SpyParty And The Indie Ethos: Chris Hecker Speaks
September 9, 2011 Page 5 of 5
But it can be tough to find success. Dejobaan was around for a long time before AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAaAAAA!!! became popular, right? Some people do hit. But a lot of developers are thinking "I'm going to make a game and it'll be cool." Is there a lack of understanding there of what it really takes?
CH: That's a start. That's the very first start you should have. There's a long row to hoe between "I'm going to make a game and it's going to be cool" to "people just paid me 15 dollars for my game," right? And so yeah, that's totally the first step.
The delta between that and getting a game done is narrower than it has ever been, yet it is still vast. People don't understand how hard it is to make a game. Specifically, there are the external reasons why it's hard to make a game. Games are computer code, so they have to execute, so you have to have a certain level of technical expertise -- unlike a painting where it doesn't actually have to do anything except for stay on the canvas for long enough to show to some people.
I think the barrier to entry into games is higher than any other art and entertainment form. If you were going to sort the art and entertainment forms in increasing barrier to entry, first would be writing, right? You can write the Great American Novel on a napkin with a pencil.
Next up from that is visual arts: painting, sculpting. You've gotta buy some paints, you know, cost you 50 bucks, whatever. Next up from that is probably music, where nowadays for five grand you can record an album that no one can tell the difference was from a professional two million dollar studio album from 10 years ago, right?
Next up is film. Fifty, 100 grand to do a completely awesome quality movie that they could project in a movie theater-quality film. Games are higher, and I don't even necessarily mean just money-wise, but the barrier to entry -- like being able to program is a challenge, right?
There's no easy way to program. You have to be able to, if you want to do something new and interesting you've got to be able to code, sorry, or find someone who can and describe your idea systemically enough that they can do it.
So the barrier to entry is still high, yet there are all these business opportunities we've talked about for actually getting it out there once you've actually finished it. But just finishing it is easier than ever, like all of these Flash libraries, all of these 3D engines, all of this code out there. Just the fact that 3D hardware is there, and is so easy.
I could not have made SpyParty 10 years ago, because you just can't render that many characters 10 years ago without being a super rendering expert, and spending all of your time on rendering. Now I just like throw 30 characters at a laptop, and it doesn't even blink, right? So that's great.
All of these things: CPUs are fast, there's lots of memory and hard disk space, and bandwidth is fast and cheap, all of these things are great. However, you still have to be able to get something executing, and that's hard.
We're still not anywhere near the "everybody can make a game" thing, and that's okay. Everybody can't make a movie; everybody can't even write a book, even though the tools are there.
You talked about having confidence earlier. How did you get confident in this idea enough to pursue it? Because there's always time pressure, right? There's a point where you had to make a decision and say, "This is the game I'm making."
CH: Well, I got helped by getting the boot to the ass at Maxis when I got laid off. I was vacillating back and forth. Like you got a cushy job, fun job. It's not like I was just sitting there taking a paycheck. I was doing interesting work, and the stuff I was doing on Spore, I really got a lot of fulfillment out of that, the animation and the texturing and stuff like that was just a blast to work on, I learned a ton of math and that kind of thing.
And so it became, "Huh, getting a salary. I work eight blocks from my house." It was really nice, but I really want to do this game SpyParty. I've been thinking about it for years. It's been stewing in the back of my head, and so I thought, "Okay, I'm going to leave in January to do this." Was I really going to leave in January? I don't know. Well, I got laid off in September, so that made it a little easier.
But I think that confidence is a huge thing, and I would not say I have the deep confidence of a Zen master by any stretch. I'm totally self-doubting, and I'm totally insecure, just like almost everybody else but yeah, I had confidence enough to get it where I could... The very first thing I did with SpyParty is, it was top-down, looking at just a roomful of people, and I recorded a Fraps video of me just walking around.
There were no missions, there were no drinks, there were no conversations, there was no nothing, basically. It was just people milling around, and maybe there were some people who would gather around occasionally, or something like that.
There were no bookcases, there were no windows, there was nothing: just a bunch of dudes in a room, and I controlled one of them, and walked around and I recorded a video of that, and I sent it to three friends, saying, "Can you tell which one I am?"
And one of them was said, "This is kind of cool. This is kind of interesting, to try and figure out." And in fact, when I first told the idea to Will [Wright] at lunch one day, I said, "Here's my Indie Game Jam idea. What do you think of this?" Because Will helped us get the Sims assets for Indie Game Jam 4.
He said, "Oh, that will never work. It'll be too easy to tell who it is." And so when I finally got to the point where I could actually test it, and people said, "This is impossible to tell who the person is," I thougght, "Yes. This is going to work. Will's wrong."
Because if it had been totally easy to tell, then you're screwed -- because it's hard to make something harder to tell without it just feeling obfuscated on purpose. But it's easy to give the sniper hints; make the tells more obvious. There's a lot of tuning knobs to go in the other direction. So once I realized you can make it too hard for the sniper, I knew that I had something.
But yeah, just having the confidence to just take it to that point where I could actually test it a little bit -- so it's just very playtest-centric in some sense, is a very short answer. It's like when you have people tell you that your game is cool, it gives you confidence.
And it was not cool for a very long time. It got fun February of 2010, and it was just an iterative thing, where I added a timer based on some advice from friends, and this gets back to taking advice from other people.
I added a timer, and one more thing I can't remember -- I'd have to go look in my notebook for exactly what it was -- but the game was not fun that afternoon when they playtested it. And I took it to their house that night, and it was fun, and they wouldn't stop playing... That's how it happens. In art and entertainment, there's a magical spark, and you just have to get it going, and have confidence enough to at least keep trying until you find that.
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