Until very recently, the people behind the products we enjoy were more of an enigma than anything else. They were simply employees belonging to a corporation, a group of people who, outside a personal visit to their office, would be unreachable to the public. Today, however, the boundary between fan and game developer is a line that is ever fluctuating, especially in a world of 24/7 social media and with the hyper-availability of content creators.
Nate, known more ubiquitously as his alias, Shinobi602, is a prime example of this ever-fading boundary line.
As a kid, much of Nate’s free time was spent with his brothers, faces planted in front of titles like Super Mario Brothers. While his older brothers eventually grew out of the hobby, Nate’s passion for gaming only grew. He collected the consoles and played through dozens of games.
As a teenager, he took this passion and turned it into yet another hobby: online discussion.
“I started participating in online forums like GameFAQ, then I moved onto to Neogaf, and then I joined Twitter. I don’t know what it was, but I kind of just kept on top of news and gaming. And I would always post articles and write thoughts and opinions on games, and, over time, I just gained a following. A few years ago, I only had a couple hundred followers. It’s grown a lot. I guess it’s just because people like reading opinions from someone who is passionate about games, who has good things to say.”
Of course, Shinobi did not garner this audience through thought pieces alone. In the beginning, it was his unique connection to game developers which gave him his platform.
“At the time, NeoGAF was the largest forum online, so a lot of developers would post there and read things from there. They would see my posts on there, all the opinions I had – they would just see that I was very passionate about the games. I mean, my average was like twenty posts a day there. So I have tens of thousands of posts there. From there, they just started following me on twitter.”
“From then on, I started to form friendships with the game developers slowly. Every now and then some developers would tell me things about unannounced games. It kind of became synonymous with “leaks.” I would post a lot of these leaks on Twitter, and they were always accurate since they came directly from the developer. From there, I gained a much larger following. Of course, I never said anything without permission. If they said ‘don’t say this’ I wouldn’t say anything, obviously.”
Even with his growing audience, Nate’s focus has always been centered around the games themselves, not maintaining a certain public persona. His excitement for sharing previously unheard tips about his favorite franchises was never about cultivating his own fanbase, but about sharing his passion with his equally excited peers. As he puts it, “I did it because I love games, and I know other people love them, and I like to see people get excited.”
A GAMER AT HEART
Of course, for as much as he loves discussing games, he enjoys playing them in equal measure. While he has equal love for a variety of genres and developers, above all, Nate has been a fan of Bioware.
“I’ve always been a huge Bioware fan. I started playing their games from the very beginning, like Baldur’s Gate. Then I played Knights of the Old Republic in 2001, and fell in love with that game. I also played Jade Empire in 2005. Then, in the same year, they revealed the first Mass Effect.”
As a lover of science fiction, the game’s pitch instantly intrigued him: a fresh, enthralling IP that invoked a sense of vast exploration. He fell in love with the project from the moment it was announced.
“It was like a playable Star Trek. There were choices you could make. You could form romantic relationships. The gameplay was fun. The art was beautiful. There was a huge galaxy. You could land on planets! I just loved it. Honestly, I probably played that first game like fifteen or sixteen times, which was especially crazy because each playthrough was probably like forty or fifty hours. Of course, those playthroughs have been spread out since its release in 2007.”
Naturally, Nate’s affinity for the series poured over into his online discussions. As he continued to express his enthusiasm for the games, he began to come in contact with more and more people from the Bioware team. “They’re super friendly, just great people, you know? Human beings, just like the rest of us,” he enthuses.
As for future Bioware titles, he still retains his rabid enthusiasm. Despite falling in love with Bioware’s more traditional RPGs, he confidently believes that game developers shouldn’t be restrained from moving in new directions. While some have criticized Bioware’s departure from their usual format, Nate remains apart from the condemning crowd.
“Why does a Bioware game have to be a specific type?” He asks. “Why does it have to check off all these boxes? That’s not what I think game design should be like. Game developers shouldn’t be limited. Whatever comes to their mind, whatever they’re passionate about, that should be their new direction. That is what I think fosters growth and results in things like new game studios. So, yeah, I’m very interested to see where they’ll go with Anthem.”
Even so, Nate is cognizant of the issues people have with such dramatic change. He understands the sentiment of some that single-player experiences are being put at a lower priority compared to new multiplayer titles. “There’s definitely been a decrease [in single player games] in the last decade. Truthfully, I understand it, because multiplayer games sell more. Obviously, I hope they never fade away. Hopefully some recent successes show developers that people still love single-player RPGs. You know, The Witcher 3 did amazing. Horizon: Zero Dawn was also very well-received. Dragon Age: Inquisition was highly rated. They’re out there.”
Going forward with his commitment to ingenuity, Nate hopes that the game industry continues to embrace new ideas and untouched concepts. As aforementioned, he insists that the key to staying relevant is to stay creative. “You always have to foster new IP,” He says. “Don’t just keep pumping out sequel after sequel. Microsoft is a prime example. I love my Xbox, but I’ve recently been disappointed by the selection. You know, they keep pumping out Forza and Halo and Gears of War. They do have little things here and there like Ori and Sea of Thieves, but I just want to see more investment in new IPs and more risks taken.”
“Of course, I don’t have any big philosophical insight,” laughed Nate.
Outside of the industry, Nate also looks forward to positive change in the gaming community. Having fostered close relationships with development teams himself, it has become especially painful for him to witness the way certain developers have been treated. “There’s a lot of venom. People are really eager to jump down developers throats,” he admits.
“Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good example. A few days leading up to the game’s launch, there was venom everywhere. There were some technical problems with the game, some animations that looked kind of funky, sure. That’s valid. But the way people were attacking developers… there was one person, an animator on Mass Effect: Andromeda, who was constantly harassed. I’d just wish the community would grow up a little sometimes. I think the problem is that there is a large demographic out there that just doesn’t understand how game development works.”
Growing tired of Twitter’s limitations, Nate desired a new way to express his passion for game development and showcase the connections that he had made in his many years online. This desire has recently culminated in his new blog, Shinobi Speaks, a congregation of general thoughts, game developer interviews, and game reviews. Even though it has grown into a hefty side project, Nate is committed to furthering its content and outreach.
“I work a full time job and have a family outside of the blog, so keeping up with it is a challenge. I try to post one or two things a week. Really, I just talk about anything. When I first started, I wrote a piece about why I think The Witcher 3 is a masterpiece. Then I wrote a piece about what I think the next Dragon Age needs to do to be a huge success. I also have something on there called Game Dev Insight where I talk to a lot of the game developers I have come to know. I approach these developers and just have a casual chat with them. I ask them how they got started in the industry, games they’ve worked on, their ideas about game design, things like that. And I post those interview transcripts on the blog, and people really like those.
“I’ve learned a lot from those interviews, too. For example, I talked with the cinematics lead at Bioware, Tal Peleg, and he was fantastic. He was telling me how cutscenes were made. How much goes into one single scene. You know, lighting effects, voice acting – the real nitty gritty stuff. I talked to another guy who was the QA manager at Dice. He worked on Battlefield, Battlefront. He really opened my eyes to how important quality assurance is in video games. So, I tried to show that to the public. I’m really learning a lot, and I want to learn a lot because I play these games. I know hundreds of people work on them, sometimes thousands. And I think these people’s voices really deserve to be heard.”
Despite holding a job in human resources, Nate’s dream has always been to eventually work inside the industry he adores. “I’m using this platform as a stepping stone. To show I have insight,” he explains. With an elaborate network of connections and an evident passion for games, it’s hard to believe he won’t get there soon enough.