The title of this blog post is derived from something someone told me a week ago. There was this guy telling me how amazed he was when he was playing Heavy Rain (a game I would not play, even if the story draws my attention), after a while of non-stop he said something like “you will never be as good (storyteller) as David Cage.” As you know, when someone tells you something like “you will never be as good as…” it’s because they want to discourage you, for whatever reason. However, it reminded me of how many times I’ve seen game-making newbies thinking they want to make this game that will bring the entire industry to its knees in amazement, but are soon discouraged when they learn they “are not good enough” to create the next Diablo (hey, Diablo II is cool!), Bioshock or The Walking Dead.
Well, being brutally honest, unless you have a lot of experience as a game developer (or are totally a genius), there’s a chance you’re not as good programmer as John Carmack, as good game designer as Ken Levine, as good writer as those who wrote The Walking Dead videogame… you get the idea. I can say I am not nearly as good as any of those guys.
But the important question is not “will I ever be as good as Ken Levine?” but rather “does it really matter if I will never be half as good as that guy?” Does my lack of Ken Genius prevent me from making games? To me, those are the important questions, but unfortunately some instead keep asking themselves “would I manage to make a game that’s better than Bioshock/Uncharted/Amnesia/Mario Bros?” or “will I ever be as good as [insert famous developer here]?”
The problem with this thinking is that you end up trying to make the next [insert famous videogame here] but end up frustrated because your game is not half as good as that other game. I’ve seen a handful of projects with real potential that get scrapped because the devs say “why should I bother? This game will never be as good as [insert famous video game here].”
I could even argue the problem is not that you don’t have talent. The real problem is wanting to blatantly copy another game (and I don’t mean “borrow” mechanics, I mean trying to copy the entire game workings, from basic mechanics to AI behaviors) because you think that will make your game good.
Time for another brutal question: let’s say you try to build a direct Silent Hill/Fatal Frame/Amnesia clone. Tell me why should I play your clone instead of the original, considering the original will be far better.
This may sound like an insane idea (I’m full of them), the best piece of advice I can give to game-making newbies would be: how about not trying to be better than [insert famous videogame designer here], keeping in mind he/she has more experience than you, and how about you forget if your game will never be as good as [insert famous videogame here]? How about you simply try to make something different based on your own experience?
When I began working on Enola, my idea was to make a horror game that could have its own identity. Many know my main inspiration was Silent Hill, but not because I’m trying to make “the next Silent Hill” but because I like how it manages to pull off the psychological horror aspect. If you were to compare Enola and Silent Hill, you’d find both games are completely different, gameplay-wise, story-wise and cast-wise (for starters, Enola doesn’t even have monsters).
In other words, it was never about “how can I make Enola better than Silent Hill/Demento/Amnesia/Fatal Frame?” but rather “how can I use psychological horror to make something different/unique?” After all, “horror” is a genre, not a set of rules that define how a game should be made (I’ve said before, I believe there’s no “formula” for horror games).
Of course you will always end up using mechanics from other games, but there’s a big difference between making a third person action game, and trying to make the next Batman Arkham. The first path will allow you to finish a game, the second one will only lead you to frustration.
So forget about you not being as good as… or your game not being as good as… and just work on your own game until you finish it. Again, being brutally honest, if you can’t, for the life of you, stop thinking about those frustrating questions, maybe game development is not for you because you obviously don’t have enough confidence on your own game.