Have you ever marveled at one of today's hottest "video games" and angrily asked, "How can this be?" The answer may surprise you.
Nobody knows for sure who created the first video game, but they all agree on one thing: it was the seminal work Red Baron's Delight II. Thankfully, that was just the beginning.
Video games like Car Chess, Bear Escape Arena, Just Us Hogs, Get Back Here 2, Travel Agency and Yelling! are all the rage these days, thanks to amazing graphics and irresistible action. But did you know that their existence is no mere accident? Every game is actually created by skilled professionals in a laboratory setting.
But first, in order for a game to be made, it has to be envisioned. Most games are envisioned in stressful fever dreams, while others are envisioned by a sophisticated computer named Gary-27E. Whatever the method, all games must start with an idea. Due to the limited nature of dreams and computer predictions, most games use the same idea: a strong man must learn to drive manual transmission in order to save his village.
Once an idea is chosen, it is assigned to a game design team by lottery. From there, that team must work frantically to bring the game to life. The game industry does not tolerate failure, and all successful games are built on the literal bones of those who could not deliver.
But video games are about fun, so let's talk about how that fun comes into being.
All video games are made from two elements, assembled together by skilled professionals under strict supervision. Those two elements are pixels and code, and many video games contain hundreds of each.
Note: There is a third element, but it is very new and unstable. This element is called "voxels," or pixels that also have weight. Voxels require powerful graphics processors capable of doing heavy lifting.
Game artists carefully craft pixels into the characters you know and love, while engineers create the code that makes them hate and feel pain. To make these characters more lifelike, celebrities like Gary Oldman and Maya Angelou are brought in to record realistic grunts and cackles.
Engineers do more than make characters hate-- usually due to some perceived slight or jealousy over what the player has-- they also program the code nuggets that make the entire game possible. Engineers create the motors that power the games. Their work turns static images into interactive movies and sports games where you call the shots.
But what about those fabulous game boards that challenge us so? That's where the intrepid level designer comes in. Level designers create the deadly laser grids and sports fields that players must navigate. It is the goal of every level designer to prevent the player from succeeding. If a player can pass a level, then the game is too easy and not fun to play.
But how do the artists, engineers and level designers know what to make? That task falls on the game designer. It is their job to make sure that the game contains the appropriate characters and settings. If it's a sports game, it may contain no giant rats. If it is instead a game where you seduce and breed giant rats, game designers make sure no athletes show up to spoil the fun.
Many game teams also include an old man who tells everyone to do impossible things, often in direct opposition to the original vision. The old man cannot be reasoned with, but he can be distracted.
All of these talented people work together to take the game from idea to completion. But what happens then, at the very bitter end, when all work seems done and there are no more pixels to shape, no more code to program, no more levels to build or obstacles to construct... there, at the end; the final moment, when everyone has nothing more to do, when the game is without flaw-- what then??
The answer is quite simple: Once a game is finished, it "goes gold." This is the name of the ritual where all the developers, having completed their work, are submerged in a tank of molten gold, ending their service to the industry forever. Their gilded forms are put on display in the Video Game Museum in Casper, WY.
The game's final data (code and pixels) is distributed to farmers' markets, stores, traveling salesmen, bulletin board systems and your friend Eric. You'll know a new game is available to purchase thanks to a skilled marketing team. It is their job to spend millions commissioning rap videos, direct mail flyers and trifold brochures.
Now you see, it was wrong to think games were made by magic. It is all careful science, and nothing more. Every game ever has been made this way, and every game yet to come will follow in kind. The next time you play a game, think of the hard work and talent that makes it all possible. Just think.
As gamers often say to one another, "see you in the games, friend!"
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