It so happened that I managed to read Jason Schreier’s first book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made even before the Ukrainian translation appeared, unfortunately in russian. Well, at least the second part of this interesting exploration of the world of video games, Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, we have the opportunity to read immediately in Ukrainian.
|Title||Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry|
|Year of publication||2023|
|Format||20 × 14 cm|
One of the most interesting reports that video game developers give at various professional conferences are the so-called postmortems, that is, reviews of games and their development process from the authors themselves some time after release. During such reports, developers quite frankly talk about their own mistakes and discoveries, about wrong and successful decisions, and what, looking back, they would have done differently. In my opinion, the most interesting of the postmortems are those dedicated to failures and projects that never came to life. It is from such stories that the most useful conclusions can be drawn in order not to repeat the mistakes that others have already made.
Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry by Jason Schreier is a series of postmortems of individual projects and entire game studios, written from the words of the developers themselves by an experienced journalist who has been writing about the game industry for many years and is personally acquainted with most of the famous game designers and directors of studios.
Schreier’s first book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made (2017) is a story about the bright side of video game development, about success stories and studios that have won worldwide fame and the affection of players (which is not really a guarantee against overtime, failures and possible closure in the future). While Press Reset is a story of high-profile failures, closing studios, and developers who got into a difficult situation. And although there are also sprouts of hope here, and for some, the unexpected end of the history of some studios and games becomes the beginning of something new and exciting (mostly we are talking about developers who switched to indie), in general, these are rather sad stories of mistakes, wasted time and yes, burnout and depression.
The book begins with a top story – stories about the creation of Epic Mickey and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two and the efforts of the legendary Warren Spector to get along with the Disney bosses. An interesting and instructive story of a creative personality’s futile attempts to negotiate with corporate bosses.
But the story of Bioshock Infinite and that as the creative director and co-founder of Irrational Games, Ken Levine, a genius with a difficult character and an authoritarian leadership style, closed the studio almost immediately after the release of the mega-successful project. In fact, I was in almost the same position when I was closing down a successful Home PC in 2011 and laying people off, and I understand Ken Levine very well. As far as I know from personal conversations with Serhii Hryhorovych, the cancellation of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 and the actual closing of GSC Game World in 2011 also had similar roots.
Another small flaw of the book is the author’s stubborn and even slightly left-wing attempt to push all the problems of game developers onto the evil corporation and devious top managers who are trying to maximize profits and their own bonuses. Sometimes these criticisms, which are repeated many times throughout the book, even look like a direct criticism of capitalism.
Yes, large corporations and their top managers are sometimes ruthless, do not know anything about game development, or trends (yes, console and PC gaming are dying, all switch to mobile!), and do stupid things, as can be seen from the history of the development of Dungeon Keeper (2014) and the confrontation between Mythic Entertainment and Electronic Arts. But what can you do, the development of AAA games costs a lot of money, so without funding from the same damn capitalists, there is no way. Do not like it?! There is an indie way, Kickstarter and such, don’t blame the system.
Some of the stories in Push Reset are related because you can’t talk about the closing of 2K Marin (BioShock 2) without going back to the Irrational Games / 2K Boston story. It’s also hard to talk about the fall of Big Huge Games (Rise of Nations, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning) without again touching on the very strange story of 38 Studios and baseball player Curt Schilling’s foray into the gaming industry. So it seems that Jason Schreier sometimes goes around in circles and comes back to the same thing he just said.
Of course, as the title promises, quite a lot of space in the book is devoted to overtime work, developer burnout, unbearable working conditions, etc. But Schreier himself gives the answer to why this happens: game development is a complex and risky process, where it is usually very difficult to predict how much time will be spent on a particular task. In addition, overtime work is sometimes indulged by developers who are so enthusiastic about the process that they prefer to stay in the office. This is the industry of game development, it has always been, it is and it will probably be.
It is interesting that on the back page of Press Reset instead of reviews of Western reviewers, the publishing house MAL’OPUS placed reviews of Ukrainian game developers who work in well-known Western studios. One of the reviews is from a href=”https://twitter.com/krides” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Serhii Mokhov, the leading game designer of the legendary Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Alan Wake, Control). Serhii, who has worked all the time in European game studios in Spain, France and Finland, says that most of the problems raised by Schreier are specific to the American game industry, and Europe has learned to deal with it. And no, the trade unions, remote work and total outsourcing (it has actually already happened), which the book’s author offers as a panacea for overtime and burnout, have no use here. In fact, the last chapter of Press Reset, in which Schreier reflects on ways to solve the problems of the industry, looks frankly naive, which is not what you would expect from such an experienced journalist.
For me personally, the book Press Reset was also a good opportunity to remember all those cool games that Jason Schreier and his interlocutors talk about. Both AAA projects of already closed big studios and indie games created by people who were fired by evil corporate bosses. I installed to replay or play for the first time: BioShock Infinite, The Bureau XCOM Declassified, Kingdoms of Amalur Re-Reckoning (2020 remake), The Flame in the Flood, Kine, Eldritch, Enter the Gungeon and even Dead Space (2023 remake), although I hate horror games and try not to play them. So thanks to Jason Schreier and Press Reset for the opportunity to return to these extraordinary and wondrous worlds.
Some of the criticism in this review might give the impression that I didn’t enjoy Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry. It’s not, I just disagree with Jason Schreier on some points, but overall it’s a very cool book that I devoured with great pleasure in just a few days. Press Reset, as well as Blood, Sweat and Pixels and David Kushner’s Masters of DOOM, are must-reads for anyone who wants to get into the video game industry, or anyone for whom gaming is more than just a way to kill time. Maybe after this you will understand how difficult and unpredictable the work of video game creators is and stop attacking the unfortunate developers in the comments… Although what am I talking about… Daydreaming!
Enjoy reading. And thank you MAL’OPUS for good Ukrainian and witty comments from the editors.