Archives for category: production

For me – the audio of any game is as important to the overall experience as great graphics and gameplay. Most of the music I listen to is video game music. There are too many examples of classic game music to list here – but lately I’ve gotten back into Shadow Dancer of all things…

The game is great, but nowadays I get more enjoyment out of the music than the idea of revisiting the game again. It’s something I’ve done of course (for many Mega Drive classics) – but music generally stands stronger against the test of time. That is really an indication of how important it is. There are games being made today with great soundtracks but on the whole I find they can’t compete with music created for games in the 80s and 90s. Using licensed tracks and off-the-shelf music is partly responsible for this – as is the increasing scope of games and the amount of people required to produce content – which would account for inconsistency and lack of character. Back in the days of Mega Drive it was more than likely one person would create all the music for a comparatively (by today’s standards) tiny game – if that person was good at what they did, you would have a classic soundtrack.

If you want to make a game that requires the skills of others but you don’t have any dosh you’ve no doubt had the thought of waiting until the game is released, generating sales and then using this to pay people after the fact. I don’t like this method for 3 reasons.

1. If people make the game and it fails to sell you have to live with the fact that those who helped you get nothing. Sure – you can tell yourself they knew the risks but still – I don’t like it.

2. Every project has its rough patches; and people experience highs and lows. It’s during these low periods when people drift off and lose interest. If you have a large group working together they can provide moral support and help others ride out the rough times. Worse case scenario is a small group working from home who you only keep in contact with via email and Skype – not impossible but certainly harder – and the more ambitious the project the greater the chances of failure.

Now – money doesn’t solve the problem of projects failing – but in some/most cases the pay at the end of the current milestone/month can make the difference between persevering and taking an early bath.

Anyway – the reason I touched on the subject of rewarding a percentage based on sales is because of this post by Seth Godin. What if you said to someone at the start of the project “you get half the money earned if you do all the art.” What if the game gets made and goes on to be the next Angry Birds? Would you honour the original offer? Or would you get nervous and start thinking “well, half of a gajillion dollars is too much for what he did – I’ll give the guy a hundred grand as that will still be more that what he ever thought he’d get.”

I’d tell you what I’d do – but I’ve not been in this position before so I don’t know how I’d react. But this is reason three for me not using the ‘sales-before-payment’ pitch.

3. What if I bottled it, got greedy and thought “fuck it – I’ll move to tropical resort, disconnect from my previous life, friends and society and live the rest of my days in luxury. A bottle of whiskey a day keeps the conscience at bay!”? I’d like to say I wouldn’t. But I just might!

Great art doesn’t grow on trees. Today the artist for SZB presented me with an updated quote for the project. That may make him look bad if I leave it there, but here’s some context – the artwork has been ongoing for a few months now. The start consisted mainly of semi-sporadic concept sketches followed by a fully working main character. Then came the u-turn in art style – which brought with it more concept sketches at a fairly regular pace. More recently the artwork has been flowing really well – with most graphical work done and some inroads made into basic anims. In other words – we’ve hit that crucial juncture where the path to the finish line becomes clear and so too does the amount of work required to get there. Imagine making Tomb Raider and then being asked to make Tomb Raider 2. Chances are you are going to have a good idea on how much work you have to do and how long things will take – same engine, same target platform, same people (probably), same gameplay. If your project is new making estimates is like playing pin the tail on the donkey – you might think you have good idea of where things are but when the blindfold comes off you realise the tail is on the donkey’s ear! But in a game dev environment this process is considered with such seriousness and importance that you’d be convinced it actually had value. Going back to my game the point i’m trying to make is that the artist didn’t appreciate the amount of work that was involved when making his price estimate at the start – and this has only become apparent now some work has been done. This is fair enough as far as im concerned – and you have to anticipate these situations arising. In fact, i instigated the price review by asking him to tell me how many hours and days he’d invested in the project – and looking at the animation ‘to do’ list it became obvious the original sum simply wasn’t enough. I’m not going to reveal the numbers just yet (well, one of them is 2) as im saving that for the postmortem. Needless to say – I still think the artist is giving a great rate and I can’t think of a better way to spend my hard-earned cash! Well – there are loads of things actually; but remember – a fancy laptop, designer clothes and maybe even a Cagiva Mito 125 (bellissima!) are only possessions that depreciate and turn to dust through the passage of time. A game is eternal!

If there’s one thing I hate more than anything it’s asking an artist to change something. “So why do it?” I hear you ask. Well, I have posted previously on the notion of preference vs. quality – and if it’s a preference thing I do think twice before saying something. However, if it’s a quality issue than I will request a change. Thing is, every artist (especially one not being paid a regular wage) has a breaking point – and each request takes an artist one step closer to this magical moment when tempers fray, tools are downed and projects enter limbo. Sometimes a change request is needed – and I find an artist will respond better if provided with details on why something doesn’t work, and what ideas I have to make things work (even if the artist doesn’t use them). But there’s no way around it – I hate making change requests.

Nikolay Baryshnikov (VP of Interactive Entertainment at 1C) did a great interview with last year (you’ll need to register to read the article). My favourite quote from which was this:

I might sound stupid but my honest belief is that, in the games industry, nobody has a clue, why that product is successful and that product is a failure. You can do everything right, you can have a proven IP, you can have a great marketing budget, a great game – but nobody buys it. Or you can have a game which the press say is worst game ever, has 10 per cent rating and sells like hundreds of thousands of units, day one.

It was great to read this because it’s an opinion I share also. Sure, you can analyse hits after the fact and determine why they became successful – but there’s no skill involved in that. So really the skill would be to predict which games are going to be successful – but like Nikolay says – nobody has a clue. So what’s left? All you can really do is trust your instincts and make the best game you possibly can.

Every so often I see a game and think that with a new coat of paint it could be far more successful. Space Is Key is a perfect example of this. If you watch the gameplay video it’s virtually impossible not to break into a huge grin. The gameplay is there – but the graphical style may not be to everyone’s liking. Personally I don’t mind it – I think it works well with the music and quick natured style of gameplay. It just goes to show that there are potential hits out there but they just need some TLC. Go out there and find the hidden gems! Make them your own.

A game can be broken into its parts. Truly great games are always greater than the sum of their parts – but they always start from a base of each part being created to the highest quality. Of course, making each part of your game high quality doesn’t guarantee it will be great, but your game will never be great if you sacrafice quality on any aspect. I’m going to divert from games here for a moment (but since it’s zombie related I don’t feel too guilty). Here’s a tee shirt I purchased last year:

I loved this tee shirt. Everything about the design, look and finish was amazing. But the material used for the actual tee shirt was so poor that within a very short period of time holes began to appear. My attachment was so great I contemplated keeping it just as a keepsake – but in the end I just binned it. To conclude – if you are going to put so much effort into creating something great, why neglect an aspect that undermines the entire work?