Please finish your game

"Chris Hecker's rant about finishing your game seemed great until several years went by and he was the only one who hadn't finished his game."

My rant at the 2010 Game Developers Conference was titled Please Finish Your Game. A gentleman in the audience[1] was nice enough to video[2] it for me:

At the start, we present Heather Chaplin with the Duct Tape Award for her awesome 2009 rant. She couldn't make it to the GDC this year, so she sent me a video of her acceptance speech.

My rant is about how I'm worried about the fixation on development time these days, both in the indie community, and in corporate games.

On the corporate side, I reference this article where Kojima says "There is no greater crime as a game developer [than to slip once you've announced your ship date]." I dunno, I think shipping a bad game is a greater crime, not to mention killing your employees, or a whole bunch of other things I can think of. There's the famous Miyamoto quote:

A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.

I'm much more aligned with that statement.[3]

On the indie side, I worry about the fixation on game jams and compos, for which I feel at least partially responsible.

I also talk about Cactus in the rant, using his page with all of his zillions of games listing their development times. I want to be clear, I think Cactus is really cool and creative, and I'm insanely jealous of his productivity. But, I do worry about him and a lot of these younger indies, and if I had an orbital mind control laser, I would use it occasionally to make these guys more deeply explore some of the awesome mechanics they discover with their quick prototypes. See below for my discussion of this topic with Cactus himself.

I use the example of Braid versus a giant pile of the Indie Game Jam games, and I think Braid has more value because it explores its mechanic to the depth the mechanic deserves. I strongly feel that game mechanics have a kind of natural depth and value, and it is our duty as developers to follow a mechanic to its logical and aesthetic extent. I hope to dive to these same levels of depth with SpyParty.

I should point out explicitly, as a post at ludumdare.com mentioned, that sometimes ideas will come from jams. This is totally true and is a great thing, I just want people to take the ideas that are worth pursuing, and actually pursue them further. SpyParty was actually an idea from Indie Game Jam 4[4] that I didn't quite get working at the jam, but that I felt was strong enough to spend (a lot) more time on.

I also use Spore as an example of how it's not time-on-task that's important, it's exploring the mechanic. I think Spore failed to fully explore the mechanic of what we called editor consequence, and even though I worked on that game for six years, I would have worked on it longer if we could have made it the game it should have been. It's about depth, not time invested.

I end the talk with the following statement:

We need more depth and understanding.

We don't need more wacky ideas and shallow games shipped on time.

Of course, I think wacky ideas are great, but I don't think there's a shortage of them in the game industry right now, while there is a shortage of games that explore ideas deeply.

A Conversation with Cactus

After the rant I wanted to check in with Cactus, since I wasn't able to clear it with him before I went on stage. A good and thoughtful thread resulted, and I've included it here, with permission.

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2010 11:48:25 -0700
From: checker
To: cactus
Subject: rant

Is this your email still? I put up the video, with a quick note about
how much I love you:

http://chrishecker.com/Please_Finish_Your_Game

Let me know what you think.

Chris
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2010 06:52:49 +0100
Subject: RE: rant
From: cactus
To: checker

Hey Chris!

I like your rant, and I'm not offended by it, but you did
misinterpret one thing. My intention of mentioning the
development time for the games I make is not to brag or
show people that games can be done in a small amount of
time. It's because I know that many of the games could be
a lot better if I did put more time into making them. Thus
explaining that I only spent X amount of time is rather
meant to be apologetic.

I wish I could spend at least a few months on each of my
games, but then I'd have to sacrifice a lot of ideas, and it's
hard to choose what ideas to prioritize over others.

(I also think most game developers have a hard time working
for a long time on the same game without growing
increasingly tired of it, but that's another story)

So, essentially I do agree that it would be preferable if
people did try to explore their game ideas to the full
extent they deserve to be explored. But I think very few
game developers are able to do this. Braid and Portal are
the only two titles that comes to mind when I try to think
of games that do or come close to doing this.

And in the end I also feel that Braid outweighs a hundred
semi-interesting experiments. However I think the choice
is not seeing a hundred (or a thousand) semi-interesting
experiments released or a new Braid, but rather seeing these
short games released or not released, in which case I
prefer to see these games available for others to be
inspired by.

Thank you for taking the time to e-mail me about this, though!

-Jonatan
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 23:26:11 -0700
From: checker
To: cactus
Subject: Re: rant

Hey there, thanks for the thoughtful mail!

I didn't actually think you were bragging with the dev time on your
page, I should maybe point that out in my article.  However, you do
inspire a lot of indies to try to get stuff done quickly...you're kind
of a god to a lot those folks.  With great power comes great
responsibility, and all that.

> So, essentially I do agree that it would be preferable if people did
> try to explore their game ideas to the full extent they deserve to be
> explored. But I think very few game developers are able to do this.

I think this is true, to a point.  Or, at least, I think a lot of 
developers don't know how to do it, it's not that they can't.  I do 
agree that I'd rather see the small games than not see the small games, 
but I don't think it has to be a choice like that.  I think there's a 
talent part of doing things like Braid and Portal, for sure, but there's 
also an ass-in-chair endurance aspect that is hugely important too. 
Even Jon freely admits this for Braid.

Chris
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2010 07:42:35 +0100
From: cactus
To: checker
Subject: RE: rant

Yeah, I think a lot of people misinterprets the devtime aspect
on my page. It certainly isn't clarified anywhere.

I do think that talent is a major aspect of Braid and Portal, but even
more so is that the developers have been very insightful about how
they chose to make their games. When I make games it's often easy for
me to confuse exploring the interesting aspects of the game with just
tacking on irrelevant features and new mechanics that just end up side
tracking the game instead of making it a deeper exploration of the
concept.

I think this holds true for many indie developers, especially anyone
who would look up to me.

At the same time I guess it's not exactly impossible to sit down and
think through each design decision before you completely derail, but
it's hard to decide if the game you're working on really deserves that
much hard work or not.

-Jonatan
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 23:52:44 -0700
From: checker
To: cactus
Subject: Re: rant

> When I make games it's often easy for me to confuse exploring the
> interesting aspects of the game with just tacking on irrelevant
> features and new mechanics that just end up side tracking the game
> instead of making it a deeper exploration of the concept.

Yeah, Jon and I have talked about this aspect a bunch.  He was even 
saying he thought my rant should have gone into more detail about how to 
do this, but it's hard in that format.  Maybe we'll write something up 
in more detail.

> but it's hard to decide if the game you're working on really
> deserves that much hard work or not.

Yeah, there's a significant aspect of "gut feeling" in play here, but
I think it's possible to nurture this.  The Halo Sniper Rifle talk at
GDC was about this, partially, and the speaker Jaime Griesemer spent a
bunch of time talking about how to cultivate that gut instinct for
tuning, but I think it's also possible for judging game mechanics to
some extent.  I think playtesting is important here, too.

Chris

Links

Related: The Depth Jam

There was not as much mainstream coverage of the rant session this year, but I did find these pages discussing the rant:

  1. Email me and I'll happily credit you; I forgot your name, sorry!
  2. With my nifty little Panasonic DMC-ZS3, which takes like 4 hours of 720p 30fps video on a 16gb sd card and costs like $200. Technology is crazy. Oh, I got the red one because it was $10 cheaper on Amazon and I don't care what my stupid camera looks like.
  3. Bennett Foddy recently tweeted this:
    A delayed game will eventually be released, but a bad game is bad until I make a new build and replace the old one on my server.
  4. No, we still haven't written that one up, and yes, the website needs a total overhaul.
This page was last modified on 3 August 2012, at 10:56. 

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