To Dev or Not To Dev

There’s a strange sequence of events that occurred today regarding how a few game developers poking a little fun at a gaming news blog escalated into something that the original writer didn’t intend. I’m not going to turn this into a non-existent witch hunt but instead write about my interest in this.

Late last month I tried to apply for an editorial position at a local video game developer, I think most people assumed that I just wanted to play free games or something like that. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. To put it simply, I’m the kind of guy that buys original DVDs and Blu-rays primarily for the behind the scenes footage and commentary. I like to know how the sausage is made.

It’s the main reason why I don’t sell my games off after I’ve finished them. I like to have them around like books in a library so that when a more recent game comes out and uses similar mechanics or alludes to a previous work I will have the game on hand to look up and compare. It’s interesting to me to see how something has evolved over time and also look at things both in context and out of context at the time of release.

Context is very important, because there are very few games that go beyond their initial sales period. Star Wars can still resonate 40 years later because you can watch it on TV, on your computer or on your phone. That experience changes slightly if you use a different medium but the movie remains mostly the same (outside of George Lucas’ new additions). However, old video games can’t transcend their hardware. Not that every game is a masterpiece, but 80% or more of these games are held back because the game is incompatible with the hardware and you can’t play them anymore.

Because of this, we talk about games in relation to their hardware. In people’s minds, there are better graphics, better control method, better something. Unlike movies, I don’t think I’ve heard how a movie is worse off because people watched it on their tablets or that watching it in a cinema is something worth shouting on top of the mountains as being a much superior way of experiencing it compared to watching at home. All this, is just a long way of saying, we see movies as they are without relating them to the technology that you use to watch them.

Video games experiences, however, are so intrinsically linked to the code and hardware but how much we appreciate what goes on behind the scenes is almost next to none. From design to techniques used to get the game up and running on a multitude of hardware while looking as good as it could be. Most of the time, we can only speculate about the techniques being used. Movie sites aren’t afraid to announce that Christopher Nolan is going to use an IMAX camera in his next movie and with that news we can make an educated guess as to how the movie will look like. But the inverse is more commonly true for games.

It could just be because of how it’s proprietary technology and code. Games are still commercial products and most publishers will be hesitant to share information about what tech they are using in their next game. As such, we get excited over the next product from a game developer through their trailers and the PR speak trying to sell their game. But the end product could be so vastly different to our expectations that the consumers bite back.

So we take aim at the individual developers themselves, without making informed arguments. It’s so much a team effort that things are so intrinsically tied that it’s absurd for any one person to be the sole blame for the failings of a product. But I do have to ask myself, is it because we don’t know enough how games are made or is it because of the ambitions of the developers that caused them to not have the time to finish and polish their products?

Which is why I want to make the jump to the development side. It’s not for the dream of making a game or take the side of the developer against the consumer but to have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. There are resources like Gamasutra and even documentaries like Double Fine’s development of Broken Age but there’s an appreciation that comes from being in the trenches day in and day out with them.

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