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Wavinator

Can we make game pilots?

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I just finished playing the action-adventure game "Project Eden," which I thought was an awesome game. However, as good as I thought it was, nobody I know has played it, and it went into the bargain bin much more quickly than deserved. It bummed me out to read in an interview that the creators had been working on it for 2 1/2 years. Most games flop. Looking at Eden has had me thinking about lower risk "game pilots," which would be like TV program pilots. Essentially, they''d be a lower risk way of testing the waters for public interest. I think the main barrier would be how the audience would react to an unfinished game. I remember Blizzard got a lot of flak for using the Warcraft engine to demo the development of Starcraft. Initially, many game reporters were moaning that it was simply going to be "Orcs in Space" and a failure. So the main problem for games, as opposed to TV shows, is that you have to spend a lot of effort upfront just to show an idea. Are there any ways around this? What about using existing engines and content along with mock-up screenshots to show intent? Or what about even releasing somewhat crude prototypes to show gameplay? I''m imagining a few game levels with no voice acting, very simple textures / gfx, and limited SFX, using a free or low cost game engine... all with an online registration system that asked questions about whether or not you''d play this game if this or that were improved or changed. What do you think? What designs would support game pilots? -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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Your analogy is off.

TV shows are meant to be watched one show at a time. They are produced one at a time.

Levels of a game are part of one product. They aren''t meant to exist individually.

Basically what you are describing is, aptly enough, eposidic content. If you give people demos with low production quality they will balk. It might be ok to show behind closed doors at a trade show, but now way will the general public go for it.

If you want to go an episodic route you can skimp on initial content but the production value must be there. That means an engine, sound fx, nice textures, voice, the whole deal.

How low risk would a game pilot really be? To produce one you would need an engine, which if you are making yourself is already a substantial committment. (No, you cannot use a different engine for the "pilot" than for the real game, that is asking for trouble) You need enough content to give people a taste, excersize the engine, show key features, etc.

So basically, you are going to have a full set of programmers, but only a few art and level design people. How much money does that save. And note that if your game IS popular, you will hit a delay when you have to finish up the content. Ideally your content is being produced at the same time the programming is done. If you produce this "pilot" you are making the process serial rather than concurrent.

What you are proposing, rather than a movie pilot, sounds similar to asking if you could film just half of a movie and then test it to see if audiences like it or not. The answer is going to be no you can''t, 95% of the time. (Yes, they often test unfinished movies, but they are normally 90% complete at least)

Basically for a game it seems that once you are far enough so that a demo or pilot accurately reflects the finished product you have probably spent most of your money.

However I am all for prototyping in-house as soon as possible to judge how the game is going along. Throwing things out to the general public before they are ready though sounds like disaster. Lots of times demos with problems can really hurt games, and what you are proposing is potentially far worse than that.

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Well, if we had episodic games (which is a pretty cool idea in itself), the pilot thing would probably work. Create a lower quality beta or technology demo that shows of some of the basic gameplay, characters, graphics, etc. and if it''s well received produce a whole series. It may be worth the cost if you''re using an engine for another proven (or at least less risky) product. In that case, the technology costs wouldn''t be that great, and the art assets would be pretty low (because you''re only producing a single level or episode of the game.)

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Good points AnonPoster. You''re right, my analogy only works for episodic content.

quote:

However I am all for prototyping in-house as soon as possible to judge how the game is going along. Throwing things out to the general public before they are ready though sounds like disaster.


I know that there are some examples where protos were tested on QA for general interest. Subspace actually became a game this way.

What factors make it okay to test on QA? Pay and company allegiance obviously, but what else? I remember when I worked in QA we got rough demos all the time, and for some reason we were MUCH more willing to give a rough product a break if we could play it enough to see that it had potential.

I wonder if there''s some way of getting the public into limited "alpha testing," by telling them that they''ll be a part of the design and get credited and maybe even be financially rewarded somehow...


--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Most games flop. Looking at Eden has had me thinking about lower risk "game pilots," which would be like TV program pilots. Essentially, they''d be a lower risk way of testing the waters for public interest.

You mean shareware?

Ok, so it''s not quite the same thing, but the idea is similar - distribute a cut down version of the game to make people aware of it and want to pay for more. The main issue is that if you make people wait while you develop the successive episodes, their interest tends to wane and they buy something else.

I think the real answer is the one that I think applies to game development in general - we need to be reusing more resources. The industry isn''t profitable enough to spend 2 years and millions of dollars on each game. Really, 95% of games need to be using someone else''s engine and adpating existing art/sound in order to guarantee financial viability. And who knows, maybe the development time will be spent more on the game itself that way.

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quote:
Original post by Kylotan
I think the real answer is the one that I think applies to game development in general - we need to be reusing more resources. The industry isn''t profitable enough to spend 2 years and millions of dollars on each game. Really, 95% of games need to be using someone else''s engine and adpating existing art/sound in order to guarantee financial viability. And who knows, maybe the development time will be spent more on the game itself that way.



I agree. Too much time is sometimes spent on the latest, greatest graphics engine, and nohting on gameplay. When I bought Delta Force(the first one), I told a friend about it and he said, "That sucks, the graphics engine is six months behind the times" and he never even played the game yet. I found it fun, without even looking at the graphics.

Another great example is Thief. The graphics were only average and the animations were somewhat limited, but the game was so immersive, I didn''t care.

Anyway, back on topic, I think the idea of limited public alpha testing is a good one. Most of the time when you get gamers to register for a test, they are hardcore and understand that in this stage, there are bugs. So in alpha test, you can let them know that not everything is in there, but rate what is there and list some improvements you would make.

---
Make it work.
Make it fast.

"Commmmpuuuuterrrr.." --Scotty Star Trek IV:The Voyage Home

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You have to respond to the input from the testers then, for sure. I''ve known people that did beta testing and such, and when a product comes out with some of the same problems they repeatedly brought up in testing they are angry and never get over that. That has turned some people off of ever doing it, because despite any ''reward'' they may get for participating, they feel mistreated by developers that don''t fix the problems they point out. It can be a double-edged sword if the developers aren''t fully prepared to deal with what the ''testers'' will bring to them. There is an obligation to actually listen to them.

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quote:
Original post by Tekneek
You have to respond to the input from the testers then, for sure. I''ve known people that did beta testing and such, and when a product comes out with some of the same problems they repeatedly brought up in testing they are angry and never get over that.

Well, it goes without saying that anyone who conducts a test and then doesn''t act on the results of that test is a fool. Of course, it''s not always that simple, but there you go.

quote:
Original post by CaptainJester
Too much time is sometimes spent on the latest, greatest graphics engine, and nothing on gameplay.

Yeah. I''m not a ''gameplay bigot'' and I won''t try and claim that graphics aren''t incredibly important. After all, the game is on a computer and you are in real life... all the interfaces are important, such as graphics, sound, the keyboard and mouse, and so on. But the chances of a smaller company being able to produce an engine that rivals the Unreal or Quake engines is minimal. And there are others they could use too, many with full source code, some even free! And the licensing fees for the more expensive ones are still pretty low compared to the wages you''ll pay for a year''s development of your own engine which may never get reused at all. So they''re doing all the work themselves on the graphics, just to make a graphically inferior game anyway in 90% of cases.

I think the problem we have is that there aren''t really many engines available for anything but first person shooters. This is probably because FPS games are little more than an engine with a few counters for life and ammo. I wonder if other genres would lend themselves so well to a generic engine?

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