Your own brew of mead

The reason I tend to compare developing electronic games to cooking is that even with the right ingredients you may fail miserably for countless of reasons. This could of course be extended to pretty much any field that requires design, but for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with games.

However, the main obstacle with this comparison is that everybody capable has to learn how to cook something in order to produce food for consumption. We’re side-lining all the modern brouhaha of microwave dinners, because even then some preparations is required. In general, very few people are not inept within the kitchen and are able to use the oven and other appliances for some cooking.

This is not exactly comparable with game development, as one can argue that it takes longer to learn a coding language and create assets for a game. This is of course under the assumption that we have single chef compared to a sole developer. While food is a necessity, games are not. They are a common luxury item to many of us to the point that we barely even realise their worth and are willing to push their value down by any means necessary while expecting high enough production values. To be fair, this blog tends to argue that developing and publishing games as become too costly and grandiose, and should be scaled back and return to form. Video game industry does have its own Hollywood, and the same cores have taken effect; the committee.

Hollywood blockbusters tend to be described committee movies to an extent, with loads of people from marketing and higher ranks having a check-list of things that need to be included in a movie due to statistics and research showing that this and this age group and this and this audience likes certain factors in a given movie and genre. They’re not wrong either. The very reason you have dozens of different flavoured products is that people like certain things in a certain way. The movie being here the whole of pasta sauces and each variant an ingredient of a given movie.

I admit that this blog does emphasize the whole statistics perspective quite a lot, perhaps to a degree that it has given a hidden bias. However, trends are made to be broken, and it’s not beneficial to look just what the paper says works. Ultimately, this approach will only yield one design, one style product that will be repeated to ad nauseam. Film trailers tend to be a prime example of this, where they follow what was proven to be popular to the point of each trailer essentially having the exact same blueprint independent of the movie, genre or studio. An example that pissed yours truly off few times around was the BAWWMMM sound effect from Inception. Let’s not forget the distorted booms and stuttered downers either. Guardians of the Galaxy did set up a new trend for comic book movies with its use of music, for better or worse.

Nevertheless, there’s very little reason to fix what’s not broken. That’s not to say we can’t make previous items obsolete. In fact, we can make any design obsolete as there is no one perfect product out there. Well, the only good contender for that title is the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, but we’ve talked about that already. Here’s where the whole thing about your own brew steps in.

At home you can produce your own mead or vine and have it taste pretty much perfect to your taste. Same with cooking and games. However, once you step into the market place, your tastes apply very little.

That is to say, whatever a designer thinks may be a great product for the user does not tell whether or not the product in reality is a great product for the user.

We can’t completely separate personal preferences from the cold statistics when producing a product, be it a game, book or food. They need to be married together in harmony that will push through the personal investment as well as present it in a fashion that is relatively easy to digest. This is not an argument for dumbing down, this is an argument for creating a product that comes half-way through to the consumer so that the more intricate aspects of it can be absorbed.

To use an example, we had plays before movies. The jump from one to another, while somewhat drastic in technology, ultimately relies in same core elements while having its own identity as a form of media. Further there we have movie genres, techniques and so forth that have taken the field onwards, both in terms of visuals and storytelling. Consumers have easier time adopting new movie formats and ways things are set up due them being accepted by the consumers, and most of the industry people, to contain valid values across the board.

The same goes for video games, albeit due to harsh crevice existing between the Blue and Red Ocean markets it should be noted that the trends valued in one does not necessarily meet with the other. These values are not just technological or design aspects, but also philosophical and political. As video games are escapism (undervaluing escapism as some sort of lesser act or even detrimental is a topic on its own) there are subjects and things that can be handled well, and that can be forced from a certain perspective towards the player.

The problem here is that the biggest sin a game can do is to take control from the player without their own action, e.g. for a cut scene. This lack of control is best shown in RPGs, where some games tend to showcase a topic through one facet only and ignore all others, deciding for the player in black and white terms what should be done and how. This sort of railroading is done for the benefit of the story and detriments the game’s play.

I would argue that in both game industry and in Hollywood the execs and marketing departments should lift some of the pressure off from the developers, but at the same time these creators should not ignore the audience’s wishes and wants (while aiming for needs.)  The mead you brewed might be the best shit you’ve ever tasted, but your neighbour probably thinks it tastes like piss.