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By LongHook
July 25, 2002

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I don't feel like recapping the previous threads, but since a new thread is in order, and since there are other developers here, I'll do a quick summary:

- writing games is much more tedious and difficult than many players realize. The common phenomenon is when a group of players sees something about a game that can (and should) be improved, and think they're better designers than the game company. The problem is that tweaking ONE SYSTEM is easy, but INVENTING AN ENTIRE GAME is VERY difficult. There's a huge difference between "designer as tweaker" and "designer as visionary".

- that said, most professional game designers are hacks anyway =)

- that said, individual players may not know much about how to make a game, but the sum of their knowledge is something that smart game companies will take into account

- long hours usually give diminishing returns

- bad games are bad for many reasons, and "the guys that wrote it suck" is only one of them =)

- the game industry is fundamentally screwed up right now, from the basics of how the developer/publisher relationship handled all the way to the selection of what types of games are written. Take a look at the two most popular games of all time -- Myst and The Sims -- and with RC Tycoon probably a close #3, and then ask yourself why everyone is still funding first person shooters and real-time strategy games?

- the "hardcore" game industry is constantly targeting the same 1M players over and over (at least in the PC domain, consoles are a separate thing altogether), instead of trying to branch out and attract new players or players that are underserved. This is why we're slowly seeing the industry collapse into a handful of genres. Every few years we get a shakeup from a title that "proves" that a genre isn't dead (Baldur's Gate), but those are luck more than anything else.

- games cost too much to make, which is why genres that can't sustain a consistent player base in the hundreds of thousands will be ignored in the future. I feel very bad for simulator buffs of any vehicle or for those that like adventure games, because publishers will NOT fund those anymore.

- small, independent studios _might_ be the wave of the future. We certainly hope so. And I really hope companies like Strategy First (and their developers) lead the way, so that there can be indie [independent] studios that do "hardcore" games in genres ignored by big studios (or with designs that are considered too radical) and indie studios that do more mass market games (like us).

- game industry management is, quite possibly, the worst I've ever seen. I would say at least 75% of the middle and top management at the bigger publishers are former testers and QA types, not developers. This has a remarkably chilling effect on the quality of games that get released (however, some very fine QA and testing types have proven to be competent producers and directors)

A final parting thought. Much like being honest, writing a game is often much easier than it seems and, paradoxically, much more difficult than it seems. Telling someone the truth about something -- the actual act of speaking the words -- is easy. Getting up the nerve to do so can be very, very difficult.

Writing games is VERY similar to this. The actual act of developing and putting together a game, in a vacuum, is easy. Even though we're only doing puzzle games, I'm still quite proud of the fact that, in about two weeks, we will have shipped 3 games in 9 months, with only two people and being 100% self-funded. The main reason we can do this is because our "coefficient of development friction" is remarkably low.

With larger projects at larger companies, a good bulk of the time isn't spent _making_ the game (i.e. drawing textures, writing code, making models and animations, doing design, etc.) it's ARGUING about the game.

What platforms to target, what the minimum system requirements should be, what type of game to make, the amount of content, the specific mechanics of some area, weapon balance, multiplayer vs. single player, who gets credit for what, whether this sound is better than that sound, etc. You can spend a week arguing about whether a rocket launcher should have a speed of 280 or 320. Or whether run speed should be 27mph or 30mph.

At some point you have to make decisions and just get it done; if you can't do that, or if you're constantly second guessing yourself, then writing a game is positively grueling, because you'll spend 6 months on an engine and then see a screenshot from a competitor and then decide you have to redo it.

If you have that frame of mine, you're screwed, because you won't ship until you're out of money, and at that point you've spent four years not releasing something because you want it to be the best, but in the end you end up shipping something sub-par because of business reasons.


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