For the record and obvious disclaimer qualities to redeem me from everything: I have not played Rage. I’m basing this solely on the now-famous and referenced-everywhere review at Ars Technica. And yes, this is a rant, not a journalistic flower.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter if I’ve played it or not – the issues brought into play (ha!) are not unique to Rage, and apply to whole cartload of other games too. I’m just grabbing a muse and running with it, wrongly.
I remember when Rage was announced. It was very iD. Technical breakthroughs, innovations and pipelines that caress a hurting artist and make his/her life easier with megatextures and whatnot. Easier to build and paint massive, detailed and gorgeous worlds. That’s very, very important, in fact – if the toolchain bogs artists down, it bogs down the content. Period. It’s bloody hard to get the vision across and delivered if the tools hold you back, so it easily brings up the easy choice of cutting down on vision instead and keeping the coders busy on features instead of tools. Very valid from business perspective in a culture where the management walks down the hallways holding a shotgun in hand.
It’s very linear game, that, played from a single person perspective. It has all the necessary savepoints and map levels laid out in advance. Open world it ain’t, not in most cases — few examples exist, and they’ve nailed it down. Valve and Thatgamecompany come to mind on top of their own game, doing their own thing by daring to fail internally when trying and pushing ideas across. No, I have no idea what the studio culture and working ways are at iD, but keep in mind I’m not talking about Rage or iD solely. This is widespread, so I’m happily generalizing and blaming everyone equally. Generally speaking.
Back to Rage. Yes. The review gives it the respect and merit for how much of an visual experience it is. Then comes the bad news that don’t surprise anyone anymore, except by their directness and frankness. We need painful and uncomfortable feedback like this, in the industry where every review is suspect to suspicion over advertisement dollars shining through on the same review site. We must be held accountable as well, not just reviewers.
Elsewhere, someone described how inviting and lush the world in Rage looks, how it looks like a living and breathing thing. From afar, I think he added. Invites to get closer and immerse oneself into the world, he continued. Haven’t heard more from him.
Yes, well. It certainly does have just about perfectly executed art direction and fistful of hard-ass visual styles reminding us of Mad Max and Fallouts and other favourites.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an artist and thrive for graphical quality, but for the sake of all things dear and holy to the audience, it has to have the function and the reason. It must be the effect after a cause.
When I look at the world of Rage from graphical standpoint, yes, it’s bloody pretty. It runs at constant 60 frames per second on the 360 and flows like molten butter. Carmack is insane. Now here’s the kicker for me: I’d love to think of a world like that as the canvas for everything that really makes the world breathe. A canvas where the final color comes from creatures inhabiting it, each tangled in the sprawling storyline and cross-connections and interactions driving events and agreements and disagreements and love and war. Stuff you could potentially write a book about after playing through and running into plot twists and characters that develop, while the game engine churns out richly detailed lushness at natural flow to support the depth. Something to sink into.
At this point I should be following some rules of writing and offering clever counterpoints and fresh ideas to rectify stuff I present as issues. Yes, well..
… I draw blank, sorry.
I do have a thought about reviews and their relationship with the industry, though.
Reviews hold a power to potentially echo back into development of future titles, all the way to the initial business level when the project proposal is under scrutiny and compared to similar predecessors. If they’re skewed, it all rolls slowly down backwards.
I fear that in the future game projects include a sub-plan entitled “reviews” under master marketing plan, where key high-volume reviews are designed to highlight the game features that are most cost-effective to implement, made to match and support those tailored reviews. All laid out in advance, calculated and monetized.
Games become graphical technological featurepiles that need to be separately gamified. Is that where the mainstream high-dollar triple-a industry is headed? Gamification is already a standard term, driving investors into tears of joy and older developers into tears of rage. Sorry, I meant discomfort.
Monetization is also an already established keyword in game development. They’re mostly coming up when pitching games to investors, and I understand the need for common language of $$ especially when investors are coming from outside the industry, but when they really do sneak their way up into game designs themselves, it becomes a bit creepy for many.
We love doing games for all the potential they hold as we see them blossom and grow on our screens during development, not what they often end up as. After a project is done, it’s usually remembered as a series of war stories over a pint of beer. I’m sure artists, animators, coders, sound designers and leads at iD loved to see their vision shine, and they certainly deserve all the possible credit for their work. It sure is beautiful. I just worry about what gets left behind.