163: Sign of the Crab

Sign of the Crab

"Steve Meretzky is kind of a crabby guy. Not gloomy or excessively negative, but rather in the world-weary way of someone who's been around the block a time or two not by choice, but because he couldn't find a parking space. He might complain about how expensive the coffee is at Starbucks, or how he doesn't have the time or reflexes to play modern games, yet you can't help but find yourself nodding along in agreement as he makes his grumpy observations. He may be crabby, but talking to him, you also get the impression that he's often right.

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Aw, can't we make artistic games AND money?

I definitely hear him on the author problem though. It even makes analyzing and diagnosing games difficult when you don't have a central creative voice. Once you've played a person's game, you learn their nuance and humor and speech. Subsequent games make you more readily capable of absorbing their message and hopefully, they've refined it as well.

Instead, a lot of games become this giant muddle of what fans are screaming for, a bunch of compromised ideas and visions, and the most salient plot possible. Even when they include writers from the get-go...they only control the dialog and static events. A good game combines that with the game design in clever and singular ways. Who knows? Maybe they'll just make a really really easy to use engine that anyone can use like for the XBL indie market.

Games don't need big budgets and long development cycles. As game development becomes more accessible, we'll see a truly expressive indie market. Big business will not allow creativity to thrive absolutely; It's always a trade off. It honestly has to go back to a small development team (or even a single individual) building the game they want to make... on their own terms.

"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."

Isn't this the common complaint of most artists?

Ironically, part of the art is in how you adapt to changes that cause the game to deviate from your ideal. From my perspective there are artists that work from different approaches..

1) One who establishes the constraints of the medium and uses those boundaries and strengths and the primary tools of his construction.

2) An idealist who holds to their vision, even for the sake of the vision despite the reality of their intended medium or unexpected changes.

3) A person who creates an idealized project knowing full well that each phase of the project must be approached objectively and seperately in order to ensure the best adaptation to contraints or improvements.

Considering how technical certain job roles are, being a type 2 person would be insanely difficult unless you understand all aspects of the technology you are employing for your title. The only solution is to either get easier tools or build a game that is not dependant on as much technology.

The other problem is that most game developers and publishers take their hierarchy cues from the corporate world utilizing many layers of supervisors and managers where similar ranked peers consult each other over ideas. A more film-centric hirearchy would probably be more ideal with specific teams/groups that report to a central director/producer rather than being mediated by layers of middle men who make decisions made by comittee.

I don't know, the great part about film directing was that if the structure didn't work I could totally re-establish the work flow with the power of "I SAY SO". That isn't so easy in a corporate environment though.

Love Meretsky's video, but I'm worried he's a little too positive. :)

My dad used to play The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy on an old Commodore 64. He loved it.

I took a crack at it once, but I kept dying. Bear in mind I was about 8 at the time.

It's interesting to read something about the man who made someting like that; I always thought that people like that were lost in obscurity, forever forgotten, working a desk job in San Diego and wondering what happened to their life. And it would make me sad.

Many games try to make a compromise between player freedom and authored content. This seems to be doomed to fail. I would rather see a tightly scripted story, with well-thought-out dramatic content, themes and intellectual challenge. On the other hand, I would also welcome a game with absolutely no plot and a free-roaming environment with interesting game mechanics.

Developers try to meet too many expectations. There are expectations concerning game length, visual style, mechanics and story. I think that all the fan-service is actually a disservice in the long term. The movie industry has many of the same problems. It is misguided to try to tailor a work of art into a certain size, shape and price group.

Finnish, I think it's possible to have a narrative that's meaningful to the player without constricting what he can do. In order to do it though game designers are going to have to find a way to incorporate a "yes, and" mentality into their games.

I agree that newer games often seem to lack coherence. I think what really excited people about Portal and Braid, two games being frequently cited as "perfect" was that they knew exactly what they were, they did what they showed up to do, and then they were over (consequently I've replayed both games multiple times). The only other games I can think of that have that kind of sense of identity are all classic arcade titles like Tetris and Pac-Man. The modern video game is typically a mish-mash of game mechanics and technologies, some of which have no bearing on each other at all. Some time during the 90s "gameplay variety" became a big deal. Ocarina of Time was "better" than Super Mario 64 to some because in addition to platforming it also had swordplay, archery, fishing, and horse-racing*. The extension of this sentiment is that for a game to better it needs to have more mini-games and the net result is mini game collections. Games that are a thousand miles wide and about two inches deep.

* I'm a huge fan of both games, but I take issue with comparisons that say a game is better because it has more different tasks without accounting for how these tasks relate to each other.

I'd like to see a A Mind Forever Voyaging remake.

 

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