Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

Artistieke opvatting van de farce beschreven in <i>The Writer Will Do Something</i>.”/><figcaption class=

Artistic conception of the farce described in The writer will do something.

Aurich Lawson/Thinkstock

No one is trying to make a bad game, but bad games are still being made. However, the exact process of how a bad game comes about can be a bit opaque to those of us who haven’t experienced the game development process firsthand. Today’s giant, billion-dollar video game studios are sprawling, multi-headed beasts with hundreds of employees and countless moving parts. Even with unfettered internal access, it’s hard to get to grips with exactly where things went wrong in the development of a flop.

Over the years, many journalists and developers themselves have attempted to provide that insider’s perspective on the game development process, with varying degrees of success. But one of the most poignant and memorable explorations I’ve seen of the internal stress associated with making big-budget modern games came not from an insider reveal, but from a fictional game.

Matthew Burns was released earlier this week The writer will do something (TWWDS), a gripping, well-constructed work of interactive fiction centered around a game design meeting from hell. TWWDS throws readers straight into a controversial planning session for the third game in the popular (fictional) Shattergate franchise, a high-profile, must-not-fail tentpole release that has obviously gone off the rails considerably. (This would be a good place to take 15 minutes to play the game itself before some minor spoilers get into the rest of this piece. We’ll still be here when you come back).

The planning meeting is in TWWDS quickly turns into a comedy of errors, with plenty of recriminations, slanders and accusations to go around, often for decisions made long before the meeting started. And while there are a few options for you, the player, to choose how the titular game writer will react to certain events, it soon becomes clear that there’s no way to save the project at this late stage. This is not a story of redemption through heroic organizational skills. This is the band that valiantly tries to play as the Titanic inevitably goes down.

Any resemblance to developers living or dead…

While TWWDS is a work of fiction, it is based on real-world game development stories from about a decade Burns worked in the trenches of the AAA, working on series like Duty And Halo (with writing help from an anonymous developer who has also spent time working on AAA games). for burns, TWWDS was an attempt to educate the public about how chaotic and difficult any major creative project can be, especially when large budgets are involved.

“There’s not a lot of understanding about how AAA game decisions are made,” Burns told Ars. “This is something that causes a lot of friction in critical and player communities – ‘Why don’t the developers just do X?’ [they say]. So part of what I wanted to do is take you — in an exaggerated way — into the conference room where the decision is actually made.

That’s not to say that working on today’s greatest games is always the kind of miserable, disorganized mess portrayed as TWWDS. Burns says that while he hopes most developers will find elements in the story they can identify with, there are plenty of other stories to tell about talented, motivated, and well-led developers effectively working toward a common goal. TWWDS is more of a farce, says Burns, intended to highlight the problems that can arise from working on such a complex project.

“If you’ve seen it Sounds off, the play, it’s a play about doing a play where everything goes wrong. It’s like that a little bit. When you’re in the theater, you can laugh a lot about that, because there is so much to recognize. But that doesn’t mean the people who work in the theater don’t love it and there are beautiful, brilliant moments.”

The game's title screen pretty much sums up the sense of frustration it evokes.

The game’s title screen pretty much sums up the sense of frustration it evokes.

Amidst all the in-game development issues Shattergate– from a lack of effective communication to a perfectionist artistic team to a lack of motivation and experience – one of the main themes that stands out is the lack of clear, focused direction from upper management. After a disastrous early evaluation by outside consultants, Josh, the in-game creative director, comes across as gun-shy and overwhelmed. While trying to manage the dueling priorities coming from all sides, Josh ends up making no decisions at all, leaving the team artistically wandering without any clear focus.

“I wanted to show how committee creative management often falls apart when it comes to the wire,” says Burns. “Although, structurally [a strong leader] can introduce its own problems – such as when everyone is waiting for that person’s approval, or that person focuses on one thing and ignores others…”

Another great development that is slowly coming through TWWD is the obvious mismatch between Shattergate‘s over-the-top fantasy gameplay and a plot groaning under unnecessary weight and gravity. “Part of the problem in the story is they’re getting orders from above to make the game grittier and more serious and ‘grittier’ while still maintaining this ridiculous gameplay alluded to with ice grenades and executions and so on,” Burns says. “I think you have to look at what your game actually does first, and then write around that to support that. Or you come up with a story and you design a game that tells that story. Either way, you make sure there’s there what is confluence.

The modern game development environment can be a particularly difficult place to make that kind of connection between good writing and good gameplay, Burns says. But he added that while “I like it when a game is well written, I can’t say it makes or breaks the experience for me as a player. I tolerate clumsy dialogue when I’m enjoying a game, as I suggest for most of us do I think it would be great if we could universally improve the writing in games but the story [in TWWDS] is a bit about how difficult that would be.”

For all the game development issues it discusses, TWWD is quite light on proposed solutions to what Burns sees as somewhat endemic problems. The market pressures inherent in big-budget game development today can almost inevitably lead to a chaotic environment with developers who are tired, stressed and have unworkable deadlines. “Those are just functions of how business and industry work,” says Burns. “I have absolutely no panacea to fix that… The story is a farce of game development trying to capture some of the frustration and strife. If my fellow developers can read it and recognize it and laugh, I have feel like I’ve done my job.”

By akfire1

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