Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh, No...

I'm at the wheel of this thing.

A while back I promised a review of Mirror's Edge. Fuck that. I don't have the energy anymore. The night I beat it I had a ton of energy to devote to telling everyone how angry that game made me. After I railed on Mirror's Edge in the podcast, and after so much time has passed, I feel like it would be redundant and exhausting.

So, why the hell am I typing anything then? Because I said I would. That's called obligation, kids! And while we are on the topic of games like Mirror's Edge and things like "obligation", let's see if we can merge these into a rant about the games industry.

Don't gamers deserve more from the people shoveling games in their direction? Are developers obligated to deliver on all the expectations that they have established through their marketing machine?

Let's chat about two possible scenarios that can cause a truly inspired game, like Mirror's edge, to become a victim of hype and corporate fast-tracking. Some assumptions will be made. I am comfortable with that.

Scenario # 1: Companies are evil, souless abominations.

All companies are out to make a buck. Fuck you and your want to play a game that is mentally stimulating, physically challenging, and thoroughly unique. Halo 9? You got it! Not-Halo-But-Close-Enough-These-FPS-Goons-Will-Play-Anything-6? Let's make it.

They round up all the hack artists, semi-retarded programmers, "I made a Half-Life Mod" game designers, and yes-man producers and churn out something that looks like last generation and a half with some severely broken design, flawed art direction, and bug after bug after bug.

All the shit-eating suits sit around and tell marketing to "sell that bitch!" ... So, they do. "Geo-Transmorphic Poly-Shading!" "The Best Water Since that Tech Demo you Saw at Last Year's GDC!" "Won't Kill You!"

You, the consumer, buy it up, hoping to fill in that post holiday dry spell. It's shit. You are betrayed. Fuck Globo-Tech Entertainment INC.!

Scenario #2: Unfortunate things happen to honest people.

In this scenario you have a building full of passionate, talented, well-meaning artsts, programmers, designers, and the like. It's far more complicated than Scenario #1. You start with an idea. The idea gets traction and someone deems it worth exploring. Some of the companies best artists and designers get put on it and they begin to flesh out the concept. After a stellar presentation, some bobble heads in cheap suits give the thumbs up and pre-production starts. All the people put on the project are fully on on-board. They love it.

Problem is, over time some of the shortcomings of the design start to rear their ugly heads. Early decisions in art direction start to change to accommodate gameplay requirements. Production gives some input, marketing gives some input. Things have to be re-worked to meet everyone's unique needs. It divides the production into two categories; Still in Production and Back to Pre-Production.

Everything becomes staggered. Departments find themselves reacting instead of executing a plan and the whole production becomes a three-legged race. The people who signed on, while still passionate, have to work with their hands tied behind their back and the end product suffers. Marketing feels they have to trump up the game to gain interest while hoping the team can stay focused and deliver what they all signed on to deliver.

The game comes out on time. They had to skimp on play-testing, which they know was a bad idea, but damn... They pushed it back twice. They had to get it out. It's good... most of the time. It's gets pretty good reviews. Problem is the lead artist sees the textures they wanted to redo but ran out of time. The programmers see all the bugs they would have fixed... if they knew about them. The designers see all their missed opportunities to implement things they really wanted to get in the game. Finally, production wishes they had had more time to accurately plan for all the missteps (because missteps DO happen).

It happens to the best of teams. Games are hard to make. But that doesn't make the burn sting any less when you spend your hard-earned moolah on something that blows. Or, as I found to almost hurt more, you find a beautiful game where the experience is damaged by small issues.

Long entry. Sorry. Hope there is something to chew on. I gotta run. Bye gang!!!



  1. I'm still waiting to play ME but the complaints I keep hearing sound more like polish issues then bad ideas. My guess is the cause is the same thing that went wrong across the board in November-December in our industry: Christmas greed. Better to ship unpolished in November then polished in February.

    As an aside, I'm listening to the bit in Ep. 47 about EGM. If you haven't already, you should check out ReAnimators Podcast episode 16(www.reanimators.net), which is all about the gaming press, with games journalist Leigh Alexander as our guest. A little understanding on their perspective made me a lot less venomous towards the press then I was two weeks ago.

  2. It feels bad, it feels very very bad. Even portable games, alot of them are simply ports to cash in with no attempts to add some real bonus content *cough*chronotriggerdsF-Usquenix*cough*

    Im hoping the japanese devs will influence the the US and Euro devs in that aspect.
    The game is done when its done.
    A mere dream cause no project has unlimited funds to sustain such an idea. Im interested in asking Kojima how much MGS4 cost and how much revenu the game got. Yet MGS is a big exception because the serie already built up a fan base with the previous games.
    All quite complicated to think about to some extend.