Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
People Make Games, Not Development Studios

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 11 Mar 2014 16:00
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Batman: Arkham Origins

There were names in games in the past, and you could make informed decisions, then. Oh, here's a new adventure game by Tim Schafer - probably be good, then. Nowadays, with development so bloated and responsibility so heavily divided, assumption of quality in the west is sold on franchise first, developer name second, and the actual names of the people involved a distant third, if they even make the top three. But that's the very reverse of how it should work.

First case study: Batman: Arkham Origins. I am willing to bet that the majority of the people who had any interest in that game before it came out were basing that interest on the fact that it was another Batman Arkham game. None of the questions that might be asked of a film were asked, such as "Who's directing it? Joel Schumacher? Fuck that noise." It barely registered on anyone's radar that it wasn't being developed by Rocksteady like the prior two. I myself didn't know going into it, owing to my policy of hype avoidance, but when I did find out, it explained a lot. While on the surface the gameplay is the same, there's a feel to Arkham Origins that is distinctly different to that of Asylum and City.

There's a colorful grunge to the Rocksteady-developed ones that reminds me faintly of a sinister European claymation film. Origins, by comparison, feels unquantifiably 'cleaner', and is much less fantastical and exaggerated. The Joker comes across as a more sinister, charismatic, in-control figure, while Asylum/City Joker is more chaotic, more flustered, and I'd argue quite a bit funnier. It's almost like back when he was voiced by Mark Hamill he was more reminiscent of Mark Hamill's portrayal of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, while in Origins he owes a little more to the darker Heath Ledger force-of-nature I'm-not-a-schemer-oh-wait-I-totally-am version.

Second case study: the Silent Hill series. Even before the franchise made the big catastrophic move to Western developers, one could sense a difference in tone between Silent Hills 1-4, even though all of them were ostensibly developed by 'Team Silent'. The fact is, the individual members of the team were chopped and changed for each one. Number 2 had more talent in common with number 4 than it had with number 3, I seem to recall, and personally I think 3 is terribly over-rated.

My point is, this isn't fair. Audiences may have bought Silent Hill 3 because it had the same developer, not realizing that the developer was a fluid entity and that individuals with different ability and personal tastes were actually making the game, tastes that might not correspond with yours. Ken Levine worked as part of Looking Glass Studios and Irrational Games, and every game he's worked on has worn some of his auteur influence, regardless of the developer logo at the start.

So in summary we need to think more in terms of names than studios. Not that I'm any better, since I referred to Strider as 'Double Helix's Strider' in the first paragraph of this article. Well, let's fix that. Strider was produced by (alt-tab Google Google alt-tab) Andrew Szymanski. And it was alright. So, yeah. Play the next game Andrew Szymanski makes as well, regardless of whose banner he's working under.

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