Despair Over GDC: Warren Spector vs. Greg Costikyan
Greg Costikyan posted a Blog a couple days ago about the feeling of doom and gloom at this year's GDC thanks to developers being forced to work on license games and sequels instead of new and creative projects. With independent developers slowly dwindling it's very possible he was right on the mark.Things really get interesting when Warren Spector replies to his initial rant..
Here is what Greg had to say about Warren at one point in his article:
Mene mene takel upharsin. The writing is on the wall. And here we have my high-school buddy Warren Spector to confirm it: There in his keynote speech, telling us not to worry, just be happy. Drink the cool aid. Go to work for an in-house studio. Develop a licensed product. By God, Warren would be glad to do a Harry Potter game. What a lovely universe to work in. It's the future. It's the way things are. And it's not so bad.
Trust the Computer. The Computer is your Friend. Honest.
Desperation breeds--sometimes despair, but at least as often, desperate innovation.
Warren emailed Greg a pretty lengthy response to this, here's a small bit of it:
First, I tried to be explicit about the fact that I wasn't going to get into the DESIRABILITY of making sequels and licensed games. I wanted to address the commonly held and, I thought, unexamined notion that such games were, a priori, a bad thing, from a design and/or creative standpoint. (Remember, I was giving a design keynote...)
Second, while I acknowledge the dominance of licenses and sequels, I really, truly, don't see how setting/character/context -- a license or previous game, in other words -- significantly limits a GAME developer's ability to introduce original GAMEPLAY elements into his or her work. Adaptation from one linear medium to another (e.g., movies adapted from books) run far more risk of creative bankruptcy than works making the transition from a linear medium to an interactive one.
It ends with Greg's response, which is also a long piece of writing.
What you're speech was fundamentally saying was: Okay, you're stuck doing a sequel or a licensed product, stop whining, make the best of it, it's still possible to do good work.
That's true. And it's worth stating. But it misses two points: First, it may be possible to do good work on a sequel, or a licensed product, but the odds are stacked against you. And the pussilanimity of the industry, which will now fund virtually nothing but sequels and licensed products, is threatening the very survival of our field.
To address the first (and I think weaker) point: Why are the odds stacked against you?
Let's take the case of a sequel. Sure, yeah, it's possible to do a good job. Who remembers GTA II? GTA III is head and shoulders a better game. But you start with the expectation that the game will essentially be an updated version of the original, with slightly better use of media but the same basic experience. The members of your team who want to do cool stuff are not going to be enthused, and may well depart for greener pastures. You're left with second raters. You may be able to sustain it for a while (Heroes of Might & Magic II > III), but ultimately, you're left with a souless piece of crap that hs nothing of the vigor or spirit of the original (Heroes IV....) Sure, it's worth rabble rousing, and saying "By god, try to do a good job, you're professionals"... but fundamentally, who can get excited about this? In version II, you fix the problems with version I. In version III, you polish. By the time you reach IV... it's bullsh*t.
You can read the whole thing here. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and work your way up.This reminds me of a time when I would clean some local offices at night. I would complain and my dad would say that you should find joy in everything that you do, be it playing games or cleaning toilets. While I find this to be true on a intellectual and spiritual level in practice it's very difficult for most people to manage.
Many developers seem to be stuck scrubbing toilets right now, should they find happiness in what they're doing or rage against the machine?