Let’s talk about games, baby
Video gaming as an industry has been around for a few decades now. It’s older than I am, probably older than anyone who will read this. For 40+ years we’ve been gaming, and in that time I’ve seen, and probably you’ve seen, the same mistakes and errors repeated again and again. I’m not talking about bugs, bugs are a part of development. I’m talking about the problematic pillars of a game, those fundamentally flawed design choices that find their way into final products.
Last month was E3 and during that week the world got hyped to hell over all the new games seeing release over the next year. In the trailers and demos they look spectacular, but we all know most of them will probably fall short of their true potential because of some odd decision that was made too early in development to weed out.
While playing through Tokyo Xanadu for my review, I couldn’t help but notice how at-the-ready every NPC in the game was to tell me their life story. I get the reasoning behind that. This is a 50-hour game and these people need to say something, but it’s always one of those game tropes I have to suspend reality to get behind. I work in a big city and I can tell you right now ain’t nobody gonna tell a motherfucking stranger like me all their hopes and fears if I stop them on the street. I understand video games aren’t supposed to be completely realistic, but I also believe not every NPC in a game has to have a purpose or a personality. Sometimes, they’re just there to be props, to make a city or town seem as though they’re brimming with life.
This is what was on my mind when I thought up this week’s Destructoid Discusses topic. Everyone on this site has played a game or two in their life and we all have opinions on how things are done, designs that are copied and driven into the ground. So I wanted to know what our staff members would want to tell a developer or publisher – or all developers and publishers – if they had the opportunity to. This isn’t to say we know better than the people who make the products we love, but I just think this is an opportunity to civilly discuss game design and marketing/promotional choices.
Manage :clap emoji: your :clap emoji: expectations.
This is mostly directed toward big publishers looking to dethaw marquee franchises and shovel them out under the assumption that they’ll succeed — because when they don’t, they’re iced for another 20 years. Many overnight successes have been handled by a hardworking small team and went on to create staples that would become those sacrificial lambs (just look at how Mega Man 2 was made, and where it’s at now).
My key request is to keep things manageable. I get why Metal Gear Solid V ballooned over-budget like it did, as it’s a massive narrative payoff two decades in the making. But when Square Enix decided to bring back Tomb Raider and had the option to start completely fresh, don’t be in the position where one million in sales is “disappointing.” One way to solve this (in addition to not forcing open world) is to give upcoming auteurs more chances. The film industry is seeing a boom of this lately, as evidenced by situations like Jordan Peele’s meteoric rise after making roughly $250 million on his $4.5m Get Out.
One of the most low key restraint-heavy developers right now is Nintendo. They often give new talent a crack at prestigious projects, and like their file size optimization, they keep their budgets from spiraling out of control (tempered by their lack of portable/console power). And as much as we jeer them for never doing anything with F-Zero and Metroid (until recently that is), they rarely rush into a situation head first.
It is okay to make games that aren’t AAA titles that cost millions of dollars to produce.
No really. So many different smaller titles have shown that you don’t have to put a second mortgage on your mansion to make something that will sell like hot cakes and thus develop a rabid fan base; Undertale, Shovel Knight, Slime Rancher, Ori and the Blind Forest and The Binding of Isaac just to name a few. I’d rather play those kinds of games for $20 or less than $60 titles riddled with bugs, microtransactions, and season passes.
As for that trailer for The Battery up there and how it relates to this: it is one of the best zombie flicks I’ve ever seen and it had a budget of $6000. You don’t have to break the bank to make something good, you just need a vision and dedication. Also, just to be clear, I’m not saying to lowball developers here, just set your sights a bit lower and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Occams Electric Toothbrush
Escort missions and stealth sections shoehorned into a game. We’ve all been there. We’re running and gunning, mowing down demons and zombies and faceless henchmen with aplomb then suddenly it all comes to a crashing halt. The game takes away your powers and forces you to babysit someone. The experience goes from, “What’s next?!” to “How long?” It sucks. We hate it. Yet game companies still do it.
Why? Is it the innate cruelty of man that guides them to inflict suffering? Or are we just as culpable every time a player yields to the promise of future blood-drenched glory? I don’t have answers. The gaming world shrugs despite the frustration. They accept it, this task saddled upon their shoulders like Atlas. I gnash my teeth and spit copper venom at the sky but the only answer I get is the sound of rustling leaves somewhere in the darkness.
I, like many of you, enjoy playing video games. In video games, you can do all sorts of kooky shit you can’t do in real life, like triple-jumping and fighting skeleton-demons and casting magical spells and being confident. You know what I can do real life? Swim. So for fuck’s sake, developers, keep water levels out of video games!
Have any of you here ever had anything closely resembling fun while playing a water level? While some would claim they have, I know for a fact that everyone lied just so CJ wouldn’t feel bad about himself for posing the worst topic of all time. When your best example of a water level is a Smash Bros. map that simply takes place over water, you know you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
I mean, really, what do water levels accomplish? You move slower, lose most of your abilities/powers/functions, and typically have to manage air resources like you’re playing a video game adaptation of that shitty Ryan Reynolds movie Buried. It’s asinine and serves only to slow down what should otherwise be an exciting game.
End the nightmare, devs. Keep water levels out of your games.
[Screenshot courtesy Bam Bam]
It’s going to sound a bit like I’m undermining my fellow editors here, but after years of writing and reading about this sort of thing, I’ve found very few hard-and-fast rules of game development that apply equally across all circumstances. Game development is time-consuming, stressful, expensive, and if many, many post-mortem write-ups are anything to go by, even developers rarely have a clear vision of what they’re making all the way through.
That’s why I won’t presume to prescribe a course of action to game developers, and instead implore the publishing/marketing side of the business to please, please, work to square the hype with what’s actually being made. Outside free-to-play, the current retail model of the games business heavily rewards pre-orders (essentially buying a game sight unseen), and there are far too many incentives to getting potential customers hyped out of their minds. And when a game inevitably falls short of the promise, the blowback is intensely toxic and harmful for practically all involved.
This isn’t a good culture to have. Generating buzz and anticipation is good! Marketers are doing their job when people get excited about a game, so it’s not like I’m telling them not to do their duty. But sometimes a tempered, candid story that dampens the fire, in the long run, far less painful than dealing with a runaway hype train and the inevitable backlash. Whether that means reigning in future Molyneaux-esque overpromising from an excited dev or allowing them to speak more candidly about what will and won’t be in their new game, a bit more prudence on everyone’s part will go a long way.
This one certainly doesn’t apply to all developers, but it’s worth noting. Not all games need to be open world. We get it, open world games are one of the most popular genres around, but there’s no reason to force it.
Some of my favorite games are better for having a smaller, more contained play space to suit their narrative, like Bioshock. Some of my favorite titles from this year have been fantastic open world games. Horizon and Zelda come to mind, but if all games keep gunning for massive, expansive worlds, we as players would have no time for all of them.
So, my message to developers is bigger isn’t always better. Let the story you’re trying to tell dictate the play space. A well-written narrative trumps a massive playground any day.
Don’t tweet angry.
“Finish games before you announce others”
This one used to be a massive problem for Square Enix. They would take on so many projects that other games would either be rushed out to completion (Final Fantasy XIII) or take eons to ever get released (Final Fantasy XV). Then you have all the weird acquisitions Square Enix has made (like buying Eidos and IO Interactive) which resulted in even more games getting announced and failing to hit absurd expectations (refer back to Chris Carter’s entry) and that simple suggestion should become gospel.
Publishers need to give developers time to actually work on their games. If you’re constantly announcing spin-offs or sequels without properly letting the original title gestate, you’re going to have a bad time.
All wonderful suggestions. Again, we’re not telling developers how they should do their jobs. We’re only offering what we hope are helpful suggestions to make this industry we’re all a part of better. Except for that bitch Russow who I hope chokes on his next taco.
Once again, we opened this topic up to the community and your response was deafening. Well, it would be deafening if the internet made a sound.
Dere: Stop making me craft shit. If I wanted a chore, I could get one from my wife. I don’t like crafting in real life, so my video game self sure doesn’t like it either
Hypno Coffin: Less can be more. Spend more time crafting and refining a few systems and gameplay elements, rather than including a plethora of ideas, but never pushing them to their potential.
GuerrillaOcelot: That blind loot boxes are complete bullshit. Nobody likes having to grind currency or spend real money to open a crate that could contain worthless shit. Or, worse, it could contain vital items or upgrades that require the divine blessing of RNJesus to obtain. I’ve quit playing games that I otherwise enjoyed because of poorly implemented drop systems. Here’s looking at you Gears 4, Halo 5, Rocket League, For Honor, Overwatch…
Voodoome: I wish publishers would just let developers make the games they want to make without interfering. I get that a bottom line has to be met with AAA products, but how many big titles need to fail before they figure out that the players want to experience the vision of the creators unencumbered by the nonsense of boardrooms and focus groups.
We can tell when a product is the soulless creation of a committee of suits, guys. We aren’t mindless consumers.
GoofierBrute: File both of these under the “never going to happen” folder, but I wish publishers would A) stop rushing out their games just to meet a deadline, and B) don’t announce DLC or a Season Pass when the game isn’t out yet. Let me break it down:
A) In the case of the first one, I wish publishers and developers would take their time when it came developing games. I know this is all about money, and in this day and age of digital distribution it’s super easy to patch games, but you only get one chance and make a good first impression. Take No Man’s Sky; it’s a lot better now than it was when it first came out, but because the game was such a disappointing mess, it doesn’t matter that it’s better because everyone else just moved on. I’m not saying a game should be indefinite development (hello Duke Nukem Forever), but a game shouldn’t be rushed out the door just to meet a deadline. Take your time, and make the best possible game that you can.
B) This one is pretty straightforward: stop trying to sell me a Season Pass for your game that isn’t out yet. I don’t know if you’re going to support the game after launch, let alone if it’s even good enough to warrant buying DLC, so why should I buy a Season Pass? And if you are going to do that, at least tell me what’s in it before I buy it. I’m not expecting a full checklist, but at least something like what Nintendo did with Mario Kart 8, where they said “here’s our Season Pass. You get two packs, each coming with three racers, vehicles, and 2 cups. You can buy them individually, but if you get both, you get it at a reduced price and free in game skins that you can use right away.”
See how easy that is?
Kerrik52: I want devs to respect my harddrives. Uncompressed audio and textures are nice, but it comes a point where the gains are not worth the insane increase in filesize. Devs of old had to be clever to make their games fit, but now I feel like there isn’t an effort to compress data enough. At least make higher quality assets optional for downloadable games and during installation of normal ones.
CelicaCrazed: I wish developers would learn to respect our time more. I know games are expensive and they want to give us the most bang for our buck, but I feel like they could deliver a tighter, more enjoyable game if they trimmed the fat. Less retreading maps, less identical corridors, less tedious collectathons, less cautious AI, less unnecessary plot points. I rather have a short, replayable campaign than a sprawling one that struggles to hold my attention to the end.
lordxmugen: NO INGAME TUTORIALS!!! Seriously, they always amount to wasted time i could spend just PLAYING THE FUCKING GAME. I dont want to learn shit unless its a goddamn fighting game. At which point, your shit better be ON POINT. It feels like for several hours, the controls and the game is basically taken from me so i can see a stupid fucking villager/family member/guard/king/fairy/bullshitmaster talk about how A is supposed to make me fucking JUMP! NO SHIT SHERLOCK!! Ive only played Super Mario Bros for close to 30 YEARS!! Next thing your gonna tell is “Air is good. Breathe more!” If a person cant be bothered to use a real or otherwise digital instruction manual, then they probably either shouldnt be playing games anyway or theyve played so many of them that concept of instructions is pointless. And i remember when games had some badass instruction manuals too! With beautiful art and lots of hidden lore in them. What happened to that shit?! I want more of that! And Nintendo is the worst at it because they will spend hours telling you about the dumbest shit in the universe. Remember Fi? They fucking made that robot bitch princess. Just…..just stop please.
TricerArocK: What I want is for publishers to stop being so trashy that I refuse to support good developers. EA, Activision, and WB are publishers that immediately come to mind. I LOOOOVE Mortal Kombat, IX was pretty much perfect…but having a DLC beg on the title screen of X? You can fuck right off with that.
Try harder to make separate versions of your games for Nintendo and PC. The capabilities are different. Anyone remember when developers made different versions of games? Batman and Robin Genesis/SNES, Sparkster, Quake 2 for PS1/N64, Doom 64, Powerslave for Saturn/PC/PS1. I would like to see that again.
TheBlondeBass: There’s still room for colorful platformers with a budget behind them. Mario platformers sell very well, particularly the New Super Mario Bros series. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy is selling like cupcakes. Last year’s Ratchet & Clank was another huge success. And while Gravity Rush isn’t nearly as big, it’s very close to my heart.
So yeah, don’t be afraid of that genre.
MeeGhoulz: To achieve an understanding of DLC as complementary content ,not missing parts of the original experience. A long time fan favorite fighting game that releases its last version with a dozen characters and charge you for ”new” characters is disrespectful to the fanbase. On the other hand if it releases with 20+ characters ,given its enormous cast along its versions, and offers you cosmetic enhancements as outfits and acessories as DLC, which is completely optional to enjoy the game, then it’s alright. Full priced games = full gaming experience. Used fighting games as an example, but ”campaign” games where the full story only is uncovered by DLC are even worst.
MeanderBot: Art design > graphics. It’s why Wind Waker still looks better than pretty much any game from that generation, save Vanillaware games for the exact same reason.
Salador: Can you please treat devs better by lessening ‘crunch’? I know that, in any industry the end of a project is a very busy period, where people often work overtime, but it’s disheartening to hear when crunch period last for months on end (the most recent case being Mass Effect Andromeda). If you treat your devs better, they’ll be more productive and make better games, which will sell more. Everyone wins.
Parismio: Please use other voice actors other than Nolan North and Troy Baker.
DaddyZ: I don’t have any friends. Please stop making games that require friends. I only buy multi-player games, so that when my mom comes over once a month to make sure I haven’t died, I can point at it and say, “Oh, yeah. I play this with my internet friends.” The game is in its shrink wrap, but she has really bad glaucoma and doesn’t notice. I don’t have internet friends. Everyone everywhere dislikes me in equal measure.
Please make at least a few games a year that when I play them by myself they don’t feel as empty and hollow as the rest of my life. Thank you.
siddartha85: Look, I had this whole thing about taking risks and artistic pride, but it all leads back to this central problem. We call it art and publishers call it a product. They don’t respect it, even when the devs do. I like to say that either something is art or it’s not art. You can’t just take the convenient halves of each. We take this stuff seriously and I don’t think EA or Activision respects it the same way. You don’t plunk down a slot machine in the middle of an art installation. I know money has to be made, but the music industry sees no need to sell Pepsi or Hot Pockets in the middle of a rock song. The movie industry may advertise, but they don’t sell blind-boxes of random scenes of a movie. What other artistic industry looks to casinos as an aspirational ideal? If video games are art, their AAA publishers are whoring them like no other art form.
We the fans care enough about video games to war with each other over stuff like diversity, implicit messaging and sexism in games. Imagine the game like a mural to cover a building or an album of music. Imagine it as a poem read in public. One day, some great or terrible person will find their inspiration in a video game and that will change the course of history. That has probably already happened more than once. The attitude is all wrong. Don’t be jealous of a casino’s money, be jealous of the immortal influence of great artists. That is your premium currency.
So developers and publishers, you say you listen to your fans. Well, here is, in the clearest terms possible, what it is we love about gaming and what we think you should probably change. The ball is in your court.