Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

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.

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