I know that most of the time on I’ve Updated My Journal, I’ve been teetering on the edge of simply being another gaming blogger. Not today, my dear readers! Through a serendipitous post on my Facebook feed, I managed to land myself a thick slice of journalistic opportunity. Because of the open invitations to the event, my “infiltration” of the Inaugural Baltimore Game Developer Beer Night was all too easy. Not to say that I was there to get any kind of scoop or anything. Developers release that kind of stuff when they’re good and ready. The real story here was the degree of mutual respect and friendship from such a diverse crowd. For a second you might even forget that this is actually a competitive industry.
It was this overwhelming sense of community that stuck out to me more than anything else last night. With the recent dismantling of Big Huge Games fresh in everyone’s mind (it was after all a big studio in Maryland), any mention of the studio was met with somber downward glances and perceptible awkwardness. Though Big Huge Games was working with one of Zenimax’s and 2K’s competitors (Electronic arts) and had released a game in a very similar vein to Bethesda Softworks’ Skyrim (along with planning an MMO that would’ve joined The Elder Scrolls Online in the already competitive MMO market), the sense of camaraderie between the employees of each studio was clear. There wasn’t the luxury of cynicism that we consumers take for granted. Whatever reason the public contrives about the dissolution of Big Huge–be it poor management from EA, 38 Studios, or simply producing a sub-par game–the fact of the matter is that there is a very human story here.
Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent the night getting to know many of the unseen faces that make gaming possible for all of us, but I can’t help but sympathize for the Amalur team. Sure, the internet likes to put an evil face on companies like EA for their monetizing tactics, but to misquote a current talking point of the Democratic party: a corporation isn’t a person. It’s certainly easier to attribute the failures of major studios to something shallow like greed or ignorance, but that’s missing the bigger picture. I certainly had problems with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and even after getting to know the designers over the course of last night I still stand by my opinion that it was an unremarkable game (though the combat was great and the character progression could have really become something special if the game ever got a sequel). What I gained from talking to these developers was a degree of respect for the craftsmanship and effort that goes into their titles.
I would encourage anyone interested in game design (either for the purpose of someday making your own game or out of simple curiosity) to take a moment to really look at what they play. That shrub in the corner that may not be worth a second glance is the accumulated work of artists whose only job was to make sure your experience feel more alive. The amount of time that goes into simply creating a consistent look for a title is staggering, and that’s not even considering the how often things get scrapped. Don’t even get me started on the massive headache of creating fun and compelling gameplay. I’m not trying to hop onto the “gamer entitlement” hate train here. I just feel like the people who pour their hearts into making a game are often overshadowed when you view them together as one entity.
As the the night wound down I found myself seated with several Zenimax Online employees. They were discussing the private social network that existed between them and the other studios under Zenimax and the various inside jokes that would crop up from time to time. For most of the night I had been talking to these people as a fan of video games but for some reason I didn’t feel a sense of symmetrical reciprocation. Maybe it was because most of the conversations were about titles released by the studios who were present. Then again maybe being in the field itself lends a different perspective as a whole. At heart they’re all gamers, but they’re more than that. They’re committing themselves to the art form that they love deeply. They aren’t the legions of angry fans who demand a new ending from a publisher when the one get fails to meet their impossible expectations. They aren’t the people who spend more time talking about how bad video games are than actually playing them. This is their job. They care.