Tuesday, January 24, 2006

98% Perspiration...

The Guardian GamesBlog has a thingy about developers and inspiration. It was a fair question, but my High Horse was tethered but a single vault away, and foamin' ensued:

"Certainly, most developers don’t read particularly widely (although possibly no less so than their target audience), but I think you’re conflating “inspiration” with “reference”. Also, I’m unsure why you’d expect a game to be “inspired” in the first place.

Odd as it sounds, it’s developers who need to press players’ buttons. Developers have to show or describe or even better imply all their gameplay rules all at once, as quickly as possible. Game designers have to submerge the gameplay’s inherent “either/or/if x then y” menu system within the gameworld such that it's clear to the player which components can be used as weapons, or power-ups or tools or interacted with, and to what end. All at once. Right now. The design also has to manage the player’s expectations of what is and won’t be possible or consistent. Players demand to feel immersed instantly in the gameworld via every element of its sensory environment. And, alas, the abovementioned pantheon of movie/manga/sci-fi/swords’n’sorcery clich├ęs just do too good a job as cultural desktop shortcuts linking to a whole raft of implied actions and relationships.

Very, very few developers have the leisure or luxury of reinventing these wheels – they need to come up with something fast that’ll work. They’d give their spleens to be blue-sky estate agents like Molyneux, Miyamoto, or Wright, but they don’t get to pick and choose their projects. Their publishers make them make movie tie-ins or sequels (or both) because that’s what punters keep demonstrating they want to buy. Games hardly ever come about because developers get to find a new way of saying or seeing things. Even if they’re inspired to devise some brilliant new (unfamiliar, untried) ways of so doing, they’re taking a risk, in a notoriously and justifiably risk-averse industry. And developers usually have enough technical and financial contingencies to worry about without fixing what most players don’t consider to be broke.

Obviously, we’d all much rather see original game-worlds but although it ennobles games journalism to imply otherwise, games just aren’t an expressive medium, nor do players really expect it to be. Games are always going to dressed in borrowed clothes: from the overall kinetic-aesthetic feel of a world right down to the detail of individual character designs, set dressing, personal props, vehicles, score, foley, what have you, because while copying details is hard to get right, it's a lower-risk solution, and you probably have enough technical and gameplay contingencies to worry about. But you have to get the details right. Hence, copious reference texts of the stuff that’s been proved to work in previous games and other media."

Oooh, get me and my mind thoughts.

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