The Cult of the Startup

Most of the time, I’m a very abrasive person. I challenge people on their ideas and thoughts as to why they would want to do certain things and talking about startups is definitely something that most people would want to avoid when talking to me. Some might misconstrue my prods to be that I’m against the ideas of startups and prefer the comfort and safety of the corporate world. If that were the case, I would not have started my career working for 2 startups and left a stable, comfortable job to find something else that would align closer to what I was passionate about.

If anything, I’m all in favor of people taking control of their own lives and do something that they are passionate about. So why then do I contradict my own personal beliefs by what some would call tearing their walls down? With this post, let me explain a few of the reasons why I am hesitant to support others when they say they want to do a startup.

You’re doing it for the money.

My belief that for a startup to be successful, your purpose of opening your own business should be to become a solution to a problem. When we hear about those great entrepreneurs that started out from nothing and are now multi-millionaires, we tend to glamorize the fact that they dropped out of school and just made it big with their one idea. But we rarely talk about the problems that they were trying to solve or overcome. There is a clear before and after to when they became successful. Before Mark Zuckerberg came along with Facebook, there was Friendster. But Friendster didn’t have the image sharing, group connections or interactions that Facebook has and today we don’t even talk about Friendster anymore. Before Jack Ma, there wasn’t news of any form of worldwide online marketplace from China. But today, Alibaba is making waves and competing with many countries own marketplaces with their prices and availability of goods.

So if your goal is to make money, while I’m sure it’s possible. But if what you’re doing is just taking something that is already in the market and do the exact same thing but this time be your own boss, you won’t make it far. And speaking of bosses.

You want to become your own boss.

If you asked yourself honestly, as to why you want to leave your job to create your own startup. It’s not because the pay sucks, or that the work benefits aren’t good. It’s because you dislike the way the boss treats people. And 8 times out of 10, every company will have either a manager or a boss that you feel is going to treat you that way. So what is your plan? You’re going to perpetuate the cycle by starting your own business and treat your future employees the same way.

We’ve had enough of bosses to last 3 lifetimes. We need more leaders. People who will nurture, encourage and mould others to be better and through them go on to impact more people’s lives. Want to know why most bosses act like bosses? It’s because they were taught by their own bosses to treat people as they were treated. Ruled by fear, afraid to do greater things because of mistakes and talked down to. Maybe most people don’t understand the difference and if you don’t then you shouldn’t be starting a business because especially in today’s climate, your employees will start leaving you the same way you left your old workplace.

You want to have more time to yourself.

Want to know what passionate people lack? It’s time. Every minute, every waking moment is devoted to what they are passionate about. While you don’t have to be stuck in your office for your 9-5 job, building your own startup means allocating that free time that you now have thinking about where to get the money to sustain your business, how to adapt to changing trends and managing the people who will be working for you and guess what? That also means less time actually doing what you’re passionate about.

While not a common occurrence, we see people become less satisfied once they have achieved success, choosing to quit and venture out to new territory. You can only be so invested into something for so long before you need to take a break. But how long do you think you would be able to take a break if you were in charge of making most if not all of the decisions? Would you even want to relinquish control, if it was something you grew from your own blood, sweat and tears?

In the end, I don’t wish to deter people from their dreams. But I’ve seen and heard enough talk about startups that have either withered on the vine or have not been able to sustain themselves. It’s becoming easier than ever to launch a startup but it’s also just as easy to fail. So I would like people to steel their resolve instead of wanting a quick fix to their day to day dissatisfaction and lose everything. I would love for nothing but to see others succeed in following their dreams, I don’t want it to be a half-hearted stumble but a confident step towards them.

Game Design…er?

Featured image taken from Super Mario Bros 30th Anniversary Interview.

“I can do better than that!”

A common utterance of gamers. Usually heard shouted at the top of their lungs as they frustratingly die for the umpteenth time due to bad game design or some game-breaking bug that caused the gamer to lose hours of progress. In the past, we would have stewed in silent anger and kept playing. Telling ourselves that we’re just bad at the game. Today, however, it’s far less about cheap deaths and unfair difficulty but character design and story. Regardless of whether or not it’s the gameplay aspect or the aesthetics, gamers are far less likely to accept flaws while the complexity of making a game seems to be increasing exponentially as time goes on.

Good game design is usually unheard of. Not because it’s not possible, it’s just that no one really highlights it. I think good game design is akin to good CGI in movies. You wouldn’t notice if it was there but it would stick out like a sore thumb if it was bad. It’s just human nature that we notice flaws. And there’s another reason why it’s harder to notice good game design, unlike movies where movies are a purely visual media and over with in a few hours. Games could go on for dozens of hours and while there is that minute to minute gameplay that keeps a player interested, there is also another layer of design for long-term interest. That could range from having a good progression system to balance for multiplayer that keeps people coming back for more.

A lot of times, as a game writer, we tend to focus on the superficial aspects of games. Does it look good, does it play well, does it interest me because of how well written the story is. And to be fair, that is what is presented to the consumer. A movie is not advertised as “edited with Avid” or a book as “written with Stylewriter 4”. It doesn’t change what the final outcome of a game will be by knowing what technical creativity was used to achieve it. But I feel it would behoove the industry as a whole to have more technically savvy writers critiquing and providing feedback instead of a trend moving towards reacting to the animosity between the consumer and gaming journalists.

I feel that gaming is big enough that we don’t have to continually bump into each other and be at each other’s throats. We don’t have to always be following the hype train and be upset if a game doesn’t meet our expectations or be so defensive if other’s don’t find a game as fun as we do. Why can’t there be different segments of fans like how the music or movie industry do? There will be the huge games like how there’s a new Marvel blockbuster each year, but there could also be a market for smaller but more poignant titles.

What is my part in all this? In addition to covering games traditionally with game news and criticism, I would like to surface game designs and provide my best guess as to why certain choices were made. But to be able to put some weight behind my guesses, I need to learn game design. The reason behind this is because not every game is a Super Mario Bros. in the sense that not every game is so beloved. Being a beloved game means that out of the multitude of gamers that have played the game, a subset of that would be knowledgeable enough to put the game under a microscope and dissect it. It helped that there are interviews with the developers on how the game was made but you get my point. More eyes mean more chances for something to come out of it.

It’s a lofty goal, and I might need to take some game design classes. As well as some writing classes while I’m at it. But it’s time I give back in some way to the game industry however little it might be or feel to most people and maybe, just maybe, I get good enough that I can have my own game out there for others to play. Maybe.

Retro Journal: PlayStation 2 – Part 1

One of the goals that I had when I went back to visit my parents during Chinese New Year this year was to try and get my PlayStation 2 out of storage and see if I could manage to get it to work on a HDTV. I had not tried this previously because I only have an HD monitor while I’m living in Kuala Lumpur, so it didn’t cross my mind to attempt this until fairly recently when I started thinking about collecting games for the older generation of systems. I was personally pretty excited to give it a try because I theorized that I could use the AV cable that came with my AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable (LGP) with the PlayStation 2 as the AV cables of the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 are the same.

005However, to my dismay, it didn’t work out quite as I theorized and I spent the rest of my time back in Brunei looking up ways to get it to work. I was disheartened as many videos I saw online were quite straight forward, just change the Component Output from RGB to Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr and you’re all set. But I couldn’t figure out if the problem lied on my LGP being an older model or the AV cable not working. So I continued to search and managed to find a Mini AV2HDMI in one of the shops in The Mall.

While the device worked as advertised, it only supports composite inputs. Which was not very good in the first place. It was abundant, just not good. So this forced me to think of other solutions that I might have and what came to mind was something that I had used previously for capturing video on the PS3, EasyCAP.

002EasyCAP was pretty much the go-to solution for video capture in the late 2000s. High definition television adoption at the time wasn’t as prevalent as it is today and there was a market for capturing video straight onto hard drives without the need of a VCR or DVD burner. But long story short, I somehow managed to accrue 3 of them. Each of them with different chipsets and input capabilities even though their exteriors looked the same, besides how messy they look after being left unattended for ages.

003I had to pry each of them open to see which chipset they had and find the right drivers to go with them. A task made slightly more difficult that the company that made these devices did not have the latest drivers on their website.

My main focus was on the EasyCAP that had S-Video input working. I only managed to find one or two drivers that actually worked. If you are looking for drivers that work with the eMPIA Technology 2861 chipset, here is a link to where I got the driver that works with Windows 10.

With the hardware all setup, next comes the software to capture the video which I will write about in my next Retro Journal.

The Road to 150

A few years ago (Wow… It’s been 3 years?), I wrote a little bit about the time I was still in university and was struggling to afford a PlayStation 4 and what not. It’s interesting to read what I wrote back then because sometimes as much as things were to change over the years, some things never change.

Things like being broke or not having the time to play games, but one thing that I do appreciate not changing is that I’m still as passionate about it as I was a few years ago. While I’m spending most of my time these days barely surviving and writing to earn a buck. It has allowed my desensitization to the dopamine hit decrease and be happy with any trophies that I manage to rack up.

I won’t deny being envious when I look at my friends lists, seeing people either rack up a ton of trophies (where the hell do you get the free time?) or playing the latest games (where the hell do you get the money?). But that’s fine, over time I’ve gravitated my interest to be more of a curator than a quote-unquote reviewer and I’m more interested in finding the hidden gems. The less time I spend on video games have also given me an opportunity to sharpen my writing skills.

So, don’t cry for me. Not that anyone is. This is only temporary and hopefully in 3 years when I revisit this topic again that Sony has not closed down and I would be closer to 200 platinum trophies.

Privilege

“Why are these people successful?” asked a trainer at an event about financial responsibility that I was helping out at. “It’s because they are rich!” one of the students in my group shouted.  I didn’t respond to it at the time but in my heart I secretly agreed with him. At least one or two out of the examples given of successful people had opportunities to follow their passions and at least one was fortunate enough to be sent overseas to educate himself.

While not a prerequisite for success, and also not to denigrate the local education system, for better or for worse having opportunities such as those have given them a better chance of succeeding over those who don’t. And it saddens me that this boy at his age has already noticed a disparity in his current situation with others and coming from less than ideal conditions, seeing people with more supportive family backgrounds or the opportunity to go overseas to study seem like luxuries compared to his meager background.

“It’s because they are rich!”

Privilege is not something most of us notice. We try to treat people as though we are equals but that’s not necessarily true. Our perspectives are different and even at times skewed. We have a tendency to speak about how tough our lives are compared to others because for some reason we feel a sense of perverse joy from knowing that we’ve had it worse off than others. In some ways, reassuring ourselves that our struggles are worth it.

And people tend to be accommodating, being nice and agreeing with you. Reinforcing within yourself that you’ve somehow overcome some great challenge and pat yourself on the back before the next pity party. As such, similar to how we get bored with our new phones after a while, we start exaggerating our situations to get a bigger response in the future and lose touch of what we actually have.

It’s not that people who are in a more privileged position bad people and that people who have less are automatically saints. It’s not good to pigeon-hole whole groups of people into stereotypes. This is more of a reflection to myself to listen more and judge less. To be grateful for the opportunities I have and work harder to attain those that are out of my reach. And I hope that I can sincerely pass on this message to the kids that I meet in the future, that while yes, others might have had better circumstances to mold them but it doesn’t mean they have to be hardened to the world and be more optimistic about their own futures and work hard for it.

To Dev or Not To Dev

There’s a strange sequence of events that occurred today regarding how a few game developers poking a little fun at a gaming news blog escalated into something that the original writer didn’t intend. I’m not going to turn this into a non-existent witch hunt but instead write about my interest in this.

Late last month I tried to apply for an editorial position at a local video game developer, I think most people assumed that I just wanted to play free games or something like that. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. To put it simply, I’m the kind of guy that buys original DVDs and Blu-rays primarily for the behind the scenes footage and commentary. I like to know how the sausage is made.

It’s the main reason why I don’t sell my games off after I’ve finished them. I like to have them around like books in a library so that when a more recent game comes out and uses similar mechanics or alludes to a previous work I will have the game on hand to look up and compare. It’s interesting to me to see how something has evolved over time and also look at things both in context and out of context at the time of release.

Context is very important, because there are very few games that go beyond their initial sales period. Star Wars can still resonate 40 years later because you can watch it on TV, on your computer or on your phone. That experience changes slightly if you use a different medium but the movie remains mostly the same (outside of George Lucas’ new additions). However, old video games can’t transcend their hardware. Not that every game is a masterpiece, but 80% or more of these games are held back because the game is incompatible with the hardware and you can’t play them anymore.

Because of this, we talk about games in relation to their hardware. In people’s minds, there are better graphics, better control method, better something. Unlike movies, I don’t think I’ve heard how a movie is worse off because people watched it on their tablets or that watching it in a cinema is something worth shouting on top of the mountains as being a much superior way of experiencing it compared to watching at home. All this, is just a long way of saying, we see movies as they are without relating them to the technology that you use to watch them.

Video games experiences, however, are so intrinsically linked to the code and hardware but how much we appreciate what goes on behind the scenes is almost next to none. From design to techniques used to get the game up and running on a multitude of hardware while looking as good as it could be. Most of the time, we can only speculate about the techniques being used. Movie sites aren’t afraid to announce that Christopher Nolan is going to use an IMAX camera in his next movie and with that news we can make an educated guess as to how the movie will look like. But the inverse is more commonly true for games.

It could just be because of how it’s proprietary technology and code. Games are still commercial products and most publishers will be hesitant to share information about what tech they are using in their next game. As such, we get excited over the next product from a game developer through their trailers and the PR speak trying to sell their game. But the end product could be so vastly different to our expectations that the consumers bite back.

So we take aim at the individual developers themselves, without making informed arguments. It’s so much a team effort that things are so intrinsically tied that it’s absurd for any one person to be the sole blame for the failings of a product. But I do have to ask myself, is it because we don’t know enough how games are made or is it because of the ambitions of the developers that caused them to not have the time to finish and polish their products?

Which is why I want to make the jump to the development side. It’s not for the dream of making a game or take the side of the developer against the consumer but to have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. There are resources like Gamasutra and even documentaries like Double Fine’s development of Broken Age but there’s an appreciation that comes from being in the trenches day in and day out with them.