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A selection of topics mirrored from http://blog.booncotter.com

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Rant: Games Are Too Easy To Make

[color="#ff0000"]LANGUAGE WARNING: MA15+ [/color]

If you're involved in any way with the game industry, I'd bet money you've heard someone say "Games are too easy to make these days". If it wasn't uttered by one of your coder colleagues, perhaps it was during kitchen-meet gossip. You might have stumbled upon a heated thread on a game development website full of programmers wailing and gnashing their teeth in righteous indignation. Or maybe you read it in the subtext when Steve Jobs slammed the banhammer down on Adobe Flash, apparently out of fear of a slew of crappy games flooding the market. As opposed to all of the masterpieces that currently grace the iTunes App store.

If we make it too easy for people to release games, then we'll have too many bad games on the market. Right? Isn't that how it usually goes?

Well, I don't disagree with the symptom. It's why I made the snide remark about iTunes. But I'm going to go right ahead and smack down over the insinuation that these bad games are being made by people who wouldn't know how to make games if toolkits like Unity and UDK didn't exist.

In other words: Bad games, according to the sway of conversation, are the fault of non-programmers.

You know what? Get off your fucking high horse.

I'm getting pretty resentful of this elitist and exclusive attitude. Often when it's not being literally stated, it's there between the lines in the way beginners and *spit* *spit* artists are treated with impatience or sometimes outright disdain on programmer centric forums. So I wildly underestimated the amount of code involved in what I thought was a simple action: on no the end is nigh. Yawn. Let me assume by your latest efforts that you wildly overestimated your artistic talents, and we'll call it even, k?

So it's the internet, and everyone's an asshole. I'm not a princess about it, usually, and it doesn't bother me, usually. But today, I read a post on a community forum that seemed laced with derision, entirely constructed to tear down the naive game maker - a youthful optimist, nonetheless - who woe be him does not come from a programmer background. It rubbed me in a way I do not like to be rubbed, and a ranting, obviously, ensued.

I should temporarily shut off the steam and say in big bold letter that I know a few programmers who I worked with in the past who I do not at all refer to in this post. In fact, I can only think of four people I've actually met in real life who do have this attitude. Sadly, one of them was a CEO.

But if you've read previous posts you'd probably know that a programmer colleague, James Podesta, has been helping me with code and design. I have no intention of biting the hand that feeds. I do suspect that he agrees in essence with the fact that accessibility to game development is resulting in more crappy games, however I would hope that he doesn't jump on that bandwagon of artist/designer/daydreamer hate that shovels the blame onto our underpaid shoulders.

It's made more difficult to argue my case here when one considers that improvements have been made to my game already through James' input. Without him, the movement wouldn't feel quite so nice. I would have eventually solved the collision bug, I'm sure, but it's those anecdotal tips and tricks that make the real difference, such as the 0.2 second fall-jump buffer.

But I'm going to use that example to argue that game development should be even easier. We've heard it a hundred times before: Graphics are not gameplay*. Well, guess what, neither is code. OMG GASP, RIGHT? No one gives a shit about your programming. No one in the real world, anyway. Your designers and artists will love you for it, and appreciate how your skills contributed to the product. You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But if you're going to argue that the polygons I push together are nothing more than a necessary component of the construction, far less than the sum of the parts, then explain to me why your lines of script are any different?

We can probably agree that all our consumers care about is the end product: Does it feel good? Does the aesthetic inform the gameplay? Do I have enough challenge and enough motivation to continue playing?

So all it's about is making good games. That's it. Who gives a fuck how you did it? If you take away the barriers to game development, then you open the door to more people who have a story to tell, an idea to sell, a concept to show off, and a real creative talent to make something entertaining and of quality.

Just because you have the rare technical proficiencies necessary to construct a game, does not guarantee that your game is any good. This has always been the case. Even when programmers were the only ones making games.

* I actually believe that graphics are gameplay, but I'll save that shitstorm for another post.

NOTE: This post is mirrored from my personal blog at http://blog.booncotter.com




Creativity: Influence vs Individuality

From time to time I am involved in conversation about the creative industries. A shocking revelation, no doubt. Nevertheless, I find that there's a topic which frequently arises (particularly among students and newcomers) and that is the question of influence versus individuality. There seems to be a common assumption that to earn creative integrity one must develop a personal style - a unique artistic vocabulary - which is utterly devoid of external influence. None of us are strangers to the desire to make a mark; to sign the world with our own unique signature. But what a huge burden it is to expect to earn that mark without influence. Imagine if all industries imposed the same expectations on their practicioners: Would you want to be operated upon by a surgeon who believed he could figure it all out himself?

Well, this isn't surgery, and I don't meant to speak as though I have a lifetime of experience: I am myself only just beginning my creative journey in most respects, and anyone who knows me could attest to how much I have to learn. But nevertheless, I feel I've mostly overcome the creative self-consciousness of having a noisy inner critic.

And I understand just how brutally uncompromising he can be.

I'm no stranger to the fear of being labelled 'derivative'; branded a plagiariser, fleeing the midnight mob of artistic masters that are my peers, amongst angry shouts of "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!" But to grow as a creative individual, you need to move beyond the impossible expectations that an inexperienced inner critic demands.

If you would indulge me (and perhaps pretend I'm a wizened old magister of the creative industries with real wisdom to impart rather than a 30-something neckbearded nerd with pacman tattooes), I'd like to talk a bit about creativity and influence.

And why you should probably just get over yourself.

The real problem with being afraid of influence (or afraid of acknowledging it) is that your influences will have some of the biggest impact on you maturing as an artist. Unless you're the single most talented individual on the planet who was enjoying sell out shows by age 4 and is now a retired billionaire who spends his teenage years endorsing arts academies and politely declining the Archibald prize for your napkin doodles on the grounds that any more avant-garde statuettes in your house would dangerously unbalance the Earth's axis, I'm going to bet that you don't know it all. And yet, for many of us, the struggle to find artistic identity entirely on our own is a kind of brutally masochistic right of passage.

There was a time when I wouldn't be caught dead emulating someone else's style. Discovering that there was an artist out there whose work or ideas were similar to mine was mortifying. I'd be desperately assuring my peers that my work had been produced in isolation from this other creator, to the point of arguing so aggressively that I surely looked guilty as all hell of counterfeit. I even became afraid of exposing myself to new work out of fear that someone would be doing something remotely similar.

Then I was exposed to the writing of Carl Jung and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. And someone who kindly translated it all for me.

Jung and Csikszentmihalyi are considered among the most influential forefathers of modern psychology, particularly relating to the reflective, cognitive, and practical processes of creativity. I recommend doing some related reading. I'm a low-brow kind of guy myself (I feel much more at home with Dean Koontz than Nietzsche) and I find reading Jung's and Csikszentmihalyi's work is a lot like how I imagine it'd feel to stuff my skull full of cotton wool and then play an aggressively competitive game of Boggle. In Scandinavian. While drunk. And being beaten around the head with a sock full of wet tissues.

But in essence, what it boils down to (thank you, university notebook) is that the act of creation, in all of its artistic varieties, can be most simply described as a three step process of big words:

Appropriation Fragmentation Retextualisation
Appropriation refers to the act of acquiring; collecting; gathering; hoarding. We appropriate everything: Movies, music, books, conversations, emotions, that particular way the sun hit the road as we were driving to work this morning... And this becomes our library of experience from which we draw inspiration and influence. As creative individuals, we should want access to the most comprehensive source of references available, and that means expanding our mental library as much as we can.

Fragmentation, more or less, means that we break down those things we gather into simple elements. The film The Matrix becomes 'broody guy' in a 'leather trench' discovers 'world is virtual' and 'real world is apocalyptic' and learns to 'flip around in slow motion'. More or less. Those fragments become entities in themselves, which we then...

...Retextualise into something new and wonderful.

This is the psychology of creativity, and assuming you aren't a new kind of superhuman whose brain operates in ways we cannot comprehend, this applies to you.

And it isn't rocket science (despite needing a degree, extensive linguistics training, and a second tongue to pronounce 'Csikszentmihalyi'). What it is, is validation. Don't be afraid to be influenced by the people, the things, and the aspects of your art form, which surround you. In fact you should demand it, because these things will only make you better at what you do.

A common attribute amongst all of the most talented and creative individuals I have worked with is that each has dedicated many hours of their time to gathering a mental library of references from which to draw inspiration and guidance. This is without exception.

So, don't be a princess about your work, don't be so desperate to reinvent the creative wheel, and don't waste time struggling to generate your style in a creative vaccuum. Expose yourself to as much artistic influence as you can. Saturate yourself in it. Your own style will just happen.

But why did I decide to rant about this? Well, I was once again thinking about the game I'm working on. It's incredibly derivative: Braid, Fez, Limbo it is not. But do I care? Not at all. Don't get me wrong: Those games are incredible examples of our art, and a brilliant argument for investing in uniqueness and originality in your product. As a matter of fact, I have a few ideas of my own floating around in my cotton-stuffed skull which, to my knowledge, are comparitively unique concepts, containing (or in some cases built upon) new gameplay, new story, and/or new aesthetics.

So why am I then resorting to... plagiarism? (Said as he crosses himself)

Well, I make this homage (see whut I did thar?) for a couple of reasons, both creative and practical. Talking about the creative first: I love the things which influence this project, namely the classic 8-bit platformers of my youth such as the Wonderboy series (in particular, Wonderboy III: The Dragon's Trap on the Sega Mastersystem). Not many people make those kinds of games any more. I'm making it for me, and I sincerely hope that I do a well enough job that others enjoy the experience (when it's released in 2032).

And the practical aspects: I'm new to this, but I'm not new to the creative individual that I am. I know my faults; that I can become bogged down in detail, and that unecessary complication can overwhelm and then innevitably disenchant me to an idea. So practicality demands that for this project, which is about me learning the how rather than exploring the greater question of why, I should simplify where possible. Realistically, I should be making a Pong clone before broaching the subject of a microcosm platform adventure with RPG elements, but then I also know that if it isn't challenging enough, I'll lose interest.

So, put simply: I'm making an homage to Wonderboy because I want to. Fun for the sake of fun, so to speak. For now I'll leave the groundbreaking to people far more technically capable than I.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with my inner critic, and I suggest that if you're one of the people who are struggling to find their signature, you do the same. I know he exists to protect me from things such as, oh, I don't know, removing my clothes and running down the street singing Always by Erasure. But nevertheless, he really needs to STFU sometimes.

[size="3"]NOTE: This post is mirrored from my blog.



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