11-11-07 - 2

I did some random vaguely game related stuff yesterday and put some junk up on my exe page (namely ImDoub), including fixing the broken compile of all my own DDraw toys. It reminded me how much fun that stuff was (the old DDraw stuff). So I started playing around with a full screen floating point 2d drawing engine and was wandering around looking up SSE2 float to int stuff and somehow found myself at Casey's MollyRocket Forums (oddly, one of the top Google hits for float to int was Sean's notes on his Ogg Vorbis work). There's lots of good stuff there and I started thinking how fun it is to work on technology and maybe I should get back into it.

This morning I'm back to cynical. I was thinking it would be fun to just work on an all 2d game with like floating buffers and proper gamma and everything and do some fun image self-feedback like an analog synth, and make the image the actual gameplay, but then thinking a little more about what it would take to make an actual game, it's just glue glue glue and I know I would get bored after a few days. For a game like Casey's it seems like a big waste to do anything at all novel or risky with technology; sure it's fun and maybe it keeps you motivated to stay focused on your game, but really you just need to be getting it done and working on all the PopCap-like retardedness that people seem to love so much. Hell, even with AAA games it's pretty much a bad idea to do much that's novel or risky with technology; the limiting factor for the game being good is almost always content and dev tools and all that kind of stuff. In reality the code bases are a disaster and you have to work with these teams and meetings and the fun high tech code is like the 5% and the vast majority of your time is in the glue, the tools, all that junk. Casey is a unique individual who seems to be making it work, but for a normal ADD person like me, the technology coding is a way to avoid doing all the dumb glue junk that's so boring and is actually what you need to be doing. Lord knows at every job I ever had I spent way more time than I should have on high tech stuff just to keep myself interested.

On the other hand there's working on technology or engines in isolation. That's equally unsatisfying in a different way, you just feel so disconnected from reality, like you're doing all this clever work and it's totally pointless because nobody really needs it and noone is ever going to see it and it may not even ever make it into a single product. It can be really fun for short bursts of time when you're working on something cutting edge and making discoveries and breaking ground, but then the pointlessness of it all sets in again.

There's a pure joy in like - hey I figured out how to do Perlin noise or draw Bezier curves and look I made a little app and it runs fast and it looks really pretty too and hey I can make Bezier end points fly around the screen and put a spring between them and look how fun it is. I absolutely love that work and it's what got me into games. The problem is that real game work is not like that, and I don't know how to make a career out of that kind of stuff. Part of the problem is that you can't because that stuff is easy and anyone could do it and not useful.

I guess I had the exact same problem with physics. I mean I absolutely loved learning about particle physics, and making all these realizations, and figuring out my own ways to derive things, and coming up with clever formulations and connections between things like spin and symmetry groups and all that stuff. But that's not what doing physics is like. Anybody can learn that stuff, and you can't make a career out of learning stuff that other people have figured out. Doing actual cutting edge research particle physics today is not very similar at all to that excitement of learning it, it's very similar to making games, you have the exact same kind of horrible tedious "glue" work (doing tons of hard math, verifying experiment numbers, writing grant proposals, etc. etc.) and then once in a while you get those good bits again.

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old rants