The power if simplicity, and creative un-control
Well, I don’t know if anybody will actually find this useful, but I am posting it anyway…
This is some sort of “part two” of the post I wrote last week. Last week after the whole Double Fine thing, I saw a link on Twitter to some dude’s blog (who was really pissed off, I may add). He was basically complaining about Tim Schafer’s statement that an adventure game must be of a certain size and scope to be actually good (can’t remember the exact words and I am too lazy to look for them, but you’re free to do it).
I’ll start by repeating something that’s been said a lot last week: “making games takes time and money.” I don’t think anyone can deny that, and if someone thinks a game can be made really quick and for the cheap, he’s either never made a game or he’s only made simple games like the really simple flash games you find on the net.
So yeah, making games takes time, so based on last week’s events I have to ask “if games already take a lot of time, do you need to make development even more complicated by making it extremely ambitious?”
Everything I write here is about small-to-sorta-small indie (independent) devs, and it’s based on the assumption that you’re not sitting on millions and millions in cash (like them AAA games).
Basically what I mean by “The power of simplicity” is about condensing the game to the minimal expression and use that. This applies to both story or gameplay. After all, a complicated game is not always a good game.
When we were working on the story for Enola, we pretty much told the story of this character from age 7 to age 21. Yes, I came up with this idea before I even knew there was a game called “Beyond: Two Souls” so I didn’t “borrow” inspiration from anything. (However, our game doesn’t have a 2000 page script…). Anyway, we kept it simple so we were not aiming to make a game that would take us through all those 14 years (and that would take 14 years to finish, heh), but rather we simply turned it into a “documentary-style story” where we only focus on telling the important events.
The final “script” is like 60 pages long. Half big as your average movie screenplay. All the important elements are there, character interactions, and the world itself. However, we condensed it into what would be a one hour documentary kind of thing (for those that don’t know, 1 page of screenplay is almost the equivalent to one minute of screen time).
So if we have a story that spans 14 years, how come we ended up with a 60 page script? For starters, we condensed the story and picked the parts that matter. Then we hand-picked the ones that REALLY matter. The rest is just “hinted” in the game. If done correctly, hinting stuff is enough so you don’t have to waste time explaining everything. Lastly, we don’t use a “real time storytelling” format, but rather we pick a specific time and see everything else as a past event (hence the “documentary-ish” style).
Of course it would be really cool to make the game that actually shows all those 14 years, but the question is, would that make the game any better, or would it just serve as an excuse to say how great we are because we came up with such an epic and long story? So, assuming we had the money, would it make sense to turn our 60 page script into a 6000 page script and hire Elle Fanning for the lead role?
(Those who’ve been reading this blog for some time know why her).
Moving on… Creative un-control… yes, you read that correctly.
One of the cool parts of being an indie is the creative control, everyone says. However, last week I read something that made me wonder who’s controlling who or what’s controlling what. Creative control means what everybody already knows, but it also means you can control what’s being created. However all the time we hear (in different mediums) how something evolves “beyond what was originally planned,” so this is when it’s valid to ask if you, the creator, are controlling the creative process, or if it’s the creation that’s controlling you.
Creative control is also about working around limitations. Limitations force you to find creative ways to solve problems. Creative control is not about being able to design the game you want to make just to realize your creative vision is so large your budget is barely enough to make 25% of the game.
Some may think these words go against any kind of artistic/creative expression, but you can spend a lifetime on your complicated, un-controlled creative journey and never actually finish it because there’s always something that doesn’t quite fit, or that could be done differently (more on this next week, unless I don’t care or I forget). However, the truth is those artistic expressions only exist when they reach the audience.
So yeah, making games takes time, everybody knows that. Should they take even longer because you set an unrealistic goal wanted it to be an epic game of epic epicness (without the epic budget and time), or would it be better to actually take control of your creative control?
By the way this was written by a guy who’s been working almost one year and a half on a game about walking, reading notes and interacting with things, which, by definition, is gameplay reduced to its simplest expression (not counting Dear Esther, btw).