The Forest for the Trees

Titan Seed

I’ve been struggling a bit to find a topic I want to write about this week, and upon extensive reflection I thought it might be a good idea to write about how I’ve been struggling a bit to find a topic I want to write about this week.

Why this week? It’s not as though I haven’t had trouble thinking of things to write about before. However, in the past such issues were quickly resolved. This has been a niggling little doubt at the back of my mind all week long: I got nothing.

Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that on this week, one of the most productive of my life, wherein I focused wholehearted on a game project which I love, that I’ve been having a hard time finding something to write about? That I’ve been having a hard time thinking of ideas in other peoples’ games worthy of commentary, critique, reflection?

It’s difficult to get that kind of perspective when you’re in the thick of actually creating a game. I haven’t been reading my twitter feed, I haven’t been keeping up much on game news or reading posts on forums about games. I’ve been drawing and programming and writing music and taking notes instead.

People who make games often have a difficult time also being people who assay games and understand them. It’s extremely common for those who develop game projects to slowly lose time to play games themselves as the pressures of work and home life settle in around them and insulate them from their previous hobbies. Thus, we end up with an industry where the majority of the insights are either derived from decade-old observations of games long past, or parsed entirely out of market research / managerial wisdom. This is why bad games still get made: It is incredibly easy for people who should know better to lose perspective, and even when they don’t they’re still usually working for people who don’t know better and frequently aren’t interested in listening.

This also highlights a crucial difference here between independent developers and big-budget developers, that being that indie developers can easily take breaks between projects– maybe not long ones, depending on the particular developer, but at least a few days to wind down and see what else is out there. The larger the studio the developer works for, the less likely they’ll be willing to let the resource that developer represents go to waste: They’ll find work for him or her to do.

Much has been said about the short-sightedness of the forced long hours that many developers have to work in terms of the overall quality of work that they can produce, but usually this criticism is focused on fatigue affecting their output. It seems rarer, to me at least, to here a focus on how lack of down-time affects developers’ ability to understand what a good game is. Not only are they less capable of doing the work, the work is less likely to be towards an end-goal that is actually, you know, good.

You can’t see the road if you’re too busy staring at the steering wheel.

envirobear

Badgers don’t help either. When you think about it, do we really need any stinkin’ badgers?

The tendency to only hire experienced developers, preferably from other active companies: The tendency to keep all developers working at all times: The tendency to give final decision-making say to those with no design experience: These all impose a degree of stagnation on the medium.

It’s not a disaster, it’s not going to destroy the industry, but it is going to make it weak and slow to change. In the long run, it’s going to be the companies that provide fertile ground for new ideas, large and small, to gestate that are going to succeed.

Of course, for those companies and people who are habitually terrified of new and unproven ideas, this success may be unreachable.

Tough luck.

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