(This is something of an unofficial continuation on one of my rants about clones)
On the subject of art design, it is worth noting that many video games today use similar lighting equations and texture blend formulas. We even share many similar techniques in how we choose to composite the final image that is rendered to the scene. Many technical guidelines are set in place by our slower but better looking older brother, pre-rendered CGI. Often our approaches lead us down the road of attempting to emulate a visual language that anyone can understand. We attempt emulate a Pixar film in real-time or perhaps something more hyper-realistic like the works of ILM or Weta Workshop. Either way, it does tend to normalize the products we see in all entertainment media.
With the advancements in graphics, like the use of shaders, we are able to separate from the heard. Choosing to break away from the standard equations and common art designs garners immediate attention and even praise by some gamers, despite the gameplay being yet unseen. These games I would categorize in the “fine art” department. Not to be taken literally, the fine art game is one that seeks to separate itself primarily through art direction.
A fine art game can be remembered as one of the greats, a cornerstone for the industry if the gameplay is solid but it is not entirely a requirement. Substandard gameplay may still result in a marginally successful title due to the wild variation in review scores that these types of games tend to receive. Many game critics would (and do) easily bump an average game up as much as a letter grade if the aesthetic speaks to them, even if the gameplay doesn’t. Of course once this new art direction has become a reality it requires the creators to either reinvent their aesthetic in the coming sequel or follow the rest of the crowd down the path of sinners.
Many developers are choosing to make internet pornography instead of fine art. This is not meant to be an insult, but it does happen to be the system that works on today’s consumers. This technique involves a quick succession of climaxes that keep the player interested long enough to enter the pay gate, even if it is something they’ve seen a hundred times before. Like bare skin and bad dialog, aesthetically, the content is no different than the next game on the list. What separates them is how they sell that content through a series of sizzle reel trailers, hyped advertisement, and spoiler gameplay demos. The most exciting material is always in the first half because most gamers will have “finished” before the game is over. They’re memories of that incomplete experience will be positive enough to buy the next iteration of content, and the cycle continues.
The fact is that pornography sells and so does fine art, but what doesn’t sell seems to be everything else. If you make a game that does not commit to one of these pillars expect less than stellar response from an increasingly impatience internet audience.
“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” - Jean-Luc Godard
To be honest, I am struggling to write this post. I am so tired of the topic that it pains me, but that is also why I am driven to talk about it. Yes boys and girls, I am talking about the word “clone”, which is now more indiscriminately used than the words “dude” (described by some as one of the most versatile words in the English language) or “indie” (who’s definition spans everything from penny markets to billion dollar businesses).
More of the Same… But not Really
It has been said that there is nothing new in this world, only old things that have yet to be discovered. Though I may not completely agree with the literal use of that phrase, there is an understanding that no idea is unique; we are simply inspired by things we’ve seen before. The spirit of that statement explains that we look at our past to learn about the mistakes they have made or maybe attempt to present a new and modern perspective on an established idea.
Joseph Ducreux was a painter who often specialized in portraits. Heavily inspired by another traditional portrait painter, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Decreux also experimented with expression; something rarely seen at the time. Despite the unique expressions however, there was a clear connection in the techniques that Decreux developed and where his inspirations resided.
Only after many hundreds of years can we look back and see the breadth of knowledge that has been accumulated. What we don’t often consider when we quickly thumb through the art books is the fact that it took many hundreds of years to get to where we are today. Even in that span of time, there are fairly clear lines that separate eras of art and many paintings in the same era shared a very similar composition. » Read more..
Arguments Against Change
In the past I have certainly fallen on the side of the fence that says things are fine where they are. Admittedly part of my reluctance for the future is a product of knowing what the future holds for developers like myself. As a developer, I know that the future will be even more trying than the times we have today.
Teams will balloon again before they shrink, and projects will continue to expand into spaces that simply cannot be achieved by anyone other than large and established development teams. Even mobile spaces are experiencing the console-bloat and lone developers rarely make a blip on the radar of media outlets; not without a connection to the inside or pure luck. » Read more..
A Steam Greenlight community member was kind enough to ask me to explain my position on why Retribution is different from Super Stardust HD. Below is my following response because I get the feeling that I’ll (yet again) be forced to justify why there are no ponies or crafting recipes in my game; because that is what apparently makes games unique these days… Enjoy.
Don’t take offense to this but the clone argument is getting really old for me =( I’ve been fighting it for nearly two years now since the first screenshots were hitting the web. I think the problem is that the number of games in this space (spherical shooters) are so small that anything looks like Stardust.
Let’s face it; Call of Duty, Battlefield, Bad Company, Flashpoint, Sniper, America’s Army, Medal of Honor, Arma, all of the sequels and spinoffs, need I go on? Give me a sizzle reel of all of those put together and it would look like the exact same game. So you tell me; what makes Call of Duty better (or even different) than Battlefield? All of those shooters have M16 and MP4 and 9mm guns and they all have frag and flash grenades and epic explosions and crashing helicopter scenes. They all have swarms of bad guys that spawn and run into the room before you go to the next room and rinse and repeat. They all have “you drive I shoot” sequences and intermittent banter and chatter between the squad members. Even the most valued member of your squad “Follow” is present in every one of them. On the surface, there is nothing to distinguish these games.
It’s the little differences like better vehicle controls in Battlefield vs. more twitch controls in Call of Duty that are the baby steps that serve to separate them in the end. So when I read a constant barrage of “I saw a screenshot of your game and it looks like ____,” it just reaffirms how little most gamers really know about the experiences they are having.
It has been said many times in the game development industry that “content is king” and for 1 guy to compete against an entire company with seasoned artists and designers is a thankless effort because the end result is that you just get shit on for not being as good as that AAA company. I never set out to clone Stardust and I never denied that there are similarities, but finding the line that separates ANY two games in the same genre is one that each person has to find for themselves.
I’ve tried the bullet point list of “here’s what’s different” and people just reply with “here’s what’s the same; you have a gun and bombs” so I honestly can’t win because it’s like justifying why a boxing game has punching it…