Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Going For "IT" (Good Rant)

Mr Bleszinski over on his 1UP Design Diary talks about working "IT" into Gears of War. That special thing that makes a good design something brilliant in the eyes of the player. Everybody has ideas on what "IT" it, but nobody is sure. Yet everybody agrees that "IT" can make an instant hit. So going for "IT" on a project is always good because if you get "IT" (whatever "IT" is) then you have an instant classic.

I mention this because there is a notion that games have lost the tantalising excitement that they used to give people with gameplay had "IT". I have heard a lot of explanations, but currently the notion that talent isn't maturing in the games industry is a good one. Most industry professionals carriers only lasts five years maximum and that takes into account all the moving around between companies that happens. People enter the video games industry enthusiastic about working on video games, don't have the maturity to produce a bonafide classic with "IT", their first few creations are lackluster and then they leave before reaching their potential after being burned out by the software development lifecycle and unrealistic expectations. Then their replacement comes in and makes the exact same mistakes.

Another idea about "IT" that I also agree with is that games don't have strong enough source writing material. The game designs that are being produced are good, but the story elements aren't there and the dialogue is terrible. Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith both say they are best at writing dialogue, both have produced several films that have "IT". In Quentin's case very few of his films don't have "IT", so to say game developers need better writers on staff is probably a very true statement.

So if "IT" can be bottled and worked into a game as suggested above by developing talent and hiring a good writer to write good dialogue then why doesn't "IT" happen more often!
The answer to that is simple when you look at games that have "IT". With Half Life, when it was nearing the end of development and became playable from start to finish. Gabe Newell sat down and played the game from start to finish. He concluded that the game sucked was not as fun as the team wanted it to be. So the whole team promptly redesigned the entire game from start to finish just a few months before release. In this instance the team had learned a lot from their first iteration of the game by effectively building an elaborate prototype and this allowed them to build "IT" into the release game because the playable prototype although exstensive (it was going to be the game) taught them a lot about the mechanics of what they where creating.

Publishers don't like "IT" because it doesn't necessarily sell more units as in the case with Psychonauts and can extend a development cycle beyond what was originally envisioned on a project. And a game from a marketing standpoint that can be described easily can be marketed better wither it has "IT" or not. Games with "IT" are sometimes very difficult to market and so fail without gaining the sufficient revenue to justify the added cost of working "IT" into the game. And that is why I believe all these things mentioned contribute to the falling standards of game design and by falling standards I mean the expectations of players isn't being raised by newer games.