Book review: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a fascinating in-depth look at how video games are made
See how the metaphorical sausage is made.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is one of the most insightful pieces of text I’ve ever read. This book written by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier gives readers a look into the stories of how their favorite games came to be or in the case of Star Wars 1313, how the game didn’t come to be. It’s not just a simple look behind the curtain or anything all that glamorous, it’s a sad and tragic glimpse at the sacrifices developers make for their art and to satisfy players all around the world.
When most of us play games, we don’t really think of the thousands of hours and countless people who worked on them. We just pull $60 off of our credit card and invest our time into these worlds, then if a game doesn’t meet a certain standard we might heavily criticize it and call developers “lazy” or give mean-spirited comments. I’m guilty of it and while I’ve always known about the struggles of developing a game, Schreier’s book really helps put things in perspective.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels really breaks down how heart-wrenching game development can be. The most notable chapter in this book is probably the final chapter which centers around the fabled Star Wars 1313. The game was introduced to the world at E3 2012 and made waves throughout the internet. It was set to be a mature Star Wars game set in the gritty criminal underworld of Coruscant with mechanics and set pieces similar to that of an Uncharted game. 1313 was being built for next-gen consoles and was aiming to put legendary Lucasarts back on the map after their rocky history throughout the 2000s.
The story goes so deep ranging from George Lucas’ meddling to how the failure of EA’s SimCity reboot led to Star Wars 1313’s ultimate demise. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect was when Lucasarts was told that they’d have to close their doors, they continued to attempt to give 1313 life because they were so passionate about the project.
While some left and others ransacked the office to seize trailers, demos, and development kits for themselves, a group of 1313 developers were told that an EA executive had set up a meeting with Dead Space developer Visceral. If their pitch went well, they would’ve been hired and brought on to complete the game under Visceral.
They stood up in front of a group of Visceral employees and tried to give the ultimate pitch that would hopefully save 1313. Sadly, Visceral shot it down and said that they could maybe hire them to come work on another Star Wars game. Some of the Lucasarts team left right there and some stayed and are now working on the Amy Hennig Star Wars game.
It’s a heartbreaking tale of how this game that everyone across the board was in love with was taken out back by Lucasart employees and shot like a beloved animal. It goes to show that developers invest their heart and soul into these games and they aren’t just something they do to get a paycheck and take care of their family, their games are a part of them.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels goes to great lengths to tell you these war stories from industry veterans and while some of it can be a bit depressing, it makes you appreciate where these games came from and also how grateful we should be for the people who rent second apartments simply so they can shave off minutes in their commute to work so they can polish that level or set piece. There are developers who get divorced or struggle to spend time with their own children because they have to spend days at a time at the office, sometimes sleeping there.
Some people may wonder why developers continue to put themselves in situations like this where they live an unhealthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever pushed off a paper for school or something and you wait until 2 AM the night it’s due, you’ll get one of the reasons why they do it. While incredibly stressful and agonizing, there’s a thrill to it. It’s a rush. They also know that making something incredible isn’t easy, so they put themselves through hell to release a high-quality product.
Schreier humanizes video games with Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, giving you a peek at this abnormally secretive industry. We usually don’t hear about any on the record behind the scenes stories given the countless NDAs that employees are bound to and when we do actually see or hear about what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s typically controlled in such a way that we only see the glamorous side via behind the scenes videos. Schreier goes into the gritty, untold side and fleshes out a fascinating aspect of game development that we should all know more about so we can fully appreciate the names we see in the credits of a game.
Schreier also makes sure to shine a light on smaller games like Stardew Valley on top of huge games like Destiny and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt so you can fully grasp the intensity of game development, no matter the scale of the project.
If you have any interest in learning more about how video games are made or just like video games in general, read Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. It’s a well-written tale of real sacrifice, struggles, and more, it’s almost inspiring despite how sad it can be at times. As someone who admittedly doesn’t read a lot of books, I was barely able to put this book down, I finished it in just a few sitting and was enthralled by each chapter. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a must-read for gamers, developers, and game critics.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is out now.
*Disclaimer: Our copy of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels was provided by the publisher.*