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.
Specs on our new PCs
Many on Twitter have been asking about the specs on our new Digital Storm PC rigs, so hey, here we go:
Chassis Model: Special Deal Hot Seller - Hailstorm II Edition
Exterior Finish: - Standard Factory Finish
Trim Accents: - Standard Factory Finish
Processor: Intel Core i7 4930K 3.4GHz (Unlocked CPU for Extreme Overclocking) (Six-Core)
Motherboard: ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 (Intel X79 Chipset) (Features USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s)
System Memory: 16GB DDR3 1866MHz Corsair Dominator Platinum DHX (Extreme-Performance)
Power Supply: 1050W Corsair Pro Silver 1050HX (Dual/Triple/Quad SLI Compatible)
Expansion Bay: - No Thanks
Optical Drive: ASUS Blu-Ray Player/DVD Writer (Play Blu-Ray and Burn DVDs) (Model: BC-12B1ST)
Storage Set 1: 1x (240GB Solid State (By: Corsair) (Model: Neutron GTX Series) (SATA 6Gbps)
Storage Set 2: 1x (2TB Hitachi (7200 RPM) (32MB Cache) <b></b>
Storage Set 3: 1x (2TB Hitachi (7200 RPM) (32MB Cache) <b></b>
RAID Config: - No Thanks
RAID Card: - No Thanks
Internet Access: High Speed Network Port (Supports High-Speed Cable / DSL / Network Connections)
Graphics Card(s): 1x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB (EVGA Superclocked ACX Cooler Edition)
Sound Card: Integrated Motherboard Audio
HPC Processor: - No Thanks
Extreme Cooling: H20: HydroLux Level 1: Digital Storm Exotic Custom Cooling System (CPU + Chipset)
H20 Tube Color:Red Tubing with High-Performance Fluid (UV Lighting Reactive)
Chassis Fans: Upgrade Chassis With LED Performance Fans (Red) (Up to 6 Fans)
Internal Lighting: Digital Storm HydroLux RGB LED Lighting System (Requires HydroLux Control Board & Software)
Airflow Control: Digital Storm HydroLux Thermal Management Control Board & Software
Chassis Mods: Hailstorm II: Bottom Baseplate Mod (Cleaner Wiring Look & DS Logo Branding)
Noise Reduction: Noise Suppression Package Stage 2 (Optimized Airflow & Fan Speeds with Noise Dampening Material)
LaserMark: - No Thanks
Boost Processor: Stage 2: Overclock CPU 4.5GHz to 4.8GHz (Requires Pro/Deluxe/Sabertooth Motherboard)
Boost Graphics Card(s): - No Thanks, Please do not overclock my video card(s)
Boost Memory: - No Thanks, Please do not overclock my memory
Boost OS: - No Thanks, Please do not tweak the services on the operating system
Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Professional (64-Bit Edition)
Recovery Tools: Windows Recovery Toolkit (Bundled with Windows CD)
Judge or approve away!
The Reality of Virtual Reality
DISCLAIMER: I’m an investor in the Oculus Rift. I’m also a believer in the technology. I think it will be truly game changing, not only in games, but also in many, many other fields. I am NOT an official spokesperson for the technology and I consider many of the folks working on it to be friends, so please understand this is my personal opinion regarding the technology.
It seems like every time a good/great 3d game comes out one of the first things I almost always read on the Internet is
"OMG IMAGINE THIS ON THE OCULUS RIFT."
With the overwhelmingly positive response that Titanfall has gotten I’ve seen this train start up, once again.
It’s one of those things that drives me bonkers, kind of like when people refer to Lego as Legos. (Google it, dammit.)
You can’t just dump a game on the Oculus just like you can’t just throw a PC FPS on console without massive tuning. The pacing of the experience, the controls, everything needs to be re-tuned so much that you might as well just start from scratch for the Oculus.
A fast paced shooter simply doesn’t work well on the device. The device is so game changing that the experiences built for it need to be custom, unique and designed from the ground up FOR VIRTUAL REALITY. The experience needs to be much more like swimming through water or hopping around in low gravity as opposed to being an Olympic hurdler. Even horror games will need to be re-thought; instead of jump scares and intense “Outlast” experiences horror on the Rift will need to be the super subtle type otherwise your average person will only last 15 seconds in any given jump scare title before tearing the headset off.
Having seen the latest of what the tech has to offer (and I believe a myriad of experiences are going to continue to blossom for the emerging tech) there’s one sensation that I couldn’t get out of my head, and it’s the true feeling of flight. I have a recurring dream in which I’m being chased by a monster and if I concentrate hard enough I start flying up, up and away, gleefully flipping off whatever beast is in pursuit. In one of the recent demos, when I looked down, I had that very same sensation of flight and it was thrilling.
I have never, ever had that outside of a dream. Ever.
And for those of you who like to dismiss the tech saying “Oh it’s just like 3d, no one will want it” you obviously haven’t used it. When 3d is properly used in the theater for depth as opposed to a baseball coming at your face (See Avatar and Gravity for good uses) it is incredibly immersive. The problem is that most folks don’t really want it in their home. The effort of putting on the glasses isn’t worth the result in your average home setup outside of someone who has, well, an IMAX in their house.
The Rift is an IMAX in your house, and then some. The effort of putting on the headset leads to an overwhelmingly fantastic result. When you put on the latest demo and you crouch and lean around the new world around you your brain adapts, adjusts, and you’re there. I have memories of the places I visited in the latest demos. I felt like I could have reached out and touched things. It was the most magical experience I’ve had with technology since the first time I saw an Atari 2600 joystick manipulate pixels on my friend’s TV in their basement many, many years ago and decided then that I wanted to make games.
So, for the love of god, give the device more credit than just tossing random FPS games on it. It deserves much, much more. And you’re darned right I invested in it, because I’d like to think I know a good thing when I see it. :)
The one constant is change
Waking up today I was drowning in a deluge of emails, tweets, direct messages and smoke signals.
My former employer has sold the Gears of War IP/franchise to Microsoft and my friend Rod Fergusson is going to be working on it.
To be honest, I don’t think the franchise could be in better hands. Heck, Rod’s Twitter handle, to this day, is “Gears Viking.” Gears is just as much Rod’s baby as it was mine. He’ll take good care of her. (Rod, I owe you a girly drink at GDC.)
Phil Spencer went out of his way to give me a phone call to inform me of the transaction last week. Phil, you didn’t have to do that, you’re a gentleman. I appreciate it; that goes a long way. 343 knocked it out of the park with Halo and I think Black Tusk will do a fantastic job with Gears.
I suppose this puts the nail in the coffin of the question “Will Gears ever come to Playstation?”
Safe to say that’s not likely to happen. (Besides, it gives me something to look forward to on Xbox One besides Titanfall and Project Spark…oh and more Halo, of course.)
Now that that’s out of the way…
I’m not going to move to Vancouver and work on it.
I’m not going to consult on it.
My headspace is in the future now, not the past. I have come to realize that until you give people something new to focus on they will obsess about the past. (good problem to have!)
To those of you who love Gears, I love you as well, and I appreciate your support through the years. The fandom, the cosplay, the tattoos, it all means more than any amount of money could ever mean.
These recent events have steeled my resolve to make something entirely new.
Time for new cosplay, new tattoos, new fandom.
Fingers crossed there will be news soon.