Monday, December 22, 2008

About youth being wasted on the young

It may be too early to tell, but already I see a cycle emerging:
  • At first, many bright-eyed hopeful students want nothing more than to make the next generation of AAA games. In their spare time, they play certain games obsessively, and it is these games in particular (or others just like them) that they'd like to make.
  • Some of these students graduate, get into industry and enjoy it for a time, but eventually get frustrated. They're a small cog in a huge machine, going from one crunch period to another, with no end in sight. In their spare time, they play short games because that's all they have time for, and they secretly wish they were Jason Rohrer or Rod Humble or Jenova Chen.
  • Some of these frustrated developers leave the industry for academia, and are frankly amazed at how much of an opportunity the next generation of students has. Why, they could use their talents to make the next big art game that has all of the professional developers collectively salivating at its brilliance! These students have the time, they have the skills, they've got the drive... but all they want to do is make a clone of their favorite AAA titles. Oh, the tragedy of wasted opportunity!

And then the cycle repeats.

I do my best to describe this to my students. In a few cases, they get it. Most of the time, it's like trying to describe working in an office job to a second-grader: the life experience necessary for total comprehension just isn't there yet.

I see other teachers forcing the issue. I hear at GDC of class assignments that involve having students create games that teach, games that inform, games that enlighten, games that have a positive social impact, games that make the world a better place, games that express an emotion (other than power fantasy or adrenaline rush), and so on. These kinds of assignments are a reflection of the instructor's agenda: these are the kinds of games that the teacher wants to make.

If you're a student, looking at the game design assignments heaped on you will give you a clue as to the kinds of things you might really want to make yourself in five to ten years (even if they seem arbitrary or meaningless right now). If nothing else, it shows you how your instructor -- the same person who wanted to make nothing but AAA games back when they were your age, if you can believe it -- has changed over time.

But it is a real shame that a lot of students today won't figure all of this out until it's too late. George Bernard Shaw's quote about youth being wasted on the young is ringing true.


wonderwhy-er said...

And how is student attitude towards independent developing?
I mean that there is not much of game model innovation in AAA scene more like polishing of old well working models...

Ian Schreiber said...

That's what I mean -- indie development just isn't on the radar. Most students want to make the next God of War / Gears of War / World of Warcraft / Something of War-something. They aren't thinking in terms of major genre-busting innovation.

wonderwhy-er said...

I think that it is question of age then... I find those game pretty repetitive and not offering much of new experience but rather new content... So it is natural that with time they will become fed up with same experience AAA games provide and will start looking for new experience. You know it's like with likening food or I don't know smoking. Make them eat or smoke too much and then they will feel what you mean :)

I don't know may be try showing them AAA without graphics/content and games like
and then show then games like Farcry 2 or say GTA series and ask how much fun their models are in comparison? How much new experience new versions of those games add? I see that behind both of those games a very simple game mechanics lies that actually gets pretty repetitive pretty fast. For example playing GTA VI kind of udnerstood that that did not add anything new at all.. Just new look and story...

Another thing with AAA games is how they are made... Those are large teams of hundred people sometimes and they work some times for years to make one game... They want to spend their lives and make like 10 AAA games that behind their masks of new graphics are all the same?

Anyways I think what you see is normal picture among students of various disciplines. I my self am a programmer with interest in computer graphics and physics simulations and as result game programming and looking at people around me I see that there are may 10% may be 20% at max of people who are really have aims and struggle for innovation and need to make things better then they are. I must say that 20% understand later that that's not theirs profesion as thay have no idea how to perform well in... 20% more understand that thats thay can do things but don't really like that work... then 20 like the work but just as a work and jsut work for money and do what they are told... And even from what is left true innovators are only some 10%...

So I think you should now aim for making all understand how repetitive AAA and in some way boring for individual AAA level is... You should make practical task so that you could find those 5-10% of those who want to innovate and then try to work to make their potential to fruition... Find best trough discussions and all and then help then in some way to evolve in their interests.

Lewis said...

You have described this perfectly, Ian. Though as an "old man" and who never wanted to make AAA video games or art games, I don't quite fit the mold of the teacher.

I spend a lot of time trying to get students to understand that being really good at playing a game isn't an adult productive desire (though many adults desire it), that most people in the game industry don't actually work on AAA games, that you're just a cog in AAA game development (even the chief designer--who has years of experience--has only about 20% influence on the published outcome, where the designer of a boardgame has 90-95% influence). I try to emphasize casual games and other types of games. I try to get them to do games they can finish, not grandiose things they'll never complete.

My point in the recent Gamasutra piece (
was that designers need to try lots of different things, not just the "immersive" AAA shooters/adventures etc. That's what the students need to understand, and I hate it when some bozo says you should design games just like the ones you want to play, because without context it is very bad advice.

But not everyone will listen, of course. Unfortunately, as a friend said about her young adult children, sometimes you see them doing something stupid or foolish, but there's nothing you can do to change it, they just have to experience it for themselves.

Alvaro Victor Cavalcanti said...

The way I see it, this issue is only an implementation of an old-times defined Interface. Parents are always trying to teach their kids not to make the same mistakes they made. Some (a few) of these kids will get it, but others will only get it when the time has come. It's the way life is.

On the other hand, I do believe that if indie games get more space on the media, and share some shelf-space alongside AAA titles, they'll eventually attract more developers.


odysseyman said...

I can see how this would apply to a boatload of soon-to-be-devs, as I was one of those people as well until around my senior year in college - right at the onset of the indie renaissance, as I call it, when we started seeing flash games and independent games garnering more attention and awards than ever before.

I think that the example that should be set nowadays is for students to aspire to to create their one-man or small-team games, with Halo and Gears being used similarly to how "The Matrix" or "Independence Day" might be shown in a film school for wanna-be-filmmakers - as a pie in the sky, but not something one should aspire to straightaway.

Instead of using Halo or Gears as examples, we should be using Everyday Shooter, World of Goo, or Castle Crashers - games that *can* be aspired to without a multi-million dollar budget and a 200 person team. Personally, after working at a studio that develops multiple games across multiple genres every year, I have no idea how somebody could work on one single game for 3-4 years :-)