Game development emancipating from technology development

While I was finishing those comments about God of War I felt like there was a lot more to write about that particular aspect of console games Vs mmorpgs (and PC games in general).

For example I cannot swallow how there are continuous attempt at “ruling out” the technology development from game design. Like if game design and technology could be decoupled and treated as independent.

That’s just terrible and it happening all over right now. Like in the recent news about SOE licensing the Unreal engine. I don’t think it’s a good move. At all. I’d imagine that at least Sony could have more than enough resources to develop its proprietary technology and make it at least good enough to be first class.

In all these years you would expect that SOE AT LEAST took the time to develop some great tools. And what happens instead? That not only their games deluded expecations, but that they were also unabled to develop a “capital” at least from the point of view of the technology and now are buying that tecnology from someone else.

I don’t like this trend who wants the technology trivialized and pushed out of the actual development. You can acquire middleware instead of developing it in-house, but it’s also true that it will represent a HUGE limit about what you can do. I believe that game design cannot be detached from that level. I’m quite sure that in God of War the majority of the development and design focus was about getting the technology right. And then fine-tuning it. That’s how you make a great game that will be remembered for years. I believe that’s what kept David Jaffe occupied for the majority of the time: working with the team to explain what he wanted and then push the technology to achieve those goals.

I mean, one things is saying “we have this technology, what we can do with it?”, another is saying “okay, we start from here, what technology we need to develop to achieve these results?” In general the games falling in the first group tend to not leave a strong sign.

Imho good programmers are more important than designers or even artists or animators. Like an obligatory premise for those other roles to exist. And in fact those games who tend to slide into oblivion are those where the programmers are moved away and there’s only a “content team” left who can just add more of the same. Like if we can forget that what a content team can do is confined by the tools they have. And the quality, variety and scope of what they can do is always directly tied with the tools they have available.

Technology and execution are the most important aspects in mmorpg development as they are for every other game. At least when you aim for a wide market and not a niche that can digest whatever you propose to them because they have no alternative. Take all those NWN modules. They are all exactly the same and feel the same. And the best ones are those who mess with the scripting at a deep level to make the game behave in ways that weren’t planned. As if the quality depends directly on how much you are able to break the technology available.

And if all the work is about breaking the technology, then maybe it’s more convenient to develop yourself that technology so that you can make what you really want. Makes sense?

Take that interview with Mark Jacobs (which, btw, I found rather plain and boring. There’s nothing interesting in what he says if you aren’t interested just because he is who he is. Like when he says that, one day, there will be a game more successful than WoW. No! Really?!):

That’s what’s so brilliant about it. You can play WoW on a lower spec machine than EverQuest 2, and than Warhammer. It was the way they designed it. If you look at the amount of polys that go into their figures, it’s less than what everybody has. And yet it feels better than EverQuest 2, and it feels better than Camelot. Now I don’t think it feels better than Warhammer, but it’s better than the games that went before it. And it wasn’t driven by the hardware, that’s what’s so amazing.

I definitely DO NOT agree with that. In the same way I didn’t agree with Ubiq analysis about WoW’s UI. WoW has without a doubt THE VERY BEST technology and tools among ALL mmorpg game companies out there. Saying that it just moves less polys and has a simplified UI is a HUGE understatement. How can Mark Jacobs get away with that one?

I’d be really curious to load the same amount of polys and particle effects used on WoW onto DAoC and see how it would perform, because I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t move at all. The same about the UI which not only is extremely powerful under the simplistic appearance, but it has also a great performance, not lagging the game at all. Compare it with EQ2’s UI which not only has a fraction of the flexibility of WoW’s UI (and all the enhancements and new features supported from release till now were possible because how how flexible was the technology below), but it also heavily lags the client.

Give also a look at how the terrain in the various zones is laid down and is absolutely detailed and smooth. That’s not a world builder designer who adjusted all the vertices one by one. That’s technology and I bet they have the very best editors for every aspects of the development: animations, world building, quests, scripting and so on. I bet that you could build a small zone with that kind of detail and polish in just a few minutes. You would think that Blizzard has the very best developers in the industry. I think instead that they have superior tools available who made all that possible. Take some devs from Mythic or SOE and show them with what Blizzard devs are working. I think they would be AMAZED. That’s not “equal footing” at all.

I say that ruling out low-level programming and technology development is a big risk. Games start from there. That’s a part that comes before everything else and I strongly believe that game designers should always work in close contact with the programmers. If I cannot go talk with a programmer or an aritist to explain what I want to achieve, then game design simply cannot exist.

Thinking that we can abstract mmorpgs and game development as if we only need to work on the content and presentation is a foolish idea. Mmorpgs are complex products, that’s why those who see the light of the day and are valid can be counted on one hand. But this doesn’t mean that you can flatly ignore some key areas.

It just means that the price of admission in higher and will ALWAYS remain that high. Flexible middleware is just an illusion and an occasion to just see more crap products and amateurish teams who believe that they can build something worthwhile without the competence to do it.

I think it’s just like the illusory bubble of the new economy. “You can do that too!” No. You cannot. Go back in line.

In the future I see so many more spectacular failures than spectacular successes.

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