"BAFTA Gamers Question Time – 4th March 2013 - I was there", so says Chris O'Regan, long time SPOnG contributor and gaming man around the house. Not only was he there, he also got the down and dirty on what was said by a set of key game makers.
Chris took down notes from the conversation held by Chair - Dave Green – BAFTA (DG), Dan Connors - Telltale Games makers of The Walking Dead (DC), Barry Meade – Fireproof Games makers of The Room (BM), Jessica Curry - The Chinese Room makers of Dear Esther (JC), Mike Bithell – Creator of Thomas Was Alone (MB). Read what happened below.
DG: So let’s start with something light, what games have you been playing?
MB: Metal Gear Rising game is amazing I am obsessed with it
JC: A very atmospheric game set on a beach, I’m quite enthralled by it.
DC: A lot of Minecraft with my son
BM: Farcry 3 really is a well put together game and looks beautiful. Also Crusader Kings 2, which is an excellent game despite the fact that it is in 2D!
Question 1 - What's more important, gameplay or story?
DC: Yes to both!
BM: I do not care about story in games. It's all about fidelity and interaction. Stories in games are rubbish. I've never seen games as a storey telling medium.
DC: The industry is dismissing a key component of games if it ignores story, the medium needs to evolve in order to broaden its appeal.
MB: I have always played games to be someone else, therefore gameplay and story are one, not exclusive. This is why I want to keep playing Metal Gear Rising, I want to see how the story progresses.
JC: We are in a Golden Age of games and people who just like gameplay only where as Walking Dead like titles offer story.
DC: I wouldn't be afraid to see story became more important as it will feed into the gameplay elements. The industry will be better for it.
BM: Games do not do story telling well and there are other mediums that are built to make stories such as film.
MB: Games can offer way more than film in terms of involvement hence can get more from the story.
BM: Games can let the player make their own stories, a good example of this is Civilization V.
Question 2 - How do you make good licensed games?
DC: Respect the talent who made that content. Ask what people like about the franchise.
MB: People want to experience more than just the original piece of entertainment. Sadly the quality of the output related to the original piece diverges and at which point it falls over. It comes down to the core rule of just make good stuff.
DC: It is getting all the creative talent to work in the same direction that is the key.
JC: Chinese Room prefers to work on the kernel of games, which precludes us from working on licensed property as the kernel of the idea has already been formed. We are working on a sequel to Amnesia. We have massive fan based who are obsessed with the original and it is they we do listen to, but not necessarily adopt their ideas. It is a kind of sequel, but it is very different type of game which could backfire on us.
BM: If you make something original you are touched by what you have consumed. You can't help but be influenced by the media you consumed.
Question 3 - What is the relationship between the player and developer to see how they can improve the game?
DC: Being a developer that makes episodic games, we can get feedback as the sections of the game are released. The Walking Dead had stats to see how people interacted with the game. This feedback was invaluable to the developer as we could change the story based on how people responded.
JC: Dear Esther is only 1.5 hours long. We didn't want people to replay it over and over yet we saw people spend hours and hours doing that very thing. We don't see statistics as worthwhile. Art is not made by committee and we stand by what we create. Changing ending to Mass effect 3 was a mistake as the developers should have stood by what they had made.
DC: Telltale Games are a live development house so why not use live feedback to make changes based on it?
JC: If you keep acquiescing to the demands of the audience you won't push the medium forward.
DC: But this is different! Our live development relies on feedback from people in order to get the most of their games.
MB: I did testing for Thomas Was Alone all the time. Quantitative feedback is not a good barometer for changing sections or features. All testing on Thomas Was Alone occurred with me in the room and that way I could get direct feedback from the player.
BM: We don't do much with feedback at all, as the game we create is what it is. Nothing is contrived about the creation of the game. It's your job to surprise the player. That is how you engage with people, treat them with respect. I see development is akin to making music more than making films, which is what often video games are compared to.
DG: It should be noted that Barry is from Fireproof Games, which was formed by 6 former Criterion employees. All of whom were the lead artists on the Burnout games who subsequently went on to form the studio to make their own titles.
Question 4 - Has music started become the slave of games?
JC: Music is still the slave of everything else in games, with very few titles being the exception; Fez and Disasterpiece being the obvious one. Music is a powerful way to tell stories and we need to enhance it with this medium. As I said before we are in the midst of a golden age of games with Journey being a great example of how music joining visuals can work together harmoniously.
DC: the soundtrack is always about moment. Everything has to work together and the music must work with the scene along with all the other pieces. I do not think it is a slave at all as it is a part of a sum which equates to the game experience.
MB:Initially Thomas was alone was level and a song. This evolved a little with more of a collaboration, however. I outsourced the music creation, which was a mistake and I have learnt from how music is developed in games.
Question 5 - Are games art?
MB: Yes they are things that people experience therefore are art
JC: No comment
BM: I suppose so
DC: Yes of course
MB: Most art is made by a team is common place, so whether or not is made by a single person or not is irrelevant, it’s still art.
Question 6 – Development processes are engaging more and more with the audience thanks to kick starter et al. Is this a good thing or should it remain a mystery?
DC: I don't think it's very interesting for developers to share the process as its very much like making sausages i.e. dull.
MB: Anyone making a game is massively insecure and is afraid to show unfinished and unpolished versions of the game as the fear of rejection is paralysing. Being open about game development is typically not philanthropic. It is actually all marketing as developers want people to buy their games and by engaging with the audience over how they are made helps with that.
JC: I agree with the overload of details from kick starter projects. Chinese Room releases information piecemeal and that really works for us. A bit of mystique is a good thing.
DC: If you release details about a game that looks ropey you never recover from that.
BM: We don't reveal much about the game development as we have limited time. We also don't want to give anything away. Primarily have nothing to say during development as our games are not interesting until they are almost complete. There is this sense of entitlement gamer that has sprung up and they are a clique as they don't represent the audience. Our job is to make a great game. If it comes out and it's bad, then we'll take that. It's not our job to make angry Internet people happy. We are just too small. Having worked on Burnout the naysayers and the positives can hurt things. You speak through your work; it's as simple as that.
Question 7 - Why comedy in games is the medium limited to slapstick humour?
DM: The comedy infused games we worked on we're a delight. We couldn’t use drama with these games though because of the split between the two atmospheres. We would love to do a comedy game with slapstick in the future.
JC: We don't do humour on any level. Dan, my husband loves Russian sci fi and I like Beethoven and so we live in a dark home! My 9 year old son is playing Minecraft in an odd way with him placing a man in a glass box in the game. We don't make happy games, sorry.
BM: you need really good writers for creating comedy in games, just like any other medium. Timing is key to creating comedy, which comes out of the writing.
Question 8 – What does the panel think of how the film industry is trying to work with the video game industry on joint projects?
DC: I think this is an exciting time for both film and video game industries. Hollywood sees the interactive environment and they are trying to make new experiences based on the combined skills of both industries.
BM: Movie studios have approached Fireproof for making a film based on The Room. The film industry wants to know how they get into the video game industry, which can generate bazillions of dollars based on one title.
Question 9 - Do hardware platforms constrain developers?
BM: No, constraints empower developers, not restrict them. Good developers make good games; you are measured by your work.
DC: We develop for all platforms, we are about getting the games to as many people as possible.
MB: The audience is wising up. The graphical quality isn't just about eye candy. Games can have good art direction and the audience has matured enough to accept this.