Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Salvation through pessimism

Pessimists in the general world are one thing. Then, there's pessimists of the gaming world. Sometimes, they're downright annoying, but every once in a while I hear something from one of them that makes me cock my head like an excited dog. Enter Chris Crawford, who some of you may remember as an Atari Designer from 1979 and author of the book "The Art of Computer Game Design". Gamasutra published this recent interview with him, and while it's all interesting stuff, this particular bit jumped out at me:

"GS: Now, as far as the gaming industry: you are a published author on the subject. I can pretty much tell from what you’ve been saying what you feel they're doing wrong. Do you feel there's anything they could be doing right? In keeping with the traditional sense of what a game is, how could games be better, in your opinion?
CC: My advice to the gaming industry would be to sincerely copy Hollywood more closely. The gaming industry really does operate on a model very similar to Hollywood with one huge exception, and that is that they have no system for harvesting new concepts. Hollywood knows that it needs new ideas. The games industry doesn't know. Hollywood goes out of its way to provide itself with a seed stock of new talent and ideas, the games industry doesn't. Hollywood spends an enormous amount of money supporting colleges and universities, and training programs at those settings. The games industry does not. Hollywood has a system for honoring weird ideas that aren't necessarily commercial. The games industry really doesn't. That is, Hollywood actually backs these things up with real money.
There's an awful lot of Hollywood money that goes to supporting oddball ideas, because Hollywood has learned the hard way that entertainment is a high risk business that requires innovation. So you spread a lot of money over a large area and most of it is just dead loss. You'll find one idea out of a hundred that's worthwhile, and Hollywood has developed a balanced system. They don't throw money away. They've developed a balanced system that generates enough creative return for their monetary investment. They look very closely at books; they use novels as the basis for movies. The games industry doesn't do that. They support film festivals and a variety of other things that allow aspiring young talent to get just enough funding to devise an advance. They have a pyramid system in place to creators, and at the very top are the Steven Spielbergs and the big expensive blockbusters. But that thing doesn't sit there in the air; underneath those hundred million dollar movies are layer after layer after layer of cheaper, more creative, more varied ideas, and there's money flowing down that. Because they know they need the support. The creative support of all these new ideas. The games industry doesn't do anything like that and that's why it has no new ideas. It just keeps recycling the same old ideas."

Is it true, or isn't it? Some game designers would surely disagree. Generalizing the industry tends to ruffle feathers. On the other hand, the rumor is that story-centric games get cut off at the pass when being pitched as a concept. There can be a story, but it needs to be outweighed by action, sex appeal, blood, oodles of guns and better than real life graphics. Funny enough, I have been bitching (as you all well know) that the gaming industry is turning into Hollywood-by using recycled concepts and making too many sequels- and Crawford reminded me of the aspects I hadn't considered. Hey, a pessimist just reminded me to be open minded. Sweet.

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