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GDC - Game Developers Ranting & Raving


dogbert
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Here's a rough transcript of quite possibly the most interesting session from this year's GDC. Yes, more interesting than the XBox2 info.

 

Burn The House Down

 

Really good reading, with the likes of Warren Spector, Greg Costikyan & Chris Hecker ranting about what they see wrong with the industry. For example:

 

But I have to say something so I want to say how this business is hopelessly broken. Haha. We?re doing pretty much everything wrong. This is at the root of much of what you?re gonna hear today. Games cost too much. They take too long to make. The whole concept of word of mouth, remember that? Holy cow it was nice.
Who was at the Microsoft keynote? I don?t know about you but it made my flesh crawl. [laughter] The HD era? Bigger, louder? Big bucks to be made! Well not by you and me of course. Those budgets and teams ensure the death of innovation.
How often DO they perform human sacrifices at Nintendo?? My friends, we are FUCKED

 

Chris Hecker's comments on the XBox2 processor setup are well worth a read towards the bottom of the article. He's almost single handedly responsible for the advancement in physics in games thanks to a series of articles in GameDeveloper.

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Really good stuff. I particularly liked Greg Costikyan's segment. I don't know who he is but he said a mouthfull.

 

Iwata-san has the heart of a gamer, and my question is what poor bastard?s chest did he carve it from? [audience falls about]
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Really good stuff. I particularly liked Greg Costikyan's segment. I don't know who he is but he said a mouthfull.

 

Which reminds, what, specifically, did that Nintendo comment refer to? Is this what he meant:

 

Nintendo could make development kits cheaply available to small firms, but they prefer to rely on the creativity on one aging designer.

 

... or is there something else that I'm missing?

 

-j

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Really good stuff. I particularly liked Greg Costikyan's segment. I don't know who he is but he said a mouthfull.

 

Greg is an old-school pen & paper board game designer, now working for Nokia on mobile stuff. He's most well known for the Paranoia RPG handbook. He's got a blog that's often a good read about the business of game design & mobile gaming.

 

Which reminds, what, specifically, did that Nintendo comment refer to?

 

He's referring to the keynote address from Nintendo, how dominant Nintendo can be when they want to, and how much they rely on Miyamoto, I believe.

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What a bunch of cry babies those developers are. Everyone thinks their job sucks. Music, movies, publishing, pharmaceuticals, government, farming...all corrupt, heartless industries that are going down the drain. I guess if people didn't complain, we'd have nothing to talk about. Fuck innovation. My favorite games are evolutionary, derivative sequels. Keep em coming. Next Zelda, Metroid, Halo, Ninja Gaiden. I need "different" for the sake of difference like I need to watch artsy fartsy movies so that I can feel like I have sophisticated tastes.

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What a bunch of cry babies those developers are. Everyone thinks their job sucks. Music, movies, publishing, pharmaceuticals, government, farming...all corrupt, heartless industries that are going down the drain. I guess if people didn't complain, we'd have nothing to talk about. Fuck innovation. My favorite games are evolutionary, derivative sequels. Keep em coming. Next Zelda, Metroid, Halo, Ninja Gaiden. I need "different" for the sake of difference like I need to watch artsy fartsy movies so that I can feel like I have sophisticated tastes.

 

Keith, I know you're smarter than that. I assume you are being so contrary in order to rile up discussion...and so I guess it's working ;)

 

You know very well that all the games you listed may be derivative, but they are derivative of once-innovative game styles and genres. Without the initial innovation, you would still be playing Pong and Asteroids.

 

Also I don't think anyone wants different for different's sake, that's not a fair characterization of what is being said. What developers don't like is being forced to make derivative games because they are safe, more likely to make a profit.

 

I think at the heart of the discussion is a lamentation of what is happening to the 'art' of gaming under the pressure to deliver economically. That gaming is becoming more of an 'industry' than a vehicle for art. Hence the comparisons to film, which I think many developers see as a field that has more of a balance between art and profit.

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That gaming is becoming more of an 'industry' than a vehicle for art.

 

To which I would say that it's always been an industry and little has changed in that regard. The difference is that it's become increasingly difficult for smaller, independant companies with new ideas to get a foothold in the industry due to the ever increasing cost of development.

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There was a point in my life where I considered getting into this industry at the ground level (at Sierra or some similar PC developer) back in the early 90's, but what I saw through my interactions and observation long before that and presently, I have to agree with the sentiments of the panel.

 

What surprises me is that these companies (publishers and developers alike) have failed to learn from history. The "great 80's crash". Nintendo came along to revive the industry after Atari, but their structure now does more harm than good. It was important back then to have a strong publisher's direction because it was a very young industry at the time. Now, the games have gotten too big for their britches, and the current infrastructure the industry's based on, isn't evolving fast enough (or at all) to allow enough room for creation to grow. The problem is the creators are growing at odds with the realists. Until reform is made, continual butting of heads is going to create more ugly trends. I think the panelists hit upon the nerve of what needs to be examined, but until the publishers (realists) agree, the impending revolution will be pretty messy.

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It all sounds like old-time directors & actors bitching about the move to "talkies" or to color film.

 

Sounds like a bunch of people who are passionate about games and are genuinely concerned with the direction the industry is going (or the state it is already in) to me. Any panel with Warren Spector in it deserves my attention. :) I have tons of respect for that guy. He makes games for him and not what everyone else likes or expects. IMO if you aren't making games for yourself (making something that you'd enjoy playing) then wtf is the point? Companies like EA crank out all the mainstream shit that all the teenage boys eat up and they make millions doing it. Meanwhile gamers like myself are left hungry for games that innovate, challenge and inspire. Nobody wants to take risks anymore and it f'ing sucks. Cant really blame developers though. I blame money hungry companies like EA and the generally stupid misinformed public for embracing the mediocre. :bh

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Just like the film industry and just like the music industry, there will always be big budget titles that pay heavily on production & end up sucking. And there will always be sequel-itis & me-too-itis. But there will always be some gems too. Arty-farty & independant will survive. It always does. It may have a hard time, but it can't be eliminated (and nor should it be!).

 

When I say they sound like old directors complaining about talkies, it's because they are basically arguing that we should all stick our heads in the sand & ignore technological progress & realities. TV's are getting better and better, and ppl will expect consoles to deliver better performance. This cannot be done without making the projects larger. At least in MS's presentation, they are concerned with making the the projects more streamlined & efficient than ever before. And it makes Greg Costikyan's flesh crawl? Ok, whatever.

 

Sure, there are a lot of crappy games. But I look at it this way: I've never had access to so many totally kickass games as I have the past 2 or 3 years. Microsoft's presentation was completely fantastic & I can't wait to see what they have in store.

 

And just to stir things up, I find it ironic that Will Wright's name is being tossed around as a bastion of creativity. The Sims was creative. But now it's been milked to death, far more than most other sequel-ridden and copycat properties.

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I want to comment on something Warren Spector says on the panel:

 

My first game cost me 273,000 dollars. My next one is BLAH millions. How many of you work on games that make money? 4 out of 5 games lose money, according to one pundit who may be lying, admittedly. Can we do any worse if we just trusted the creative folks entirely instead of the publishers?

 

My point is coming. We?re the only medium that lacks an alternate distribution system. All we have is boxed games sold at retail. This is changing a little. But think about our competition for your entertainment dollar. First run, broadcast, reruns, DVDs.. you name it. hardback, paperback, e-book. Theatre release, pay-per-view, video, DVD. We put our thing on the shelf at Wal-Mart, it sells or it doesn?t, and OMG you just blew 10m dollars.

 

I'm not so certain that the distribution model is to blame here. Quite honestly, I think it has everything to do with what Dave says in his post above:

 

I've never had access to so many totally kickass games as I have the past 2 or 3 years.

 

Same here. The reality is that the market is over saturated with product, and there's not enough demand to pay for it all. Currently there are three major consoles on the market, two hand-helds with a third on the way later this month, cell phone games, PDA games, and of course the PC. Video games are everywhere. I mean how many of us have complained about the overabundance of quality titles at our disposal throughout the course of the entire year? As consumers of this product we should be so lucky to find ourselves in a position where we can chose between so many different titles of varying genres.

 

Of course, this sucks for those who are making the games, because it means that they have to work harder to earn my money. To that I say, good. If I'm going to blow $50 on a video game, it had better be well worth the money. I don't mean to sound like a jackass to anyone who actually makes games for a living. I have an enormous amount of respect for a company that can create something unique, fun, and technologically impressive. Still, it's my money and I want to see the most return on my dollar.

 

In some ways, I don't think what's happening now is that dissimilar to the crash of '83. There was too much product back then as well (although most of it was utter crap) due to the fact that everyone was trying to make video games and many companies went out of business as a result. The only difference here is that instead of crashing, the industry is consolidating with the larger firms buying out the smaller ones in an effort to consolidate. Of course, that?s just my amateur take on the situation. If that notion seems completely ridiculous to you now, please know that I got a C in Economics in college, so I don?t pretend to know anything on the subject. :D

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One more thing and I'm off to bed...

 

Who was at the Microsoft keynote? I don?t know about you but it made my flesh crawl. [laughter] The HD era? Bigger, louder? Big bucks to be made! Well not by you and me of course. Those budgets and teams ensure the death of innovation.

 

Now, I love the idea of playing games in HD on my TV as much as all of you do, but I would hate to see that be remembered as the more important accomplishment of the next generation.

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I agree that there have been months with too many game releases. Then they wonder why the games dont sell. Out of 12 games in a month how many can the average consumer buy. Probably only one. Last October/November and this month have been ridiculus. They need to realize games sell all year round.

 

capt

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I think the point about the distribution model being whack is being over simplified here.

The main issue they seem to have with the traditional distribution model (though they never really spell it out) is the fact that, more and more, developers are being forced to develop games for the marketplace. A marketplace dictated by retail. Every game must be designed as if it's going to be a mass market hit -that's what retail buyers look for.

These developers are looking at the film industry, for example, and seeing producers/directors making films inspired by creativity and good ideas -with the marketplace being second. Indie films. There is no such outlet for game producers -at least none where the innovative game can be made and the development team can still pay rent. If the film industry can have its Sundance and if Indie films can still generate revenue then why can't the game industry follow in the same path?

 

Katamari Damacy was released in the US exactly like any other small PS2 title. The game did well by word-of-mouth but what would have happened if Sony had a line of games that challenged the conventional? A specialy packaged/marketed line of games targeted at people looking for something new. Frankly, putting Katamari on the shelf next to typical PS2 games in typical game stores does nothing for the game.

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[Katamari Damacy'] did well by word-of-mouth but what would have happened if Sony had a line of games that challenged the conventional? A specialy packaged/marketed line of games targeted at people looking for something new.

 

I love this idea. Even the snob appeal of such a line could help elevate "games as art" and get people thinking about these issues more.

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BTW: I looked up Greg Costikyan's bio & didn't recognize any of the games. Anyone have any info on him & his credentials? Is his opinion held in high regard?

 

He comes from a different style of games - he's a pen & paper RPG & boardgame designer rather than a videogame designer, most well known for Paranoia & Star Wars.

 

I honestly don't know if his opinion is held in high regard - he's a loudmouth schmook from a different era/background, much more traditional, much more historical. I like his weblog. I like his articles. Paranoia is enough to make me listen to what he says.

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Greg also hits one of the biggest problems with the industry right now, though frankly you can easily chuck the accusation at music and film at the moment, too:

 

I?ve been researching old board games and I?ve spotted a pattern. A new genre: it?s called One Hit Game And Its Imitators. One fishing game appears in mid-19C and dozens follow. Games grow through innovations. Creations of new game styles that spawn imitators and whole new markets. The story of the past few decades is not about graphics and processing power, but startling innovation and industry. That?s why we love games. BUT IT?S OVER NOW!

 

I swear, if I hear one more upcoming title pitched as "GTA With Blah", then it's a fecking weekday.

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