There is nothing quite so fulfilling to me as creativity. I love expressing myself, and entertaining others, through a variety of mediums. I’m happy for others who enjoy the same pursuit, and I’m not above being a fan if somebody wows me – particularly when I know I could never do what they’ve done.
Those of us who do creative work that is intended to be sold, however, have a responsibility that goes beyond feeding our own creative jones. Customers pay cash money for our products, and they expect them to be, at the very least, competent. That’s an implicit tradeoff our customers make with us: we get the right to shoot for the moon as long as we promise basic technical and craft competence.
I mention this because my new issue of CGW contains reviews of a number of products that seem to have failed to meet this minimum level of competence. Leaving aside the names of the titles, here are the number of stars those products received, out of a possible 5:
It’s no wonder Jeff Green, the Editor-in-Chief, wanted to put A Load of Stink on the front cover of the magazine. Out of 15 products reviewed, 80% were average or worse (3 stars or less), and more than half (60%) were 2 stars or less. What’s going on?
Well, it could be a fluke, or maybe an artifact of the fact that most AAA titles tend to ship around the end of the year. Maybe weak products are being disproportionately shoved out the door in early summer precisely because nobody’s buying now. They’ll die a quick death, all the contractual obligations will be filled, and there will still be six months during which the completely-screwed consumer can be lulled back to buy one of those AAA titles.
But that’s not what I think. What I think is that most of those crappy games were made by people who valued their own creative experience above the entertainment experience of their customers. Read the reviews and it becomes clear that in some of these games even the most basic, established design conventions have been ignored for no reason, as if no one had ever designed a game in that genre before.
Admit it: you’ve played an RTS at some point, and found yourself swearing at the screen because the developers came up with their own interface, instead of ripping off the interface from Age of Kings. Or you’ve played and raged at a console 3D title in which you don’t have the ability to immediately orient the camera behind the player-character, as you can in most Nintendo titles.
Beyond the damage done when bad titles ambush unsuspecting customers, consider the amount of time and development money that went into those craters. How many decent games could have been made with the same resources, if only the designers had known what they were doing? How hard would it have been to find good examples of games that could have been emulated?
There was a time when creativity had to take precedence in all things interactive because nobody’d done anything like it before, and we all have our heroes from that age. That age is now over.
— Mark Barrett