I Don’t Know How Videogames Are Made, But I Have An Opinion Anyway

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I Don’t Know How Videogames Are Made, But I Have An Opinion Anyway

When I saw the leaked Grand Theft Auto VI footage, I was furious. Not for the developers at Rockstar Games who have spent years toiling away behind their desktops carefully crafting the follow-up to one of the highest selling videogames of all time, only to allegedly have some teen steal development clips. They clearly need a better firewall, or whatever keeps hackers out; I personally volunteer my information freely to the various governments of the world because it’s less work.

No, I was furious because Grand Theft Auto VI wasn’t ready yet. If you’re going to show us the game—and I mean, why let it leak if you don’t want us to see it—I expect it to be perfect: finalized graphics, all character lines recorded, not a bug in sight. You may think that, as someone not in the videogame development industry, I would have no idea how the digital sausage gets made. I can try to explain it as “coding” and “engines” and “incredibly complex instructions interacting with one another to make even the most basic thing actually run,” but I’d be wasting my breath. It’s obviously magic.

Like Rumplestilkskin weaving gold from thread, developers grab ideas from the aether and use their accumulated arcane knowledge to confine them to a computer or console. If you ever want a glimpse of these magical shenanigans, take a look at the so called Game Developers Conference. Developers stand tall, spewing schlock about “narrative design” and “controller constraints” and “intuitive ideas,” all while showing doctored videos of things called a prototype. It’s laughable really that so much effort goes into something so crude and bland when common knowledge states everything a videogame needs has already been designed before development even started.

Since videogames generally start out in polished states and ready to ship, it stands to reason that development timelines are often spent crafting these prototypes to fool the public. YouTube channel Game Maker’s Toolkit has made boatloads of money falsely analyzing level design and documenting his process developing an indie game, something that clearly ended months ago and is being milked now. If that isn’t enough to convince you, look at Reb Valentine’s article focused on games two years from release. Developers large and small flocked to out-lie one another. The effort that goes into wrecking a game to present with unpolished art, temporary user interfaces (UI), and placeholder graphics galore is more than it takes to make the game itself. So why do they do it?

Well, Big Videogame wouldn’t want me to tell you, but I am beholden to no lord so I must: if everyone knew how easy it was to make videogames, everyone would be doing it! All those reports of crunch and poor management are diversions, attempts to dissuade young artists from stripping the goldmine that is game development. That’s why GDC talks are both informative and cryptic, explaining complex ideas like data and coding languages, game feel and narrative design all in an attempt to confuse consumers. That’s why major companies hide their development secrets and refuse to let anyone look, sometimes going so far as to patent an innovative mechanic. It isn’t that they want other teams to keep off their property—obviously they all share a master spellbook full of development materials—but must keep away the regular people who don’t know about the easy and consistent money of development.

No other industry is so simple and straightforward, so they feel comfortable sharing their secrets in digestible behind-the-scenes documentaries and boatloads of comprehensible books. I mean, have you seen a camera? How the hell do you know what to do with that if you aren’t watching other people do it first? Game development simply doesn’t have these problems because you can walk in, click a button, sacrifice a goat, and wham bam thank you ma’am everything you need is set up for you. Easy peasy. Don’t get me wrong, there is some skill involved; you often have to tweak the prefabricated objects to make it fit your specifications, but that’s just a push and pull of a slider. And finding the right animal’s blood for each genre can be a little convoluted. But once you have all that sorted out, everything else is ready and waiting to be used.

It’s baffling that with all the free time developers have, they choose to make puddles not reflective, or to reuse an animation from the previous game. Consumers aren’t stupid. We understand that on the little animation wheel there are 15 other options for Kratos to utilize, but they were too lazy to choose another one. More and more developers are leaning lackadaisical, repeating the same incantation to get The Last of Us on modern consoles and possibly doing the same style of remake for Horizon Zero Dawn. Next time The Last of Us comes out, at least give Joel a sword, or add in driving, or something equally fun that shakes up the experience. Otherwise we consumers see these experiences as blatant cash-grabs and are frankly getting tired of spending $70 over and over again on the same experience. I mean, of course I’m going to buy a third copy of a 10 year old game, I just am not happy about it.

It’s due to all of this—the laziness, the ease of creation, the consistent abduction of farm animals for ritualistic slaughter—that I felt the need to speak out against videogame developers as a whole. The days of tricking consumers into waiting years between releases, of telling us mechanics were too difficult to implement or animations are reused to save time, of hiding the fact that there is no more lucrative and stable industry than games, are over. I refuse to sit here and accept these lies any longer. It’s time to release Grand Theft Auto VI and Diablo 4—we all know they’re ready. If they cannot be released today due to whatever the tarot cards and palm reading conducted by the marketing department says, then at least be aware that next time something leaks, we expect it to be the finalized footage. That’s not a big ask. There’s no such thing as bad press, right?

Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.