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From the Editors: Reflections on Gamasutra

From the Editors: Reflections on Gamasutra

August 25, 2021 | By Bryant Francis




Bryant Francis is a Senior Editor at Game Developer

In the last hours of Gamasutra's lifespan is it really possible to properly sum up all the incredible work that's gone on under this green-and-brown banner?

No, of course not. That would be impossible. Utter foolishness. It's a good thing the entire site archive is being preserved in the move to Game Developer, because we'd feel so much more pressure to make sure our last look at Gamasutra was a can't-miss, Criterion Collection assembly of articles.

With that pressure off our shoulders, the Gamasutra editorial team has instead opted to present a selection of must-read articles from our collective history. Some of us are patting our own backs, others want to give a nod to our colleagues or the developers who've been at the heart of Gamasutra since the very beginning.

We've also taken a moment to say a few fond words for this sunsetting site. Kris Graft, Gamasutra and now Game Developer's publisher, has already addressed the elephant in the room about the name we're shedding, so with that out of the way, we want to speak sincerely and maybe sappily about the institution we've been pouring words into for the last half-decade and beyond. 

I hope you've enjoyed reading our words as much as we've enjoyed crafting them. I'll see you on the other side.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

Goodbye Gamasutra! That site name survived a lot of good writers who worked like hell to escape the gravitational pull of an appropriative sex pun. My Mom informed me last month she doesn’t tell her friends where I work because it sounds like I write for an inappropriate magazine. Good news Mom! I (mostly) no longer bring shame to our family.

To reflect on a creative career is to stop and take stock of the people who’ve made your craft possible. I came to Gamasutra by way of former editor Kris Ligman, who linked me up with Kris Graft for coverage of Indiecade’s 2015 panels. My first byline was covering a panel led by Shawn Alexander Allen, who had invited developers like Catt Small, Ashley Alicea and LaToya Peterson to discuss their experiences confronting racism in games and tech.

If I have any inkling of knowledge about the game industry by now it’s because of those fine folks, not to mention every industry veteran, every new developer, every creative mind who’s taken the time to speak with me about their life and their work in this business.

Those are the kinds of people who’ve been Gamasutra’s audience for over two decades, and they’re who our audience will be under Game Developer. Our readers are smart, creative, savvy, and fun-loving people who find joy and meaning in the interlocking systems of game development.

Writing about games is as much about trying to describe LaToya Peterson’s expression of delight at being able to resist colonialism in Age of Empires II, as it is to breaking down the quarterly financials of our industry’s largest publishers.

We literally can’t do this without you. Game Developer is a website for people who make games, and we will work to do right by you every chance we get.

Bryant’s three article picks:

Honest tales from the trenches of AAA game writing: This honest reflection on the art of game writing is as much about the problems of collaborative creative work as it is about telling a good story in games. If you’re a writer, or just work with writers on games, read it for an honest assessment of how the process works.

Opinion: After Christchurch - What we owe our game communities: Katherine Cross and I started writing on the site around the same time, and her analytical skills have only gotten stronger over the years. With the rise of new right-wing movements intersecting with parts of games culture, her analysis of the Christchurch mass shooting remains as relevant today as it did in 2019. Why you should rethink how your company handles in-house harassment:

Emily Greer’s 2020 GDC Summer talk was a must-watch discussion of what sexual harassment means in the game development workplace. Her ability to spell out how industry malcontents use the topic of sex as a means to exert power is kind of truth-telling that industry leaders often dodge around when discussing toxic workplaces. This remains one of the most meaningful talk writeups I’ve done for our website.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

I've been stringing together words for Gamasutra for six whole years, so telling people that I write for Game Developer rather than Gama is going to take a fair bit of getting used to, and I'd by lying if I said I wasn't feeling a touch apprehensive about seeing this janky old rustbucket of a website finally laid to rest.

That said, our long-overdue branding pivot is going to make telling family members where I ply my trade a distinct possibility. They currently know I do a few odd jobs for 'The Americans,' which makes it sound like I'm part of a crime ring on a HBO show. It should also make navigating the perennial small talk slalom decidedly less awkward, because let's face it, there's no utterance more frightening to a Gamasutra employee than the five little words 'so, where do you work?'

On a professional level, I imagine Gama means the same to me as it does to you. Writing for the website gave my the opportunity to learn far more about the world of game development than I ever could've imagined, and one of the best parts of the job has been hearing developers wax lyrical about preposterously obscure game mechanics and design choices with the unbridled passion of a kid tearing open their Christmas presents.

Being able to play a small part in sharing that knowledge with the wider games industry while (hopefully) helping fledgling developers start their own development journey has been immensely rewarding, and I can't wait to continue doing precisely that as we transition over to Game Developer. Remember, the name and trappings might be changing, but our ambition to be the undisputed one-stop-shop for industry knowledge has never been greater.

On a personal level, writing for Gamasutra has been utterly superlative. This team, including those who've moved on to pastures new during my tenure, are the most dedicated and genuinely caring group of people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. It might sound trite -- of course I'd say that -- but before I joined Gama I wasn't sure it was possible to work for a publication that actually valued its writers. Thankfully, I was mistaken. Kris, Alissa, and Bryant are the sort of colleagues who'll back you to the hilt while gently pushing you to raise your game. I'm convinced I wouldn't be the writer I am today without their guidance and support. Honestly, they're the reason I wouldn't trade this gig for anything, so hopefully I'll be sat here in another six years writing about how far we've all come under the Game Developer banner.

Chris' three article picks:

Water interaction model for boats in video games: How do you make boat physics sexy? You don't. They're already sexy enough. There's something of joke-slash-trueism at Gamasutra that Boat Physics is the apex predator of programming deep dives - an article so immensely rich in niche detail that it can never be topped. It is the best at what it does, and what it does is explain how boats work using glorious phrases like 'Buoyancy Force 101' and 'hydrostatic force.'

Audio Design Deep Dive: Using a human skull to create the sounds of Inside: I've always had a soft spot for features that spotlight the world of game audio, and this one does so while explaining how Inside sound designer and composer Martin Stig Andersen created the title's soundscape using an actual real-life human skull. Yes, there are pictures of the skull.

A tale of two consoles: Xbox Series X and S in review: I've included this one because it was something of a personal milestone. Getting the opportunity to review new hardware for a leading industry outlet is basically the reason you get into this job, so yeah, this one goes down as pure wish fulfillment. Sometimes you've gotta toot your own horn, y'know?

Alissa McAloon, Editor-in-Chief

Hi! I'm Alissa, freelancer turned news editor now turned EiC. Ages ago I went to what was, at the time, the only college with a game development program in South Dakota, so hearing about Gamasutra was inescapable. It was that oddly named resource that hovered at the bottom of many a class syllabi, and a site that I'd rediscover as a really strange source for news when I first started writing about video game news a few years into school. Fast Forward a handful of years and a few thousand news stories, and here we are! (You'll hear plenty from me tomorrow, so I'll keep things short here.) 

One of the wonderful things about writing for an industry-facing website like Gamasuta is the sheer amount you learn about video games and the people who make them during the regular day-to-day. I've grown as a writer since writing that first article about some cool mixed reality tech in 2016, and I've also had the opportunity to speak to incredibly talented people in order to share just some of their knowledge with the wider community, all while learning about what makes my own favorite games tick. I'm incredibly thankful I had the chance to be a part of Gamasutra's legacy, and so excited for everything that's coming next.

You may notice a theme to my picks. There's been a lot of reflection as we move closer to retiring the Gamasutra brand tomorrow, and throughout that process one of the most important things I've gained from my time with the site is the ability to look at games in an entirely new way. Each of the below points to moments where Gamastura made that reflection possible, and I'm looking forward to many more experiences like that as we continue on as Game Developer. 

Mapping out the subtle social cues throughout Hitman's level design: As Gamasutra's, and soon Game Developer's, leading Hitman advocate, this highlight should come as no surprise. This one is a story I wrote based on a GDC talk on sandbox design in Hitman. It's a really great read (and an even better talk to watch!), but for me this story represents a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what makes iconic levels from my favorite game tick, and how designers came up with the defining elements of such an iconic sandbox game.

How Neopets has influenced a generation of game developers: I grew up on Neopets, in a very "I printed out the parent permission form and mailed it in to make my account" way. That site, and others like it, facilitated a lot of my early writing experiences and briefly made me think I, a chatty 11 year old, knew how everything about BBcode and HTML worked. This article by former Gamasutra contributing editor Emma Kidwell highlights how, for many, designing those forum posts and MIDI-blasting profile pages was a first introduction to concepts that they'd carry forward into their game development careers.

Classic Postmortem: Double Fine's Psychonauts: This one's technically a Gamasutra reprint of a Game Developer magazine article, but we're counting it. My sister and I played Psychonauts a ton as a kid, so digging through the Gamasutra archives when I first started and finding this piece was another moment where Gamasutra allowed me to look at something important to me in a completely new way. Revisiting this postmortem right as Psychonauts 2 came out was a really great way to experience the new game, given how well the sequel does at feeling like a perfect continuation of the original despite the decade and a half that divides the two games. 

Kris Graft, Publisher

I'm Kris Graft! I started with Gamasutra in 2009 as a part-time reporter after leaving the competing game industry site Next-Gen.biz, eventually becoming editor-in-chief and now publisher. It's difficult to put my time working on Gamasutra into words, but I'm allegedly a writer, so I will try.

Looking back, working on this website was less about the work itself and more about the relationships I've made, and how the people I've met have shaped my life and view of the world for the better. Working on the internet and being afforded the privilege to travel around the world to cover video games has granted me a lot of different experiences that I simply would not have had if I had kept on working for my mom in Northern Indiana. Being in games media is still work and obviously there was a fair share of bullshit that was nearly enough to make me leave Gamasutra and games media, but the good stuff has outweighed the crappy stuff, and the people who I've worked closest with were always reason enough to stay. My time working under the ol' gradient green has been formative to my career and personal life.

But now it's time to look to the future of this publication, which is Game Developer. Our new editor-in-chief Alissa McAloon will have more specifics, but going forward, you can expect various formats of editorial that will inform, empower, and inspire you in all things related to making video games. This has been the goal, but we haven't always had the resources or support to consistently bring that vision to fruition. I'm more confident than I have been in literal years that we can be a positive, relevant force in the game industry, and I think we can all have fun doing it.

Now to note some Gamasutra classics:

Apple Officially Unveils 'iPad' Computing Tablet: So a couple of my picks are based less on the editorial itself and more about the experience involved when making the editorial. This unassuming writeup of the iPad's announcement in 2010 features a little picture of Steve Jobs holding up the new tablet. As I wrote up the fast-breaking news, I saw that my friend and colleague Chris Remo had posted an image of Steve Jobs with the new iPad in our work chat, presumably to use for my writeup. How helpful! What I didn't know is that he had Photoshopped the image, blowing the iPad up to 3x the actual size, so much so that Jobs' forehead was just peeking over the top of the device. I posted that image with the story, and it was that way for a few hours, causing confusion (Remo never corrected us). It was a new device, and no one really perceived its size accurately. Readers were confused ("That seems big...?"; "Nah, Jobs is a small guy"), we thought it was hilarious. And yes we did update the photo, no thanks to Remo.

Microsoft's Future Begins Now: Shane Kim Speaks: This was my first feature interview for Gamasutra, which is part of what makes this weirdly memorable. Brandon Sheffield (former Game Developer magazine editor-in-chief) and I tag-teamed an E3 Q&A with former Xbox executive Shane Kim, who was talking about the Kinect, codenamed Project Natal at the time. Kim said they were demoing it with Burnout Paradise and I made a joke about how that must be like "driving an invisible car." Typical, I laughed at my dumb joke ("[laughs]") and Kim, rightfully, didn't enable my silliness.

KG: I heard that you guys are demoing Burnout Paradise with it.

SK: We have that hooked up, and I think that that's part of what we have here. By the way, Kris, that was the first time I interacted with Natal. And, you know, for me, driving that game was as natural as using a steering wheel or a controller.

KG: So it drove like an invisible car, right? [laughs]

SK: I tell you what, it's less intimidating for some people to be out there like this than holding a controller in their hands, too.

20 Fun Grid Facts (Hex Grids): I would've included the amazing boat physics post here, but Chris Kerr took that entry, so allow me to revisit this piece that gets down to the brass tacks of hexagons. This got a ton of pickup from our readers and is a great example (and reminder) of how our audience appreciates deep dives into niche development and design topics. The fact that it was written by a reader is also part of what makes this post a prime example of what Gamasutra is all about.



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