Book review: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels
Sunday at 2:15 pm
My book reviews have been limited to soccer on this blog, but I got through a video game book I loved so much that I had to write about it.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier is one of the more enjoyable reads* I’ve had in a while. * – I got a free Audible book and used it on this one so it was almost entirely a listen and not a read.
Schreier is a well-known video game journalist and known for breaking news and reporting on tough topics. The book provides a general view of the process behind making video games. Schreier tells the story of the development process of 10 different games. A number of themes emerge throughout, but each story is almost entirely independent of the others.
The short review is that it’s great and you should read it. Even if you don’t have a deep interest in video games, the beauty of this book is that its stories are relatable in ways that don’t have anything to do with video games. Who can’t relate to a chaotic company infrastructure, feuding leads in an office or the stress of hitting a deadline?
Of the 10 games profiled, I’ve only played one of them (Uncharted 4) and had almost no knowledge of half of them going in. Heck, one of the games didn’t even come out (Star Wars 1313), which provided maybe the most compelling story in the book.
There’s a mix of games from massive studios (Uncharted 4, Diablo III, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, The Witcher 3), smaller, independent games (Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight) and some that fit in between (Pillars of Eternity, Halo Wars). Stardew Valley and Shovel Knight both provide stories of a small group of developers who pour hours upon hours into making a game that becomes a smash hit. The question in both is, what it worth the toll it took on their lives?
For the big releases, sometimes it was a redemption arc (Diablo III, Dragon Age: Inquisition) where they had to work hard to satisfy fans after a disappointing previous game (Dragon Age: Inquisition) or improve following a disappointing launch (Diablo III). Uncharted 4 and Destiny had tumultuous developments due to changes in leadership at late stages. Uncharted 4 turned out great. Destiny has had multiple ups and downs throughout the franchise’s existence.
The Witcher 3 tells the story of a studio that went from porting games to a Polish-only audience to making one of the biggest franchises in video games. That story was one of the more positive ones in the book.
My favorite, for better or worse, was the finale: Star Wars 1313. I was most excited to read about this game when I saw it in the table of contents and it more than lived up to my expectations. The game’s incredible E3 demo in 2012 had the Star Wars and Uncharted fan in me thrilled. It looked incredible and I wasn’t the only one to think so.
I knew the game got canceled when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas and shuttered Lucas Arts, the Lucas-owned studio behind 1313’s development. I didn’t know that Lucas made the studio change the main character to Boba Fett after they had begun production.
If you watch that glorious demo, you’ll notice that Boba Fett is nowhere to be seen. The studio knew Boba Fett was the main character of the game at that point, but couldn’t include him in the demo because they had already begun work on it. That’s insane.
Then, once Disney is in charge, it’s all over. One of the most anticipated games of its era just disappeared, never to see the light of day again.
Being able to juxtapose that story against the other (mostly) success stories in the rest of the book brought home the point of how hard it is to make a video game. It takes tons of hours, hard-work, careful planning and often some dumb luck to make a good game. That’s what makes Blood, Sweat, and Pixels so great. Not only do the stories feature interesting anecdotes, regardless of whether you know anything about the games, but they teach you something along the way.
This one goes down as one of my favorite reads in recent memory.