Jason Schreier, 2017, 275 pages (Amazon)
It’s probably no surprise that I’d buy, read, and love a book about video game development war stories, but Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made is a book really anyone with even a passing interest in the art of video games would enjoy (and should pick up).
Jason Schreier (kotaku.com), a veteran of the video game beat, weaves together several historical narratives from primary sources that describe in often-painful detail the difficulties most every game befalls on its way to launch, from the single-man production of Stardew Valley to the large-team blockbuster Uncharted 4.
The writing is approachable for non-enthusiasts but fills in knowledge gaps for even the most well-read fan. The chapter on Destiny is particularly special, building on the success of Kotaku’s excellent reporting to finally bring the details of that game’s late-stage reboot together into one coherent (if maddening) story.
The book left me with a renewed desire to check out The Witcher 3, another reason to dislike George Lucas, and a much healthier respect for the kinds of experiences Kickstarter enabled. Having lived through and managed a number of product launches over the past decade (though none nearly as intense), these chapters stoked memories of ownership conflict, poor management decisions, troublesome tooling, and the intense ups and downs of being a cowboy coder. The common thread of “crunch”, of working yourself to the bone to finish even somewhat on time, was all too familiar, and the picture Schreier paints of it being an almost essential ingredient in game development is simultaneously tragic and human.
It’s not entirely about failure, though. It was likewise a real treat to read about the Diablo 3 team consoling a downtrodden Destiny team after launch woes, showing how common some of these growing pains can be even from teams with radically different pedigrees. These stories, while bleak, are just as much about turning a lonely coder into a multi-millionaire and allowing a team of burned out and bored friends to risk it all and strike gold.
There’s a fairly ubiquitous quote by Shigeru Miyamoto: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” Blood, Sweat, and Pixels shows that in today’s industry, any finished game at all is a special thing. Highly recommended.
I digested a good chunk of this in the shade of a local Chick-fil-A. It’s amazing how quickly things return to normal after a major hurricane. I’ll miss this about Florida one day, I’m sure.