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Aborted game autopsy 2: Suspicions confirmed

posted on March 16th, 2006 by jay

Besides learning some valuable lessons while working on my game, some things I already thought to be true were reaffirmed.

Suspicions Confirmed:

Kierga
The cliched plain female archer nearing a mid life crisis.

Games take zillions of man hours to make. Any game of substantial size cannot be completed by six people. Any game using more than a few 3D models requires more than one guy who knows how to do 3D modeling from classes he took. Any game with a few hundred characters needs more than one talented conceptual artist. And any game that has a 150 page plot and also wants to have dialog should have more than two writers.

Since I already mostly understood why development teams are so big and games cost so much, we’ll say that now these facts are burned into my brain. Fifty dollars does not seem like enough money to pay for a game (but I’ll still be damned if I’ll pay over $30). It makes sense that enormous companies like EA are devouring talent anywhere they can find it. Games take a lot of work.

Originality is easy. My first game had some innovative ideas in it. Every design I have worked on since has been more creative. Coming up with something new is not at all difficult, which means the industry hasn’t a single excuse for churning out the same four designs over and over again. And I don’t count "desire to minimize losses and maximize profits" as an excuse.

My guess at how the industry works is that the few designers who manage to make enormously popular games and end up darlings of the media are given creative control. There may be a million Miyamoto’s, but since they didn’t make Donkey Kong as their first title, their bosses demand they stop thinking and simply make what they’re told to. And there are plenty of people who made great selling games who aren’t household names and probably aren’t given complete freedom partially because of this. One of the few other ways creative games are made is by mildly successful developers splitting from their company to start their own, like Treasure or Double Fine. These generally find themselves in economic peril.

Feature creep is inevitable. I have often wondered why a lot of games try to do everything. Platformers throw in racing parts, action games throw in stealth bits, and RPG’s throw in snow boarding. Feature creep is the concept of new gameplay mechanics continually being added to the game after the final design is finished and I’d read about it before. It’s something I succumbed to constantly. Few mortals have the self control to deny their game an idea that seems wicked cool and it makes some sort of messed up sense that the more crap you throw in a game the better. This is not usually true, but Americans are used to more being better.

Shack
One of two total pieces of structural concept art.

Some examples of feature creep in my game are: a perception mechanic which allows characters to attack undefended, a lighting mechanic that changes a characters perception stat, a super complex weapon leveling system that requires a 3D diamond to visualize, joint skill attacks, and whole party skill attacks. In the more is better mindset, I designed something like 150 different skills for the characters, of which none were simple “does more damage” attacks. With unlimited time and unlimited funding, allowing feature creep with open arms may result in a great game, but for me it simply bogged down the design.

I appear to be talentless. I cannot draw, write dialog, design 3D levels, create character models, program or script. Working on this game made me realize just how many skills there are to possess and how few of these skills I have.

I should be a designer. My ideas are still great in my head and I am completely convinced that if I had a talented and dedicated team at my disposal I could make an amazing game. My lack of talent doesn’t extend to the idea department. But then, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, ideas are cheap and no one will hire a designer who can’t do anything else. Maybe I could learn to sew.

So Elrelis Bled will never see completion. But if anyone wants to help make a 2D platformer with only one board, a 3D survival game in the mountains, a post nuclear bomb city simulation, a 3D platformer inside of a walking giant, a FPS focusing on a physics engine that deals with temperature, or a SRPG where your character travels from party to party, just let me know.

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