Steve Swink On The Art Of Experimental Games
April 8, 2011 Page 2 of 6
You moved to Phoenix [Arizona].
SS: Right, and we moved to Phoenix, which is an awful cultural backwater in some ways.
But it's a lot cheaper than staying in Sunnyvale [California], which is where you were.
SS: Right. It's less than half. My four bedroom house -- which I probably should have not purchased, but did in a fit of, "Oh, it's really cheap to buy houses!" It's like a thousand dollars, and I have friends who live there -- indie developers -- and they don't really pay rent, and it doesn't really matter because it's so cheap.
I've been thinking about this, and also Ron Carmel's MIGS keynote. Part of it was about how he'd like to see the major publishers create pure R&D groups, where they put aside like 10 or 20 people and have them just like go do crazy stuff and make stuff.
Similar to how right now Microsoft does pure R&D, and then potentially those things could filter into commercial products. I think that makes more sense.
SS: Well, I think if you look at the story of the last 10 years of video games as a medium, the big story is Nintendo and the success of the Wii. Like, if you look at the last 10 years of game sales, nothing has sold anywhere close to any of those Wii Sports titles and all that stuff; Nintendo is just printing money with that thing.
And that was the result of Nintendo R&D going crazy, making weird crap. They made the Wii. Who would've thought that would've worked? Some people did, and some people didn't. Nintendo has a history of amusing and costly failures, but when they hit they hit big, so clearly their R&D pays off.
But I also think Nintendo is really smart... I don't know if Miyamoto understands this, although I suspect somebody at Nintendo understands that games are comprised of software and hardware. And so when they create games, they create hardware simultaneously, and those two things are not viewed as separate -- they're viewed as parallel developments.
Because the tactile sensations from the controllers feed into the way the game plays and the way people experience it, it's all a sort of holistic product design. I think parts of Microsoft have caught onto that a little bit, and the reason I think that is the Xbox 360 controller has become the de facto standard for PC development -- if you're going to make a game on PC that uses the controller.
And it's because it feels so good, you know, it has a wonderful tactile sensation; the only thing that sucks about it is the D-pad. Everything else about it is like the best standard controller that's ever been made. I don't think a lot of people would disagree with that, because what are the other contenders? There aren't any.
It's really easy to understand why the Microsoft 360 controller is like really, really good. The springs feel really good, the surface of it is almost like smooth human skin; it's sort of creepy if you think about it.
Well, it's creepy if you put it like that.
SS: No, no! What other texture is it similar to? Like if you feel it, you're like, "Why does that feel so good?" And the buttons press down in this very particular springiness that's extremely satisfying.
A lot of my friends will tell you this too, I think. But if you develop a game, and you like make it in Unity or something, and you play with a keyboard it feels a certain way. And then if you plug in an Xbox 360 controller and hook up the controls, it immediately feels really good. It's sort of like cheating.
But Nintendo's got their finger on that; they understand that the tactile feel of the controller is part of the experience, like a really, really important integral part of it, because they develop both at the same time.
At GDC China, you talked about Mario 64. Someone asked when the last time you played Mario 64 was, and you said it was like six months before.
SS: I kind of feel like we need more people studying games, and I don't see a lot of people doing it. I don't return to games like that purely for joy, but I return to games that I really enjoyed that I think still have something interesting to teach me, because I feel like I've missed something, I guess.
And there's a certain type of enjoyment you can get from playing a game that way -- where you just really deconstruct all the mechanics and stuff. But Mario 64 is one of those games that just did a lot of things really right for me, and the way I like to play games. And it's hard to make generalizations like that, because there are a lot of potential experiences you could have playing Mario 64, and you have to have a certain level of adeptness at playing platformer games, I think, to really get all the super awesome benefits.
But there are just some really great design decisions in there, and a lot of things I felt they missed in Mario Galaxy. Like Mario Galaxy was supposed to be this big return to form after Mario Sunshine, which people did not regard as that great of a Mario game. But I just really miss that sensation of open exploration.
Like I felt like Mario Galaxy was a series of challenges in Mario style, but missed what fundamentally attracted me to Mario 64. Which was like... you could stand in the middle of a field and stare at a giant mountaintop and then find your way up there, and there was sort of an interesting process of exploration.
And it wasn't so overtly challenging, like I think by pitting you directly against challenges designed to make the mechanic hard -- at a certain ramp, obviously linearly -- but I think that defeated much of what was beautiful about Mario 64, and to a lesser degree, Mario Sunshine.
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