Got this message the other day…
If you’re young and doing your own thing in High School and you don’t think you’re having an influence on your peers, check out this message I got recently from an old classmate.
Needless to say, it made my month, maybe my year.
Some names edited.
I never got the chance to send this message to you, when you posted your really moving message about Mr. Clague. Funny thing is Cliff, I had a really similar to share, but along with Mr. Clague. I found that my life was the most influenced by you. Ok, before you close this as some stalker fan boy message, hear me out. I was super shy in high school and I wasn’t really that ambitious. When I met you and you were already making video games, it was like seeing an alternate universe. You just has this certainty that you were going to do all these things. And when you showed me Dare to Dream and said that I inspired the little guy in it, I was pretty speechless. The next year, after you graduated, I not only created a bunch of new Drama programs (the multi-cultural group, a shakespeare lunch group), but I also went out and won the Tournament award at the Shakespeare festival (and a full ride to X University which I didn’t take.) On top of that, I tried out for the speech for commemoration and won, standing up there in front of the valedictorian. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you showed me confidence and what it can attain. That sparked the same ambition in me that I saw in your eyes so many years ago. That lead to a double major at X, landing a position at X, and eventually to X. Funny thing is it didn’t stop there. I was five years into a consulting career solving problems at every major company in the world. And then I saw an article with your name in it. It was a promotion for Gears of War, and I just thought it was funny that I recognized your name. And on the next page was the same face I remembered from high school. And I realized that ever since I graduated college I had been settling again. Just going for the safe route that would make the most money. In the next weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My passion had always been in gaming and I’d built all this expertise in IT software architecture. In the next month I quit X, took a 40% paycut, and joined Y. From there I spearheaded their digital portfolio, and moved to X, to Z Interactive, to X Mobile, and now to my own start up. We just closed our Series B securing $3MM from a Chinese investment company. Even more ridiculous, another investment company was so impressed by my background they offered another $3MM to start my own company separate from my current co-founders. That’s the offer I’m taking. I know you’ve probably heard of all sorts of fanboy lauding over you, and I love everything you’re doing for the community of Raleigh and for gaming over all. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to thank you. It’s a total cliche, but you are the reason I got into gaming, and I’m one of the happiest and luckiest guys on Earth because of it. If I can ever be of help in anyway, I owe you a big one. Excited to see what Boss Key brings in the future. SIncerely, That nerdy asian kid with oversized glasses. - X
Used force resurrect. It was super effective!
Okay Lauren made me watch the Power Rangers flick.
Here’s the thing about her generation’s movies vs mine.
When Ash Ketchum dies in the Pokemon movie he’s resurrected right away.
When Zoloft or whatever his name is dies in the Rangers movie he’s resurrected immediately.
Optimus Prime fucking DIED.
Right in front of our shocked little faces. Turned Grey and ashy and shit as his head fell to the side as Flint Dille’s way of saying “Fuck you and your generation, he dead, deal with it! ”
And that’s the generation gap in pop culture in a nutshell, folks.
That One Teacher…
Context: Long story short, I had a phenomenal teacher during a rough patch in my youth, I heard he’s retiring, and I had to write him in order to thank him for his impact on me. I’ve decided to make this public in the hopes that other teachers will see it and remind them that in a thankless job they are appreciated, even if it’s not always said in a verbose manner such as this. I have sent this letter to his daughter in the hopes that his eyes see it.
Dear Mr. Clague,
I’m not sure if you remember me, you hopefully don’t even need to in order to read this letter and understand where I’m coming from. I entered your drama course in 1992 and graduated the year of 1993. I’ve had many fantastic teachers throughout my years of education but you were the one that went above and beyond and really had a significant impact on my life at the time, as well as for many years to come.
When I was 15 years old my father suddenly passed and I found myself, a New England native, suddenly being whisked off to Southern California to finish up high school and for our entire family to start anew. My mother had a sister over in Glendora, and in tough times such as one whereas you lose your father, it’s important to keep whatever family support network you have as close as possible. Since my mother was moving to La Verne the natural choice for finishing high school was Bonita High. I vividly remember going down to see my new school before we enrolled and being surprised by the fact that it was a campus. It was wide open, and why not, it hardly rains in Southern California, as opposed to New England where the weather is often terrible and the schools are entirely enclosed to stave off the elements.
When I first arrived at the school I had a hard time finding friends. I loved my video games, but I couldn’t really find anyone else who was as die hard as I was. (This was also at a transitional time for gaming whereas if you still played your Super Nintendo it was considered Kid Stuff, and if you played on your PC you were a dorky outlier, as opposed to now, whereas nearly everyone plays games and uses the internet.) I liked…hockey…so I wore a hockey shirt to school sometimes and made a couple of friends over that. I had forgotten my drama roots to some extent; I had dabbled back in North Andover a bit (lots in middle school, was Michael in Peter Pan in sixth grade) but really forgot how much I loved acting – and what it could do for me.
When I got involved in your drama plan it was the best possible thing for me in every way. You were teaching so many basic life lessons beyond simply how to act. It gave me confidence. It gave me friends and community when I desperately needed it. It gave me identity. It also taught me how to work with a myriad of unique unicorns and their personalities towards a goal – a deadline – without strangling one another.
To this day whenever I talk to a relative, or a friend, or an in-law who has kids I bang the drum of encouraging their children to get involved in the arts, in drama, in particular. And, inevitably, those who I do manage to convince come back with glowing things to say about how their child has “come out of their shell” or “seems so much more confident” or “has met all these new friends and is having a blast!”
I, myself, knew that I was only an average actor. (My Iambic Pentameter as Mercutio was laughable!) When I go back and take a peek at my senior yearbook I see an overwhelming trend in the signatures from my peers. The majority of the writings read “Good luck with the video game or acting thing!” By making video games for the last 20 years and being visible doing it – talking to the press, doing lectures, showing off products on stage – I’ve found a way to do both.
I hear that you’re retiring shortly. From what I’ve noticed about the Facebook group created in your name I’m clearly not the only one who has been impacted by you and your program. We live in a country where athletics are sadly valued much more than the arts, where teachers are not paid enough and spend their own earnings on supplies, and regardless of that you did something amazing. You chose to teach at a public school, you cared, and you made an enormous impact, and not a day goes by that I don’t thank the fact that I participated in your classes and your program. As you enjoy retirement you can rest easy knowing that you impacted hundreds if not more impressionable kids who went on to bigger and better things.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, so very much.
Cliff Bleszinski, 4/22/14
First things first - I’ve been very open with the fact that I invested in Oculus at an early round. I stand to make a very sizable chunk of money from this acquisition. I stood in Mark Rein’s office with Brendan from Oculus, held the kitbashed first version to my face, and said “This is going to be huge, I want in.” Financially, I’m excited, but when that dust settles my heart says that I really, genuinely care about VR and I want to experience and enjoy it myself, and I have faith that it will still happen, and it will be better than ever.
Regarding Facebook. I use it every day, on one hand it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends. “Oh, I saw you went to Tuscany, the pictures were amazing!” However, at the same time I’ve been steadily removing personal data from my account. (Facebook starts getting REALLY needy when you do this. Log in and it’s “C’MON TELL ME WHAT CITY YOU GREW UP IN YOUR PROFILE IS ONLY 20% COMPLETE PLEEEEASSSE!) And then there’s this meme that I’ve always loved, because it’s spot on.
Speaking of memes, The Internet Outrage Machine loves to pile on something like this. Heck, some of the memes I retweeted because they were pretty funny. While amusing, these memes and animated gifs reek of shortsightedness. People are very rear window in their thinking online “Oh now we’re going to get Farmville VR.” Maybe Zuck sees what everyone else has seen - the future - and wants to make sure it’s more than just great games and saw that it would add value to his business?
Oculus was making great strides, but they were not out of the woods yet. Someone somewhere needs to come up with a proper control scheme for it. Looking around is only one part of the experience, how the device handles movement is another thing entirely. In the words of Brendan, their CEO “VR is like an onion, whenever we solve one thing we find something else that we need to crack.”
More importantly, they needed an ecosystem. IF their system is going to be (hopefully) a dedicated system instead of a (ugh) peripheral they need their version of whatever the app store would be. Your device is only as good as the store and community around it; if users can’t say shut up and take my money, if developers can’t post their work then the device will ultimately flounder. Facebook can assist with this sort of thing, as well as having a multi billion user reach.
That’s pretty damned important.
At the end of the day the fact that programming god John Carmack and up and coming tech god Palmer Luckey BOTH think this is a good fit SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHING. Palmer is the classic example of the old adage of “do what you really love and the money will follow.” Know what? Palmer’s going to keep doing what he loves because he believes in VR. It’s his dream. Once the dust settles, and maybe he buys a nicer home, or an Italian sports car, guess what he’s going to do?
Get right back to work.
Making a social network that stays relevant is extremely difficult, as we’ve seen over the years. We’ve all wondered - where’s the next Facebook? Every time some sort of potential app or service comes along that challenges them in any sort of way Facebook flexes their financial muscle and snatches it up. Here’s the thing about kids and teens - when it comes to social networking and apps their departure is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If your network is losing the kids, then the teens are next, followed by the adults, and then grandma has no one left to poke. By purchasing WhatsApp and Instagram Facebook has kept its head above water, and by purchasing Oculus they’ve shot back into hyper relevance. Worried Facebook is going to ruin Oculus? Check out Whatsapp and Instagram…turns out they’re working just fine since their acquisition.
Zuckerberg has said, himself, in the statement:
“Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate.”
When a company raises money from venture capitalists the end game IS acquisition. While it might have been interesting for a dedicated gaming company to purchase Oculus it might have ultimately limited their potential in regards to the myriad of things that the Rift is capable of. I want games, but I also want virtual tourism. PTSD treatment. End of life quality comfort care improvements. Treatment for a variety of fears. Architectural visualization. Pilot training. Scuba training. The list simply goes on, and on, and on. Start to imagine a VR experience that’s more social where you can sit, say, in a virtual IMAX with your best friends who all live in different cities and things start getting incredibly intriguing.
The final bit of outrage that I’m calling out is the fact that Oculus was Kickstartered and that some of those folks who donated are outraged. Apparently some folks don’t understand that donating to a Kickstarter gets you whatever reward you’re told when you donate, you don’t get equity, you don’t get to participate in the fruits of a sale of a company like that. (A fact that I’ve complained about myself in the past, if I put a bunch of money into funding something up front shouldn’t I get something big on the backend?!) Oculus crowdsourced traction from enthusiasts and then found the proper partner that can fund them and assist with bringing the platform of VR to the next level. Crowdfunding can only take you so far, especially when you’re doing something this ambitious. “I donated money to add value to a company that was eventually sold!” Well, that’s kind of how business works, folks, hate to be the bearer of bad news.
So, to conclude, now I’ll be watching the progress of Oculus as an enthusiast and as a consumer, as opposed to one who has a vested financial interest in it.
I am all about my emotionally vested interest now.
p.s. Notch, your cancelling Minecraft makes you look like a pouty kid who is taking his ball and going home. It’s a bratty and petty move and it saddens me greatly.
Coming out of Focus
Today I’d like to talk to you about…yes, FOCUS GROUPS.
There was a time when I was at my former employer during the building of the Gears of War franchise that we leaned heavily on Microsoft’s internal testing labs. They had one way mirrors, for fuck’s sake, whole place looked like a police interrogation lab or R Kelly’s Bedroom. They’d bring in local “target demographic” (usually 18-35 year old males) and have them play a work in progress version of the game. We’d then get back an extensive report on what were the problematic areas, suggestions for improvements, and ratings on how fun each area was.
During the time this was useful…to an extent. At the end of the day we ultimately trusted our guts and used that to make a fair call on any given issue raised by focus groups. We shipped the games, usually to much fanfare and a good amount of acclaim and sales, and moved onto the next one. It was only after I’ve had the last year+ to reflect on the experience to realize that focus groups, when not used properly, are fundamentally a flawed way of looking at your game and I’m about to explain why.
Put simply: The party performing the focus group has asked these folks to come in and play the game. They already feel special, like VIPs, almost, entitled. “They want MY opinion? Wow, well then, I must be pretty darned cool!” They then sit down and play the game. Here’s the problem, though.
They don’t really play it.
Before I finish my point, let me fast forward to the present. I’m currently enjoying the hell out of “South Park: The Stick of Truth.” Last night I came to the Alien Spaceship Pilot and Co Pilot boss fight. As of this writing I’ve attempted this boss fight no less than 10 times, each time failing, and two times getting the pilot down to one health before he smites my poor little cartoon ass. I can skip the cutscene where the aliens get up from their chairs faster than you can say Unclefucker. I’ve yelled at the TV, tossed my controller, and generally scared the shit out of our dogs and prompted my wife next to me (who is still slogging through “The Bureau” for some godforsaken reason it’s like some alternate dimension Gears I think I saw fucking Tickers in there) to say “Wow. That looks hard.”
Know what I’m going to do as soon as I finish this blog post? I’m going to go back upstairs to our game room, fire up that damned game, and kick some alien ass. And I’ll tell you what, when I finally take out those two fuckers I’m going to be jumping up and down happily yelling “IN YOUR FACE YOU ASS PROBING MOO MOO MOTHERFUCKERS!” because…
THAT’S WHY WE PLAY VIDEOGAMES IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Disclaimer: Gears will always have a place in my heart, and again, I think Rod and co are going to knock it out of the park.
However, there has been some valid criticism over the last generation of games that they were:
- Too linear
- Too easy
- Too hand holding with tutorials and puzzles
I remember sitting there with designers looking at videos of gamers getting lost in just the simplest of maps. A bare bones map, and they have no idea where to go. So, we’d make things a bit more linear. They can’t figure out how to perform a move? Force a tooltip on them! (no one reads that shit unless it’s on a loading screen anyways.)
The problem wasn’t the game. The problem wasn’t that it was hard or too difficult. The problem was that the folks in the focus group didn’t put down $60 of their OWN HARD EARNED MONEY to BUY THE GAME.
Their hearts aren’t in it. The first sign of something being a little tricky or confusing and they stop and write it down or it’s noted. It’d be as if someone who hadn’t run much in their life suddenly decided to go for a jog and found out it was too hard and was then denied the satisfaction of a completed run.
I get a good amount of shit for free. I didn’t get hooked up with South Park, I had to buy it myself with my own money. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough in my career that I can afford shit I want to buy, which is fucking amazing, but it doesn’t matter - that’s my sixty dollars that I worked hard for and I’m going to milk every bit of fun out of it, anal probes be damned.
People behave differently when they know they’re being watched. And, while data is good to a point, when you play too much to the data the tail winds up wagging the dog and you get watered down mushiness.
(Can you imagine if Dark Souls had gone through this ringer?! It would have been shit. “I died too much!” BOO HOO GO PLAY DANTE’S INFERNO YOU PRICK!)
On a side note, there’s a basic social interaction that comes out of asking someone what they think. If I was sitting at my favorite sandwich shop enjoying a pastrami on rye by myself and no one was watching me you can bet it’d be a far different experience than if someone was sitting across from me in a lab coat with a clipboard asking 500 questions about the sandwich. “How’s the crust?” “Well, normally I love it, but now that you’ve empowered me to act like a fucking expert I can tell you it could afford to be a little crunchier.”
Finally, if you ARE doing this and taking a survey, keep it AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE. Occasionally I’ll get an email from a company that is seeking feedback on something that I use, a service, or a product. And once in a while I go “fuck it” because I don’t have a job right now and I decide to take the survey. If I see it’s more than 10 questions, I say “nope” and go back to Twitter.
I’ll take a well managed and educated gut call over a million focus groups, any day of the week.