Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
James Leach charts the exciting beginnings of a new project
Just imagine this: it’s the beginning of game development and anything is possible. There’s a team of developers fresh from crunching on the last game and drunken awards ceremonies in which they won nothing, all waving completion bonus cheques large enough to buy them new mountain-bike brakes.
While we’re imagining things, imagine this developer is indie and not tied to trying to write a sequel of the thing it just finished. Imagine, and this is really stretching things, that the team doesn’t have to spend the next four months writing patches for all the things that are broken in the game it has just finished, either.
We are talking about people ready for a brand-new challenge. And fortunately for them, they work in an industry and a company where all creative ideas are valued equally, even though the lead designer and the boss are ultimately going to get their way. So it’s time for sketches, designs, thoughts and mood boards from the guy whose job it apparently is to do nothing but a couple of mood boards every three years. It’s time for a million meetings, too.
There is a tried-and-tested process to these meetings. Any deviation will cause the studio to close, and that means it’ll have to reopen a month later in a smaller unit over the way with fewer windows. No one will get paid during this month and, worse, the boss will have to come up with another studio name, choosing a two-word moniker from the time-honoured list of colours followed by an animal name.
So, the meetings. The first thing that needs to be discussed in accordance with game industry law is good versus evil: can we play a bad guy and have him triumph over good? Since the GTA series, the answer has been no, but it’s a meeting that has to be got past.
The next meeting is far more creative. The devs talk about all the games they played during the crunch evenings they’ve just finished, when playing other games was forbidden. From this, a list of things everyone likes can be drawn up, and ticks put next to the things worth ripping off. It doesn’t matter whether these can fit together, or exist in a single game world –
There’s time for a brief vote to show nobody wants to work with Andy Serkis since he said
Those Things about CGI
remember, we’re going for creative innovation, so everything worth copying is on the table.
At this point, it’s wise for the team to take a break for a few days. Tradition dictates our devs post Photoshopped ‘up a mountain in Wales’ selfies on Facebook, but it’s acceptable to post pics of the babies they’ve inexplicably had during the crunch period, when having babies was technically banned by the studio heads. What also has to happen in this period of idleness is they must binge movies and box sets of all the TV they haven’t been watching.
Once back, the team meets to list all the cool things they could rip off from the films and TV shows. This can last for an entire afternoon, but only once everyone is talking about Game Of Thrones or Breaking Bad. As before, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s a meeting in which anything can be said. It’s worth noting that anyone doing an impression of Walt Jr, however, will have their service terminated.
The next meeting to be tabled is more of a presentation. Every dev team has one person with a game idea they had at college and have nurtured ever since. It’s usually the reason they entered the industry. Over the intervening years, this will have been refined and polished. Everyone present but the speaker will become aware how universally awful this idea is, but its proposer will be treated politely because he’s the only guy who knows how to program that excellent water thing everyone likes.
There aren’t many more concept meetings to have now. The next one is about whether to do a supernatural game. The answer is simply no, followed by a list of Japanese-type games that have exhausted the entire genre. Since this is a short meeting, it’s fine to add a point about characters and casting. Some neckbeard will want to make the protagonist a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, despite the fact that this hasn’t been a credible thing for more than five years. And there’s time for a brief vote to indicate that nobody wants to work with Andy Serkis since he said Those Things about CGI.
The timing of the last blue-sky meeting is crucial. The head of studio will stress how useful the ideas have been, and how now is the time for something groundbreaking. He’ll also mention the sales figures of the last game are pretty good, and how all the fresh thinking that’s been done can easily be incorporated into, well, it’s not really a sequel, it’s more of a familiar wrapper. It would be unwise to stray from the core values, though, but thanks for the input. Back to your desks and we need to capitalise on our current success, so we’ll need you to go ahead and come in every weekend, because we’re going beta in spring.