If you asked Total War Battles: Shogun lead designer Renaud Charpentier, most of the games released these days are totally rubbish. The problem, says Charpentier, is that developers simply aren’t focussed enough on gameplay prototyping while a project is still in production.
“When you look at the market, probably 20 to 30 per cent of the games are confident, and maybe 60 to 70 per cent are not good enough. Usually, they run. Most of them don’t crash – most are competent technically. Most of them look okay or even good, but they play like sh**,” he told Edge Online at the recent Unite 2012 conference in Amsterdam.
“Their biggest risk is not on the tech, not on the art, it’s on the design. You have to front-load that: it has to drive many of the other decisions. Hopefully that’s something we manage to do at Creative Assembly, and that we managed to do with Battles, but it’s still something that I think is lacking [in the industry] and it has to change. We can’t keep releasing games that anyone can tell are not interesting to play after 30 minutes when 20 or 30 people spent two years working on them. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Reminds me of the multitude of delays Maxis’ Spore went through, in part because quality testers decided that the gameplay just wasn’t fun. Then the game finally launched, and while it was definitely interesting… it wasn’t much fun. What looks good on paper might not necessarily be that great in practice, especially when you consider the two or three-year development cycles most games go through.
“It’s not about writing a 100-page document of design that is totally useless, no one will read and will be out of date by the time they do – it’s about crafting the game,” added Charpentier. “For that you need tech that is ready. I’ve [faced this problem] in previous teams, where I would have wanted to prototype, but the engineer tells you the animation system for combat won’t be ready in four months. What do you do? You’re blocked. You can’t be absolutely sure that certain timings will work, certain controls.”
It’s not just a problem for developers, though, but also – and more importantly – the end user.
“As a player, I hate going through the burden of downloading a game, installing it, rebinding the controller, going through the tutorial, playing another couple of hours and then realising it’s f***ing boring,” he said.