After spending some time trying to find a book about video games that is not fiction or written by a video game hater, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made saved the day!
Jason Schreier dives into the depths of video game development in Blood, Sweat, and Pixels to document the nightmarish challenges that studios have to face. Schreier, News Editor for Kotaku, went to various cities on a mission to interview game developers and key members from the industry. Deadlines and setbacks put the studios into a challenging and never-ending journey where developers had to battle between maintaining their own sanity and completing the damn game.
There was a time where the most experience I had with developing a game was making a 10 minute long walking simulator with the Unity engine. It took me two weeks to learn how to use the software and another two weeks to program the game. Unfortunately, my game had so much lag and incompatible code, that my entire class just stared at me while trying to hide their snicker as I presented it. Now imagine my situation, but on a MUCH LARGER scale. That is what game studios do not want! No matter how large or small a studio is, there will be unforeseen, or foreseen yet ignored, issues that cause havoc.
Two years earlier, Schreier published an article about why Destiny fell below player’s expectations. In the book, he elaborates on the political side of Bungie and how that changed the path for Destiny‘s production. Similarly, the nine other chapters share distinct development scenarios for nine different modern games.
Gamers will appreciate this book’s structure. Chapters are concise, and the reader is not bound to follow a single, linear path. The chapters can be experienced in any order, since each chapter is about a different game. I jumped chapters a bit because I was excited to read certain ones more than others, but, admittedly, the book might make the most sense when read in order. In the later chapters, Schreier occasionally makes references to games and concepts he previously discussed in the book, so if you do skip a chapter, know that you might not fully understand a certain point he tries to make later on.
For some developers, their stories of struggles and stress led to success, but for others…the outcome was disappointing to say the least. I particularly liked the chapter on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
I remember watching the Uncharted 4 teaser, which was released at E3 in 2014, and getting so hyped up for the release of the game. At the time, I had no idea about the kind of hell that the developers were going through just to release a two minute teaser. In hindsight, their hard work definitely showed. That two minute teaser was the best teaser I had ever seen for a video game. I saw individual pores on Nathan Drake’s face and could feel the material of his shirt with my eyes. It just seemed revolutionary.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels explains that for both that teaser and the entire game, Naughty Dog’s employees worked over-time and often stayed up until the next morning working through the time crunch. The developers spent ridiculous amounts of time creating those detailed settings that I love and find so appealing to explore. I’m sure, at some point in the process, their eyes must have been dying to see grass and trees in the real world. Before reading Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, I had been taking a lot of that for granted. Not anymore.
Although it is an informative book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is just as much of a page turner as any good piece of fiction. Tension builds up in every chapter upon learning about the obstacles that impeded each studio, whether it was a lack of funding, the need to rewrite an entire story, or something else entirely. Most gamers are in the dark about game development and Blood, Sweat, and Pixels gives a peek into what really goes down in the studio when players are greeted with a new trailer or hear about a game once again getting delayed.
You do not need to have prior knowledge about every game mentioned in the book in order to appreciate it. I had never heard of Star Wars 1313, yet I found that to be one of the most interesting chapters. It was kind of a sad story too. I also found Eric Barone’s story about making Stardew Valley all on his own to be very inspirational.
One final note: although most of the text is Schreier explaining what the developers are saying or giving background information, there is a fair amount of direct quotes so, thankfully, the reader does get plenty of firsthand accounts.
Every gamer should read this book. It will help players think twice before making an ignorant comment about the development of a game, and hopefully lead to more mature levels of criticism. Players are on the receiving end of game design, so it is easy to take video games for granted. It is important that players understand the stress that developers face as they near their game’s release date and feel the pressure of gamers’ growing anticipation. I wish Blood, Sweat, and Pixels actually gave explicit directions for how gamers should react to issues or setbacks with game development, but the book does at least provide examples for how mature criticism can aid the developers. Hopefully, that is enough to get gamers thinking about it.