#1 Edited by rebgav (1429 posts) -

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pretentious

Typically, you see the word "pretentious" thrown around a lot on videogame websites, usually by the readers, in response to the words or the works of indie game developers. Watching this presentation by Chris Hecker made me wonder whether mainstream mouthpieces are just as guilty of adopting an unjustified sense of importance or if videogame development has simply become the domain of the delusional.

Aside: Is 8GB of DDR5 really enough memory for developers to finally make characters that people will care about? Is that the final piece of the puzzle? We're all going to feel pretty dumb for criticizing the writing in games when it turns out that all developers needed was more RAM.

How do you react to the incongruity between the lofty ideals put forward by developers talking about their projects and the actual experience of playing their games? The cynic in me suggests that the dissonance can be explained by branding developers as charlatans, incompetents, or lunatics. Surely there is a more logical or sympathetic explanation?

#2 Edited by Kaiserreich (705 posts) -

To me Chris Hecker will always be the guy who ruined Spore

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#3 Posted by McGhee (6094 posts) -

These developers spend there blood, sweat and tears making these games. Of course they take it seriously.

#4 Edited by GERALTITUDE (3351 posts) -

The logical and sympathetic explanation is that game developers are artists, which is to say they are dreamers, and when you give a dreamer a computer - they are bound to dream big. Game developers aren't delusional. As something of a designer and definitely a gamer myself I see games as the most wildly exciting front in all of creation today (!!). Certainly I'm not looking to music, TV, Film, Books/Comics/Anime to satisfy my needs for creative storytelling (or, duh, mechanics). This can create overly-evangelical mouthpieces, sure, but often there is something exciting and positive to take from them. Just because the Molyneuxs of the world will forever be making games that are less than their words doesn't mean there isn't incredible value in their dreams and broken promises.

Obviously RAM & technology has nothing to do with the quality of writing & story in games. That's plain. But sure, we can make more believable emoting characters with increased memory and so on. Fair enough. Do I agree with this path? No, not really. The belief that games should strive for photorealism was born in Hollywood anyways. A simple cartoon face can emote just as well a human one (lookin' at you, pixar).

This is already getting long but I also wanted to say:

1. No difference in pretension between indies and AAA.

2. No difference in pretension between this medium and any other. People want you to think that what they are doing is a special/different/smart.

3. Games are legitimately the best. Fuck the rest!

#5 Edited by believer258 (11949 posts) -

Aside: Is 8GB of DDR5 really enough memory for developers to finally make characters that people will care about? Is that the final piece of the puzzle? We're all going to feel pretty dumb for criticizing the writing in games when it turns out that all developers needed was more RAM.

Sarcasm is really hard to deliver in writing so forgive me if I feel obligated to make certain that this is, indeed, sarcasm. I have not (and probably won't due to time constraints) seen the video.

#6 Posted by OfficeGamer (1087 posts) -

Never fall for all these promises and 'pretentious' talks, it's just like the elections. The sense of importance, the talk about RAM being the second coming of Jesus, the Heavy Rain guy talking out of his ass, etc..

Developers who DELIVER a solid and enjoyable experience are the ones worthy of listening to and sticking with, otherwise all this dreamy crap said in these pointless conferences means nothing. It exists because we watch it and discuss it, and that has proven pointless for years because this is 2013 and, while games are great, they rarely deliver on the initial promises.

My motto is give me a truly great game then I'll listen to you, not the other way around.

#7 Edited by rebgav (1429 posts) -

Aside: Is 8GB of DDR5 really enough memory for developers to finally make characters that people will care about? Is that the final piece of the puzzle? We're all going to feel pretty dumb for criticizing the writing in games when it turns out that all developers needed was more RAM.

Sarcasm is really hard to deliver in writing so forgive me if I feel obligated to make certain that this is, indeed, sarcasm. I have not (and probably won't due to time constraints) seen the video.

If it weren't sarcasm it would be so deeply troubling that you would not even consider giving me $75million or so to make a AAA videogame, right? Because that would be crazy.

#8 Posted by rebgav (1429 posts) -

The logical and sympathetic explanation is that game developers are artists, which is to say they are dreamers, and when you give a dreamer a computer - they are bound to dream big. Game developers aren't delusional.

The question isn't so much "why do they dream big?" The question is; how do you account for the shortfall between the intention and the end product? Are the ideals presented on the press conference stage actually related to the game at all, or just pomp and circumstance? If it's just PR sizzle intended to justify expensive sequels to popular products, who is the intended audience? If devs are legitimately striving to make meaningful games or just strong artistic statements in the medium or just "something completely new" how do they manage fall so far short of the mark?

#9 Posted by GERALTITUDE (3351 posts) -

@rebgav: I think it's very rare that one of these GDC-type talks is for PR sizzle. I'm not saying there isn't a lot of BS in games (there is) but normally when you see an individual indie developer or AAA designer I think you can believe them, especially when the physical crowd is made up of other developers. Even game enthusiasts barely watch that stuff so the audience is really small and not likely to be interesting in some garbage trends-analysis-based speech.

"Striving to make meaningful games or just strong artistic statements in the medium or just 'something completely new'" is literally the hardest thing to do (in any medium). That's why they fail so often - you answered your own question! :) The bigger they are, the harder they fall, right? Your ambition is only so great as the feat is impossible, to put it another way.

How many movies try to be sad, or scary, but fail? If an author says they really wanted to write a book about race identity, but when I read it it comes across as a romance drama, is the author a liar? Plus, games are inherently mechanical - film and literature tend to the emotional - and games already fail at being high-score drives, so it should really be no surprise when they fail at eliciting the emotions their designers intended.

Think about the ambition of games like Mass Effect, Deus Ex & Dragon Age. People are quick to say that they failed their core goals (let the player feel like they are really controlling a story) but that's because those goals are incredibly, incredibly difficult to achieve. That conceptual difficulty is so far beyond what something like Call of Duty or Mark of the Ninja are going for and developers still don't really know how to pull it off.

I 100% know where you're coming from in this thread, but I think you need to allow for both cynicism and belief when it comes to this kind of "high-level talk". As I see it, the problem your describing is purely about expectation management. People who don't make games listen to developers from a different view than those who do. On top of that, developers make serious expectation errors when they talk about *possible* features or when they speak very early about a game that is still in development; often budget constraints will come in to kill the groundbreaking/artsy features of a game (remember how in Fable you were supposed to be able to drop a seed in a field and watch a tree grow over the years?) before its release, no matter how integral to the design it was.

#10 Edited by oraknabo (1471 posts) -

@rebgav: While I usually dismiss any claims of pretension as anti-intellectualism, I have to say you have a good point about RAM.

What I'm personally hoping for in the next generation(s) that we should have access to through this kind of raw power isn't necessarily characters for me to care more deeply about, it's the kind of layering of deep systems you get in Dwarf Fortress. I want big, crazy 3D worlds with all kinds of AI and physics interactions creating unique, emergent experiences with every playthrough.

The most mainstream of AAA titles will continue to move more toward cinematic, heavily-scripted games, but I really hope to see at least a few people leverage the power of these systems to build really dynamic worlds.

Here's something Kojima has been talking about for a while that's right along these lines:

I always thought that even as the hardware evolves to become hi-spec, the game has not evolved or revolutionized for the last couple of years. I always express an example of a movie set. It’s a battle of making the movie set prettier, or bigger. This is how the game has been doing for the past couple of years now. So from Famicom to PlayStation, this was revolutionary, because 2D became 3D, and everyone could walk around in a 3D environment.

There was nothing that was much of a drastic change from the PlayStation to the PlayStation 2. Of course, the graphics look prettier and the sound is better, and there is a touch of online, but 3D remained 3D. So PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 – of course there is an online element as well, but there’s not a big change. 3D is not going to 4D. So going back to the movie set, it will only be a battle of making this movie set much prettier or bigger.

...

The battle of creating movie sets will probably go on forever if the hardware will rise with their spec as well, and this will probably continue. But I think that a set will probably just remain a set because a set is hollow behind. There is nothing other than the places that you can see. Behind that set is nothing. I don’t want to do this. That is why I want to concentrate on what you cannot see.

Like, for instance, look at a jungle. In the past, if we made a jungle, it was just a set. The trees were plastic. We could make the trees prettier, or make more plastic trees to look like real jungles. Or make the details more intense. But plastic will remain plastic, and this is what I don’t want to do. There should be life in that tree. If we water the tree it will grow, if we burn the tree it will die. So I wanted to create this kind of simulation world. And this is what we want to do, and I don’t know how much we can actually do it, but this is the direction of what we want to do.

What actually worries me is that if we actually try to do this, it might take up a lot of CPU power, meaning the visual side might not be the up to the standard of what the users expect. So, we will always think about the balance of what we can see and what we can’t see.

#11 Posted by rebgav (1429 posts) -

@geraltitude: I find it almost more disturbing to think that high-level pitches are honest and legitimate appraisals of a developer's goals, only to see that they so often end up putting out "the same game as last time but prettier." When successful companies with strong publisher backing and tremendous resources in terms of money and talent fall into making cookie-cutter sequels while trying to make meaningful, innovative experiences then it starts to look like something is wrong with the process or the medium.

I am not sure that a comparison to books or movies really works, at least not in any way which reflects well on games. A horror movie which fails its core goal is not just an artistic failure, it's going to be a commercial flop as well. It seems unlikely that you'd see a hugely successful mainstream movie or novel which left the audience singing its praises while unable to tell you what the story was about or who the characters were or what the resolution was, a scenario which we've seen play out recently with Bioshock Infinite.

I'd feel very uncomfortable letting Bioware or a dev like Sucker Punch (the Infamous: Second Son presentation) off the hook for being "too ambitious." I understand that perspective given that we're talking about what has been achieved or seems achievable right now in games but I think that "choose your own adventure" and "political commentary/satire with superheroes" are things which exist and have been done well in other mediums. The real obstacle to making those ideas work in games are earnest intention and capable project management. In these instances it's difficult to say whether they simply over-promise or are just disingenuously talking a good game because a specific turn of phrase goes over well when pitching their idea.

"Expectation management" has become a popular phrase when parsing information on upcoming games and I can't think of any way that can be a positive thing. When it is standard to dismiss the claims of game-makers with a neutral-language variant of "but don't get your hopes up," then it suggests to me that there's something very wrong with how developers, publishers, the press and the public communicate with each other.

#12 Posted by MordeaniisChaos (5730 posts) -

Weirdly enough, video game people don't look like people.

The next generation might be able to get just close enough to get us to forget that. We won't think they are real, but we will be much more capable of just letting that all go. One of the biggest problems with game characters for me is actually animation more than anything. And current hardware isn't great at doing stuff like facial animation and rendering flesh. That stuff matters, like it or not. It gets a lot easier to do subtle animation touches with better looking characters, which helps sell the emotions.

Blah, who gives a fuck. Games will be better because of this. The ways it'll be better? We'll see. Complaining that a guy is pumped up about the potential of the hardware? That seems really dumb, useless, and kind of petty.

#13 Posted by rebgav (1429 posts) -

@mordeaniischaos: I'm not really complaining about that, I thought it was a pretty funny/weird spur-of-the-moment response to what seemed like an oddly pointed question.

I am, however, dumb, useless and kind of petty so I'll concede half of a point.