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Book review: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels reveals the miracle of making video games

This book by Jason Schreier is a thrilling page-turner for anyone with even a passing interest in video games, and an amazing glimpse into how a highly digitised mass entertainment industry works.

books Updated: Jan 12, 2018 19:09 IST
Sanchita Guha
A scene from the Diablo series of video games. The making of Diablo III, among other games, is described in the book.
A scene from the Diablo series of video games. The making of Diablo III, among other games, is described in the book.

Get your head around these figures: around 2.2 billion gamers across the globe and nearly $109 billion in game revenues — that’s more zeroes in rupee figures than we can count — in the past year alone. But how little we know about this highly digitised mass entertainment industry, unlike, say, what we know about the movies. That changes with Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, by Jason Schreier, a veteran of journalistic writing on the gaming world.

Author Jason Schreier is a veteran of journalistic writing on the gaming world.

From the very introductory chapter, Schreier establishes that the business of fun is, in fact, serious business. He does this with a skill that’s the writing equivalent of lightning in a bottle. The truly gruelling project of creating a game — from the light bulb coming on in someone’s head, to work teams being put together, to boxes being shipped to stores — is presented as a thrilling page-turner. Anyone with even a passing interest in video games would lap this up. Even someone not into gaming would be hooked from the first paragraph.

There’s a part where Schreier chats with an exhausted game developer. It goes: ‘“Sounds like a miracle that this game was even made,” I said. “Oh, Jason,” he said. “It’s a miracle that any game is made.”’

The workings of the gaming industry are captured in pinpoint detail in the book.

In the introductory chapter, the author sets up the reader to expect insights and asks why the gaming industry, with billions being pumped into it, and with this exponential pace of technology, is still a hyper-caffeinated coding binge where anything might go wrong any minute. Hovering above the head of every game developer are the three invisible, horrible words: this isn’t fun.

Then, Schreier takes a case study approach, with each chapter being devoted to one major game or game series. We get to know the stories behind Diablo III, Halo Wars, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and several others. The last chapter is for Star Wars 1313, the project that epitomises the crushing power of finance over creativity.

The workings of the gaming industry are captured in pinpoint detail — the drama, the desperate hopes, the triumphs, and the soul-searing ‘if only’ moments. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels rises above the technology to explore the human spirit that drives it.