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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry
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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry

September 27, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

To the rules point, one could argue that there are too few rules in game development. We don't have a best practices bible that all the people in the craft have figured out. "Yeah, I see what you're doing and I've made this screw-up before." When we run post-mortems in Game Developer magazine, the "what went wrong" section is carbon copy, almost every time. It's like, "We didn't plan it well enough. We were reluctant to cut certain features. We had to crunch too much. The publisher wasn't responsive enough at certain times, or we weren't responsive enough." It's the same old stuff, and it seems like as good as we sometimes do with conferences like this and sharing of information, we still are all repeating each others' mistakes without even realizing it.

DD: I think that's true. When I did the talk in 1996, the point was that we don't have an Aristotle's Poetics for the gaming industry, and that's when I tried to create that universal theorem -- the engagement theory -- that would try to help. So I agree with that. But the other thing, unfortunately, is there's no metrics so far for what makes a game fun. No one can define that.

We're trying to be proactive at SK. What we're doing actually with the local universities is we started something called the Interactive Arts & Sciences. We're working with Brock University in creating a program where it takes the arts and sciences together to help create disciplines of gameplay ludology and other things. So people are coming up with a very strong foundation for the future, so we can actually create some of these metrics and standard principles -- not necessarily rules -- for which we can base our things on.

So kind of like video game critical studies?

DD: Yeah, it's a video game degree. Rather than call it "video game"..."interactive media."

It feels like we, as an industry, don't have the time to step back and really think about it, because we're always pushing forward to finish the thing that we're working on. It's really hard to take a larger view.

DD: Research and development in our industry is almost nonexistent because of crunch time. Whenever I hear about someone trying to create the world's greatest AI, it's all marketing. It's never real. I didn't talk about this in the talk, but our second game, Fantasy Empires had a learning neural network and an agent that would try to learn from what you were doing. It was part of my master's thesis. We did a lot of tests on it. It actually adapted, it helped people, and it actually was a great test case. We put it in Fantasy Empires, and it was a little bullet point on the back for marketing and no one noticed. No one cared.

It's all about the entertainment value, and I strongly believe in that too. It's disappointing sometimes. It's really interesting to see the one talk -- the one before mine -- where the guy started talking about flOw. He's like, "Someone beat me to it!" And I'm like, "Man, flOw's been around for 25 years." That's what I was talking about -- nobody's talking to each other. He brings up a game, and just because it's called flOw, it's like people have been talking about flOw in our industry for... I remember I did a talk on it in 1996, so that's 11 years ago. And that was at GDC, after Legacy of Kain.

The fact that we have these people that are speaking in the industry who don't necessarily know the stuff -- that's one of the problems. We have to communicate more, and we have to try to get out there. I like these conferences for that, and I did like that he tried to put forth theories on stuff, even if it's not necessarily everything I believe in, but we've really got to get away from. So the things that I'm worried about at GDC is, "How awesome is your game?" "Oh, it's so awesome, and here's my new gameplay demonstration and what we're going to do." To me, the marketing is winning out over the industry development.

It's all about Blast Processing.

DD: Yeah, exactly.

Actually, a friend of mine knows the guy who invented that.

DD: Blast Processing, from Sega?

Yeah. I really wanted to interview that guy, but he doesn't want to be known. He's afraid people will villainize him.

DD: I wouldn't. People are too worried about negative press. Negative press needs to be avoided, but at the end of the day, Silicon Knights is really going to prove the point that any press is good press, because we certainly have a lot of it.

Well, you have to realize that many of these people who are judging you do not have any degrees in what they're doing. They don't have any training. They have basic English ability. They really don't have any critical thinking training or skill, and it's basically like the Armageddon crowd telling you whether your game is cool, but that is the crowd that you have to make a game for.

DD: I'm totally fine with that, once the game's out. I look at the Love Boat Story -- I call it The Love Boat, but it's really Titanic. That movie was so criticized before it came out, and when it came out, it totally redeemed itself. That's where I think and hope we're going to be. But the one thing that I wanted to mention about marketing that I think is really true is this one thing Don Daglow said at Leipzig in his talk. I liked his talk, but the thing that really stuck with me -- and he later abandoned it -- but his definition of a next-gen game was how much marketing money was put behind it. I think it's totally true, because what does "next-gen" mean anymore?

Another thing that I wanted to talk about was the film/game crossover. A lot of people do talk about it, and hire scriptwriters and things like that. But it seems like we have the capacity in games for our own type of language, and our own way of perceiving things, to the degree that we really don't need them.

DD: I don't think we do. I think we can certainly learn. We've hired screenwriters at Silicon Knights, but they have to learn how to write for games, which is a totally different medium. If someone says, "I'm going to hire a scriptwriter to help with your game," my response is, "We already have them, and they'll do a better job because they understand the medium." Understanding the medium is key. Can screenwriters learn a new craft and work on video games? Absolutely, and talent is talent. But people who just write scripts for movies are not going to know how to write for video games, that's for sure.

It does seem, to the contrary point of what I was saying, that people don't pay enough attention to the other industries and what they can learn from them. The extent that it often goes to is, "Well, we need a triple-A story, so we're going to hire any random Hollywood hack we can find who's slumming in the game industry."

DD: It's funny. I often get caught in these debates. I'm a big proponent of learning from other mediums, and at the same time, I think I've tried to say that we're not the same, but people interpret that as, "Denis wants to make interactive movies," and people really attack that. What I've tried to say many times is that there's a lot different. We're interactive. They're not. Linear, non-linear: huge differences.

But the things that are similar, the historical trends we can look at and say, "This is what happened there. Maybe it's going to happen here or we'll follow a similar trend." That's where the gold is. The gold and all the nuggets are, "What can we learn, and what can these guys contribute to our industry?" I would love to see the industries merge, and for them to write both linear and non-linear is a totally different thing altogether. If people become versed in those kinds of tools, I think that would be fantastic.

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