Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
People Make Games, Not Development Studios

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 11 Mar 2014 12:00
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I hadn't heard that Grin (the developer) went down. I only found out when I was researching the new Strider, because there was something unquantifiably familiar around Strider that made me think of Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Grin's 2D remake-in-the-traditional-sense of Bionic Commando, which preceded its utterly retarded triple-A gritty installment. As it turns out, Grin was working on a Strider reboot before it went down. I can't seem to find any confirmed connection between that and Double Helix's Strider, I don't know if it picked up any bits and pieces of Grin's version or if the projects had individual talents in common, but I wouldn't be surprised.

And the other big news lately was that Irrational went down, developers of BioShock Infinite, and while a lot of Grin's games I could take or leave, BioShock Infinite was my 2013 game of the year. It was a slightly controversial choice among people with no taste or sense of fun. The point is, we have for some time now been at the stage that not even putting out a solid game or a hugely popular one is enough to stop the company from going down. As a consequence of development getting increasingly bloated, expensive and unsustainable.

But it's misleading to talk in terms of studios 'dying' or 'going down'. Because a company is, by definition, a collection of individuals, and it's not like the individuals are being lined up in the car park and shot by a Square Enix execution squad. Not currently, anyway. I have many friends in the local game dev community here in Brisbane, and we've had a whole bunch of big studios go down. Krome, SEGA, THQ, Pandemic, they all had studios based here, and all of them have closed their doors. But all the people who worked there didn't just vanish into smoke. Most of them have formed indie teams and are doing perfectly well in smaller-scale development, free of the sticky suffocating mass that triple-A development has become. Halfbrick, of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride fame, are the new local behemoth, but Defiant is going places, too.

So a studio going down isn't that big a deal because a studio is not its talent. But that being the case, what use is branding a game with the studio's logo, as an indicator of quality? Or the publisher's. It reminds me of how for a while every single animated movie that came out of Dreamworks was labelled "FROM THE PRODUCERS OF SHREK!" Well, what the fuck has that got to do with the quality of this film? They're also the producers of Shark Tale, and that was made AFTER Shrek, so the only thing that proves is that they aren't getting any better with practice.

But it is a lingering issue, standing in the way of games being taken seriously as art and culture, that they aren't generally considered to be auteur projects with names behind them. In Japan, someone is credited as Director, like Hideo Kojima, and that's a practice we badly need to adopt in the west. It may not be true that this person is micro-managing every aspect of the experience (as it tends not to be true in the film industry), but at least there's a name attached. And knowing what individual creators are responsible tends to give me a far better idea of the game's potential quality, or how it will play, or what themes the plot will explore, than the name of the franchise or the name of the developer.

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