I’m sure there is a name for people like me. The people who don’t watch movies when they are new, don’t read books when they come out, don’t binge that show the first weekend, and don’t play games in the first month. I could blame it on having kids, but honestly, I was pretty far down this path before they came along. I just like to wait a little.
I get excited by trailers and hype pieces like any fan. I search out interviews with creators, and eat up behind the scenes clips. I just don’t buy much, especially games, on the first day.
I certainly have in the past. There were games that I bought at retail on launch day. I don’t feel like I really regret any of those purchases, but I know that it probably would have been better to wait.
Games aren’t really like a lot of other artistic mediums. There is that quote attributed to da Vinci that goes “art is never finished, only abandoned”. What if your art was not only never finished, but you could dabble on the canvas months or years after it was sold and installed in the customers home. Imagine now that you could make those changes from, and too, anywhere in the world. That art now has the potential to never be finished. People could enjoy that art over and over again as new changes and additions are presented to them. They could even be encouraged to pay for that art again to see more of it. They could be persuaded to subscribe to that art, continually paying and continually receiving. This is where games have diverged from our historical understanding of art. Art as an object or experience that can be bought or sold. Frankly, we haven’t got a damn clue how to promote art like that. We don’t know how to advertise it. We don’t know how to market it. Does the big expensive launch even make sense anymore?
I don’t think I’m a unique case. I think that more and more people are waiting and choosing the art they want to engage with when they want to engage with it. Not just when it becomes available. Not when the advertisements are out in full force. The rise of streaming and subscription services isn't just due to availability. It's the way people want their art delivered to them. On their own schedule.
With games there is an even more practical reason for waiting. Games get better after the initial launch. Bugs get fixed. Features get added. Issues get resolved. This doesn't happen with music or movies. There is no patch coming to The Beatles Revolver. That album came out, and other than being transferred to new delivery mediums, it remains unchanged. Video Games are sprawling software systems, and most of them currently can communicate over the Internet. They can be modified, and improved over time. This wasn't always the case in the past, but that is the way it works now. The way that video games work has changed. The way the are advertised and sold should probably change with it.
As someone who is endeavoring to make and sell games, maybe it would be best for me if people got revved up for new releases and bought them right when they are put on offer. Maybe that is the best way to make money. There is value in knowing when a ship has sailed. The big marketing push is near its end. Now would be a good time to explore the consistent low level hum. Marketing as gentle reminder.
I'm a terrible salesman. I don't really know how any of this is supposed to work, but I think that games can have a much longer life than they currently enjoy. I think, with my limited ability, extending that life is what I will try to do. Other people wait too. It's not a matter of telling them to buy now, it's more about reminding them your game exists when they are ready to make a purchase.
Best Games : 1000 Miglia : Great 1000 Miles Rally and World Rally Championship
Design, at it’s best, solves problems. In the early 90s videogames had a lot of problems to solve, most of them technical. Drawing pixel to a screen quickly was tricky enough. Making those pixels look like anything more than digital mud was a rare success. Getting the images on screen to react to input in a satisfying way must have been some form of magic.
So, in the early 90s, when faced with the problem of creating an intense rally racing game based on an italian test of human and automotive endurance that had not been run in decades, what do you do?
The first thing you do is steal.
Drawing a three dimensional track was unattainable on the computer hardware available. The physics routines capable of simulating a convincing car had not been written. Color palettes were limited and animation was limited. Add to that the restrictions of the JAMMA hardware standard that allow game circuit boards to be swapped between similar cabinets, meaning that you might be playing a racing game with buttons and a joystick. Creating a game that evokes the feeling of intense, edge of control racing seems like a tough design problem.
Luckily a year previous, the game World Rally Championship was released by a competing studio. Maybe the makers of 1000 Miglia licensed the technology, or maybe they just plain old lifted every gameplay element of World Rally Championship. Whatever the case, they took an idea and ran with it.
Both games solve the problem of presenting a slightly canted overhead view of a race by doing the opposite of what conventional wisdom would advise. Rather than pulling the view back to show more of the track, giving the player the opportunity to react to upcoming turns and obstacles, both of these games are very tightly focused on the car and the parts of the track immediately surrounding it. By pushing the view in rather than pulling back, the sense of speed and impending danger is intensified. Of course, restricting the players view of the track would be inexcusable in a racing game, if some other solution wasn’t presented. Both World Rally and 1000 Miglia will briefly flash curving arrows on the screen, like a rally co-driver shouting out upcoming turns and chicanes. Added to that, each leg of the race is only 60 seconds long. For one unblinking, white knuckle minute you have to pay precise attention to upcoming turns, and precisely navigate them, usually by sliding all over the place.
What World Rally started 1000 Miglia polishes to a high sheen. Where there were muddy indistinct graphics, they are replaced by sharp, colorful, representations of italian streets and roads where cartoon blurs and speed lines enhance your sense of movement. In place of a generic rally car, 1000 Miglia offers an array of classic supercars from the 1930 to the 1950s. The stock engine noises of World Rally are gone, and instead you will hear the whine and grind of old gearboxes with less than precise tolerances. These cars belch fire and roar from unmuffled exhaust pipes. There is no expectation of traction or modern vehicle handling. Every car in this lineup is a squirrely death box pushed past its limits. This is the sort of fantasy that video games excel at.
Maybe the control and mechanics design problems were solved by World Rally, but it what 1000 Miglia that also solved the presentation and immersion problems. Excellent design, from the bottom to the top.
It’s all about the cogs. All of the internal workings. These digital tools that I use must be considered, and employed from the inside out. Like building a table, though you see less of them, it’s most important that the legs are built correctly. The surface can be changed or embellished, but bad legs make for wobbly tables.
As someone who is usually preoccupied with how an object in a game or video will ultimately look, having to worry more about the bones and the core construction can sometimes suck. That is, it sucks time away from simply focusing on the external aesthetics.
I have heard or read many pieces of advice for artists. There are those who say that you should dedicate yourself completely to one aspect, one field, one avenue of study. If you would like to work on costume design, you shouldn’t distract yourself with the technicalities of animation. If you want to work on illustration, you shouldn’t delve into sculpting.
When I receive digital objects or assets, as sometimes happens, created by folks who mainly focused on the external aesthetics, I see a lot of wobbly tables. An awful lot. These are items that obstinately defy improvement or modification. They often won’t even suit whatever purpose they were created for. Similar to a car built with the gas pedal nestled safely under the hood, but with an otherwise spotless interior.
Game assets are deviously complex matryoshka dolls of digital information. Texture maps, normal maps, shaders, geometry, collision volumes, skin weights, skeletons, animations, local space, world space, and the reactive and interactive code that drives the whole shambling mess. Without at least a cursory understanding of each of these layers, that beautiful facade will have no place to hang.
Start small, start simple, but don’t only focus on presentation. Work from the inside out. Work on the cogs. Well built cogs can wear many faces.