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Blogged Out: 'Rocking The Boat'

Blogged Out: 'Rocking The Boat'

July 27, 2007 | By Jim Rossignol

July 27, 2007 | By Jim Rossignol
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More: Console/PC

Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: Rockstar, Splash Damage, GSC.


The blog of an apparent former-employee of Rockstar Games, named Jeff Williams, currently hosts some rather interesting material, as he blogs about his time working at Rockstar. There are tribulations. And when I say interesting I really mean it. It starts out informatively:

"The company was being run by twenty- and thirty-somethings who had neither a marketing nor a video game background. There was a large British contingent led by Sam and Dan Houser and Terry Donovan. I've honestly never been clear on their actual titles, but together they ran Rockstar and by extension Take 2 (yes, Take 2 has gone through a succession of CEO's; they all took a back seat, at least in those days, to Sam, Dan and Terry). I do believe Dan was company Creative Director - I interviewed with him before getting my job. Sam, Dan's brother, was one of the company's co-founders and never dealt much with us directly, but was active behind the scenes and at Rockstar North (the GTA developer). Terry was a childhood friend of theirs and ran Rockstar's day-to-day operations. Reporting directly to Terry was another Brit: Jenefer Gross, the company's beautiful but much-feared Marketing Director."

Later Williams becomes fairly forthright in his views, and he goes way beyond the discussion of how Rockstar's influence extends in Take 2, or how he was uncomfortable with some working practices. In fact, Williams believes there to be some problems with Rockstar's development processes:

"Every Rockstar project turned into a huge clusterfuck. I mainly blame this on a horrendously inefficient company structure combined with a few individuals who thought they were hot shit but really didn't know anything about either video games or marketing. By that time, Rockstar was arrogant to the point of absurdity."

Finally Williams distances himself, and much of the rest of the Rockstar development staff, from the Manhunt project.

"Manhunt, though, just made us all feel icky. It was all about the violence, and it was realistic violence. We all knew there was no way we could explain away that game. There was no way to rationalize it. We were crossing a line."

And it was a line that certain censors across the world were happy to point out when Manhunt 2 turned up...

This is an interesting transmission from the normally rather media-jammed area of Rockstar games. I wonder if we'll see a counter post extolling the virtues of the GTA mothership...

Communal Living

As if by contrast to Williams' post I wanted to link to the very on-message bloggings over on the Enemy Territory community site. This place has, to me, the feel of the more fan-run community venues that are hosted for games like the multiplayer FPS games. It's hardly surprising, either, since much of the Splash Damage team has been siphoned directly from the modding communities that surround games like Half-Life 2 and the Unreal series. I'm always acutely aware that the communities for these kinds of games can be hardcore and off-putting for many games, but I think Splash Damage might just have the collective force of personality, and the accessible game, to making beginners once again feel welcome.

What's perhaps even more interesting is to see the developers blogging at length about the specific game mechanics they're developing, and discussing possible tactical uses for the huge range of weapons and tools they've created. It's evidence of a team taking great joy in the game they're making, and that can only be a good thing.

Getting To The Point

Finally, how about this for a community project. JJ Walker at Floating Point Software has, out of the goodness of his heart/brain recoded the shaders for Russian FPS masterpiece Stalker: Shadow Of Chernobyl. The improvements are so good, both visually and in terms of optimisation for performance that developers GSC intend to put them in the next patch. That patch will, incidentally, offer a freeplay mode - making the game closer to the sandbox we always anticipated.

[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK - his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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