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Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  411 ratings  ·  45 reviews
From the award-winning videogame writer behind Spec Ops: The Line comes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how today’s blockbuster video games are made.

When his satirical musings in a college newspaper got him discharged from the Air Force, it became clear to Walt Williams that his destiny in life was to be a writer—he just never thought he’d end up writing video
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by Atria Books
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Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A deeply personal account that dives into some unexpectedly dark waters.

I wish the author had given more examples illustrating his design philosophy (the book's subtitle); often, "the fight for art and soul" sounds like a distant ideal, easily lost in the harrowing struggle against the multiple pressures that shape AAA game making. Still, I'm giving the book a hopeful 4 stars, because I really liked that in the end, Williams found a way out--and towards other sides of himself. I sincerely wish
Jason Bergman
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First, a disclaimer. I worked with Walt at 2K Games, and while I'm not in this book, I am thanked in the afterwords (an honor I appreciate, even if I'm not sure how worthy I am of it).

With that out of the way, let me say that even if I didn't know Walt, I would recommend this book. I've worked in video game publishing for over 13 years, and I still have a a hard time explaining what exactly I do. If you've ever wanted to know what Crunch (caps care of Walt) is like, read this book. If you've
C.T. Phipps
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
SIGNIFICANT ZERO is the story by Walt Williams of what it's like to be a professional game designer on some of the more important AAA games of the past decade. He was involved in Bioshock, Oblivion, Mafia II, Mafia III (briefly), and the extremely awesome Spec Ops: The Line. The book ends with his retirement from video games but he actually is returning to them as the writer of Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Walt is an irreverent snarky narrator who changes the names of all of his coworkers so he can
Caleb Ross
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(Click the image below to watch the video review)

I want to talk about why you should feel bad buying a videogame. Okay, not really, that may be an unfortunate side effect. So, I just finished a really great book called Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the fight for Art and Soul in Video Games by Walt Williams, and some interesting ideas came up about the crunch periods in videogame development. Crunch time, or just Crunch, is the period of a game’s development in which staff are working
Quintin Zimmermann
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Significant Zero offers us a behind-the-screen perspective of the video game industry through the eyes of Walt Williams.

This novel is well written with fast snappy dialogue and self-deprecating wit. We are introduced to an array of outlandish characters that work in the crazy world of video games.

The author often oscillates between unbridled enthusiasm and bone-numbing exhaustion and tedium as insane deadlines have to be met during crunch time.

The one weakness of Significant Zero is that we
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: media, business, audiobook
Wow, a nice “business memoir” from the mail room up in a video game company. Author Williams parlays some tenuous connections from college humor writing into a gig with a video game company, starting as a gofer and ending up writing games. Williams gives details of what the projects are like from the perspective of the different jobs he held, from marketing through playtesting, game production, writing, and on-site project management (publisher liaison) at a German developer. Williams describes ...more
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An unblinking look at the video game industry

Walt is an amazing writer. He can write scripts for video games, lore for relics and memoirs of an industry that chews up and spits out so many.

I knew Walt during his time at 2K (no I am not in the book) and captures so much of what it was to work on those amazing and provocative games. I knew he suffered for his art and I was not jealous nor did I want his life. But he shares a dark underbelly of the media form that has outstripped movies and
Dean Guadagno
Significant Zero chronicles author Walt Williams' intriguing journey through his prolific career in gaming. From his mischievous youth, selling shoplifted pornography in the schoolyard, to working on some of the most influential titles in recent generations, right through to his (false) retirement from the industry - it's, if nothing else, a unique memoir that you'll not likely find elsewhere.

Offering his insider perspective on AAA franchises like Bioshock, Mafia and Spec-Ops, Walt gives us a
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Williams' autobiography is compelling and his writing style is a lot of fun. His personal eccentricities and demons make this a little more of a challenge than I thought it might be, but they are also what make it interesting. I wanted to read about someone who makes games, and this book will make it clear that "person who makes games" is not an accurate way of thinking about the process, while also providing an easy view into the inner workings that's accessible to people who not only don't ...more
Katie Williams
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Walt's experience of writing video games is a peek behind the curtain of an industry that most don't know much about. It's a quick, interesting read.
Sebastian H
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Spec Ops: The Line is one of my favorite digital experiences of all time. When I found out that the writer of that masterfully crafted tale had written a self biographical book, of course I had to read it as soon as I could get my greedy eyes on it.

Imagine my disappointment when the writer turned out to be a deeply unsympathetic person who, in his own words, thrilled to tear down the happiness of a fellow coworker. Who didn’t only lack people’s skills, but made an active effort to distance
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book if you grew up investing much of your childhood into video games like I did. Walt Williams tells his personal narrative as a writer for the video game industry and he elucidates on just how brutal that industry can be. Similar to the book Blood Sweat and Pixels, we learn that the majority of the content we see as players is most often the result of many, many revisions: entire storylines are often thrown out and re-written even when a game is in its late stages!

I also really got
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a timely book about video game development. It’s also a meditation on the relationship of art, commerce, and morality in gaming.

The writer, Walt Williams, is a veteran of the video game industry. He has been involved with several major franchises and games, such as Bioshock, Spec Ops: The Line, and Star Wars Battlefront. The acclaim and popularity of those titles gives Williams’ book a certain amount of credibility and weight, although he is quick to disclaim that he is “not a hero so
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, games
The videogame industry is a desk—a very expensive, very colorful—desk with many sides. I've sat on two of them. On one side, I've written about games: articles, books, interviews, reviews. On the other, I sat next to developers like SIGNIFICANT ZERO author Walt Williams. I've written character bios, "bark" prattle, hundreds of quests, marketing copy.

A third side of that desk is where players sit. The nice thing about sitting there is you can put down the controller and get up anytime. The first
Nick Carraway LLC
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
1) "My trips to HVS would last anywhere from one to three weeks, including weekends. When planning for these extended stays, I always made sure I would have access to three essential things. The first was alcohol. Nothing takes the edge off hotel habitation like a bottle of top-shelf hooch.
The great thing about working on-site is being able to expense your meals. There was a limit to how much I could spend each day, but no regulation on what I spent it on. If my body could digest it, my report
Todd Luallen
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It was good to read a book from the perspective of a game industry writer. I definitely identified with some of the things Walt had to say as my experience in the industry was similar in some respects. I entered the industry at a later age, and as such perhaps I was less willing to deal with weekend work and crazy hours, but I could still appreciate what he had to say. Specifically I appreciated that he was willing to write about the lessons he learned from his success and failures. There is a ...more
Anselm Daniel
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nazih Fares
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Right, I'm not even sure how to start this...

I think, for someone that was aspiring to become a writer and work in the gaming industry, I felt an instant connection with Walt Williams and his story in Significant Zero. Now crossing 10 years working in gaming, jumping from being a video game journalist, to PR, to multiple titles throughout the years, I felt inseparable with Walt's experience in this fun - yet difficult - sector of the modern media.

We all aspire to work in something we are
Dave Shields
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am not sure what I expected when I picked this book up. I tend to enjoy reading gaming history books and stories that show the positive and negative psychological impacts of gaming. I thought that is what this book was about but I was wrong. Instead, it is a true revelation about what it’s like to be a writer and balance your hopes and dreams against what the world expects you to write.

The book follows the tumultuous path of Walt Williams, a writer for Take 2 Interactive during its early
Josh Kanownik
Interesting autobiography of that contains a lot of anecdotes from inside Take Two during the Xbox 360 generation. These anecdotes are insightful and entertaining in addition to giving some insight into the game development process. The stories are limited in that they are strictly autobiographical, come from a narrow slice of the industry and are from an unreliable narrator. Working in the games industry I found the alternative view was still worth reading. I would keep in mind that it is just ...more
Mark Schlatter
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: shreve, new_book_area
I was pretty much blown away by this book, even though I don't play AAA video games or even own a console. Half of the book is about Williams getting into the video game industry, and the other half is mostly about his work on the game Spec Ops. Both parts are fascinating in a behind-the-scenes way, especially because Williams has a lot to say about writing for video games. (And trust me, this book is well written.) But the second half stands out for how dark Williams is willing to get. He is ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
I just really couldn't get into this one. I probably just came into it in the wrong mindset, having it recommended after reading "Blood, Sweat, and Pixels" which I thought was a much more interesting book.

To be fair, I knew this was a memoir instead of post-mortem reporting on specific games and the workings of the games industry. And I do like memoirs! But in this case, I just didn't mesh with the author. To me, he comes off like he thinks he's more clever than he actually is, and after a
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's an exceptional book. I've read it in merely a day and couldn't put it down. It has all the experiences I had in video games industry and that's why I think it's an essential read for any newcomers and people who think 'how fun it is' making games. It will leave you haunted, exhausted, angry and hopeful. I absolutely hated Walt Williams for the half of the book, seeing him as many people I have worked with before. However, the deeper you go into it and the closer you get to the end, you ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
A sometimes-entertaining deep dive into what it's like to work in the game industry, specifically as a writer. But with an important caveat: you *might* spend a not-insignificant amount of time while reading this book wanting to throat-punch the author. Intelligent, sure, and skilled at what he does, but Christ almighty if you ever wondered what it would be like to sit inside the head of someone who fully believes they are god's gift to a medium, here's your chance. I was simultaneously ...more
Don Gorman
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
(2 1/2). I picked this up after seeing it in the Sunday NY Times book review section. It starts out really well. A highly entertaining memoir. Full of good laughs, tongue in cheek and all kinds of weird life lessons. But it hits a part in the middle of the book where it goes into deep descriptions of one video game after another. No story, just an in terminal stream of information that only the hardest core gamer would ever give a damn about. Williams saves it a little at the very end when he ...more
David Macpherson
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I found it interesting, a life writing for video games, but it did not engage me. I found the way the author presented himself off putting. I know it is a memoir, but the main character was not the person I wanted to read about. Near the end of the book, another person told him he should be nicer. It would have been better for me as a reader if he came to that conclusion himself instead of having someone else bring that up. witht hat said, it had nice pieces about how to think of writing for ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you want to hear more about the game industry and understand the type of personal struggles people go through to contribute to a game, Significant Zero will deliver. Significant Zero is an engaging adventure of a person who ultimately learns that games are more focused on business than storytelling. Walt's writing is pure in its honesty and brutal in its tone. It's a quick read, despite a few meandering moments, andis often propped up by Walt's magnificent writing and wit to keep you on your ...more
elizabeth tobey
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Walt's a fantastic writer. He's able to make you laugh and feel uncomfortable - sometimes in the same sentence. His look at the video game industry is also the most interesting one I've come across. Yes, he'll explain to you what things mean, if you aren't a hardcore gamer, and why they are important - but he doesn't get dragged into that kind of detail and history which is generally dry for anyone reading. Instead, he focuses on people, and life - and that's awesome.
Dipa  Raditya
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Significant Zero offers the other side of the argument. As Williams works with game developers, he sees games that might be on the wrong path, or a feature that doesn’t work as intended, and now it’s his problem to make sure it gets resolved. This is often where egos clash—it’s the game equivalent of a film director getting notes from the studio brass—and Williams, by his own admission, occasionally takes on too much of a creative role when pulling back would be a better move.
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this foray into the mind of Walt Williams, as he tells the story of how he got into video game development, providing insights on what it means to be working for a game publisher, the colossal struggle of making a game and actually finishing it, putting it out there in the world, and what the entire experience of being in that industry feels like. Told through a cynical, hilarious lens, I couldn't put it down whenever I picked it up. Great stuff.
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