There are a number of forums on the net where people from and around the game dev industry ventilate thoughts and ideas about game production issues. If you hang on any of those and read the “Game Design” threads (there are usually one dedicated to that) you will quite quickly notice a few things. One of them is the frequent posting of new game ideas where someone have thought up a nifty idea for a game and now requests feedback. Sometimes these ideas are really good and interesting, but ever so often you get kind of crappy versions of already made games (it should be like “Oblivion”, but in space!)
So what the heck do these things have in common?
One of the biggest problem with modern game development is the content production situation. As Raph and others point out, the cost for making new content for games is sky-rocketing. With the introduction of the Xbox 360 and the upcoming PS3 and Revolution launches there is lots of new shiny tech that just begs for more advanced content. The race is continuing. In-game models need millions of polygons to get normal-, parallax- and oogabooga-mapping going. Soon all gamers will crave hair and cloth and who-knows-what-more. That is the reality of the Triple-A league.
However, there are some tendencies towards different models of production. Some studios report that they outsource production of content. It is also getting increasingly attractive to buy ready-made content to put into games – content that is really cheap and that definitely look acceptable (at least if you measure against GTA3 and its clones). I believe we will see more of this in the future. Each game featuring human characters, cars or real world weapons need not spend millions of dollars creating models that are becoming more and more like any other game. Why should you go the hardest possible way if you can buy the content for a fraction of the cost? There has been a similar development on game engines and physics engines. Third party is going strong and coming even stronger.
Game design versus content design
Game design is not about content design. That is something many aspiring new game designers need to realise, at least many of those posting on the forums I spoke about earlier. However, focusing on content is an easy trap to fall into. Formulating a new idea about content is quite fun – and easy: how about a game where you play a janitor in a skyscraper who is a Ninja at night? But the real job of designing a game is not to make up all the brands of cars that will go into the game, nor to decide on the story – even though these things are related to game design. The job is about game mechanics and about nailing down details in the design that are supposed to be fun and challenging – and that can be used for actual implementation. The content needed for a game is closely related to the design, but I believe content production should be governed by game design (and story if you have one), not the other way around.
There’s a large number of indie-dev contests going on all over the world. The Swedish Game Awards is coming up next week, for example. These contests are all great and provide a platform for aspiring young game-creators. However, I would like to see a contest that is a little different – that has a different focus. I would like a challenge with the following premises:
- All games should be produced on the same content.
- Submitted games are not allowed to alter the content in any way.
The content for the games should include in-game models, images, animations, textures and a font (and maybe even levels?). A library of sound and music should also be provided. The game should be produced in 2D (to take focus off standard 3D issues) and should be playable on any platform (“Flash” is hence a viable target technology).
The aim of the challenge is not only to foster future industry talent into thinking about game design in new creative ways (which you are forced to when heavily restricted), but also to foster players into seeing games for what they provide in fun and challenge instead of graphics. Since the challenge will (if it will ever happen) present game that does not compete with content – they will all look the same (well, sort of) – both players and creators will be forced to look beyond the surface and dig into the real stuff – be it pure mechanics or a fascinating story told within the game frame.
Also, if the day come when your game publisher drops a DVD on your desk and says, “Here’s all you need. Now make a good game out of it,” then you’d better be well prepared.