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Film Envy

It's true I envy film. It's not actors, technology nor recognition. I am jealous of the lonely cinephile; of the time invesment in his craft. While he can easily analyze over a film a day, I crave more time to study my craft. However, I've got a plan.

Rafael Vazquez, Blogger

July 9, 2012

5 Min Read

                I confess, I envy film. Oh, how am I jealous of it! It's not about the exposure. It's not about the recognition. It's even not about the statistically above average presence of beautiful physiques. I don't envy actors, producers nor directors.  I am, however, jealous of film critics and cinephiles everywhere.

                The reasons are plain and simple. I'm a designer, it is part of my job description to critically understand games in order to design them. Not only is it a job, but a pleasure and passion of mine. Same goes for film critics with their media. The only difference is that while they get to experience the whole movie in around two hours, we can take anything from 6-80+ hours. I just...don't have enough hours! If they want to take a representative sample of nouvelle vague  for study, they can do it in two weeks of their spare time. If I'd like to do the same thing for the JRPGs of the early 90s.....I'd take a whole lot longer.

                And so the cause of my jealousy. While we try get up to date on the past classics that I didn't catch in their heyday (maybe they were never imported, maybe as a kid we didn't own the system, maybe we were too young for their rating), we also have to learn of the present and future trends by playing modern games. And they just keep coming....on the iPhone, consoles, Facebook, indies, AAA, art house, they're everywhere. Ohhh, how I hate it ( naah, I truly love it). Again, this is not just for fun....it's my job. I need to understand them.

                Many designers say: "play the first hour or so, that'll give you an idea". Maybe it's true, maybe the completist of my younger years has to learn the hard way that he's not so young any more. Maybe it's only the first hour that's worth it. And yet, I think some games deserve more. Some games are meant to be played to the end; not for the fiero of saying "I finished it! I beat you!!", not for the sense of closure of saying " Finally, I'm done with it", but because of the looming sense of "Ok, there's more you can teach me, go ahead". Some games don't spill out their guts in the tutorial, they hold back; and as you play you find these little gems (the minimalist battle against Glados in Portal, the emotional impact of returning to Shadow Moses in MGS4, the squad based shooter in Little Big Planet 2), that have so much to teach you. This, this is the fairy dust that makes you a better designer.

                And yet there is no time. Work, study, laundry, cooking, social life.....it all gets in the way. I'm single, with no kids, and I feel the pressure. Married, family designers you have my upmost respect and awe.  And that's not all. I wholeheartedly believe that a designer who doesn't experience other media puts himself under intellectual chains. So, in my little free time I must fit:  museums, literature, music, travels and... films. Yes, it's true. I too am a cinephile, and thus I see the differences one gets after two hours of effort studying one medium and the other.

                Maybe the solution is to have shorter games. Massimo Guarini thinks so (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/173585/The_case_for_movielength_narrative_video_games.php ). Make them shorter, appeal to the busy modern man. Long gone are the times of kids, our young innocent selves, with free afternoons and mom-made diners. He has a point, the modern gamer has little time on their hands; a designer who wants to try every genre, every indie hit, every blockbuster, every art house game even less so. The idea is not bad, the more variety of games we get the better. Yet some games are not meant to be short. Some stories, some interactions need investment to be meaningful. They need time to cook. And as designers we need to experience them.

                So what do we do? How can we solve this conundrum, this dilemma, this curse? I....have a plan. I rate games according to two axis: short games vs long games and games I need to play vs games I want to play. Because, let's be honest, some games, some genres aren't exactly our cup of tea. The latest brown modern shooter (you know the one, where we fight russian/arabs/koreans in urban environments with high tech weaponry....that one) does not ruffle my feathers. However, duty calls me, as a game designer, to take a nice close look at them. Hence the plan.

                First I must accept that I won't finish all games. Not because a lack of trying, but because of the simple logistics of it. I'll save a slot (say an hour) each day as "study play time". Here I'll play the short and long games I need to play. Research is in order to see if there is something that needs to be studied in the late game. I know this is a spoiler mine field.... but it's a price we've got to pay. On weekends I'll save a larger slot for long games I want to play. Mentally this is classified as rest, not work; else I'll go crazy feeling I've turned my passion into a grind. Short games I want to play will be saved for a rainy day. One of those times where there's nothing to do and you have a couple of hours to spare....that is the perfect time to finish these games.

                I admit it's not a great plan, but it's what I've got.  I'm sure you, dear readers, can come up with vastly more efficient plans... if so, please, please share. Mine will probably not survive first contact with wife... but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I might still envy film critics. Surely one day I'll dare them to see the extended version of The Lord of The Rings saga back to back (including both Hobbit films) just out of spite. But meanwhile, hopefully, I'll get to experience my media as they do theirs; completely, fulfilled, growing at my trade and without breaking the rest of my life.


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About the Author(s)

Rafael Vazquez


Rafael Vázquez is the lead game designer at Xibalba Studios and also does a bit of indie development on the side. He has worked on social and PC games both for entertainment and for social improvement, and is a firm believer of the power of math to uplift the art of game design. If you want to reach him, just send an email to [email protected].

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