I don’t know about you, but as a games designer of ‘only’ 9 years experience, every time I hear how perfect or near-perfect a new game is, I worry.
Whenever Jon Denton waxes lyrical about how wonderful a game Velocity is on the wonderful Chet And Jon’s Reassuringly Finite Playlist, with it’s perfect learning curve and brilliant level design. Or when Christian Donlan gets the chance to (rightly) write abouthow Super Mario Galaxy is the best game of the last generation of hardware. Or when I sit and watch Northern Lion play through his billionth (ok his 649th) run in The Binding of Isaac and still hoot, scream and skill his enjoyment as much as (if not more than) his first time.
When these things hit home, I can’t help but look at what I’m making and… doubt myself. Of course it shouldn’t come as a surprise that games are often excellent. We’re maturing as an industry, and we’re seeing the fruits of the labour of people who grew up playing games, even entering an era of releases designed by people who grew up making them.
Meanwhile the old masters have yet to retire and so we’re seeing something I doubt any other creative industry has been privileged enough to live through. We’ve moved so far in such a short time that we’re experiencing two renaissances and a period of master-works concurrently - how else do you explain a game as incredible as Spelunky?
No pressure to perform, then.
Naturally the opposite is true. When a bad game comes to the fore, or someone is vocal about how disappointed they are in a particular mechanic or mode of a game I feel a slight boost - a feeling of opportunity, mine to grab and wrestle and tame - and that can spur me on. I can become invigorated to do better.
But it’s oh so human to focus on the success stories and celebrate the good times than it is to talk about what we can learn from our failures, and so more often than not I feel myself daunted by the impossible. I have to compete with the perfect, and that’s an almost sisyphean task… but it’s that very process of constantly pushing - not relenting, not giving up - that makes what we put out worthwhile.
It’s time to stop worrying about how far up that hill everyone else has pushed their boulder, and double down on gaining my own altitude.