In response to critique of a title I worked on…

Posted by | Posted in Game Development, Life | Posted on 15-09-2012

So, today I have been digging up reviews and information on games I’ve worked on. Right the way back QA on Super Skidmarks Megadrive.

Along the way I inevitably got to MotoGP 10/11, this is one of those games that’s so wrapped up in a very painful set of events that it’s hard to tell whether I love the game because of how great it is, or because of the events that came long behind it. Nevermind all that though, I’m out looking for reviews!

When I find this:

Now the review might be “fair“, a bit harsh giving only 6 out of 10, marked down quite hard by the graphics it seems. Not really fair to compare MotoGP 10/11 against other games out, they ran at half the framerate, it’s very easy to make one game look better than another when it has twice as long to draw each frame but then stutters along when anything happens on screen.

So I go to make a comment on this long dead review when I see the reply from “SpeedEight“… and I laugh my arse off.

I know *exactly* who “SpeedEight” is and the two responses to his post just make me grin so wide I think the top of my head might come off. Sadly he never replied any further, I’d have paid money to read that thread.

Anyway this being the internet I posted my own reply, a lengthy one of course but with a much calmer head… of course the internet ate it and it’s gone for good due to it wanting me to enter the captcha phrase, if you try to comment on that review you’ll see that there is no captcha system. Odd.

I’m not actually going to go into the MotoGP 10/11 review… well I might but first I wanted address another comment from the reviews author.

I would like to point out that I am studying Computer Games Technology so I know what goes into making a game and this is my honest opinion of this game.

Good, we wouldn’t want a dishonest opinion, and perhaps he’s striving to keep reviews around the 5 out of 10 range, excellent goal, noble even, misguided and doomed to failure but can’t fault it idealistically anyway. Then there’s the rest of that sentence:

I am studying Computer Games Technology so I know what goes into making a game

Yes… and I’ve read Shakespeare therefore I can write better books.

I’ve also been into games development since I was 15 and programming for even longer, I did a degree (BSc Visualisation with honours) at Teesside University, I had worked at GAME on the high-street and have played quite a few games across many, many, many systems, I’d even made a few games using Shoot ’em up construction kit, and AMOS and until I’d actually worked in the industry and shipped a whole game I knew absolutely fucking nothing.

This might be an effect related to the fact that the less you know the more you *think* you know, like how teenagers know everything, small children think houses cost £6.85 and because government ministers have never had jobs we’re all doomed. The effect gets thoroughly bludgeoned out of programmers during their first time working with another coder, artists the first time they hold a pencil and designers the first glorious time they try to get a programmer to implement that “one little thing“. Oh, no that’s just a bludgeoning.

It’s the realisation that you really know nothing about something until you’re the one who has succeeded in doing it.

We can try and communicate that love is all consuming, how beautiful a view is, how cold and lonely the middle of the Atlantic was at times, how exhausting that 3rd week doing 7 days a week from 8am to 2am but until you’ve done it you really only have this shell or outline of the experience and a bit of text saying “fill-in-later“.

I’m not sure exactly when I realised I knew nothing, but by the time MotoGP 10/11 had finished I knew I’d learn’t a huge amount since that time and now I was certain, absolutely certain, that I would never be capable of learning it all because none of us are.



My weak C++ is overkill.

Posted by | Posted in Game Development, Life | Posted on 30-07-2012

In the space of the last two weeks I’ve done a few programming tests, travelled down to Oxford for an interview + test and failed multiple times.

The feedback has been consistently inconsistent. Having failed at one test due to my approach being “overkill” and focusing too much on the technical I decided that it needed a bit more work and another approach implementing that was a little more bare bones. Then when the Oxford based studio wanted an example of some code I reused that “overkill” code for this purpose. This time apparently my C++ was “too weak“.

At this point, and over £90 down on travel expenses which will never be reimbursed, I’m feeling a little out of sorts with the whole process. Previously I’ve been head hunted by other companies, I’m still one of the first people that our old CEO approaches when he needs a coder and whilst everyone has something they don’t like about the way I code they still tell me that they’d happily work with me again.

So what’s going on?

Maybe I just don’t fit that eminently employable mold that everyone seems to be getting squeezed into lately? No, well “yes” but it’s not quite that simple. I don’t have a great range of demos to show people, or a large volume of finished projects. Mostly my spare time coding is learning about a single thing that doesn’t really add up to what you’d call “a demo“. The titles I’ve worked on are usually my demos but recently EVERYONE has insisted on seeing production quality code. By “production quality” I think they’re actually meaning some kind of aspirational coding quality that I’ve yet to see in real game code but we all know what they want anyway. I don’t have the code for a lot of projects, and even if I did it’s under NDA as far as I’m concerned. I don’t go around showing people the code from other companies projects because it’s not mine to show.

Of course there’s always the “coding test“; the ultimate independent arbiter of a programmers ability! There’s no better test than seeing how they solve the old point-is-inside-a-polygon with pen and paper to really tell you what kind of a programmer is sat before you! Maybe instead it’ll be something almost 20 or 30 lines long with a couple of functions just to see how they cope, or my new personal favourite; the whilst ski-ing with your new co-workers which route do you take semi-psychological question. Yay! Shame that “bury their corpses in the mountain snow for giving me this stupid test” wasn’t one of the possible answers.

What a fucking ball ache, plus a massive waste of time. They’re like any bloody test, they tell you how good the person sat in front of you is at that test and that test only. Not what they’re coding style is, not how quickly or well they can change that style to match your companies Byzantine preference, it doesn’t tell you how they learn, adapt or take criticism of the approach they’ve used. It doesn’t help you see why they have those recommendations on LinkedIn (Did they ask for them or were given? Who are those people to you friends or just co-workers?), what they’d like to learn more about or where they’re weak.

My personal experience is that I seem to be getting filtered out at a lot of these tests, even for companies where their whole game is less complicated than a single feature I’ve worked on for other titles. Apparently all those years of experience don’t matter because they don’t like the style I used to answer an arbitrary test question on a sub-subject that I haven’t needed to look at since the second year of University over 10 years ago… I still answered it and in the last interview I even got praised that I’d taken the correct approach to solving it!

What seems to happen is that I fall foul of these tiny tests that stretch some irrelevant scrap of knowledge or practice and that’s it, test over, interview failed. For the bigger tests, the tests you can do sat at home, I’m either going to too much effort (wtf!?!) or I’m just not hearing back from places, at all.

These places aren’t Valve, Sony, Microsoft, BioWare etc. No, I’m falling flat on my face with over a decade and a half of programming practice and 9 years in the Games Industry for companies making mobile phone games who have development teams of over 140 people. We did MotoGP 10/11 for Xbox360 and PS3 (and an internal PC version) with less than 50 and I wrote major pieces of core functionality and gameplay for those damned games.

Does that make me the best coder I know? Good grief no, I’m average, sometimes I’m better than the next guy, sometimes I’m worse, frequently it depends on the task at hand. If you want to wait on finding that super-coder-from-the-year-3001 then just say so but don’t expect to hire him for as little as you’re offering me.

The upshot?

I’m tired, I feel a little beaten up by this application and interviewing process. I wish I could hit pause, get a cuppa, tell everyone to fuck off… and quietly turn 33 years old on Saturday 4th Aug (I’d like a career change this year please!), returning renewed, ready … and tell everyone to _really_ fuck off because I’d rather go Indie than work for most of these places that I’m applying to. Sadly this on-again/off-again relationship I’ve had with contracts and work post-Monumental-Games-Ltd has meant that I have absolutely nothing left of savings, and since I haven’t even been paid for my last bit of contracting(!) I am pretty screwed this month too.

This isn’t a very satisfactory ending to this post because this isn’t some story with a conclusion, this is just my life recently.