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March 17, 2005



This is just my opinion... but I think a game like GTA3 has such a cool hook (getting in and out of vehicles in an open 3D world), that it would show very well as blue squares. The same goes for a game like Prince of Persia SOT, with the time-control. Sometimes a hook is just so cool that it doesn't need any art. Like the web-swinging in Spider-Man 2. I'd be sold without any art!

Obviously all these examples need animations, just not high-res models, textures, or particles. Sound is an entirely different issue though, as often sound communicates tons of information to the player. Perhaps there's a blue box equivalent for essential sound effects?

Of course I'm not the one approving multi-million dollar budgets. :-P

Rob Stevens

This is precisely why Publishers need to be getting people experienced in the game development side of things to be the ones involved in these pitch meetings. Someone who can envision what can be, instead of being so terribly literal about what they're seeing. More often than not, the publishers fund part of the process, and hope that the DEVELOPER shows them some vision within a short timeline (whether or not the timeline is reasonable based on what the publisher is expecting to see), rather than being able to extrapolate for themselves the direction and seeing if it's feasable. They just throw money at it, until the cost/benefit analysis starts to fall apart on them, then they cut bait.

This is precisely one of the reasons why I decided to go back to school and get a Business degree ... so that when I get back into the game industry proper, I can hopefully make a difference by talking to both sides in languages they understand. I think I have my work cut out for me, though.


There's a completely other point here.

Even if you had a blue-squares demo that was fun to play, I still wouldn't hand over a few million dollars if I were a publisher. Why? Well, to make a good game you need to:

1. Have a good idea/story/setting/hook (this part is relatively easy.)
2. Have good game mechanics (this part is harder)
3. Have good technology (in truth, getting easier with middleware and such)
4. Have great looking art. This is really hard!

Using Devil May Cry as an example. Hundreds of games make basic melee hack-and-slash gameplay. But Devil May Cry has far better art. Even if you blue-squared Devil May Cry to prove it's got fun gameplay - it's not an automatic gimme that publishers should just hand over money just because the prototype is fun. As a development team you need to prove to a publisher your ability to do solid game design, produce good assets (art), and do things on schedule. Bringing a blue squares demo that plays great to a pitch meeting might prove the first, but it doesn't say squat about the second and third.

Rob Stevens

We're not missing that point, Wyatt. We're just saying that it's not entirely relevant. A blue-square demo is meant to do "proof-of-concept" on numbers two and three ... and that's it. The story is a text document, and the art can probably be based off of concept sketches. But regardless, it will all fall apart without that demo. The gameplay mechanics have to be solid. Quite frankly, far too many projects are indeed being greenlighted because they have pretty pictures, and they end up with no gameplay.

There's also the fact that anyone who's worked with a publisher before can tell you that they will want to see that proof-of-concept, they'll want to see concept art, they'll want to see story ... but they also want to see a track record, they want to see who your key staff is, etc. No one is arguing that the blue-box demo is the end-all, be-all. But it's CRITICALLY important.


Which is the opposite of what Jamie's saying, which is that some games don't cross the threshold until the dressing is on the blue boxes, and so the blue-box test is misleading. Generates false negatives.

And that's even when experienced designers are looking at it! I'd never, ever, ever show a publisher blue boxes. Unless they've doubts about your ability to draw polygons; like on a new platform, say.

As a practical point, though, it takes enough iteration and testing to get your game mechanics to the point where they actually are fun that your art should be ready for it. (except for the animation/gameplay back-and-forth. yargh.)

How many games do you suppose fall into the boxes-need-dressing category? Thinking of it as "can you ruin a fun game with bad dressing?" has derailed me.

Robert 'Groby' Blum

The "blue box" is really a red herring. (Sorry - I couldn't pass that one up ;)

You're not going to demo your game with a blue box. The "blue box" is any kind of placeholder art. So, in GTA, your cars might be boxy (but still give the idea of a car), your main character is a stick figure and not completely animated - but it's enough to give you a feel for things. It needs to be just enough graphics to convince the game mechanics you planned. You won't use boxes - use stock models, old models you have around from previous attempts, anything - but you need to get your idea across.

So, again looking at GTA, the 2D version is not enough - a crucial aspect of the game is missing. Once you have a 3d world you can move around in, even if it;s just a city block or two, you have enough of an environment to check out the gameplay.

If the game isn't fun at that level, it's not fun with the dressing either. The dressing can just add to the overall atmosphere of a game. (GTA without the radio channels would still be fun, but it wouldn't be so much fun). But again, you can have an idea of that dressing through concept art, and by planning it out on paper - there's no need to build a full-fledged world to realize if a game has potential. If you want to know if it's a blockbuster, that's a different story - but this way, you can at least try to make sure it's not a crapshot.

Nathan McKenzie

The intro tram ride in Half-Life 1 is one of my favorite gaming experiences ever (although I usually want to skip it any time I try to replay Half-Life 1). With very rough place holder graphics and sounds, it wouldn't be at all obvious that it was going to work. The whole thing is about soaking up the experience of the place. In fact, I suspect the entire sequence up to the resonance cascade doo-dad would seem horrible and in need of cutting, even though I loved all of it.

Crap texture/model/animation/sound versions of Resident Evil 1-3 would almost assuredly be horrible, wouldn't they? And yet, regardless of your own opinions of those games, it's clear that they were really great to a huge swathe of players. (I personally enjoying watching people play these games but don't really enjoy them much myself).

Meh. I'm apparently the only member of the "I think Jamie is right!" fan club =)

Rob Stevens

I'm going to try to say this one last way, and then I'm done.

All of the counter-examples that people are coming up with for why a "blue-box" demo doesn't work are completely irrelvant. Why? Because that's not what you'd show if you were trying to SELL a game to a Publisher! Anyone who's ever pitched a game knows this. The first step is a solid pitch document, with concept art, storyline, risk analysis, key staff, company track record, etc. If the Publisher likes that, but has concerns, they might decide only to fund a prototype, so that they can see if the innovative gameplay idea you have will work. They will NOT be expecting top-notch production at this level ... THIS is where the "blue-box" demo comes into play. (And for those of you getting hung up on that term, they aren't really blue boxes, you'll have low-res placeholder art and rough models. Blue-Box is a euphamism, but in theory, a game should still "work" even with simple geometry and flat-shading.)

If the prototype pans out and the gameplay works, that's when the fund the rest of the game. At this point, and NO SOONER, you will have the money to staff up the project and get some real art and models, levels, etc.

This is why I find it patently ridiculous anytime someone says that a publisher wouldn't fund a game based on a "blue-box" demo. First, not only will they, but they have in the past, and will continue to do so. Second, blue-box demos are frequently how someone might get the attention of a publisher or other development house, to build a name for themselves. While it's possible that they might not fund the game, they will likely tell the person to produce the pitch document or to get some outside help, if they like what they see. It wouldn't be the first time I'd see this happen.

Finally ... no one ever goes into a pitch and tells the publisher that the game is going to sell half a million copies, unless they have an unbelievable track record. And for any company like that, they wouldn't need to make a blue-box demo to prove their case. A solid pitch document with gameplay details would be all they'd really need.

Jaime has a point ... GTA coming from any other development studio would probably be a tough sell with a limited prototype, but I don't agree with his assessment that the publisher would tell the developer to essentially complete the two most difficult parts of the game (in terms of coding) before they'd fund the full project. It's also a terrible comparison, because in terms of gameplay innovation, GTA was so far ahead of the curve, another studio couldn't have pulled it off without some serious luck. (Only one has come even close, and that was True Crime.) At the same time, I can't possibly see how any single demo would be able to get the job done if you were to pitch that to a publisher from a new studio. At the same time, I don't see where a new studio would attempt a game so incredibly ambitious ... they'd try something a little safer first.

OK, I think I'm done on this topic now. ;)

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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