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March 16, 2005

Comments

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock

Gotta disagree with you on the "Blue Square" thing. For starters, WoW is essentially a very well-designed MUD with pretty graphics - as a number of my friends' lower-than-expected degrees testify, the Blue-Square (or all-text in this case) version of a MUD is very fun and addictive indeed.

Likewise, even if Halo had sub-Doom graphics, the gameplay is a good deal more complex and interesting than Doom or Wolfenstein - and I seem to recall they were slightly fun in their day too.

I'm less sure about DMC and GTA, but I can't off the top of my head think of a game the fun factor of which is entirely driven by pretty graphics.

Wyatt

In some cases it also depends on the quality of your blue squares. If the art is an essential part of the gameplay because it communicates concepts to the player, then what you need is placeholder art that communicates this intent, while still being obviously placeholder.

A simple example would be a room with a lever to open the door. Your lever hasn't been modelled yet. Do you put a huge blue box in it's place instead? Probably not. Put in place-holder art that obviously looks like a lever so the intent of the art is communicated.

Similarly, if I were prototyping Devil May Cry, I'd probably import neutral monsters from another game and remove their textures. But I definitely want to fight monsters with strong silhouettes because reading the facing and stance of the monsters is part of the gameplay. Then I'd steal (errr... borrow) a bank of sounds from another game and make sure you have all the appropriate hit sounds since audio tends to be high bang for the buck when it comes to giving combat a tactile feel. With all these placeholder assets you can still make a reasonable estimation of where the game is headed.

In reality your art team is probably doing something while you're prototyping the game and when it comes time for the demo in 3 months you'll have animations for your main character, real hit sounds, blood particles and placeholder-geometry for the environments.

Patrick

I think Ron is 100% correct.

On the blue-squares issue, my take is similar to Wyatt's. If the squares can communicate most of what they need to, then they are an acceptable replacement. My current thinking is that lighting and animations are the most important parts – they’ll communicating space, depth, posture, silhouettes, etc. Not to mention, sooo much gameplay is animation and level-design driven.

For the most part everything else could be flat diffuse colors from a very limited palette.

Rob Stevens

I've got to go with everyone else on this: if it takes detailed characters, environments, objects, etc. to make your game fun, something is fundamentally wrong with your mechanics. The graphics will certainly magnify the fun, since Dante slaughtering a bat with a multi-hit combo is far more gratifying than attacking a floating blue mass. But if hitting the right combination of buttons to pull off that combo on the floating blue mass doesn't feel good, no amount of art direction will fix it.

Since no one else had attempted to grapple with this one, I'll address the marketing piece. First, it's horseshit. It's FUD spread by the publishers to make people THINK that you can't compete with massive marketing budgets. After all, the only advantages publishers have are deep pockets and retail connections. Get rid of both, and publishers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Advertising works, but it's starting to become less and less effective as people use technology to get the hard-sell out of their lives. Ad Blockers for browsers, DVR technology to fast-forward commercials, satellite radio to eliminate commercials from their drive time ...

You need to get ahead of this curve and use the one thing that always works ... have a great game, and get the word of mouth working for you early. One thing that companies are doing more and more now is flying journalists out to check out early games, and report on them. Fuck that. Find some outspoken ordinary individuals writing blogs, and fly them out to check out your game. Find those people that are connectors, and impress them, and if the game is great, they'll do your promotion for you. They'll start fan-sites, they'll spread the word, and it'll be more believable than Joe-Magazine-Reviewer who gets paid to talk about the game, and accepted three ads for the same game in that magazine.

I think it's funny how few companies out there, despite working in an industry that is so artistically driven, are incapable of thinking outside the box when faced with a no-win situation. Maybe it's just because marketing, promotion, and customer relations is sort of my strength, but the absolute second you start thinking you can't compete with a $20M budget is the moment you've lost. The best way to counter money is with moxie. :)

Patrick

Rob-

I'm going to agree and disagree with you. I agree that advertising is WAY overrated, and that a grass-roots effort is the way of the future... especially for games. Interactive products should have interactive promotions, right?

BUT, those things still cost money to pull off. Flying bloggers to your office costs money. Planning a strategic grassroots campaign that will actually be effective takes lots of time from talented people. Few of them will do it for free, and the game designers who know how to do it will be busy making games.

So yes, screw "advertising." But all "marketing" (be it traditional or out of the box) costs $$$.

Rob Stevens

Sure it costs money ... so does development, but we're quickly reaching a level where advertising budgets are eclipsing development budgets, and that's patently ridiculous. There's simply little need left for massive advertising budgets when there are smarter, more cost-effective ways to achieve a similar level of awareness. I'd argue that I could probably achieve those results on one-fifth the budget, if not less. The remaining money can be spent where it SHOULD be spent ... on making the game better.

Patrick

Amen to that brother.

Nathan McKenzie

I don't think I would have liked a blue square Ico very much. I love Ico.

Halo's indoor levels, graphically, aren't too much better than blue squares, so I guess your point is proven ;) If you look at them from a bird's eye view (like in any good strategy guide), they actually fall somewhere between Wolf3d and Doom 1 in their complexity, too. The enemies are certainly more complex in their behavior, though, as are the weapon and shield mechanics.

Monkey Island 3, sans graphics and sound, would have been unappealing to me. I think Monkey Island 3 is fantastic.

Call of Duty without its graphics and sounds would have been infuriating to me, instead of alternately infuriating and compelling.

...

My typical theory is that games can be good both for experiential reasons and gameplay / interactive reasons. Tetris Attack is a stunning game (to me), but not much of an experience the way Call of Duty is. The more a game is reliant on its experiential elements (such as Ico is), the less a blue box demo is a good indicator of how good it will be (and, generally, the less replayable the game will be too).

Rob Stevens

I'm not entirely sure that you're grasping the point, Nathan. In terms of making sure that the game itself is fun, then the feel of the gameplay should be able to stand up to having incredibly simple geometry and textures. In no way is anyone suggesting that you should ship a game in that condition, as graphical fidelity is usually the first thing to sell a game to the casual observer (sad though it is). All we're saying is that an excellent test of whether or not the gameplay works, and is fun in and of itself, is to test it with very limited graphics. For example, Shigeru Miyamoto and the designers under his tutalege at Nintendo will often great just simple boxes of varying heights simply to see how a jumping puzzle can be laid out, and to test whether or not the act of jumping feels right.

In short, the type of gameplay is largely irrelevant to whether or not it will survive the "blue box" test. Your gameplay either works or it doesn't. To use your Call of Duty example, it's even easier! In a blue box test, you should be able to navigate around the boxes at a speed that feels natural (moving the camera around), get into a prone position (which is really just lowering the camera), zoom in (again, another camera trick) fire small blue projectiles to knock down large blue targets, etc. If that all feels like it works, then you can add all the bell and whistles. This of it this way ... if shooting a tiny blue box at a large blue box feels good and natural, imagine how much better it's going to feel when that box has a face, can scream in pain, and blood sprays out when shot?

Nathan McKenzie

Rob:

I'm not at all suggesting that games ship with lousy artwork (my dig at Halo was just me being snide). I'm suggesting that there are categories of games where the blue box test isn't meaningful because the focus of the game is embedded in the presentation or the experience of the game world / artwork / immersion / etc.

What I was trying to say is that there are games that I consider really pretty successful at what they're trying to do that would, by any reasonable measure, fail the blue box test, because their core interactivity isn't particularly inspired or interesting, since it's not their focus.

Jamie was arguing that certain popular games, if they were were stripped of their artwork and sound and story and context, wouldn't be particularly compelling. That's what I'm agreeing with.

Quake1 DM would pass the blue box test. Street Fighter 2 would pass it. Go and Chess would pass it. NHL 93 would pass it. Diablo2 would pass it (which it does, as Nethack). Super Mario Brothers would pass it, I imagine.

I don't think that Monkey Island 3 would pass it, or Ico, or Myst, because so much of what makes those games work is about their artwork and world and immersion and player empathy and so on... and that's what they're aiming for. They might still techincally be PLAYABLE with blue boxes... but I don't think they'd be recognizable as great or even good games.

I was also saying that I think, given a blue box version of Call of Duty, that the game wouldn't be especially fun, because so much of what worked about CoD has to do with their presentation of war, and the atmosphere, and how they sell the experience. If I had a blue box version of that game, it would just be an exercise in my blue box being blown up randomly and me reloading while being pissed off. Maybe this is just my way of saying that, for me, single player Call of Duty succeeds as an experience but fails as a game, but for what they seemed to be aiming for, that's still likely a success.

So I might not be grasping what people are saying, but mostly I think I'm just disagreeing, or saying it's maybe too simple of a model (despite the fact that most of my favorite games of all time would pass the blue box test with flying colors).

Aaron

Rob - I don't think it's realistic to think marketing is any less fundamental in making a game successful than the publishers are supposedly making us think. Granted, this depends entirely on how you define your game being competitive or successful; but the fact remains that making a good game does not result in good sales. Sometimes the two coincide, but there is little, if any relation. Take Prince of Persia (the highly praised recent one) as an example. Prince of Persia was blessed with glorious gushing from game reviewers around the world and even people like Penny Arcade who ride the boundary between game critics and bloggers who enjoy games as a hobby. Yet, Prince of Persia was not very successful commercially. I don't know exactly how much money it made or what Ubisoft's expectations were for it; but the game was unsuccessful enough that they significantly changed portions of it for the sequel; to the chagrin of all of the first game's fans. It seems that, in this case, having a "good" game only persuaded the developers (or publisher, whoever made the decision for the direction of the second game) to keep the name and change major parts of the game that all the fans enjoyed the first time around so that they could try to snag all those millions of people who didn't buy the first game.
Ultimately, having a good game will probably ensure the profitability of a highly marketed series in the short term (assuming sequels are on the way and/or the original team remains in control of sequels), but having the marketing in the first place seems to dictate success rather than the game's quality. Just look at any movie tie in game.

Rob Stevens

Nathan ...

I would point out that the examples of games that would fail the test, with the notable exception of Ico, were 2D Adventure games, and for the most part, there really isn't any action-oriented gameplay at all. In that limited case ... yes, I would agree that this test would not be applicable. However, another test would ... the old "choose your own adventure" type text treatment world suffice to test your story elements. :)

Aaron,

Prince of Persia had a whole different problem ... the game was released along side several other AAA titles by the same publisher, all in the same week! That was terrible planning. POP did well, as did Splinter Cell, but the mistake killed Beyond Good & Evil dead ... a game that really struck an emotional chord with those that did manage to get it. No amount of marketing was going to fix a scheduling blunder, so I think my original point stands.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game