Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Games, their developers and their customers

A few things have really struck me over the past few months.

One: Making games is hard. Whether you are an indie working at home to AAA in a studio with thousands of people.

Two: Everyone who makes games are different. We all have flaws, weaknesses, strengths and motives. But we all love our craft. And we all have our own reason for wanting to make games

Three: You can work your ass off, pour your heart and soul into a game, but it doesn't mean everyone will get it.

This has all come mostly from watching Indie Game: The Movie, my past year working at a AAA studio and by extension; my lack of time for playing games.

Firstly, Indie Game: The Movie! For those who haven't seen it I recommend doing so as so as you can! It follows Team Meat on their final push and release of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish and the development of Fez, then finally a retrospective look at the development and release of Braid from Jon Blow. All the devs come across very well in the documentary, mostly for the fact we see their very human selves. These people are far from perfect. Since they are just people like ourselves. But the one thing they all have in common is their incredible drive to communicate to the rest of the world through the medium of games. The desire to create worlds and experiences for people to enjoy and by doing so, they put not only their skills, but their entire being on show for everyone to see, experience and criticise. The internet is a scary place, where people can troll others, pick them to pieces for sport and doing so anonymously. Where people can hide behind screen names and avatars and tear down years of work and dedication with just a few choice words. As Fish says "an army of ass-holes" and it's totally true.

So why do it, when there are such big stakes to play with and lose? Well, as I'm sure any artist knows, it never feels like it's a choice. It's something you just have to do. That no matter what we may lose. That we need to give it our best shot or die trying. Since all we have in this world is to try and make a positive impact on other people's lives. This is the only way we can ever feel like we have achieved what we set out to do. Whether it be with pictures you paint. Models you sculpt. Code that you build. Worlds you create. Or a life affirming experience you craft.

My time in AAA has been an interesting time to say the least. In fact my life in general has been a mish-mash of some of the best and worst times of my entire life this past year. Stuff that I will never forget and will permanently shape me for the rest of my life. It's taught me that life is hard. But that following your dreams and passions is the most important thing. That no matter what life takes from us. That we can still control our dreams and make every effort to aim straight for them.

But working in a big(ish) studio means there's a lot of pressure and things that you can't change. So you have to learn to be flexible and work with how things are. With deadlines you need give all you can to get your work done. And the pressure can be quite exhilarating but also can be a strain on both your mind and body. So, with the little freetime I have. I like to make sure I'm using my time wisely. This will normally be trying to do art work outside of work. But also catching up on the media I love; GAMES! I'm mostly a PC gamer and am very keen on classic adventure games among other. I would love to play games that are 80+ hours long, but I do not have the time nor patience. Sad fact - gamers in full time employment often have a HUGE back catalogue of games to catch up on. It was with the disappearance of my freetime that I got more into indie games. Small passion projects created by a few individuals. Normally with no budget and no publishers. These experiences are unadulterated and are about you have a direct link into that developers head.

These experiences are often very cutting edge. But while gamers love to say they love the new and exciting. They can also be a breed that is commonly scared of change. This is why so much AAA is based on iterative  sequels of well known (and well received) IP. Now, these are great, well polished games that are epic and very shiny. But being someone who comes from a background of pixel goodness with amusing writing. These games tend to miss a trick for me personally, mostly due to their lack of personality and quirks. It's hard to get personality and quirk right, but when you do, my god it's good! And so many developers who go indie share this as their ethos for making games. And aren't afraid to show it.

So, in short, please support indie devs as well as AAA. Know that if you need to feel connected to something on a more personal level, experience a crafted experience, even if it's not perfect. It will be how someone else wanted you to experience it. So vote with your nerd dollars/pounds/yen/euros, since we often forget, these are people, individuals. So if you like them, let them know by buying their games and support them in being able to make more in the future.