Monday Morning

It's very hard to make a game. I speak to this with a little experience and there's a reason why these things take hundreds of people and mountains of money, at least in the triple A world. Even your one man teams smack of effort. Cavestory was made by one dude but it took him years.

This is obvious. Why am I saying it? Because I spend a lot of time on podcasts nitpicking game choices and I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't think good games are as simple as "Just do this rather than that."

In our show, when we say, "Why didn't someone think to do __?" I can almost guarantee that someone did. It was either too expensive or too complicated or too hard or interfered with something else, etc. I follow a lot of devs on and this holds true from what I've heard. The things that seem obvious to us probably seemed obvious to others as well.

I've heard this on other podcasts too, often with people who are closer to the industry. They shy away from this sort of criticism or comment. And I get that, because game making is tough, but honestly, I'm not going to change how I talk about these games.

First, our shows are all about the experience. We're critics but we're also sort of playtesters since the game in question is always fresh in our minds. Sometimes, a simple, "This would have been cool!" says a lot about the experience. Sometimes, saying "I wish there was a map here" implies a lot about the design of a game. I consider it a sort of shorthand rather than necessarily Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

I also think that games being a relatively new medium, we're still figuring out how to talk about them. I'll regularly come out of a movie and think, "I wish the plot did this instead of that." I know who I'm blaming there, for the most part: the writer, or at least the studio fuckers who put pressure on him or her. If I have a problem with the pacing, I know it was the director or the editor. Having these roles nailed down means specificity in critique is easier.

Games are tougher that way. Who's responsible for the pacing of The Last of Us? Fuck if I know. I know the game has a director so I'm tempted to blame them but they also have a writer who ensuring that certain plot beats happen at requisite intervals. There are also cut scene designers who decide how long to linger on Post Apoc Willy's gruff-face. It feels more collaborative while simultaneously less the product of a person. So there's no one to blame, so we just chalk mistakes up to "they."

Auteur games aren't even really auteur games outside of the indie space. Miyazaki is probably my favorite game maker right now and in the interviews I've read, they talk about outsourcing so much of the visual design, the costuming and monsters, to outside mercenary companies. It's all under his eye, and it does have a unifying effect, but can I truly say that he's responsible for everything in the game, or even most of the things? No. I can say he's responsible for the overarching feel of Lordran but individual details, who knows?

Kojima is the most namechecked example of an auteur in games but honestly, how can any product that had hundreds and hundreds of people touch it actually be the product of one person? Again, theme and feeling wise, I bet that's Kojima. Other than that? Who knows.

And unlike movies, those things outside theme and feeling matter an awful lot. The theming and feeling of The Last of Us was top notch but if we were doing it for the show, I'd talk about the limp stealth sections and the perfunctory gunplay an awful lot. It's just a question of real estate. A great but flawed movie might spend 5% of it's run time presenting its garbage side but a game might spend 50%.

The only place I feel comfortable with this is in the indie sphere. I can say hey, Daisuke Amaya, the stretch in the middle of Cave Story without a boss fight feels a little barren. It feels like a relationship between myself and a person. It feels good, and not just for criticism reasons. I can also say hey, Daisuke, the soundtrack is unbelievable. You're amazing.

I really think that the desire to monday morning quarterback in a blanket way comes from this sense of alientation. I had a deep sense of connection with Dark Souls but it came from the community, not from an individual creator. Even something like The Last of Us, which I really loved, felt like a good movie more than anything else. I didn't have a sense of authorial voice. It felt like a good episode of a long running serial, not a unified work from a single mind.

This isn't another one of my classic anti AAA rants. I'm just trying to think of why I feel OK complaining about design decisions in retrospect with this lack of specificity. I'm not totally sure I've found the only reason but I think it's worth thinking about.