Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rant: Games are Too Easy to Create

LANGUAGE WARNING: MA15+

If you're involved in any way with the game industry, I'd bet money you've heard someone say "Games are too easy to make these days". If it wasn't uttered by one of your coder colleagues, perhaps it was during kitchen-meet gossip. You might have stumbled upon a heated thread on a game development website full of programmers wailing and gnashing their teeth in righteous indignation. Or maybe you read it in the subtext when Steve Jobs slammed the banhammer down on Adobe Flash, apparently out of fear of a slew of crappy games flooding the market. As opposed to all of the masterpieces that currently grace the iTunes App store.

If we make it too easy for people to release games, then we'll have too many bad games on the market. Right? Isn't that how it usually goes?

Well, I don't disagree with the symptom. It's why I made the snide remark about iTunes. But I'm going to go right ahead and smack down over the insinuation that these bad games are being made by people who wouldn't know how to make games if toolkits like Unity and UDK didn't exist.

In other words: Bad games, according to the sway of conversation, are the fault of non-programmers.

You know what? Get off your fucking high horse.

I'm getting pretty resentful of this elitist and exclusive attitude. Often when it's not being literally stated, it's there between the lines in the way beginners and *spit* *spit* artists are treated with impatience or sometimes outright disdain on programmer centric forums. So I wildly underestimated the amount of code involved in what I thought was a simple action: on no the end is nigh. Yawn. Let me assume by your latest efforts that you wildly overestimated your artistic talents, and we'll call it even, k?

So it's the internet, and everyone's an asshole. I'm not a princess about it, usually, and it doesn't bother me, usually. But today, I read a post on a community forum that seemed laced with derision, entirely constructed to tear down the naive game maker - a youthful optimist, nonetheless - who woe be him does not come from a programmer background. It rubbed me in a way I do not like to be rubbed, and a ranting, obviously, ensued.

I should temporarily shut off the steam and say in big bold letter that I know a few programmers who I worked with in the past who I do not at all refer to in this post. In fact, I can only think of four people I've actually met in real life who do have this attitude. Sadly, one of them was a CEO.

But if you've read previous posts you'd probably know that a programmer colleague, James Podesta, has been helping me with code and design. I have no intention of biting the hand that feeds. I do suspect that he agrees in essence with the fact that accessibility to game development is resulting in more crappy games, however I would hope that he doesn't jump on that bandwagon of artist/designer/daydreamer hate that shovels the blame onto our underpaid shoulders.

It's made more difficult to argue my case here when one considers that improvements have been made to my game already through James' input. Without him, the movement wouldn't feel quite so nice. I would have eventually solved the collision bug, I'm sure, but it's those anecdotal tips and tricks that make the real difference, such as the 0.2 second fall-jump buffer.

But I'm going to use that example to argue that game development should be even easier. We've heard it a hundred times before: Graphics are not gameplay*. Well, guess what, neither is code. OMG GASP, RIGHT? No one gives a shit about your programming. No one in the real world, anyway. Your designers and artists will love you for it, and appreciate how your skills contributed to the product. You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But if you're going to argue that the polygons I push together are nothing more than a necessary component of the construction, far less than the sum of the parts, then explain to me why your lines of script are any different?

We can probably agree that all our consumers care about is the end product: Does it feel good? Does the aesthetic inform the gameplay? Do I have enough challenge and enough motivation to continue playing?

So all it's about is making good games. That's it. Who gives a fuck how you did it? If you take away the barriers to game development, then you open the door to more people who have a story to tell, an idea to sell, a concept to show off, and a real creative talent to make something entertaining and of quality.

Just because you have the rare technical proficiencies necessary to construct a game, does not guarantee that your game is any good. This has always been the case. Even when programmers were the only ones making games.

* I actually believe that graphics are gameplay, but I'll save that shitstorm for another post.

29 comments:

  1. Shitstorm away. I totally agree.
    Many games that could be number one bestsellers but aren't are the result of rushed or bad art.
    Probably the same amount that are great art and suffer from bad design or code.

    I'm not saying that the art makes a game. More saying that it is JUST as important as code or design.

    Good art can sell a game in the same way that great mechanics or design can. But the difference with art, is that the consumer can see it before they play the game. Therefore it SHOULD carry a huge importance.

    Look at the success of the original Assassins Creed. The game is probably one of the dullest I have ever played. But I invested hours and hours in it just to see the next city and marvel in its beauty.

    Again I agree that out of all the games professions art is the most underpaid. Most large studios demand that you have a degree. In the uk that's 5 years invested into the career before you make a penny back. I'm not saying artists are better just that we have a right to fly our flag as we are just as important. But unlike code we are vastly underpaid.

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  2. /target [Can of Worms]
    /open

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  3. geez. I hope I didn't come across like that. I think making it easy to make games IS making a slew of crappy games, but I never considered it to be because artists are making games. I thought it was just because people with no game skills were making games :) which is not to say those same people won't eventually start making good games..

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  4. In fact my problem with Unity games is because the art is always shit...

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  5. and finally :) I only jokingly would ever talk about anything being too easy to make games. Personally I want to make a game creator easy enough that my 6 year old daughter could drag and drop a game together on the ipad. It's on my todo list.

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  6. LOL No man you never came across in the way I'm ranting about, and you're right, artists DO often have a 'pfft programmer's commenting on art' attitude. It's a two way street, but I can only really rant one way :) Also, I hope I was never the elite artist type! I was a prima donna, but that's different!

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  7. And I always thought the term 'programmer art' was tongue in cheek. Like me calling myself a programmer and then lol'ing about it. I've never used it in a derisive kind of way, only to acknowledge "Okay, you're specialty is programming, not art". I don't think it's a bad thing that most programmers don't make great art, and I don't think it's a lie to say most artists don't write good code: both disciplines require many hours of commitment and effort and mastering both is out of the hands of all but the most talented. But in my experience (perhaps because my ears prick up at the perceived insult) I've heard more programmers complain about artists making games, than artists complaining about programmers making games. Maybe? Who knows! Maybe I just like to rant... XD

    Wait until I rant about how I think graphics are gameplay... LOL

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  8. And finally, maybe we artists are just hypersensitive because 1) We're only now finally getting a chance to step up to the plate and produce on our own, something programmers have enjoyed for a while, and 2) We're so underpaid compared to programmers, and aware of it LOL

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  9. Actually I lied, I have more! Did you ever check out Kodu? I never did myself, but kept thinking "I should check that out". It looked like a lot of fun, and from what I understand it is relatively easy to use. Maybe too complicated for a 6 year old, though? I'm not sure.

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  10. yeah, something along the lines of Kodu but even more entry level and limiting but still creative enough to do interesting stuff. To me the only difference between artist and programmer is how many years experience you have in one. I realise other people believe its some kind of left brain - right brain thing, but I just find that insulting. Like some people aren't creative because their brain is wired differently. I've never met someone that isn't creative - just snobbery from some artists that don't realise code is art also.

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  11. That's about the best thing anyone could have said on the topic. Way to turn my rant into a sensible discussion!

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  12. Except I ALWAYS figured programmers were just as creative as artists, just in a different way. Like painters versus musicians. Or writers versus actors. But the idea that anyone can dedicate time towards learning anything is so fundamentally important to everything I'm doing right now that I couldn't possibly agree with your sentiment more.

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  13. HEY! Let's bring the designers into the rant too! Don't you hate when designers think, because you're an artist or programmer, you can't possibly understand good game design philosophy?!

    I personally look forward to the day when us creative types, of all disciplines, can get together and make something amazing without worrying about any of the barriers that exist today.

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  14. my Uncle is an Accountant, which would have to be classified as the most non-creative job in the universe, but he once went on a huge rant about how I could invest this into that and move this over here and do all this "creative accounting" and he seemed very passionate about it. Probably worth mentioning he _used_ to be a cook before he became an accountant, so go figure..

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  15. I actually feel sorry for designers. Its the one career that EVERYONE thinks they are an expert at and its really hard to quantify - code and art, at least we can look at the results of a weeks work and see how far down the experience path you are. On top of that they are underpaid and overworked. I'd love to be a designer for a career but not with the way they are undervalued.

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  16. I'd say I have to agree with you, kind of. I don't think everyone thinks they're an expert, but I do believe I know enough about design to understand what is fun and what is not, and to arrive at fun through trial and error. I guess like I might arrive at a method with trial and error, or you might arrive at great art with trial and error. The only real difference between any of us is that we're weighted towards a single (or small group of) talents, not that we're total devoid of opposing talents.

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  17. small Indie games remove all the "physical" barriers - theres just a bunch of work to do and everyone can pitch in and do whatever creative tasks they want. You just need to get a team together that can get over the ego thing -- I know I'd get scared if someone went to code if I thought the code was going to be buggy, and I'm sure a lot of artists get touchy if you go to add in some art that's not 100% in with the style and tone of the rest of the art.. The same thing would happen for design if someone has a clear idea of the design direction and someone else wants to add something that breaches that.

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  18. Maybe our roles, as 'experts' is to advise rather than dictate?

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  19. I'll give you an example of the Design issue... I had to do up the design for Engulfed way when we were inbetween projects. I got so far and then had a few story plot issues I wanted help with so I sent round a request for ideas on how I could solve the issues, but instead of suggestions I just got a bunch of 50 page design documents from people saying what they think the game design should be then I got harassed for not reading them and using them.

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  20. I guess I think Dictatorships are very efficient. If I do a project and I have one person who is art dictator and one person who is code dictator and one person is design dictator, I think that can be a very efficient way of working. The trick is to make sure everyone still feels they are getting all the creative outlets they need while staying inside that framework. If you get the right team together, they tend to agree a lot on things, so even though one person is dictator, you still like the direction they generally like things that you come up with also.

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  21. HAHA Maybe, people who got into games because they loves games and have ideas, were overly enthusiastic about being offered input? I certainly know I'm highly guilty of running rampant with creative input if given the chance. At that point I trust someone to rein me in.

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  22. yeah, well I everyone who got into games "should" be part designer, part artist, part programmer. Its just these huge AAA titles that allow people to get away with being extremely specialised. Admittedly that may be the only way to pull off these amazing photo-realistic uber-complex games... but my interest isn't really in those.

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  23. eek, I keep thinking words but not typing them :) "...well I think everyone..."

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  24. This is going waaaay off topic, but still it's a good discussion. I think we share some views, and oppose on others. For example, am I being elitist if I say "just trust me" when developing a look? I appreciate feedback and opinion, but I also understand what frustrates designers when everyone wants input, because it's the same thing that frustrates artists: it's a work in progress, I have a clear sense of the end result, it's an entire package of ideas that are so intertwined and so critical to the whole, changing things now would break that connection I have. And I need that emotional understanding of the end result to produce good work.

    Personally, I'm a true believer in the concept of a single creative vision - that someone with a strong vision is given the control to execute on it.

    But it depends on the environment. If we're a bunch of indies getting together, then I would expect that control would fall with the 'idea' person, assuming they were comfortable with it, to the extent that they were comfortable with it.

    For example, if my platformer were a group project: The story is mine, the characters are mine, the art is mine, the mood/tone is mine... the gameplay? That's up for grabs, really. And if that wasn't kosher, I'd shelf that idea for the time being and go with something that was less 'me'.

    If it was a group idea, then it'd probably stay a group idea unless democratically elected to be otherwise.

    It all depends on the environment.

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  25. Have to agree 100% with the with all the views in the above statement. That's exactly how I see it also. In a large system, I want someone to go off (who I can trust) and just design it all to a consistent vision. For smaller projects, the person with the idea is generally the key driver of everything, and everyone else just tries to embellish and help where possible.

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  26. Yeah, someone with a strong idea makes me feel confident in the product. I'll still probably have input, but I really don't mind being told "No" when the person with the vision disagrees.

    Also: Good God we type fast...

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  27. So to summarise...

    All different kinds of people are capable of "creating" good and crap stuff in different ways depending on their own personal priorities, history, environment and mood. Then each different game player makes judgements based based on their own priorities, experience and context.

    The problem isn't with those creating, its with those who make broad generalisations about and pigeon hole those who create. The energy they spend on such activities would be better spent focussing on creating more games like the ones they want to see in the world :)

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  28. Absolutely, Ian! Also, the more barriers we can remove, the more quality products we'll see produced. The more crap, too. But suffering more crap for the sake of more quality is worth it, imo.

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