All posts by: Kory

Recently there was a post on Linkedin asking the question: “Which is harder…art or programming.”  This was my reply:

“I think first there should be a correction to the question. When directing games I always referred to the Visual Arts team and the Engineering Arts team. Both are essential pieces to creating a final artwork: the game. Both have unique challenges. It is dangerous to claim that either is more difficult and damaging to the process. For example, one challenge with Visual Art is that everybody can look at it and have a opinion about it. The challenge with programming is that NOT everybody can look at it and form an opinion. I am a Visual artist, and yet I have seen pages of code that rival fine art in their elegance. Cheers.”

I suspect that the post and the over-simplistic way the question was posted was intended to elicit a split reaction. The responses were divided.  Many said programming flat out, ironically for the same reasons I cited above.  That being the ability to look at a piece of visual art and form an opinion and the inability to form an instant opinion of code.  I thought this was a particularly sad and telling reaction since that is looking at the process and not the result.  Visual art is the result of much deliberation and psychology that is basically the code of it.  While someone can certainly look at a piece of art and form an opinion, that does not mean that they understand how that reaction was created by the artist (the logic).  More importantly, if there is an adverse reaction to the piece that is not intended (a bug), it doesn’t mean they understand the way to fix it or change it (bug reproduction).

At the same time, most visual artists can look at the way a piece of code works in the function of the software, but it does not mean they know how it was created or how to fix any bugs that come up.

It is precisely this ignorance and departmental elitism that creates team damaging, and I dare say, studio destroying friction.  Both are tools employed to create a final artwork that is exclusively neither.

Some said simply “both” which I loved because it reminded me of my daughter’s first day of kindergarten wherein she determined that some children were taller than her and she was taller than them. “We are taller than each other!” she exclaimed.  I like that for this problem.  Visual Art and Engineering Art are harder than each other!

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Everybody who has ever worked in the video game industry, whether in a big studio working on triple A games for consoles or on a two-person team making casual mobile games or anything in between, has experienced some of the grotesque pain points of the world of making games.  Many of these issues are thought of as fixtures in the industry.  I reject the idea that one of the fastest growing and dynamic new industries in the history of the planet has any aspect of it that is fixed.

I came to the industry as an outsider.  Actually, if we are being honest, I tripped and face-planted into it.  This ruffled some feathers and created some interesting dynamics in multiple studios.  But now it is a passion that taps all of my varied experience in one medium.  The place of an “outsider” in the game industry is unfortunately tenuous.  However, sometimes it takes just that to make change.  The mistake often comes when studio heads and teams make the false assumption that someone who didn’t start out in QA and climb through the ranks vying for position after position has nothing of value to offer.  I can’t tell you how many times over the past several years my input on a project has been initially mistrusted only to be validated after much struggle with the team and leadership.

This mistrust comes not from a lack of ability, but rather from the impression of a lack of specific experience in this industry and a long list of games “worked on” to show for it.  I have found, however, that a broad range of experience through multiple disciplines including leadership training, is far more useful than a lifetime of industry compartmentalization.  It comes down to one thing: leadership.  Not to be confused with management or even direction.

What the industry lacks is strong leaders who are able to rally a team around a project and trust the individual strengths of the team members.  Too often inter-team relationships are strained because the lead does not trust the team to execute and the team members feel a compulsion to constantly prove themselves.  This is amplified by the added element of inside default promotions.  That is, what we see happen all too often is that a lead gets promoted and then his or her position is filled by default by someone who was under them.  Then the first action of that person is to reorganize the team, causing individual contributors to have to prove themselves again, essentially re-applying for their own job.

Now, consider the outsider (hi, me again).  I come to this industry having successfully worked with people from very diverse backgrounds on a variety of collaborative projects.  I have worked with some extremely talented people who have been trusted both as leaders as well as individual contributors.  In the video game industry I have seen more talented people rendered impotent in their disciplines by conflicting leadership styles than anywhere else.  It is my mission to change this.  To see a studio, if not an industry, wherein interdisciplinary creative collaboration is the rule rather than the exception.

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