Friday, June 5, 2015

From Game Reviewer to Game Dev: The Struggle

I have had this site since I was a student in 1997, back when the Otaku Fridge was still hosted at GeoCities. It has launched my career in web development and eventually helped me get into the game development industry. I have written so many game reviews that are more detailed than my anime or manga reviews. You may have noticed, however, that I haven't been reviewing anything for the past few months.

I still could write game reviews when I became a game writer/tester and eventually a producer because the producer job entailed making sure all the developers were delivering on time while keeping the budget in check. Thing is, the longer I spent in the game industry, the harder it became for me to write reviews.

And that became even more difficult when I decided to go indie and become a developer myself. I look back at all the reviews I have written and I wonder how many developers' morale I have crushed with my words. Let's break it down into smaller, chewable pieces:

1. We already know our games' flaws before reviewers even mention them.
We learn a lot in video game studies and game design classes. We know all the design principles. We have testers to tell us what's wrong with our designs. Thing is, the implementation is not as easy as it looks. I've spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to make conflicting features work with each other and yet frustratingly fail about 60% of the time. Which leads us to cut some features out or we'd never get the game shipped. Sometimes, we only learn how to fix conflicts in the next iteration, the next game project. So yes, we know what reviewers want to say and we'd like to do it the way most reviewers say we should. Truth is, we can't always.

Many of us don't want to end up like these devs, whom I'm guessing have worn themselves out.

2. There is such a thing as post partum depression in game development.
I've heard a lot of game designers say that creating a game is similar to having a baby. I'm not so sure about that, but the post partum depression is true for me. I sometimes wallow in a vat of self-loathing after releasing a game, and mentally berate myself for things I could have done better. I'd be in this state for around a month or two after release. (I'm actually pretty lucky because devs in mainstream studios don't get the luxury of wallowing in depression as they are immediately thrown into the next game project.) There are times when I'd rather not read the reviews since I've already known what reviewers are going to say, but then sometimes you cannot help it. At least, there are well-written reviews that give genuine feedback because they have experienced your game and would like to help you improve. If they're developers, they can actually offer possible solutions instead of the usual rant fest that I used to do.

3. There are people that assume they know how your game is made.
In my small indie studio, we use tools like RPGMaker, Construct2 and Unity. People who are familiar with RPGMaker immediately assume majority of your tilesets were bought from packs or that we're using the default settings, and they don't even bother checking your credits. (I found this insulting to our exterior artist. Or the programmers who switched from C++ to Ruby just to do custom scripts.) Funny thing is, if they had been in mainstream development, they would have known that it's not the tools but what you do with them. Even funnier, a few of them complain about a free game as if they spent an arm and a limb for it. (And they're not even the target demographic.) Thing is, I now chalk it up to karma. This was how I treated developers back when I was a critic. Now I am at the receiving end. Just because I knew how to code for web back then, I had thought that I knew what goes behind a game development project. Oh, I had no friggin' idea how much more complex game development was.

4. Game development requires a lot of money.
I was already on my third indie game project when I realized that I did not have to kill myself creating an RPG on my own, especially when I lacked the budget. When you are starting out, you get by with what you have. I was making my own spritesheets (some of them are really ugly) or villain portrait art for Song of Pisces before some of our interns helped me out. When asked how I work around the lack of budget, I'd usually say, "I don't start the project when I don't have money." Usually it's because I need to hire illustrators and composers for the things I can't do on my own. So this now adds to my dilemma as a gamer and former reviewer: How do I even suggest features, knowing that I only bought this indie game for $4.99 and knowing that the features I want to ask for will cost an arm and a leg? I have known many indie devs who poured their money, hearts, and soul on a dream project, only to have their studios close down after release.

5. This is the entertainment industry.
I've always had this love-hate relationship with the work-life-balance we lead. If we were medical doctors, I'd understand the need for overtime work or workflow seeping into our weekends and holidays. Medical doctors save lives so there's a sense of nobleness to being on-call. This is not the case when you're in the entertainment industry. There are times, when I feel like the modern-day equivalent of an ancient court jester. You know, the scapegoat when things are getting awry at the emperor's court.

Thing is, this was my choice. I had chosen to entertain instead of pursuing research the way doctors of philosophy should do. I love what I do. And I understand that many devs love what they do. I understand that those who see no other option but to leave, they leave with heavy hearts. This is why I don't think I will be writing very detailed rant-y game reviews any time soon. Maybe if we're using the same tools, I could give some constructive feedback (like I do for RPGMaker games I review at my personal blog). Otherwise, I would just like to spend more time helping other developers do what they love best: make games.

I'll still be writing anime and manga reviews, though they might not be as detailed. I do have a lot of animator friends and I know they go through the same struggles as we game developers do. :)

skysenshi / DocB

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright 1997 - 2010. The Kraiders Otaku Fridge. All content, except screenshots, belong to the webmaster.