Smile and Nod: What I learned at GDC

Smile and Nod: What I learned at GDC

I'm not sure what strange portent of the apocalypse this is that people send out "exclusive" invitations to parties and then expect you to wait in line for hours just to get in. Where I grew up, we considered that rude. I declined to wait and had burgers with Yahtzee and crew at the diner near the Moscone.

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This theme of democratization is interesting given that consoles are among the most autocratic of environments. Each console has its own proprietary technology and a good portion of every system's life cycle is spent learning how best to harness that technology. The videogame community even has a nostalgic fondness for those particularly obstinate systems and the programmers who were able to wrest incredible visuals from them. All this wrangling comes at considerable expense, and even when a cross platform set of tools is developed, like Unreal Engine 3, they require considerable resources to fully utilize. Until videogame systems reach some sort of plateau in their technology, the point at which the brush finally has all its bristles, the full creative potential of the medium will not be seen.

This is a huge drawback for videogames, especially in regards to their acceptance as a legitimate art form. Anyone can pick up a video camera, a pen, a paintbrush, etc., and theoretically create a masterpiece. Of course in all cases, some level of technical competency is required, but the low barrier for entry is how influential movements like the French New Wave were ignited. Now granted the videogame community is clearly trying to lower the technical hurdle , but even so, indie games, particularly on the console, are at a distinct disadvantage. I would even go so far as to say the majority of them represent a second tier both in form and substance to triple A titles. At best, Indie games on the console are pleasant diversions, a well done nostalgic throwback, or a limited exploration of a particular concept. Until the medium is easy enough for anyone to use, I believe indie games will be little more than recruiting tools, a farm system. It will be a long time before we produce our own equivalent of Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

1. XNA approval: huh, how can one not be cynical here? The more nobodies within that community, the less ties, thusly the less corrupted it will be.

2. Sims Carnival? OK, people made their own games. Instances of Space Invader, sometimes with pretty graphics, which were artsy. It's OK, it may reveal a few talents, and generate a load of passable content. I hope there's a good rating system in place, to easily find the best.

As for the final question, I think that from time to time, you may get a Blair Witch, but the vast bulk of the population will sit in the theaters for the loud bangs and flashy effects. There's always a middle ground here, and I'm not trying to sound as more numbers = better, because that would be folly. Nor am I saying that the more devs the better.
But you can't always find a Portal. Sure, the industry may have not paid enough attention to small productions, so we may see a few more similar stories in the future, but, man... Shadow of the Colossus, God of War II, developped by ten people and delivered in time?

It's not like Portal makes the next gen consoles sweat. Oh, you could ask, do we need such powerful consoles? Hell, it's a wee bit late to ask yourself this, because they're there, and the train ain't slowin' down.

Of course, this is a kind of absurd paradox. Why make even greater powerhouses if the number of groups which can exploit them becomes smaller?
That's probably where EA, Activision, Ubisoft are our saviors... huh. One can only hope these powers change their bad habits.

Now, sorry for raining on your parade, but making a decent game requires talent and a huge amount of technique. Martial arts exist since millenia, yet only a hand of true masters of each discipline can be found to this day.
A painter might be happy and lucky with contemporary art (which fully accepts shit), but that's not going to help reach a market, safe make moustache twirlers and tea drinkers get warm in their pants, eventually.

Of course, if you look at the industry outside of the castrating actual scheme of console manufacturers, then yes, it's all good news. Who knows? Maybe new alternative business models might burgeon, and even settle on gaming systems considered marginal or outdated?
Systems simpler than a PC, but as free as a PC, with little to no boring approvals?

But I'm still skeptic on the quality of games. Portal still was the sum of talents and knowledgeable people, not your average Joe pushing a mouse and filling texture placeholders with bitmaps of pets and friends.

Now, I say we don't have enough hand drawn 2D games with splendid flowing animations. :)

The Year of the Indie is going to be soon, I think. Just look at gaming now. Audiosurf has everyone going nuts. PopCap is making untold millions (MILLIONS!) off of their games. PC is the perfect platform for indie games. We've been using the same computer model for about 10 years now, and people have learned how to best use the available tools to make good games like Audiosurf.

I, personally, wouldn't mind more indie games. They're much cheaper than big-budget games. But big-budget games will never go away, because there will always be some person who buys a game out of sheer hype and graphics.

Cheap & easy download service for countless indie titles, including the no longer dead point n click genre:

Lets remember that a game with a big budget doesnt just get lots of flashines, but they can also hire professional writers and artist that contribute alot to the final product.

You and the Escapist crew must be living it up on your silver chariots sipping your champagine and snorting coke off the breasts of twenty-something supermodels.
As for Sim Carnival being broader and such, isn't, like all other Sim expansions basically an add-on pack. Meh, I guess some people like that.

An indie game is like a good comic book. You'll read it now and then and even when you've memorized all the jokes you'll still laugh once or twice, just because of how much you appreciate the cleverness. But it won't be anything more than that. You won't be in awe of the incredible art because it's really very simplified. The story won't make you think because it's really very simple, and the quality of the writing is rarely meaningful because it's the punchline that counts. And you won't feel like an achivement and a step to a more litterary you to read it from start to finish, because it's only 60 pages, and most of it is pictures.

In the same way I'm not really worried that indie games will somehow "take over" and become the new standard. I do think, however, that their low cost will let the gaming business create a gap between all other entertainment businesses that they can never catch up, because even if someone is wiping the cold sweat of his/her brow from just buying a #%%#&# 50 game (or whatever the rates are) we'll still feel comfortable with buying that lil' 8 indie game.

The story won't make you think because it's really very simple, and the quality of the writing is rarely meaningful because it's the punchline that counts. And you won't feel like an achivement and a step to a more litterary you to read it from start to finish, because it's only 60 pages, and most of it is pictures.

Shenanigans called.


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