Adding More Teraflops Doesn't Lead to Better Stories

Adding More Teraflops Doesn't Lead to Better Stories

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | What's holding back creators from making the heart-wrenching experiences they've always envisioned?

I know there's some awful stuff going on this week. No, not the COVID-19 pandemic, although that is certainly awful and certainly going on. And no, not systemic racism and police brutality, although those are likewise awful and ongoing. I'm talking about the latest wave of allegations of abusers, harassers, and worse in the games industry, from streamers to developers.

And yes, it's sad that we're at the point now where we have to specify which wave of horror stories like this we're talking about because we have too many of them. And as GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey pointed out, we're going to keep getting more of these until we drastically overhaul the way the industry functions.

So if you want to know what matters in the industry this week, go read those stories. If you would prefer the typical silliness the industry trots out week to week, then read on.

Let's start with one of the most typical and silliest ideas espoused by executives and developers alike. Games are a combination of technology and art, and from the industry's earliest days, it has been enamored by the idea that if the technology can just get a little bit better, the art will necessarily improve with it, and then we can have more emotional reactions to games.

Seriously, just check out Electronic Arts' 1983 magazine ad, which asked the immortal question "Can a computer make you cry?" (Yes, immortal. That question will not die, and it's not for lack of people trying to kill it.)

You see it every time some auteur talks about how we're almost on the other side of the uncanny valley, every time some grinning VP in business casual takes the stage at E3 to talk about the next generation of hardware, every time a previewer gushes over the latest performance-capture technology or how a triple-A studio is now modelling lifelike split ends on its franchise heroine with an unlifelike body shape.

It's all bunk.

There is no skill tree of feelings that unlocks once you have the right number of teraflops. You can't R&D grielief or anticipity. (And those are just clumsily smushing together existing emotions anyway.)

New technology will let developers make new experiences. Some of those experiences may not be possible on old technology, and some players may have emotional reactions to them.

But those aren't new emotions, and they aren't off limits to developers now.

If a developer can't create the emotions in a playerbase that they want right now, there most certainly is a performance bottleneck to be dealt with. But it's not in the hardware.

QUOTE | "We're able to get to almost lifelike graphics today, even on current gen in certain instances," Spencer said. "But when you take that and you mix it with a very high frame rate, solid frame rate, very little latency in input, and the ability for game storytellers to really push the emotion and the story they're trying to get through their game, through the screen, through the controller and into you? That is something I'm feeling in the games now that is a dramatic step up." - Head of Xbox Phil Spencer says Xbox Series X may not be as big a generational leap as people are used to when it comes to visuals, but believes the system finally has the technical prowess to make gamers feel things, which has been heretofore impossible in video games.

QUOTE | "We can make you scream and yell and be horrified—those are the easy ones to get," he said. "But if we can make you contemplative, sad, that's really hitting the full gamut of emotional response to the gaming experience." - Former Sony Interactive Entertainment head Shawn Layden says The Last of Us Part 2 is the ultimate example of a PS4 game, capturing all four human emotions: screaming, yelling, horror, and contemplative/sad.

QUOTE | "Personally, as an older gamer... I would welcome a return to the 12 to 15 hour [triple-A] game. I would finish more games, first of all, and just like a well edited piece of literature or a movie, looking at the discipline around that could give us tighter, more compelling content." - In the same story, Layden talks about modern triple-A development as unsustainably expensive.

Shawn Layden, pictured here speaking at DICE Summit 2019, left Sony Interactive Entertainment in late 2019. | DICE

QUOTE | "These are terribly self-destructive activities, but the creative director... is supposed to have that bold, almost unachievable idea, and the rest of the team is supposed to be pulling the director back, and the director is supposed to be resisting it. That's kinda my image for how the great stuff gets made." - Knack 2 director Mark Cerny, in a discussion with BioShock creative director Ken Levine suggests that quality requires an antagonistic relationship between the director and the development team, which sounds like a super healthy way to run a team that doesn't at all contribute to the larger cultural problems we have around crunch and abusive work environments.

QUOTE | "It became clear that the time needed to grow our own livestreaming community to scale was out of measure with the vision and experiences we want to deliver to gamers now..." - Head of Xbox Phil Spencer explains that Microsoft's streaming site Mixer wasn't growing fast enough so the company is shutting Mixer down entirely and foisting partners and users off on Facebook Gaming.

STAT | 82 - The number of Microsoft Store locations around the world that will be closing as the company eliminates its brick-and-mortar retail operation in favor of four "Microsoft Experience Centers." The company said all Microsoft Store employees will have the opportunity to stay with the company.

QUOTE | "I'm kind of frustrated with cyberpunk as a genre at the moment because it is so much aesthetic over thematic at this point. For the last ten years, it's been very much cyberpunk as an '80s circle jerk. And that's good, but I think [Cyberpunk pen-and-paper RPG creator] Mike Pondsmith was on the money there when he said it's like a mirror you hold up to what you're currently going through now." - Umurangi Generation developer Naphtali Faulkner explains how he tried to update cyberpunk with his new photography game.

QUOTE | "I was told I am a liability because of who I am married to." - Team Liquid Hearthstone pro Janne "Savjz" Mikkonen says he was blacklisted from competing because his spouse—a former Activision Blizzard employee laid off in last year's celebratory layoffs of 800 people after posting record profits—tweeted criticisms of the company for posting job openings for some of those eliminated positions rather than just rehiring the people it dumped. (A Blizzard rep said Mikkonen was instead excluded from competition because he wouldn't sign a confidentiality agreement; Mikkonen said they never mentioned any such agreement.)

QUOTE | "The H-1B decision is impossible to support from any reasonable perspective. The anti-immigration decision will not create new jobs for citizens, but will eliminate one of America's greatest strengths—our ability to attract and immigrate the best talent in the world to join us in the American Dream. Imagine our USA without Albert Einstein, Joseph Pulitzer, Bob Marley, Levi Strauss or Audrey Hepburn. I cannot." - Gearbox Entertainment Company founder Randy Pitchford criticizes President Trump's executive order halting a number of nonimmigrant visa programs (including H-1B visas for highly skilled workers like the games industry employs) until the end of the year.

I don't have anything snarky to say here. Games industry executives generally don't volunteer comment on largely overlooked presidential actions, and I have to say Pitchford was not on my top 10 list of candidates to spontaneously weigh in here. This is fascinating.

QUOTE | "The community response [to Oculus Quest] has been overwhelmingly positive, and you've told us loud and clear that 6DOF feels like the future of VR. That's why we're going all-in, and we won't be shipping any more 3DOF VR products." - Oculus announces that we can start calling the Oculus Go the Oculus Gone.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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