This is just me, but it seems there would be some sort of disconnect between handcrafted, personal games that are about personal interactions, and 200 people working on them.
AE: Yeah. It's hard to do.
MH: I don't know. Some of the blockbuster games that come out, I'm happy they get made because they are...
AE: Amazing pieces of entertainment.
MH: ... quite phenomenal things to experience, to show off, whatever. They do need armies of people making all these assets. But it's a very particular type of...
AE: It is less personal. But that said, and I mentioned this on the panel, it's surprising how much overlap there is, like how much I personally feel like I can learn from, say, Naughty Dog.
In the sense that, yeah, it's a different process, and they're playing in a production league that I would never dream of at Media Molecule, at least -- but that said, the process is still coders, and artists, and hard design decisions, and people putting their neck on the block.
You talk to the Naughty Dog guys, as I'm sure you have. They are completely passionate, and completely taking risks, and completely doing their stuff. And so, in that sense, it's completely the same -- and yet completely different.
This is something I've learned. I've always talked about small teams, small teams, small teams. That message has been banging around. Lots of teams have said it for years and years and years.
And there's this kind of, not, humility... There's a moment when I was meeting these bigger teams. We became partners with the Sony family, and us meeting like Naughty Dog and Guerilla and these guys, I was like, "Oh, holy crap. You're going through the same shit that we're going through, just on a slightly more epic scale."
But, yeah, it was cool to realize that, yeah, it's the same risk-takers. The designer on Killzone really, really cares about whether or not this level is going to be amazingly balanced or not.
It is hard to do both. Horses for courses, you know.
MH: It seems to be much rarer that you'd get a massive team coming up with some completely new, fresh, off-the-wall kind of idea.
AE: It's less personal.
Well, the economics...
AE: The economics are different, right.
...don't work, right?
AE: Yeah. And this is what the iOS world is learning. It's useful for us, because they're all competing with each other, and realizing that they can't actually compete with each other at 99 cents anymore, so they're going to just have to up the price. They raced to the bottom too fast.
There's space for both. Dave was like, "You can have this, and you can have that." Free-to-play can coexist with pre-pay. Pre-pay can coexist with Kickstarter-funded games, can coexist with published games.
MH: We always used to compare ourselves to a band, actually. Like, you can imagine a small band, like three people, having a jam, can't you? You can't just go to an orchestra and just say "Let's jam." It'd be fucking chaos.
AE: But they're both legitimate music forms.
DS: If you want an orchestra, you need an orchestra.
MH: Yeah, exactly. So it's quite good an analogy, I think.
You mentioned earlier that a lot of stuff came out of the game jam. You also discussed subtracting ideas. I'm curious about that process.
DS: I think that's perhaps the most agonizing part of the process, because it's a very creative act to remove things. In some ways, adding things can be the easy option. Everybody likes new ideas. But knowing which to remove... I think you talk to anyone that makes games, and this is the common basis of anguish and pain.
MH: It's focusing, isn't it? It's another way of saying it: it's focusing.
DS: I think it's being clear on what the game is that you want to make, and making that game. There's a danger of trying to make a few games, and we want to make sure that it's... No.
AE: The process -- I can't speak for the Tearaway process, but certainly on LBP -- there were a couple of features that I loved, and birthed, and felt passionate about, that were subtracted. There's a moment where you have to go through a kind of ego giving up release.
The one I always think of is like, LBP originally was meant to be bent along a spline, so we could have full 3D backgrounds. The one that was always in my head was the oak tree... What was that old Amiga game where you were on a frog, and you were going around a tower?
MH: That was a C64 game. Nebulus.
AE: Nebulus, right. So, I had this vision of LBP -- it should be such that you can build your 2.5D level around an oak tree that's a beautifully modeled 3D tree. So I put in the ribbon, it was called, right at the start of the game. I believed in this feture, and it fucked the code up really badly, and you had all this extra maths for like two different spaces, and one of them was a curved space, which just makes everything twice as hard.
The reason it was subtracted, and the reason why I knew it was the right thing to subtract, is that the designers never, ever, ever used it ever. So it didn't make the game better. For me, that was the classic subtraction. This is adding nothing, from the game end user's point of view. This is just Alex's pet thing.
Taking that away was personally very hard, but there was a very obvious quantitative way of looking at it and going, "This is just not cool, so, let's just take it away." And then I took it, and the code got easier, and the bug count came down.
DS: And there's a strange relief that comes after that. It's like when you go to the dentist. If you know there's a problem, you need to go to the dentist, and then you go, and you feel so good after it.
MH: I think literally the process ends up being that you have an idea for a particular feature, implement it in some form, and then designers or whoever will just try and milk entertainment out of it, really. If they fail, it's lost its right to be there.
AE: And this is where direction comes from. A really good game director will lead a team -- ones who are able to say, "I know this sounds risky, but we're not going down that path. We're going down this path."
It's a moment when someone has to stick their neck out and go, "I'm playing my joker right now. You may not believe me, but this is the way we're going." And there's been a few cases where we've had to do that. Like someone said, "I know this is cool, but we're not going to make this cool thing." And every time we've had to do that, it hurts, and then it's better. Every time. Without exception.
Another example in LBP was layers. The three layers in the game, they're artificial. The engine has no limitation of three layers. It's completely analog, and it goes all the way back. In fact, hardcore players have found hacks to use it, because the engine can completely support it.
But we added this subtractive feature of quantizing stuff of three layers, and not allowing people to go beyond that, and the quality of levels internally just went through the roof, because suddenly they weren't messing around with these ridiculously deep levels, and these features where a lot of things didn't work quite as well.
MH: It's like the difference of giving someone Lego bricks and a bunch of granules of plastic and a Bunsen burner. [everyone laughs]
AE: And again, that was a hard subtract.
RC: I think it's not just in features, though. It's the actual size of the world that you are in.
AE: That's a Tearaway subtract right there.
RC: Yeah. So we keep playing with the scale, to make sure that it is a really rich experience, and it's the real folklore, fairytale world.
AE: That speaks to your question earlier -- when you were asking and Mark was like, "Yeah, on the money" -- how big-slash-linear... We've had to constantly bump around and play with that scale parameter.
RC: So it feels like a proper adventure. You're not looking for the adventure. The adventure is all around you, so that you are constantly moving forward, finding new stuff, having new surprises, and getting that message out of the game.