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  Article: Developer Myths #4
On 09/02/03 by Sam 'Freejack' Brown

It is inescapable. Reading forums or comment boards or news sites, one is bound to come across them, the developer myths. Like urban legends, these myths surround the mysterious art of game development. Most of these myths spring from a misunderstanding of how the development process works. Some, unfortunately, spawn from the bad experiences of gamers. Then there are those that come from the deepest recesses of imagination. My intention with this series is to dispel some of these myths and provide some insight into the often mystical world of game development.



4. Developers just rip off earlier ideas so they can make easy money without having to innovate on their own.

I just picked this one off a comment board I was browsing, and it's a sentiment I see quite frequently surrounding the well-established genres where change often comes in small hops instead of large leaps. The FPS faction of gaming is built on numerous, very small evolutionary changes. Rarely does it make any dramatic revolutionary advances that change the face of FPS gaming. However, that does not stop the fans from crying "rip off" whenever an FPS developer posts a feature list containing something about "vehicles" and "objective based gameplay." The argument is that developers are merely looking to cash in on a new trend while avoiding the stress of putting forth something revolutionary.

The example I was reading about involved a recently released video of a new entry in a popular FPS franchise. The video showed off a vehicle and some unfinished effects and the cry goes out that this developer is just copying older games like Tribes and Halo. I won't argue that vehicles have been done before and even done very well before, but the fact that something has been done isn't a reason to avoid doing it now. In fact, these evolutionary modifications to a well-known system become expected in new releases. An FPS released in the current market without vehicles would be lambasted for its audacity to not do something that is so common now. The fans have a way of catching the developers on both edges of the sword. If you include the feature, you're ripping off another title. If you leave the feature out, you're cutting corners cause you can't code effectively (or some other bizarre rationalization).

The fact is, developers produce the games they either want to do or are capable of producing. If a developer particularly likes a feature from another title, don't be surprised if he includes that feature or something reminiscent of that feature in his own game. Wouldn't you do the same thing? You liked driving those vehicles around in Halo, wouldn't you then design some gameplay around the use of similar vehicles in your own title? What about that cool objective based gameplay in Battlefield 1942 or the jump packs in Tribes? Personally, I loved those jump packs, I even coded some of my own in a project I was working on and had a great time messing around with them. Unfortunately, they didn't fit into the project anywhere so they never got used, but that's how it is.

The second point, that developers produce what they are capable of, is pretty simple. Sometimes a developer will leave out a seemingly obvious feature for the simple reason that they don't have the resources to produce it, they don't have the schedule to produce it, or the feature won't fit in with the gameplay of the title. For example, as cool as jump packs are, if the environments weren't designed with their use in mind, there's just no benefit to having them. In fact, they could break gameplay throughout the game. Vehicles, though great fun, generally require large, widely spaced game zones, otherwise, hopping in the jeep, driving twenty feet to the next door and hopping out is going to seem rather meaningless.

Another facet of this issue is the innovation that can come from common concepts. Developers love to take features that are well accepted and modify them in new and interesting ways. Of course, on paper a feature like "dynamic environments supporting vehicles" sounds like any other title that uses vehicles, but in play it could be something dramatically different than what is initially imagined. These dynamic environments could involve shifting surfaces or vehicles that morph from ground to sea to air. The problem is, gamers often judge a title and its features by the often vanilla listing found on news sites and press releases. The features may in fact be new and innovative, if even in small steps.

I think it's worth giving every title a chance. Of course, I've seen screenshots and read features lists from titles that sound anything but innovative. I say to myself, "Oh man, I saw exactly that in game-x and even before that in game-w. Why can't they come up with something new?" I think what really needs to be evaluated is not a title's individual features and how those features are similar to past titles, but instead, how good is the title's gameplay? Really, that's what it comes down to. A game can either add a feature that feels like an added feature, or it could be something that enhances gameplay taking it to a new level and, in its own way, raising the bar for everyone else to then try and emulate and improve on. These sorts of small innovations are what make the industry so exciting. The bottom line is, don't count a title out just because you think you've seen it before.

Related Links:

  • Myth #3 - Developers lie about a game's features just to get sales!
  • Myth #2 - Developers push unfinished games to market so they can make more money.
  • Myth #1 - The developer exists only to bleed every gamer of all of his hard earned money.

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#1 - Anon@209.98.225.181 - 09/02/03 @ 08:25 AM EST
looking at Myths 1-3, i cant recall ever hearing anything like these in my 15 years of hardcore gaming.

replace, however, "developer" w/ "publisher", and thats another story... (try: "Publishers push unfinished games to market so they can make more money.")
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#2 - Kensomniac - 09/02/03 @ 09:59 AM EST
Yet another good read freejack... it is quite nice. Do you talk with publishers to get input on what you type out for us?
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#3 - Freejack - 09/02/03 @ 11:32 AM EST
The subject matter generally comes from reading article comments on GG or other sites like Blues. There's a veritable fount of mis-informed and confused gamers out there. :P

The rest of it comes from my experience in development.
#4 - Gbob - 09/02/03 @ 01:00 PM EST
As a former game dev myself, I think you overlooked the biggest reason why so many games lack real innovation. The biggest reason is that the developer normally doesn't have real control over the product he's creating.

/ Let's take a hypothetical development house. It's a small shop that has already released one game. The first game they produced was a labor of love, took almost three years to create and left the founders of the shop in debt up to their eyebrows. They have an extra mortage on the house, friends who invested in development costs breathing down their back wondering when the "make profit" part of the enterprise comes in, and a family who wants food on the table and a roof over their head.

Their first game was really groundbreaking and it was like nothing anyone had ever sen before. The back/the graphics, although not great, set it apart from anything else on the shelves. That game, however, only sold about 15,000 units. the developer lost money on the project.

So this is your development house. You're now broke. the contract with the publisher set sales targets you had to hit to see any revenue. The only money you made off the game was what the punlisher gave you up front as an advance. The publisher liked your game and told you that they would love to see another project coming from you....but they want you to make something more market friendly.

/ What are you going to do? Go back to working tech support? No way. This is your company. How can you make a sure fire hit and make it cheap and fast enough to pay your employees and keep the developers happy? You only have two choices. One is to take an allready created engine, liscense it and develope a comercial friendly game around it ot take the publisher up on his offer of giving you a crack at a piece of IP that's a tie in to another media product.

Either way, your next release is going to be pretty damn derivative of other games and it's sure as hell not going to change the marketplace.
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#5 - Shataan - 09/02/03 @ 04:44 PM EST
" Developers lie about a game's features just to get sales!
- Developers push unfinished games to market so they can make more money.
- The developer exists only to bleed every gamer of all of his hard earned money.
Developers just rip off earlier ideas so they can make easy money without having to innovate on their own. "

Well the dude who writes this drivel seems pretty self serving. I personally don`t think these things attribute to ALL Developers. But I sure as hell believe that quite a few Developers do these things to some degree.

After all, those in the game industry are not all angels like the articles here would have us believe. And all people are fallible to whatever point that may be. This however has been an interesting read if anything. lol But I do think there is more than alittle bit of Kreskonian slight of hand happening here. ;0)
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#6 - Freejack - 09/02/03 @ 05:05 PM EST
It should be clear that these are intended to be short little pieces providing some insight into the reasons behind development decisions that are often unpopular with the public and in particular, the hard core gamers. I'll admit I am overlooking all sorts of things, for example, I didn't talk about developers that just suck at developing. We all know that happens as well, some developers are just inexperienced and make mistakes or poor design decisions. Hell, some devs are extremely experienced and still make those mistakes.

So yes, I leave stuff out, but then, that's what comments are good for, fleshing out issues that weren't touched on.

As for self-serving, perhaps, though, since I'm no longer in the industry, I'm not sure how I'd be serving myself. The point is, that I read dozens upon dozens of scathing and venomous comments directed toward developers that are, in most cases, misdirected and misinformed. I figure a little education on what is more likely the case is at least somewhat beneficial to both the developer and the gamer.
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#7 - Shataan - 09/02/03 @ 06:20 PM EST
I can concur with that. And as well I think you should do an article from the gamers pov as maybe a sister article to this one.

Miscommunication can lead to all kinds of bad feelings from both sides of the borders.
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#8 - BiomeXhanoid - 09/02/03 @ 09:08 PM EST
Heh. COUGH UNREAL COUGH. I'm not buying this shit for a second... not at all. UnReal IS ripping off a few other games (not to mention Scifi concepts and conventions).... Just as it ALWAYS has. UnReal's appeal has been that it's ripping off-ness has been the cat's meow as far as graphics are concerned. Are a vast majority of gamers graphic whores? Of course they are. The only problem is that now other engines out there make the UnReal engine look like a bad dreamcast port... and suddenly it's "back to the drawing board." Of course this is all falls in line with DM#2 I think it was, wherein "devs put out crappy games just to make a quick buck".. except UnReal2 had a huge fucking budget and and quite a bit of time to progress... and the game was still disappointing. Maybe if Cliffy B had spent less time touting about your XO's perfectly shaped breasts, and more time directing the team... and as for the publisher , say maybe not spending so much wasted fucking money on E3 boothbabes and cheesy lightshows and say putting that money into hiring crack-skilled meth addicted psychotic programmers.... or maybe Cliffy B doesn't have as much pull as we're led to believe by the press presented from the company, and simply was beholden in entirety to the evil publisher who cracked his massah whip and told the team to get it done NOW or they were all going to be working on the next Army Men game? UnReal IS ripping off Halo, just look at the "jeep"; it LOOKS like a damn warthog... not just handles kind of like it. Look, here's a level where the Marines assault a Skaarj battleship.... hmm, that seems awfully "nostalgic". Not to say Halo or other games haven't been composed of elements taken from popular SciFi conventions.. but at least they own up to whom they nicked things from. Skaarj are Predator rip-offs... the end. UnReal is steeped in "co opting" iconic material from other sources.... and has been since the get go. Once you get past all the quaint truisms and clever use of cliches.... all it comes down to is that this is quite plainly Unreal's track record... Just because someone doesn't like it, and spouts venom on a message board with an opinionated rant doesn't make UnReal a good game or somehow absolve it from the fact that it was badly executed.. If UnReal's "core gameplay" was so damn good and that's all that mattered, wouldn't people still be buying it instead of Sims: Going to the Bathroom?
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#9 - EyeLikeP00 - 09/03/03 @ 10:36 AM EST
awesome!! there's going to be a new sims expansion about going to the bathroom??
sign me up!!
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#10 - ezcheese - 09/03/03 @ 03:22 PM EST
#8, I suggest you "rip off" a few "paragraph marks" and start using them. :-)Last Edited on 09/03/03 @ 03:23 PM EST
#11 - nickpimp - 09/04/03 @ 05:40 AM EST
there were a few games that were a standout not for their gameplay promises eg, the getaway, angel of darkness, dark angel, driver etc, but for plenty of bugs within the games themselves. im soo sick of games with so much annoying bugs that always piss me off. why is it that games who have been in development longer than say 3-4 yrs still have so much crap in their game that it is unplayable to a cretain point id like to know? i mean if it took that long to make a game then it shouldnt be a problem to take those bugs out which leaves you enuff time to work them out of the game while on a long-term game development. the getaway was in-dev longer than 3 yrs n man what a load of shit that game had in it. so much annoyances and it couldnt play right, i mean still it was an OK sorta game but damn it i had to restart over and over cos the controls were so stupid. fair enuff team soho wanted to make a game like a movie but FUCKing HELL it has to play well like a game.
now i havnt played angel of darkness yet and i heard it plays like a dog and s/ good story as well as creating an atmosphere but you cant have one thing overtake the other eg many cutscenes, dialogue, unskippable fmv's, and have not so much freedom on the gameplay. as long as those games have a sequal that addresses those problems as well as innovate then those games with better direction and control will succeed.
no wonder those guys who are in charge of core design got kicked out of their own studio for the problems angel of darkness had. sucked in on them the dickheads, you fuck up a franchise and the franchise gets fucked over.
remember: gameplay and the funfactor matters.
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#12 - Freejack - 09/04/03 @ 11:27 AM EST
Ac/ted on this site, Angel of Darkness sucked because Eidos forced Core to release it a year before it was scheduled to be finished.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that's going to have some profound effect on a product's development.
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- nickpimp- 09/20/03 @ 11:49 AM EST
they didnt have 2 release aod if they didnt feel as if it is as polished as it shouldve been for the release. game developers shouldnt have 2 buckle down on orders from publishers and stuff and be told to release a game even if its a yr too early for it to be released. ppl like core design and other makers of games shouldnt have to have a game made to public if it isnt given a proper development it deserves just cos eidios tells them to release it now or never.
now when you think of dnf as an example, even tho its been a work in progress longer t/o way 3dr is gonna release a game if it doesnt match what they have in their vision of how the game will look sound and play. regardless of what ppl say about dnf whether its the ppl in the forums or those who know of the dnf progress who yap and complain about how long dnf has been in development 3dr can and will afford as much time as they want on any games they make. yeh there were a lotta false stuff said about when dnf will be ready to go gold BUT everyone makes mistakes and if they love the duke games then they should wait a lil more. you all may be impatient now to wait this long to play dnf but wouldnt you be glad that they didnt suddenly release the game that was half finished and had a lack of polish and a lot of bugs included? it will be worth the wait, or will it?
all game makers should be really independant of their release of games AND not worry about poofy publishers in suits breathing down their necks and telling them to have it available at an unrealistic timeframe. Last Edited on 09/20/03 @ 11:54 AM EST
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#14 - Anon@207.81.102.244 - 10/26/03 @ 09:12 AM EST
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I don't believing ripping off ideas is the issue. The true problem is innovation and creativity, and being restrained by publishers who demand the developers make a game a certain way so it will sell really well, to the lowest common denominator.

Just because a genre has advanced, doesn't mean that the gaming industry has advanced as a whole.
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#15 - Anon@207.81.102.244 - 10/26/03 @ 09:13 AM EST
Nay, I think in many cases the gaming industry has decayed. Only the technology has advanced, and that technology is not always being put to use in the proper ways.
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#16 - nickpimp - 10/27/03 @ 08:06 AM EST
that and also in the execution of making the games. you can have a brilliant idea in the world in whatever game like in action stealth or fighting games and then screw it up by not doing your job correctly as a level designer or programmer.
in my opinion game developers dont ever listen to what gamers want or even care about their critisisms of a certain part of the game. i mean at least sum do care about the fans and how the game will look cos otherwise they wouldnt have a forums intergrated in their own web if ppl like 3dr and ubisoft didnt give a shit what ppl think.

another problem in todays gaming is ppl hacking game developer's work in progress of a video game such as half life 2's source code not to mention doom 3's alpha code and also quake 4's artwork release too early just cos they think they deserve a peek in how the game's looking. i mean im as hungrey to await for the next game from whoever but its no wonder we have to wait so long for a game to arrive.
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