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Mike Abrash on how is it to work at Valve

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A truly interesting read from someone who has seen some of the most important shifts in the videogame industry. From Doom to Quake, from Quake to Valve, from Valve to Steam and more like wearable computing on the distant future.

Interesting bits:

Working with John was like the sequence in “The Matrix” where Neo has one martial art after another pumped into his brain. I’d stagger out into the parking lot of Id’s Black Cube in Mesquite each evening stunned from a day of trying to keep up with John as we figured out an entirely new programming world – 3D, Internet client-server multiplayer gaming, mods, scripting, everything since we were the only two programmers – and somehow manage the half-hour drive back to Plano. It all happened at lightning speed, with no time to sit back and digest – Quake shipped only 16 months after I arrived. And it was all worth it – not only did I grow tremendously as a programmer, but Quake turned out to be a seminal game; granted, not one of the best games ever, but truly groundbreaking technically (for which, to be clear, John was the brilliant innovator and driving force), and a game that gave rise to a genre and a community that continue strong to this day. As one example, when I started at Valve I found that dozens of people there had started their careers by modding Quake or working on games based on the Quake engine – and in a way I also created my own job 15 years in the future.

Gabe tells it this way. When he was at Microsoft in the early 90’s, he commissioned a survey of what was actually installed on users’ PCs. The second most widely installed software was Windows.

Number one was Id’s Doom.

The idea that a 10-person company of 20-somethings in Mesquite, Texas, could get its software on more computers than the largest software company in the world told him that something fundamental had changed about the nature of productivity. When he looked into the history of the organization, he found that hierarchical management had been invented for military purposes, where it was perfectly suited to getting 1,000 men to march over a hill to get shot at. When the Industrial Revolution came along, hierarchical management was again a good fit, since the objective was to treat each person as a component, doing exactly the same thing over and over.

On wearable computing:

Of course, hardware is only as useful as the software running on it, and there’s a vast web of intertwined issues and questions to be resolved about how the combined hardware-software system might work. What does a wearable UI look like, and how does it interact with wearable input? How does the computer know where you are and what you’re looking at? When the human visual system sees two superimposed views, one real and one virtual, what will it accept and what will it reject? To what extent is augmented reality useful – and if it’s useful, to what extent is it affordably implementable in the near future? What hardware advances are needed to enable the software? And much, much more – there are deep, worthy challenges everywhere you look (and I hope to be posting about some of them soon); in fact, what it reminds me of, but on a larger scale, is Quake, where we had to figure out 3D graphics, client-server Internet networking, file formats, pretty much everything from scratch. Indeed, I think this has the potential to be, like Quake, a technological inflection point after which everything has changed.

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