Opinion: Rethinking The Game Proposal

Following up 'in respectful response' to Luke Ahearn's articles on game proposals, game professional Tim Carter has written to Gamasutra with an amusing imaginary scenario, explaining w
Following up 'in respectful response' to Luke Ahearn's articles on game proposals, game professional Tim Carter has written to Gamasutra with an amusing imaginary scenario, explaining why "an individualist approach" to the initial stages of game design is the only way to make great games. Carter's full Letter To The Editor is below: "In respectful response to Ahearn's articles, which are obviously based on a great deal of real-world in-the-trenches experience in previous projects, I'd like to submit this little scene to stir up new thoughts... (SCENE: Jack and Bill Gamer are sitting down in Bill's living room, about to eat some noodles.) Jack Gamer: Wow I just bought Space Zombies Return III. Bill Gamer: I heard it sucked. Jack: Nah! It was great. Bill: Not what I heard. Jack: Know why?... (Bill rolls his eyes in weary irritation; looks at Jack; says nothing; waits...) Jack: ...It was so efficiently produced! Bill: What? Jack: Yah! I mean, the proposal process that went into that was so bang on. You could tell it was so well packaged that I just had to buy it. It rocked my world! Bill: What about the Space Zombies? Jack Gamer: The what...? Oh yeah, them... Eh. They were nothing special. Bill: So why'd you fork out for it? Jack: I could just see how well the developer packaged the proposal for the publisher. I mean it it must've made them SHINE!!! Bill: I bet you wish you were there to see that huh? Jack: Absolutely. The efficiency! The way the producer got a whole bunch of little garage developers to work from their apartment for a year to make the demo. Imagine it! Bill: Is that why they agreed on Space Zombies? Jack: Well of course. If you were a little garage developer, and you were basically forking out the money - through your contributed free time - to produce a demo so the publisher could kind of make snap decision would you risk doing anything unusual? Nope. Space Zombies it is. The beauty of it. (Bill looks at Jack with a quizzical expression.) Bill: Weren't you the guy who was saying that these games all sucked? Jack: Yes. Bill: And that this old-fashioned, status-quo process of proposing games, with a rolling demo, and a full team built up before you even talk to a publisher about whether your design doc was worth the paper it was printed on, was just too cumbersome to come up with anything really fresh and new? Jack: Absolutely. Bill: That maybe publishers need to talk to designers much earlier, to hear a pitch, to discuss the work before a single piece of code is written? Jack: Yah. I said they needed to work things out more in the- Bill: -In that protoplasmic realm of the imagination you said. Jack: Yah. Like Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Bill: Right, and when you bring things into a completed work, like a demo, it tends to freeze the creative process. You said that... Jack: I said they need to just bypass the whole cumbersome, document- and process-heavy mess of demonstrating they had a team ready, they had a working demo, they had a project plan, this that and the other thing. Bill: Because it was not the essence... Jack: Exactly. It wasn't the essence. The vision. Bill: You said they had to find the vision first. They had to sit down and talk it out. Jack: Well, that would make it harder on the publishers though. Bill: Right. I mean, you were proposing they might finance, say, a designer or a tiny team to go off to some cabin and do up some piece of design or whatever. As if they were, you know, independent instead of collat- Jack: Collectivist. Bill: What? Jack: Instead of taking a collectivist approach, which can only lead to hot dogs, they could take an individualist approach, which is a necessary leap into maturity. All the world's art forms - architecture, film, and so forth - all had to take that step. Bill: Right. Jack: Or maybe not take the step. Maybe they did that already. Bill: What? Jack: They let individuals specialize. Bill: Right. Jack: They trusted the individual voice. Bill: Right. Jack: That, you know, the fact it costs a whack of money or that it has to be made efficiently to save money is all fine, but at the end of the day what counts is the spark. Bill: The elusive spark. Jack: Yes, that Mysterious X which nobody can simply throw money at a thing to make appear. That we should work toward that instead of just focussing on efficiency. Bill: That's right. You said the focus on efficiency was all fine, but often it was looked at out of fear. Jack: Something like that. Bill: Fear because to try to find that Mysterious X is just too scary, or too weird at least for some people, and if faced with a difficult decision they'd rather just keep their jobs. Jack: It was something like that... Bill: Of course, the publishers would be inundated with proposal concepts and design docs and so forth, but there could be ways to deal with that. Jack: Yah. Like the script readers or the indie festival scouts Hollywood employs; or the talent scouts the big sports teams have... Yah... (Long silence.) Bill: So what the hell happened? Why are you so on about Space Zombies Return III... Jack: Well... (Looks down.) (More silence.) Bill: Well, what...? Jack: I was one of the beta-testers. Bill: Oh. (Bill looks at Jack. Jack looks at him squarely. Bill goes back to his noodles.) Bill: I see... (Jack continues to stare, almost imploring.) Jack: You gonna get it right? (Bill finishes a mouthful of noodles. Sighs.) Bill: Yeah, sure. Space Zombies... What the hell... (Jack turns to his noodles and starts to eat.) [Gamasutra welcomes comments and follow-ups via the Letter To The Editor submission interface, and thanks Tim for writing in.]

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