Being Engaged

– There’s a fantastic blog post up by Hugh McLeod that really has me thinking and inspired (momentarily, all fades in the shadow). Particularly this:

You can’t thrill your customers until you thrill yourself first.

That’s something I generally lose track of in the endless Sisyphusian task of making a very mass market game. It’s very easy to get thrilled over little ideas only to have them scuttled because they are odd or time-consuming or something we haven’t done before. We can’t quantitatively measure what is best, but we can measure what is cheapest. It’s so easy to poo-poo an idea. And so we go with what we’ve done before because it is familiar and measurable not because it is the best.

We settle. It’s like when one person wants pizza for dinner and the other wants to just skip dinner and have ice cream. The best compromise is not to have pizza ice cream. No one is thrilled by that, but it is standard compromising technique that we all use. And we have to settle because there generally isn’t time to figure everything out.

If it is important, make time.

It’s hard being the squeaky cog in a giant, otherwise well-oiled machine, but I have to keep reminding myself to squeak. Because if I don’t squeak when I believe in it, I may be like the people I see here who have simply lost their voice. But how to squeak loud enough? That’s really the question.

Sorry for carrying that metaphor so far. Uncalled for.

The moral is that if you aren’t thrilled, figure out what has to change until you are. Sometimes it is just a matter of perspective. Sometimes it requires a whole new plan. But I can tell when I’m playing a game made by people who were loving what they did and I bet you can too.

– Here’s a related point. If you want to branch out to new customers, how do you do so without being contemptuous of your core? I don’t know if it can be done. The core wants more of the same, but better. (I originally wrote “more of the same, but butter” for some reason and I think that works too) But to get new audiences, you have to give them a vastly different experience.

Look at Tony Hawk. Neversoft kept churning out a game that did really well with their core. And they listened and made more insane tricks, jumping off of a giant eyeball, etc. But when Skate came out the EA team eschewed all of that. Skate had a fraction of the tricks that Hawk did, but they hit an aesthetic Hawk couldn’t.

And it took some damn bravery I bet when designers or executives said “But Tony Hawk does it this way and they sell a million copies a year!” to implement a mechanic that hits a completely different aesthetic.

It’s risky to try to get new customers. Look at Castlevania: Judgement. Or Prince of Persia: Warrior WIthin. But it’s a waste of talent to churn out the same experience but a little better each time around. It’s why I could never work on an MMO.

-I finished Dead Space yesterday. I have nothing bad to say about it. It wasn’t the revival of survival horror I was looking for, but it was still a lot of fun and relatively polished and bug-free. I give it two dismembered thumbs up. What to try next? I’m a big iffy on Mirror’s Edge. Fallout 3 will consume me for months. Left 4 Dead is out very soon. Oh, the holiday glut!

-In other news, I got to watch the last night space shuttle launch from a park near my home. It’s a shame that we have to give all our money to failing banks, investment firms, credit card companies and automakers instead of building new shuttles because watching that really makes you believe in America. A community pulled away from their sitcoms to have a picnic by a lake and watch the most beautiful reverse shooting-star you will ever see ascend to literal heights few will ever reach? That’s fantastic. It was so clear that you could easily see the booster seperation. And eventually the shuttle became a point of light like a star and faded into the black. I could watch that every night.

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