those unfamiliar with Jason’s work, he is the News Editor for the popular gaming site, Kotaku. I happen to be a very big fan of his writing, and his weekly podcast, Splitscreen.
In the book, the author draws on extensive research mostly including interviews with game developers (which I wish I could read in full) to figure out how games are made. How in the world did one guy make a hit like Stardew Valley? After ten years of development, how did “Error 37” cripple Diablo III, and what did Blizzard do to overhaul and fix the issues that plagued Diablo III with the Reaper of Souls expansion? How did one of the most hyped Star Wars games of all time die? The author covers ten specific games, and each chapter tells a different story.
Schreier does a superb job at answering these questions, and really does some great investigative work to get a complete story. His writing style is easy to follow, even for people who are unfamiliar with video game terminology; he provides helpful footnotes to describe things like what an engine is. Each chapter is fascinating to read and tells the story of development differently. For example, in his chapter on Uncharted 4 the author compares the volatile development of the game to the complex relationship between Nathan and Elena, two of the game’s protagonists. Shovel Knight was a particularly interesting chapter following a small development group kickstarting a brand new, ambitious IP. It brings a sense of vividness to an area some people might find pedantic. Even games that I will most likely never play or have little interest in playing, I was completely enveloped in the stories.
The biggest take away from Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is that games are very expensive, riddled with delays, and suffer from crunch, and that crunch super sucks. Crunch is the practice of development teams working themselves to the ground at the end of the development cycle. Countless nights working till 3am, missing precious family time, and people legitimately concerned about their future livelihoods. However, what is most apparent, is that many of these developers love making games and would do anything to see their projects succeed.
For a book to spend ~270 pages uncovering development stories for 10 different games, I finished the book wanting more. While not every chapter is perfect, every chapter is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wish it was twice as long. I came away with a a new appreciation for game developers. Their jobs are hard and always changing. It will hopefully make me have a greater appreciation for the art of video games, not just their entertainment. If you like video games, not even ones covered in the book, you will enjoy it.
Warning: due to the audience of LDSG and some of our group’s preferences, this book does contain occasional language