The Iconoclasts

The Iconoclasts
Sign of the Crab

Susan Arendt | 19 Aug 2008 12:00
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These days, Meretzky spends less time on game design and more time juggling artistic vision with the practicality of budgets and bottom lines, managing those large development teams that are worlds apart from the one-man game designers of days gone by. Maybe that's why he's so cranky; asking an artist to compromise on creativity is like asking a child to eat his vegetables. He might do it, but he's rarely going to be happy about it.

It doesn't help matters that Meretzky is a self-described perfectionist, one of those people "without market forces who would keep working on a game for years and years until it was done." Given his druthers, he'd hammer away at a game with no care for deadlines or market research, tweaking it time and time again until it met his high standard of quality. He'd also probably be out of a job, because not many game companies are in a position to put up with that kind of behavior. That unfortunate truth is probably why Meretzky names "don't get your hopes up" as the single most valuable lesson he's learned during his 25 years as a game maker.

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"There's never been a game that I've ever embarked on where that sort of perfect shining example of the game that was in my brain [was what we got]. What ended up in the box was always to me a crippled, failed, pale imitation of that shining vision that was in my brain to start with. The whole game development process, the grind from day one to release is a process of compromise and cutting, and sort of lowering your standards." The key to survival, says Meretzky, is "just coming to terms with that, and sort of not having your heart cut out by those cuts and compromises."

Steve Meretzky is kind of a crabby guy. He has seen games go from being written at kitchen tables to written by committee. He's wrangled with the Powers That Be who care more about spreadsheets than creativity. He's a veteran in an industry that's obsessed with the new. Despite all of that, he still loves gaming - check out his presentation on "The Most Perfect Video Game." He still cracks jokes every chance he gets, like in his presentation for "Bac Attack" at this year's Game Design Challenge at GDC (which he won, too). And he can still be impressed and awed - he was thrilled that he got to meet Ralph Baer this year. ("Ralph Baer makes me feel like a noob.") Cranky though he may be, he still seems to be getting it right.

Susan Arendt still hasn't forgiven Steve Meretzky for killing Floyd the Robot, and probably never will.

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