*Rise from your grave…*
I’ve been rather busy of late, evidence the lack of posts. The rub: we (Flashbang) are kicking the ass out of Potion Motion, our next title. If you have any interest in such things, there’s an extensive thread on the excellent AIPX Student Game Developer’s Association forum where we’ve been posting test builds and getting fantastic feedback.
On principle, I’m opposed to the concept of crunch, but there are a few exceptions I will make. One is when you’ve got the design by the tail; due designer diligence is to ride it out, to see where the design wants to take you. To be honest, we were sidetracked for quite some time, obsessing over aesthetic polish. We hadn’t user-tested design assumptions in many iterations. Bad designers. Anyhow, lesson learned. E3 was a bit wake-up call and now we finally have it by the tail, due in no small part to the many gracious participant testers we managed to round up. Many thanks to you all and a tip of the hat to Sir Joel who has taken on the role of surrogate lead tester.
It was said many times at GDC this year, and I’ve seen it in action many times before – prototypes solve everything. Make the thing, put it in front of some users and watch design arguments disappear. This is why “Advanced Prototyping” was such a hit this year, and why I believe those skilled in rapid prototyping are poised to lead the game industry into a new world. Making good games is all about iteration and iteration is a function of speed. The math is simple: the faster you can complete a single test –> observe –> change –> test cycle, the more times you’ll be able to iterate over the course of the project. The more times you iterate, the better the game gets. Unlike a painting, it’s not really possible to ‘overwork’ a game, especially a huge, sprawling videogame. The closest thing I’ve ever played to an ‘overworked’ game, I’d say, is Warcraft 3.
Despite many attempts, Warcraft 3 has never managed to hold my interest. Even when I was using it as an assignment in my class I was never able to engage with it. On the surface level, I never fell in love with the treatment, but that’s never stopped me from liking a game with a good design at its core. Warcraft 3 turns me off because the design is overpolished. It’s been played so many times in testing, the numbers balanced and rebalanced so many times, the gameplay’s gone limp. Every possible outcome and type of player has been accounted for, every strategy weighed and balanced against every other. It feels sterile, like playing a game in a vacuum. To most if not all players, this is, like every other Blizzard game, a huge win. They find enjoyment on many levels. For myself, as a designer, as someone who has at least a modicum of understanding about the nuts and bolts of creating a game, there’s just nothing left for me. There’s no interesting asymmetry, no novel mechanics, nothing for my mind to tinker with. It’s just too well balanced. Blizzard games stand as monuments of achievement in design, polish, and playbalancing, but they’ve lost their soul along the way. Give me something dirty and flawed, created by an auteur mind toiling away in some basement. Give me a tool to express myself. Give me something alive.
So, yes, there is a spectrum, and I think it is possible to overpolish a design. So few games are in danger of arriving at that point, though, that it’s pretty much safe for all designers to ignore the possibility and try to power through just one more iteration. Test, observe, change, test. Quick, before the money runs out and the game is lost forever.