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AA Game Development: A New Hope

AAA games and independent games, both powerful, and both limited. Yet, their sibling, AA games has the potential to fill the niche those limitations have made.
AAA and Independent, the dichotomy that has become all the more apparent as each side has become more prominent. With the beautiful blinging out of graphics in generation seven, AAA development, the multi million dollar productions, have just gotten bigger and better. Likewise, the various online download services like Steam and XBLA have allowed smaller groups, independent of publishers, to create and sell games with much smaller budgets. But, there is a genre of development between the two, and more often than not, it gets relegated in the consumer mind to "shovelware." I'm talking about AA development, and in the seventh generation of gaming, it was usually the worst of both worlds. AA is an intriguing section of game development. While associated with a publisher, the game usually has a smaller budget to work with than AAA development. However, it also has less freedom to express itself in most cases, as the tie to the publisher makes taking the "indie, but with more money" route an impossible one. The difference between the three is, in basest of terms, budget. AAA is the Uncharteds, the Grand Theft Autos, the Skyrims. They are the ones that make the biggest splashes, and usually for good reason, as they enjoy a large amount of time to produce the game, with a very large amount of people to help make the game a reality. Independent is the Super Meat Boys, the Dear Esthers, the Fezs. These are made with a small group of developers, and are often noted for disregarding most established norms, whether in terms of theme or design. Because they are made on a small budget, the metric of success is much lower. Where Grand Theft Auto has to sell well into the millions to recoup the production cost, most independent games need only sell 10-20,000, or sometimes nothing at all, as they're put on ad-centric websites, and make their money there. And finally, we have AA development, where untapped potential has only recently begun to emerge. AA development is where a lot of… low expectations go. This is where movie tie ins are found, or projects that largely mimic AAA games, your Captain America: The Video Games, your Black Site: Area 51s, your Blades of Times. The budget, IP, and time given are usually too small to produce anything of real note, just… games to fill the shelves. And except for some minor exceptions (WayForward, for instance) that's mostly what AA development produces. Uninspired, safe, and generally, unpolished. But, in some cases, this allows for something great to be devised. In most situations, being in AA development equals having all the creative restrictions of AAA with a budget only slightly bigger than Indie. But, sometimes, a publisher gives more breathing room, and we get some truly great experiences. In the past few years, one of these was Demons' Souls, which, while released at retail, only sold several hundred thousand copies. However, the production cost less than AAA, and as such those sales more than made up the cost, enough to warrant a more financially successful sequel. Another of these was No More Heroes, developed by Grasshopper Manufacturer. Released on the Wii as a Mature game, the sales expectations were rather low, but by only selling half a million, the company had made its most successful game yet. AA development, when done right, allows for the same creative freedom that independent development has, but also a budget allowing for a creative team larger than a handful of people. And this is a type of development that needs to be given these tools as the eight generation of consoles looms. The graphical and processing capabilities of games have only gotten better as time goes by, but we've now reached a point where, in terms of graphical power, gaming has plateaued. HD televisions are the only ones on the market, and a successor to this display has yet to be forthcoming (and I honestly hope it never does). And with that, I believe that AA gaming needs to gain greater creative prominence. The truth of the matter is, AAA and independent games can be held back by their greatest strengths. AAA usually can't take many risks in terms of theme or gameplay, in the fear of not reaching as wide an audience as they need to, and Independent have to keep their productions on a small scale, or else they'll implode in financial ruin. But AA could allow for development of modest, but still relatively complex productions. Instead of HD level graphics, they could use SD, maybe even make use of cel shading, or produce 2D games on the level of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. I believe that AA could open gaming to more creative endeavors, as the shackles of independent and AAA production are able to be discarded. It won't be the best choice for everything, but it could bring us the next masterpiece, at a fraction of the price. :3

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