11/02/2010

11-02-10 - Video Games need better directors

1. No that kid you hired from Full Sail cannot write good dialogue. There's an absurd arrogance in video game makers that think the story and dialogue are sort of trivial secondary things, and some random game designer can take care of them. Lots of game developers/designers fancy themselves as screenwriters and think they have great ideas. No you don't. You need actual writers to write stories, you need to buy scripts, and you need to hire dialogue specialists to fill in the speech.

There's absolutely no reason why video game stories should be so much worse than movies or other media, but they are, almost uniformly. I mean really, it's like embarassing, cringe-worthy, it's literally like watching student films, because that's what it is - amateur.

2. Games are just full of ridiculous boring badly designed moments that I can't believe would ever pass an executive review. I can only conclude that pretty much all games ever have not been seriously reviewed. By that I mean :

When the game is near done, assemble the producers and executives and creative directors and so on, put them in a room together with somebody to play the game. The person playing should not be one of the game developers, ideally it's someone who's never touched the game before (maybe someone from the publisher's test unit). Now just sit there and watch the game play through from start to finish and review it.

I gaurantee you when the game goes through "okay now take this apple and walk to other side of the universe to deliver it to the apple pie maker" any sane reviewer would be like "oh my god this is ridiculous, cut this".

It's important that the playthrough is not done by a developer or someone familiar with the game, because they will be able to get through the tedious parts quickly. It's important to see someone unfamiliar with the controls struggle with the first jumping puzzle for 30 minutes. Then the reviewer can go "okay this is fucking ridiculous, you need better hints here, this needs to be easier at first, etc."

There are way too many moments in games where if you stop and think "why am I doing this?" , it's not because it's fun, it's not because it advances the story, it's just sheer busy work. I think way too much game design is done simply to fill levels and not with specific thinking about why you are doing it. eg. some junior designer gets a directive to fill out a level, and he puts in some random side quest, drops down people to fight. So then the player is fighting the same type of enemy for the upteenth time and asks "why the fuck am I doing this over and over?".

I think the comparison to movies, while not exactly analogous, is useful. A 2 hour movie is a bunch of little scenes, and a good director has gone over every single scene and where it fits in that time and how long it is, and has a reason for every scene - it develops mood or a character or advances the plot or whatever. If it's boring and pointless, it just gets cut. A game is the same thing. In a 10-20 hour game, there's no reason it should be full of boring pointless play moments, a good director should be able to go over a whole playthrough experience and ask "why is this battle here?" if it's for no reason, you should cut it (or fix it). It's very rare to see anyone in video game production who thinks of the player's time as a valuable resource that they shouldn't just be wasting on moments that aren't that great.

One of the big problems with games is inconsistency. Even in great games, there is usually some portion that's just awful, tedious or frustrating. The directors need to be more aggressive about just cutting these stinker parts. Of course this problem is much worse in big RPG's or "open world" games, where some of the side quests may be quite fun and well developed and I'd like to do them, but others are really terrible.

Bleh, I really shouldn't play games, they just make me really angry about how shitty they are.

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old rants