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."
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:
I'm much more aligned with that statement.
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 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 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. ChrisDate: 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! -JonatanDate: 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. ChrisDate: 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. -JonatanDate: 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
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:
There's a great comment thread on this post. In it, I talk about the difference between "finishing" and "Finishing", which I think is a nice but completely vague way of summing up what I'm talking about here.
Farbs and others talk about the rant starting at 5:00. I talked to Farbs about the rant last year, before it was fully formed, and I claimed his game ROM CHECK FAIL could have gone way deeper in the sense that I talk about above. He pointed out that there is a, uh, slight licensing issue with the game which makes it difficult to rationalize putting in more effort, which I hadn't thought of, but I do think this is an example of a really interesting idea for a mechanic that isn't explored as deeply as it could have been.
This is a podcast with the creator of Trauma, and apparently they discuss my rant, but I haven't listened to it yet.
Jonathan posts about Everyday Genius: SquareLogic, and mentions my rant and how this game does the kind of exploration we're talking about.
This one doesn't talk about my rant, but does mention the rant session and Paul Bettner's rant about Ensemble and crunch.
- A short interview with Bennett Foddy about CLOP
I comment on his gross misrepresentation of my good advice.
- Email me and I'll happily credit you; I forgot your name, sorry!
- 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.
- 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.
- No, we still haven't written that one up, and yes, the website needs a total overhaul.