Why I Love Derek Smart

I imagine that every year after E3, teams of men in hard hats must demolish the enormous LA convention center and distribute the raw materials among millions of zealous corporate devotees the world over, to be used as fuel in the ensuing flame wars. If you spend much time on gaming sites other than GWJ, you know how it goes: Microsoft asserts proposition P; Sony asserts not-P; Nintendo asserts that P is irrelevant... and just like that -- poof! -- instant conflagrations erupt in computer chairs everywhere. If you listen closely, you'll hear the tears sizzling on my cheeks.

The worst thing about modern flame wars, other than the simple fact of their existence, is their unswerving orientation around the success or failure of corporate brand names, products, and properties. Flame wars have always been silly and irrational affairs, but these days, they are also soulless and (paradoxically) cold at heart. The gaming community used to be such that one could readily find flame wars about actual people, along with their associated deeds, words, and thoughts. Nowadays, games-related flame wars have become unhinged from gaming personae in a manner that I would not have thought possible just five years ago.

Thank the heavens, then, for Derek Smart.

If you read Blue's News, then you probably noticed the recent thread concerning Derek's decision to release Battlecruiser Millennium as a free download. Anyone who has ever waded into a Derek Smart discussion in the past won't need to be told that the thread was knocked permanently off-topic within the first ten posts. After a few people made tentative insults, some poor soul named Strategos saw fit to rise to Derek's defense. Very soon thereafter, other forumgoers accused Strategos of being Derek Smart, masquerading under a pseudonym in defense of his own reputation. It should come as no surprise that Derek himself quickly popped in and sprayed gasoline everywhere in his customary style (see post #22). A choice quote will prove illustrative:

The fact of the matter is, most of you are just jealous. Pure and simple. In the past when I would sink down to your levels, engage you in the pits, return insult for insult etc, some of you got this [false] impression that we were of the same calibre; let alone the same caste. I make no excuses for who I am or what I am. What I DO know - and that which is proven and consistent - is that I have progressed over the years, improved on that which I created etc. While, well, all of you are just the same crochety, stagnant, inconsequential people you always were. For always reduced to obscurity; with the only voice you have being that which you use to libel and assassinate someone like me. Someone who is, well, above it all. So, all you and your friends are doing is wasting your time.

I would prefer not to discuss the veracity or import of Derek's claims, his seemingly self-damaging offensiveness, his haughty aloofness, or his contentious history as a developer and Internet personality. These matters have all been explored in the past. What really impresses me about Derek's post to Blue's News, and virtually every post he's ever made anywhere, is that:

1. He interacts directly with the gaming community on a regular -- even predictable -- basis.
2. He does not shy away from controversy; indeed, he usually either invites it or spawns it.

Numbers 1 and 2 above are both remarkably rare traits in present-day game developers. It seems that nearly all the bold developer personalities of the past have dried up or gone into hiding, and that gaming as a whole is impoverished as a result. In years past, I could regularly check the .plan updates of top developers, and I could look forward to encountering and conversing with them on gaming message boards. Every aspect of online gamer culture was influenced by heavy developer presence.

Remember when Old Man Murray routinely engaged in online brawls with Paul Steed? How about when they conducted those raucous interviews with Roman Ribaric, or launched vindictive polemics against Jane Jensen and American McGee? Remember when George Broussard would make fun of other developers' games? When Billy Wilson and Cliffy B would cut the rug and "sample" drinks? When Something Awful was ostensibly a gaming website? When Evil Avatar despised Jason Hall? When PC Accelerator was still alive? When the folks over at PlanetCrap had something to talk about? When Ion Storm Dallas exploded -- multiple times over, and much to the delight of spectators everywhere? When you actually cared about what people like Larry Holland, Chris Roberts, Andy Hollis, and Steve Meretzky were up to? I fear that nearly all of that passion is gone for good, replaced now by joyless and sterile press releases, preview trailers, and corporate fawning. Some of those old personalities are still important to the gaming scene, but now they exert their influence predominantly through their publishers, and through the droves of idiotic gaming press just dying to write a killer preview of their latest game. (At least Ron Gilbert has a good blog going.)

If none of those bits ring true, then here's a fun activity that gestures toward the same point. Go to the "for sale" list of Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe and look at how many development houses used to exist in the adventure game genre alone. Doesn't it fill you with wonder to look upon all those unknown titles, to consider all the novel gameplay possibilities that await? Do you remember when you could walk into your local software store and get that same feeling? (One need not refer all the way back to the reign of text adventures to recall such days.) Contrast this with the number of development houses and publishers in business today; with the mostly stagnant state of the big game genres; with the marketing, the advertising, the franchises, the ever-worse Hollywood crossovers, the pay-to-play schemes, the buyouts and closures, the corporate slogans, and the shiny, meaningless, prepackaged drivel that the few extant gaming news mega-sites regurgitate for us on a daily basis -- especially around E3 time. The relative diversity of the marketplace and general interest in the affairs of individual game developers are linked; it is not by mere chance that both of them have seen such a rapid, simultaneous decline.

The point is, being a gamer is not what it used to be. Gamers used to have access to communities and markets that simply do not exist any longer. The topicality of the prevalent flame wars at any given time may be taken as a barometer for the creative health of the industry. The fact that flame wars now serve only as arenas for the display of brand loyalty reflects the abovementioned unfortunate change in the gaming climate. Of course, corporate-aligned flame wars also existed in the golden age to which I am hearkening back -- remember the nVidia vs. 3dfx flame wars on Voodoo Extreme? -- but they were tempered by more interesting disputes over whether John Carmack could take Tim Sweeney in a drunken fight.

It's not that I miss the developer-oriented flame wars per se. I just miss the developers themselves, around whom so much day-to-day interest and controversy used to swirl. I guess somewhere along the way, most companies decided that their employees should only interact with the gaming public through established and proven PR methods.

This is why I love Derek Smart. He is like a relic from that dead age, one that refuses to die along with his peers. I like to think that my fondness for Derek and my lament for the dead, developer-heavy gaming community of years past has little to do with the shallow worship of celebrities that is so common among our species. The best of the old-guard game developers had about them the air of artists, creators, intellectuals, and not least of all, gamers. I was never interested in Sid Meier for his fame, fortune, or sex appeal (though he is one sexy, sexy man); I was (and remain) interested in Sid Meier for his accomplishments, talents, and routine insights into the things that make good games tick. Interest in any given game developer has more in common with devotion to a beloved author than with anything related to the celebrity gossip industry.

If I'm supremely lucky, Derek will show up in the comments below, flame me horribly for some remark I made or failed to make, and then Certis will ban him from the site. In the ensuing chaos, I shall breathe deeply of the fiery and personal link to gaming's past, while it lasts.



Well said. I was just yesterday reading through Derek's old flame wars on Quarter to Three with a tear in my eye. For old times sakes i'll shout out to nvidiotwhore. Looks like another SOF2 clone NO THANKS.

Hmm. I saw many of those flame wars play out as they happened. I remember when DS originally gained his 'celebrity' on Usenet.

I feel old.

Great article.

While I understand what you're saying, part of me is happy the Developer-worshipping days are gone. What they have been replaced by isn't great, but watching a forum flail about how aweXsome Killcreek Case was was... well, like a Gamer version of watching "The Simple Life".

Hmm... good point about the Killcreek thing, Prederick.

We must also mention Lum the Mad.

Also, let me do the official summoning....


Now... we wait.

I understand developer worship more than I do the brand worship. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, etc. They're all businesses out to get our money. So long as they keep making products that I want to buy, they'll get my money. However, I don't see what they do to earn any loyalty from me whatsoever. The amount of attachment that people have to faceless corporate entities is absolutely alien to me.

Then again, I've worked for my fair share of evil empires as well.

Prederick wrote:

Also, let me do the official summoning....


Now... we wait.

Poof!: http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/2897

It's a double edged sword, gentlemen. I've said it before, the worst thing that ever happened to gaming was that it became popular. Everyone loves to measure gaming against other entertainment enterprises, and celebrate how close we've come to the music industry or the movie biz. But, of course, with such mainstream entertainment comes a distance between producer and consumer. It can't be a multi-billion dollar industry and a close chummy community at the same time. It's one or the other.

Completely agreed Ely. I'm caught between liking what I can get with the popularity and capital invested in gaming, and the soulless, corporate feel it's taken on in years (From ads in games to games becoming more "Focus-Group Friendly).

I think you're right, Elysium. The cool thing about the period I address in my article -- ca. 1994-2001, I suppose -- is that we got to have our cake and eat it too. Games produced by self-owned studios were at that time bringing in quantities of money orders of magnitude greater than in the 1980's, thereby allowing for some really amazing breakthroughs in areas as diverse as technology, interface, storytelling, genre-mixing, etc. Meanwhile the newfangled WWW gave all the developers a means to mingle with the plebes. But no longer.

Hmmm .... nice article Lobo. Game developers have gone into hiding and I think thats a part of the maturation of the business. I don't think we can do anything about it. I used to participate in PlanetCrap when I was a developer and even ran my own 'commentary' site after I got out of the business. I enjoy frank discussions about gaming and think they are healthy for both gamers and developers alike. However, when a multi-million dollar industry becomes a multi-billion dollar industry something has to change.

One of the things I think GWJ offers and what attracts me to this site is the frank discussion and opinions that you don't get elsewhere. Nobody owes anybody anything so we don't pull punches around here. If something sucks, it doesn't take long before somebody says just that.

As far as Derek Smart, I guess he's entertaining but hardly worthy of your Love.

Copingsaw wrote:

As far as Derek Smart, I guess he's entertaining but hardly worthy of your Love.

If Derek Smart were here right now, I'd kiss him right on his grumpy noggin.

What Elysium said.

In addition, I'd like to look at it from the point of view of developers. Who, after a day of working on their game, of pushing through, of doubt and uncertainty about whether this whole thing will actually end up working out, of fighting development problems, production requirements, design miscommunications, and everything that comes with bringing a game from a design idea and into a product on the shelf - who has the inclination to then go home and spend their evenings defending their baby project against online trolls, and engage them in endless, vicious, but completely inconsequential debate?

It's no wonder developers go into hiding. Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you into pieces.

I think you're right, Elysium. The cool thing about the period I address in my article -- ca. 1994-2001, I suppose -- is that we got to have our cake and eat it too. Games produced by self-owned studios were at that time bringing in quantities of money orders of magnitude greater than in the 1980's, thereby allowing for some really amazing breakthroughs in areas as diverse as technology, interface, storytelling, genre-mixing, etc. Meanwhile the newfangled WWW gave all the developers a means to mingle with the plebes. But no longer.

But, the very cult of personality you point out - swimming in wasteful excess much of the time - was really the beginning of the end. Derek Smart represents this nicely with his nonsense about being above the masses. Eventually people who like money figured out these hapless creative yahoos - great for making games, bad with the money part - were a commodity that could be used to actually fit into a sound business, and the bloated developer image was taken down an appropriate notch. That's not to say that developers and creative types shouldn't be compensated nicely for their work, but that they are far from rock stars. There are a very few standout players in the game - Will Wright, Sid Meier, and Brian Reynolds spring to mind - and they remian as names because of the quality of their work. Not surprisingly their all so busy doing that actual work that they never get caught up in the kind of silliness that Smart does, which is probably part of the reason they continue to have successful and relevant careers.

It's not all that surprising that most of these quick burning flames so eager to tout their own brilliance quickly faded into obscurity - did _anyone_ play American McGee's latest title, Scrapland? These were not game gods, they were just good at putting their name out there before corporations decided to restructure the industry and its fame.

(I may not vouch for the lucidity of the previous statements tomorrow. I've slept only three hours out of the last thirty-six.)

did _anyone_ play American McGee's latest title, Scrapland?

I own it but haven't got around to it. Seems interesting a good amount of fun. Although, the main character seems incredibly bland.

Lobo wrote:

When you actually cared about what people like Larry Holland

Some of us still care about him and Totally Games. It's just a shame that after the debacle with Star Trek: Bridge Commander (let that be a lesson, folks: never, ever cross party lines in the great sci-fi wars and never get in bed with Activision for a game based on a license), TG pretty much collapsed into the company that coughed up Secret Weapons Over Normandy and just faded into obscurity. News of a BC sequel or, hope against hope, a new X-Wing or TIE Fighter is one of those announcements that'd send the old ticker into a brief period of arrest.

And, I'm now convinced that Lobo is Elysium and Elysia's son. Only someone from that gene pool can write like that.

Elysium wrote:

Lobo, I am your father...

Er...that wasn't it:

Elysium wrote:

I've said it before, the worst thing that ever happened to gaming was that it became popular.

Au contraire, chief. If gaming wasn't popular, I doubt one of my exes would have been inclined to find an entertaining use for a PS2 dual shock controller.

Au contraire, chief. If gaming wasn't popular, I doubt one of my exes would have been inclined to find an entertaining use for a PS2 dual shock controller.

She used it as a foot massager, too?

I don't think anyone would be surprised to hear me say that the good old days weren't really all that great a lot of the time. You got the occasional interesting bit from Old Man Murray or the whole Ion Storm article debacle but day-to-day writing for Evilavatar.com and trying to maintain some semblance of respect and fun in the comments section was just soul crushing. You spent all day arguing and complaining about games only to go home and find you don't want to play anything anymore. Loud mouth developers getting into pissing contests with various online communities did nothing to augment the experience and I think the main reason you don't see it as much anymore is the result of some hard earned lessons. If you want a taste of what it was like just visit the IGN boards sometime, sometimes we forget how good we have it here

Developers are still out there though. A number of them post here and enjoy their anonymous status while discussing game design and possibly drawing some inspiration from guys their own age who love games too. I think you can still get them involved in communities and discussions, they just need a spot where rewarding discussion can be had rather than dealing with reactionary asshats.

Derek is a friend of mine...so no comment...

Interesting. His location is set to Ft. Lauderdale.

You can say I'm full of sh*t in this, but this is really just a matter of opinion and I have little (read: zero) empirical data to back it up.

I would say that the average gamer - the sort who engage in flame wars, and maybe some people in GWJ, I don't know, view the evolution of gaming as a sort of beginning to an as of yet unknown destination; or, if not an outright destination, a direction.

My best view on at least how it appears to me would look something like this:


And even if I'm wrong about some folks here who I feel fit this model, which I'll just call the "Straight Line" model just so's I can keep it straight, I think it's safe to say a lot of those outside here, the kinds of doomsday people who would say "gaming's going to sh*t," fit this model.

I'm of a different mindset, and it seems to fit into a lot of mediums - film, television, writing...


I believe we go into creative cycles, similar to the economic cycle of Recovery, Expansion, Decline, Recession (which goes right back to Recovery).

Of course, I could simply be wrong, and the commercialization and continued consolidation (read: EA's antics) of gaming markets could eventually lead to a neverending glut of repacked games and an out-and-out drought of creativity.

But then, I submit that when that occurs, even the mindless masses would get bored, where flashy upgraded graphics do not do the trick anymore. It's like a thrill seeker reaching the peak of his excitement, with no ability to further increase the euphoria; he's done the impossible and now everything pales in comparison. Eventually the excitement will plateau, and descend. Because these large companies are essentially big huge bureaucratic machines, changing directions won't happen as quickly as the masses might want, and therefore people break off from these companies to go it alone. Some will fail, others will succeed.

You can see this sort of thing happening right now as we speak in Hollywood. Star Wars notwithstanding, as that is a very special case, but independent movies have been becoming more popular. Garden State and Napoleon Dyanmite, two independently funded films are being hailed by many teenagers as their Sixteen Candles and The Gradutate. And when Napoleon came out at the same time as The Manchurian Candidate, a studio-created, studio-driven movie, it was the former that sold out, and shelves and shelves of the latter remaining untouched. Dodgeball as well untouched in comparison.

You would not have seen that in the 1990s. However, with technological advancements, it is becoming far easier for the lay man to create his own masterpieces. And with the onset of Half-Life 2, you can see the sort of amazing things the mod community is doing. How many of those people do you think plan on getting into the game programming industry one day?

So I am not that worried over the evolution of gaming. However, that doesn't mean I'm not completely at ease with it. I just don't see it as a doomsday scenario.

Wow, *awesome* post Logan. You made your own graphics and everything!

I suppose I probably fall somewhere between those two viewpoints. I don't think the timeline will have a final and definite terminus (ala perspective 1), but I also don't think that a fixed, repeating cycle (ala perspective 2) can do justice to the full course of events. Maybe the cycle will repeat three times and then detour into something else: something more disastrous, or more beautiful. Or maybe the cycle does repeat; but sometimes it has three or five terms, instead of four. Maybe the terms switch places, or become replaced by other terms. Etc.

I've noticed that most of the articles I've written about the gaming industry so far have been pretty critical and dissatisfied. The reason for this is that I'm pretty dissatisfied with the state of the industry right now. Sadly, my best (and only) means for effecting change at this point in time is to be as vocal as my conscience will allow; civil disobedience comes next. I actually have a lot of hope for the future, though; I think the Internet, user-made mods, and independent game festivals and competitions will eventually be successful in establishing a viable gaming subculture, capable of creating more of the things that interest me. Maybe European and open-source developers will be important in that development.

Some would argue that this process has already begun, or that it is beginning right now. But I won't be happy until we *at least* reattain the level of title diversity and availability we had in the late 1990's. In my view, the period of corporate gaming consolidation is only just getting on its feet, and it'll be at least a good ten years before things begin to markedly improve. But who knows? Things move pretty quickly in this industry.

In the meantime, I consider it my earnest duty to shed light on the negative. Just wait and see; I've got a text file full of potential article ideas, and some of them are just flat-out depressing.

Elysium wrote:

It's a double edged sword, gentlemen. I've said it before, the worst thing that ever happened to gaming was that it became popular.

And it is all our fault. The only people who can be blamed for this is us, the ones that were playing games after Atari dumped millions of cartridges into the ground. The people who bought a Dreamcast. The people who enjoy keeping the *legend* of Fallout, PS:Torment, and Grim Fandago alive. It is us hardcores that have supported gaming all this time and have allowed it to survive until it has become what it is today. Enjoy what you have sowed.

And about Derek Smart: The man obviously enjoys the attention and "rock star" status that he has to post on internet website. It is kinda like self-promotion to drop bombs and posts on websites like he does. Either he needs it or takes his public persona *way* to easily.

LoganRapp: I expect a PP presentation on my desk this afternoon. That is splendid work.

I don't think it's fair to bulk all of gaming into one of Logan's awesome models. I think mainstream commercial gaming is definitely going to follow the depressing line of the Straight Line model, but as it's been said, vocal games like ourselves will make sure that there exists a smaller sub-culture of quality, which would be far more likely to follow the Cycle model. The thought of a strong surge of independent titles from smaller developers keeps me positive. The industry is tearing along at a staggering pace - after all, it took ten years to happen to games what 3/4 a century did to the movie industry. Of course, with films (and I think Lobo brought this up in a previous article) we have a number of fesitvals and quite the following of smaller distributions of independent work. We just haven't quite gotten that far yet in the gaming world - but I think it's gonna come around sooner or later...hopefully sooner.

In summary, I don't believe things are doomed, but we do need to wait out the storm

Like Lobo said - excellent post, Logan!

I really like the cyclical model, especially since it reflects the cyclical nature of game sales on the different platforms. Playstation / Nintendo / Xbox cycles will likely follow the platform maturity cycles - in the first couple of years there's one or two stellar titles, and a sea of remakes of old games, as everyone tries to figure out what to do with the damn hardware; then there's a period of greater experimentation when the platform's at the peak of maturity and sells a lot of games, and then a crystallization of ideas and development of a few sequels just to pay the bills, while you prepare for the arrival of the next gen console.

Ummm...Posted in the wrong thread, and apparently I can't delete my last post...odd!

I guess somewhere along the way, most companies decided that their employees should only interact with the gaming public through established and proven PR methods.

It was only a year or so ago that Cliffy B told the press that the Unreal 3 Engine would "take a dump" on Doom 3. There are still a few developers out there keepin' it real.

I understand that the past wasn't all fun, but I really do miss the personality in game developing. For a serious gamer, it was kind of like getting there was half the fun -- and more than half if the game tanked. I remember when I first started reading the .plans about the development of Quake and Quake II. It was great! Like a precursor to blogs and they felt more....exclusive.

If anyone remembers csipg or it's precursor, rec.games...That's where the action was. Derek was a regular on the former, taking on everyone who stepped up. I remember when his big rhetorical stick was marrying a lingerie model, and YOU DIDN'T!

Incidentally, the drop in tone and civility is what drove me off of Usenet after about a decade. So I initially participated in this stuff, but became disgusted by it eventually.