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dumpster

Spending a year developing a game that sucks

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I think fairly early on a team can know if a game isn't going to turn out great. Whether it's from a higher up who wants a terrible idea implemented to the core mechanics just not being great and never having the time and energy in to fix them, there's always knowledge it isn't right within the team. Some things can be fixed but cost time and money and others are just bad ideas that need scrapping.

 

Mostly by this point you do what you can to just get your tasks done and hope to move on. At the end of the day people have bills to pay and sometimes it's just not worth creating waves for what you believe in.

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Games aren't my medium, but I'm used to multi-year development cycles in film and television so can offer a little perspective from there.

 

Early on, if something felt crappy or lacking it was the worst thing on earth. Over time though I've come to trust my instincts and realise that, even when something isn't clicking, it's more just a case of it needing time to percolate. I'm sure it hits games studios harder than me, as I can find that point while it's all just pages. I'm pretty sure I'd go nuts if the realisation hit me while production money was burning.

 

Something I'm working on now was sat for the last few years in a 'not quite working' pile, and only a change of scenery and a couple of chance conversations have ended up making it the right nest.

 

Thinking about it, I've only had one occasion where I banged against the brick wall of something, convinced it was right, only to be dead wrong. It wasn't a bad piece but it was totally the wrong medium to express it in. Bloody annoying what with the lost time, but maybe I'll revisit it in retirement as a novela.

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It's an interesting topic, even for games that are pretty good sometimes it just doesn't take off. I've been playing Strange Brigade, it's quite enjoyable but seems to have just fallen flat. It doesn't feel like a 10/10 game, but it's not bad. I wonder what that's like, trying to make something work a bit better. Matchmaking for the Horde mode reveals about 10 games (something like 25 people) are in progress, which must be depressing. I assume they worked on it significantly longer than a year too. 

 

10 minutes ago, dumpster said:

those playtesters, spending 9 hours a day playing a game they are not enjoying must hate their jobs.

 

From my small experience of playtesting, I think nobody can possibly be enjoying the majority of their work hours in testing. 

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Watching videos of Bad Boys 2: Miami Takedown i kind of want to play it now. Reminds me of Duke Nukem Zero Hour. So far seen player kick open doors, shoot pistols out of enemy hands so they drop to their knees put hands on head and surrender, a black van has just crashed into a brick wall in an alley way leading to a gang to leap out the side door. The animation is kind of crude and blunt in a way i like, arcadey and immediate which aren't in games anymore, like GTAIII. 

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Related to the OP, the complete opposite can happen frequently in game dev. The game in question can be legitimately awful to play for literally years while the design and feel of the game is churned up, only for it all to totally come together right at the end or when you hit feature complete. 

I’ve experienced this firsthand when a game is just not holding together for it then to align and make actual sense. 

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4 hours ago, Kevvy Metal said:

Related to the OP, the complete opposite can happen frequently in game dev. The game in question can be legitimately awful to play for literally years while the design and feel of the game is churned up, only for it all to totally come together right at the end or when you hit feature complete. 

I’ve experienced this firsthand when a game is just not holding together for it then to align and make actual sense. 

 

I was going to post exactly this. I've worked on games that everyone thought were awful, and that had a very traumatic development process; but then they got great reviews. One reason for that is that some games just don't come together until right at the end; another is that when you spend every day playing a game that is in progress, trying to break it, it's almost impossible to see it objectively, and it changes so incrementally that the improvements are almost imperceptible. 

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2 hours ago, mansizerooster said:

I've worked as a playtester for Rockstar North on a GTA title, and let me tell you that up until the very end of the line, even GTA games are ropey, fun-free and awfully balanced affairs up until the very last few weeks of development. The final pulling-together of the systems, game mechanics and final art polish at the end is a relatively quick and small job but makes a night-and-day difference. It's so impressive to see happen, but when you're still 6 months from going gold you're pretty convinced that you're play-testing a total clunker of a game.

 

Oh, and this too.

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Something worse is working on a game for a year that plays well and turns out pretty much exactly as you wanted it to only to see it die a death in the marketplace.

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4 hours ago, mansizerooster said:

I've worked as a playtester for Rockstar North on a GTA title, and let me tell you that up until the very end of the line, even GTA games are ropey, fun-free and awfully balanced affairs up until the very last few weeks of development. The final pulling-together of the systems, game mechanics and final art polish at the end is a relatively quick and small job but makes a night-and-day difference. It's so impressive to see happen, but when you're still 6 months from going gold you're pretty convinced that you're play-testing a total clunker of a game.

 

I wonder how many awful games literally just needed that last month.

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15 minutes ago, Dudley said:

 

I wonder how many awful games literally just needed that last month.

In these days if patches and updates, do most games get this chance? Or does packaging it up for release and then changing it ‘live’ make it a whole different kettle of fish?

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6 hours ago, Loik V credern said:

Watching videos of Bad Boys 2: Miami Takedown i kind of want to play it now. Reminds me of Duke Nukem Zero Hour. So far seen player kick open doors, shoot pistols out of enemy hands so they drop their knees put hands on head and surrender, a black van has just crashed into a brick wall in an alley way leading to a gang to leap out the side door. The animation is kind of crude and blunt in a way i like, arcadey and immediate which aren't in games anymore, like GTAIII. 

There's quite a nice little game in there, but it's rough in many areas, and sorely lacking in variety gameplay-wise - things that could have been fixed with a bit more time to develop, and a few extra people. I mentioned we got a few months more than planned, but it would've been better if we'd have been given that time at the start - we'd have done things differently. It was one of the first cover shooters (don't quote me on this, but IIRC, the game design was something our pitch team had originally written for Namco who wanted a 3rd person game based on Time Crisis. Nothing came of that, but shortly after they released Kill Switch. Our pitch team thought they'd nicked our design, but given that Time Crisis had always had a cover mechanic, I'm inclined to think that it was part of Namco's original spec.)

 

Beyond that the key thing for the game was to have as much damage inflicted as possible, so an awful lot of time was spent making all the scenic items in the game breakable - usually with a few levels of damage. There are places this works super well - the aforementioned Italian restaurant level, the arcade, the gang house... Basically if you shoot at an enemy and miss chances are you'll hit something that will break quite nicely. Then it had a good cop/bad cop mechanic so you could try to do as little damage as possible and disarm as many bad guys as you could, or kill everything and everyone (with hindsight I'm not sure this was such a good idea, because it's no fun not blowing everything up). Loads of lessons learned here, that's for sure...

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1 minute ago, MarkN said:

I mentioned we got a few months more than planned, but it would've been better if we'd have been given that time at the start - we'd have done things differently.

 

Lol/sob.

 

I've been in actual meetings where publishers have decided to lie to developers about release dates. Eg. We'll tell them it's due for release in January but we'll aim to get it out by march. Thereby ruining the entire device team's Christmas and making sure that the device team make a bunch of quick fixes that they then have to unpick when they discover they have an extra three months.

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This topic makes me think of David cage games, loads of budget, big movie stars but the whole thing is actually a bit shit because he thinks he is a director and doesn't embrace the medium he's working in. 

I've been playing Detroit recently and it has some good ideas but i can't see how anyone involved in the play testing can't see the massive holes in it, or perhaps they can but the guy in charge is adamant that's how it should be.

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11 minutes ago, b00dles said:

I've been playing Detroit recently and it has some good ideas but i can't see how anyone involved in the play testing can't see the massive holes in it, or perhaps they can but the guy in charge is adamant that's how it should be.

 

One day I might write a book on my experiences in the world of professional wrestling. So much of this.

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Baring my time working at Sony, I'm struggling to think of an actually good game I worked on in about a decade of working in the industry. There were a few that were objectively bad, but most of the stuff was just average. And we always knew it. A few times it was an idea that just didn't quite work, but more often it was just a lack of talent in the team. Everyone would do their best, but their best just wasn't very good.

 

I wouldn't say it was particularly bad or depressing or anything like that when you could see the game wasn't great, it was still a fun and interesting job. You just cracked on. The big issue was always pressure from publishers who would expect FIFA on a Michael Owen's World League Of Soccer budget.

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To echo @MarkN I've worked on a few games that were absolutely fucked by the publisher. Most notably I think was Haze. Ubi (I think) chose the weakest platform iteration purely because they wanted to market the game as a ps3 exclusive halo killer. It wasn't and they locked in the delivery date before talking to any developers, to hit the market before halo 3. None of the Devs we're happy with the game. There was also an outsourced writer who took creative lead who was awful, but featured in a lot of interviews. The game was almost universally panned. Frustratingly it had a pretty decent multiplayer. 

 

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My favourite games are often ones that give the illusion that I am good at video games. Being good at something is in itself a rewarding sensation so I consider your idea of “make it look hard, but play easy” good game design.

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Just now, Dig Dug said:

My favourite games are often ones that give the illusion that I am good at video games. Being good at something is in itself a rewarding sensation so I consider your idea of “make it look hard, but play easy” good game design.

A great example is the original Tomb Raider. (My memory is terrible, hence the question marks, in the following bit). After you've beaten the last (?) boss you have to escape the volcano (?) whilst the place is falling apart. You're still doing your basic Tomb Raider platforming, but now there's noise and fury and the camera is shaking, so when you're clinging by your fingertips to a ledge, or standing over an abyss it "feels" so much more intense than it did before. It's the same game it was 10 minutes ago - it just feels harder. So it feels better to complete it.

 

Like I said, the quote was about golf course design, and I think something like Everybody's Golf gets it so right with its extreme course design. Stick the flag 50 metres below the tee on a par 3 and it's a lovely challenge - it's not that hard - you just need to play a few clubs lower than you would if the hole was at tee-height, but it makes the player feel like a boss if they hit it sweetly (which they'd need to do anyway) and nail it with the perceived added difficulty (there is added difficulty of course, but it's not quite as much as they think).

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Another example that comes to mind is the first level in EDF2017 with the flying ship things. Level 5 iirc. It's

 still a tiny bit challenging, but if you keep moving it's nowhere near as challenging as the utter chaos around you would visually suggest. Dozens of massive explosions all around you while slowly but surely masses of enemies are piling up on you, it all adds to the feeling of being completely awesome. "How the fuck did I survive that?! Awesome!" Which probably goes to show that balancing a game is an art unto itself.

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Didn't @Capwn spend two years modelling streetlamps on Terminator Salvation?

 

 

At least you got a game out. I work in that fucking box factory from the Simpsons.

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4 minutes ago, Moz said:

Didn't @Capwn spend two years modelling streetlamps on Terminator Salvation

 

 

 

Yeah I worked on that, brings back many memories. When the game was initially pitched it the original script sounded amazing, everyone really wanted it to the THE Terminator game. Over time it just became a GearsOfWar clone.

 

Edit, I should go into this more shouldn't I? I could answer that original question of "what's it like, working for a company that creates games, once you realize that the game isn't very good?". I would say Terminator Salvation was the biggest disappointment of my 15+ game career.

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On a slightly related note we have a thing on Twitter we call 6/10 games where we enjoy those games that didn't quite work out but had a lot of love and some good ideas poured into them. .

 

Games like Galerians on PS1. Pretty smart Resi close with some interesting ideas but it doesn't quite work but is worth a look. 

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