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June 26, 2004


the thing

Ugly morlocks? Speak for yourself, Kojak! Seriously though, I think it's just that most people are shy and akward in front of a camera, programmers even more so. Certainly sm2 had more than its share of handsome devils. Okay, at least one.

Noel Llopis

I was just thinking about this this morning. Working code is necessary to have a game, but that's about it. If you have very mediocre code and great content, the game is still going to be good (maybe it won't use the hardware to the max, but so what). If you have great code and crappy content, you're headed for the bargain bin faster than you can say game over.

So, yes, I think the content creators (artists and designers) are the stars of the show, and we, as programmers, are there to support them in the best way we can.

Nathan McKenzie

"If you have very mediocre code and great content, the game is still going to be good "

And when code generates the content, as in the emergent gameplay in GTA3 or the randomized areas of Diablo2?

And when the code is the content, as in player controls and physics and AI and...?

Some types of programming definitely serve to facilitate other content creators... but not all. I still stand by my assertion that a very large proportion of the best and most capable game designers I know are at least competant programmers.

Was it Chris Hecker who made the point that all games are, on some level, algorithms? I thought I had read that somewhere.

Mark Nau

You can have a house that is aesthetically poor, or one with a bad layout, but one that is built poorly won't even stand up. So how come the TV people always talk to architects and interior decorators instead of the guys pounding nails?

Same with cars, highways, films, ad naseum.


Have you guys tried to explain to a non-programmer, what it is we do all day in layman's terms? It's tough. People easily grasp what it means to pound nails, shoot film, draw cels. Programming is black magic. I love interviews with John Carmack where he goes into technology and starts with the jargon. People stare in awe as if he just shot lightning from his eyes to kill kobolds nearby.

I think what we need is a visual whiz-bang interface to Visual Studio like every hacker in every movie has. Lots of flashing things and a growing bar indicating how much longer till the encrypted file has been copied!

Robert 'Groby' Blum

You are of course aware that you're basically re-iterating what Jason Rubin said in his DICE speech? If we don't work to get exposure, we will be ignored. It doesn't just magically happen.

So where are the programmers at social functions? Where are the programmers speaking at non-programming conventions? How come we expect the outside world to be interested in us when we're not interested in them?


Hey Jaime,

on a completely un-related tangent. any recommendation on what platform to play Spiderman2 on? I'm really looking forward to giving this a spin!


I remember watching an episode of G4TV's Filter where they survey their viewers and filter the results into top 10 lists. That particular episode was top 10 "coolest game industry jobs". Programmer was somewhere in the middle (not near the top at all). I think artist was pretty low too.

And the top spot? You guessed it: Tester.

Here's the episode:
I wished they had their results list on that page.

Jamie Fristrom

I'm not allowed to say this because we're not supposed to alienate any of the console manufacturers, but: Xbox. There, now I've done it. If anybody in upper management notices I'll be in trouble.

And by the way: ugly is hot! Kojak used to be a sex symbol, believe it or not.


So I'm a TV producer of very similar type of programming to the MTV show (I produce the news/magazine show Pulse for G4techTV) although I would argue our audience is a little more informed then the TRL crowd. In the two years I've worked here I've conducted TV interviews with over a hundred of game industry professionals and produced over 50 hours of game-centered television.

And on nearly every studio tour piece (meaning a full BTS look at a game and access to the studio) the programmer is nearly always the worst interview of the bunch.

Now this doesn't necessarily mean that that programmers are the least interersting interview. In fact, often they have a lot of great stuff to say. I had a great interview with Chris Hecker at GDC this year as well as many other programmers at various studios around the country.

What it does mean is:

1) The programmer does seem to be one of the least social of all of the game personas. This means that IN GENERAL they are less comfortable talking to people at all, let alone when they've got a camera in their face. Case in point: I did one shoot in Europe with a game company where the programmer (and his engine) was so obviously the star attraction and yet he was unable to muster the ability (or the confidence) to do an on camera interview at all. The best television interviewees are those that can forget that they're doing it. Granted a huge part of that is the responsibility of the journalist, but most of the programmers I've interviewed could probably help their cause by taking a few deep breaths and just relaxing. Testers tend to get on camera more because they’re communicating info about the game all day long and are usually pretty good at it.

2) While it's not difficult to illustrate the contributions programmers make to a game, it is difficult to talk about those contributions in detail on television. At G4, we're lucky. The viewers generally know what a 'game engine' is and how vital it is to the game itself. I can show how the physics of a 'game-engine' affect gameplay, I can show how cool it is to not have to have a loading screen while I swing across NYC in Spider-Man, etc. But any more technical than that and it becomes very difficult for the gamer at home to understand what the programmer does because, in the end, it is exceptionally specialized knowledge. For example, a programmer could give me a great bite about how the Havok physics engine has given him/her the ability to do some cool stuff like swing metal balls in realistic ways but once he/she starts explaining what Havok actually is, the viewer is lost. As someone else said above, John Carmack's interviews are notorious for this. But if I were giving advice to programmers looking to up their face time on camera, I’d tell them to make their comments relative to the general audience at home.

3) No matter what, the consumers of a creative product are always going to be more interested in the product itself, rather than the tools used to create the product. In other words, what would you rather watch Spider Man 2 (the movie) or a documentary on the making of Spider Man 2? Of course, you probably answer both but, in general, the film comes first. And it’s the same with games. The creative experience comes first and therefore those held responsible for the ‘creative’ experience will be the ones everyone wants to hear from.

I’m not sure how much of the above makes sense (we’re having a baby in a month and the wife’s been keeping me awake) but it’s something to think about. I think programmers can (and do) add a lot to BTS specials on games and I look forward to seeing the SM2 special as soon as I can!

Rembrant Q Einstein

Hmm, according to the only gamedevblog approved method of evaluating game quality, gamerankings.com, the Gamecube version is the only version of Spider-Man 2 above 90% at this time. By the process of inexorable logic we can safely conclude that the Gamecube version is indeed the best. Let us all give thanks in particular to the diminutive Gamecube controller, without which the control scheme might have rivaled Dvorak in complexity.

Markus Friedl

well.. hey... congrats for those great spidey2 reviews everywhere... really have to go check it out as soon as I get a chance...


Don't sweat it Jamie, MTV was just being dumb and filming what was photogenic. Drawing any conclusions about the relative merits of any part of the development process based on that is, obviously, silly.

Strangely, when people bother to ask about what I do in detail, they're usually fairly interested (when I can manage to convey it to them in plain English) and walk away with some misconceptions laid to rest. Coding may not be as visually sexy as modeling or animating but doing it well still seems to impress people - witness the awe given Carmack's techno jargon brain dumps.

Nathan McKenzie

As a programmer myself, I do have to admit that most of the times I see "The Making of Blah 3: Step-Son of The Tired Sequel" or its ilk, I can spot the programmers in the bunch almost immediately and I generally have to cringe. It's kind of... unpleasant, I guess, to see so many examples of where the stereotypes come from. Maybe that sounds harsh, but most of the things I've seen don't seem to help dispel that much.

On flip side, though, I have to say that Will Wright is consistently one of most entertaining, interesting, and stimulating game devs I've ever had the pleasure to hear speak, and he is very much a programmer (with a large measure of designer and interested-in-everything thrown in too). Maybe there needs to be more focus on desiger/programmers or gameplay/programmers and less focus on hardcore tech programmers?

Is Sid Meier a fun speaker to listen to?

Rob "Xemu" Fermier

Most programmers (myself included) are either not photogenic, not good speakers, or both. I've long resigned myself to the fact that designers and "big name" folks on the team get the PR -- and that's OK... the PR is to serve the team & company, not the individuals.

But I find the comments about Blur getting as much screentime as Treyarch more interesting than the programmer-screentime issue. I think it is analogous to the way that big name voice talent often gets far greater billing than the core development personnel on a team. Like it or not, the people who are most front and center in the audience's perception (like for sexy prerenders or celebrities) are what most people are going to focus on. This issue also hits at the core of some of the business problems in this industry -- despite their absolute critical involvement, the developers themselves are often hidden entirely away from the audience who can neither quantify their influence (because it is pervasive) nor associate them with quality in a larger scope (because developer brands have extremely low visibility and are either not promoted at all by publishers or actively suppressed). It's a real problem in the long term, because better promotion of high quality developers is the only way that they will be able to develop loyalty with larger segments of the audience.

I think the comments earlier in this thread about people not having any idea what programmers do is dead on, but I'd widen that up to almost all parts of the development process except for art.

Congrats on shipping SM2, by the way. Great game -- I played for several hours last night with my son and we both had a blast. I hope it moves a skillion units for y'all. :)

m to the vizzah

I'm not sure we're even allowed to show dev kits on TV--yay NDAs--and that would probably be the biggest fanboi moment. "This little blue thing costs 20k, /if/ you can get one."

That said, they didn't even bother asking a single programmer from the game for the MTV bit. And Lord knows my countenance and witter banter moves units.


m to the vizzah

Ha, witter. /me goes back to the newborn baby routine.


Brett Douville

I'm not sure that we should necessarily aspire to be onscreen. After we finished Star Wars: Starfighter, the marketing folks pushed to get a little feature about the game into the Phantom Menace DVD. I hunted down the review (googling Starfighter and well fed :)

.... 'Star Wars Starfighter'- Making of a Game - A real bargain bin featurette about the making of the computer game. Features lot of well fed, badly dressed people doing meetings.

I guess what I want to point out is that most ordinary people (game developers included) don't have the stuff to really capture the imagination of other ordinary people. That's why we have celebrities. Are programmers more prone? I don't think so. I just think it's rare in any event; couple that with the fact that most teams have far fewer programmers than content creators or testers, and you're stacking the deck against the engineers.

Brett Douville

Oh, and one other note: I wasn't one of the badly dressed, well fed folks in the video.

I'm a well fed, natty dresser :)


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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game