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CGC 2011: Sword and Sworcery’s Capy Sweats the Small Stuff

Attention to detail is the magic that makes games successful, argued Capy’s Kris Piotrowski at the Canadian Games Conference today, warning that sometimes a developer should “be an asshole” to make a better game.

Mathew Kumar, Blogger

May 20, 2011

5 Min Read

Attention to detail is the magic that makes games successful, argued Capy’s Creative Director Kris Piotrowski at the Canadian Games Conference, warning that sometimes a developer may have to “be an asshole” in order to do the best for its game. “I’ve worked on a good number of games and I’ve noticed that a common trend in our successful games, the games we are most proud of, is that they are the ones that we gave the most love,” Piotrowski, from the Toronto-based Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP co-developers, opened. “Even aside from Capy, the games that stand out for us stand ahead of the rest because of their small details.” “There are a lot of crappy games out there,” he continued, “but I’d be surprised if the reason was always that the team was crappy. One of the most important things when you are making your game is to be honest with your team about the state of the game." "Deep down people are already aware of the issues with their game, but for whatever reasons don’t bring them up. The feelings I’m talking about are the things that you know are wrong, or could be improved, even really need to be better, but that you sit on.” “Don’t play games with your game,” Piotrowski stressed. “I’m sure programmers already know where the flaws in their code lie before they submit it, artists already know which parts of their art need more work. People know what is wrong with their game, and there are plenty of reasons to hope nobody notices, but they’re all wrong.” Piotrowski’s recommendation? “Be an asshole sometimes.” “Sometimes honesty comes off like being an asshole, especially if you’re talking about something people might have been working on for months. I don’t mean be an unpleasant dick; just have the strength to say when something is wrong. Try hard to be honest with yourself and your team if you know something is wrong, even if you don’t know how to fix it. You are working with a team of talented people and they might.” “You’re not making the game to make the team feel good,” he said. “People get into games because they want a job that’s fun, and that’s fine, but I think a lot of developers—especially indie developers—can be guilty of wanting development to always be happy and friendly, and it can’t always be.” "Don’t actually be an asshole. I know I mentioned it but don’t be a real one. Be frank and raise issues but do that without being a total jerk," he added. "Critique without creating drama ... that’s perfect." Piotrowski wanted developers to admit that when they read a negative review of their game, it’s much more likely that instead of thinking “what is this guy talking about?” they’re really thinking “man, I really hoped they wouldn’t notice that...” “Every detail you are not sweating is purely for short term gain,” he continued. “Your sins will be washed away by success, so really think about that when you think about the things you’re not bringing up.” Paying attention to detail also allows developers to actually make development more pleasant as well, Piotrowski went on to argue. “Games are usually tremendous piles of shit for a long, long time before they start to show anything good,” he said. “Sometimes, faith will not be enough to get through a project.” Piotrowski recommended that developers find “little things” to work on during development of the “big things” to make sure there is a regular stream of “something to get excited about.” “Little things are fun to make, usually easy to add, and they’re also cheap. This is the exact opposite of the rest of the game. Adding a little dust particle animation to your character’s jump is probably something you should do later, after the big things are all done, but it’s going to make you feel better about what you’re doing.” Piotrowski stressed that these “little things” were most important in the “weird limbo” in the middle of development, when you are no longer in the “pre-production honeymoon” and “really far from the point where the game would traditionally receive polish.” “This is the point where most games fail, especially in indie, where the game relies on the developer’s sheer willpower to get to the end. Don’t plan to do all the little fun things last because you’ll be sad for a long time, and only happy at the end, at the point where you’re also freaking out. Little joy nuggets will get you through the giant swarm of bullshit that makes up the majority of game development. This is really for your health.” In addition, these details, added consistently across development, could help define the game. “Details express personality; they are the main area that allow for personal expression. With Critter Crunch, one of the things that I like is that many aspects of Capy come through in the details, from the moments of humour, the rainbow barf; when people played it, I think they really got a sense of our studio. Of course, now with Sword and Sworcery, people probably think all we do is listen to rock and roll on vinyl and do tons of psychedelic drugs.” However, Piotrowski did feel that Sworcery was a perfect example of the importance of details. “That game is basically all about the details. It’s not really about any particular game mechanic, there’s fighting and things like that but it’s not driven by them. Most of the things the player is going to feel are in the little details in the art, the environment, and the sound design. We feel details in our souls. They’re not necessarily seen by the players, but felt. In Ico, or Shadows of the Colossus, you feel the history of the world as you explore it, but the game doesn’t tell you any of it particularly. It’s detail osmosis.” “The soul of a game is not necessarily found in the mechanics,” Piotrowski concluded. “Details are magic feelings; how you feel that a game is made with love and care, with someone’s signature on it.”

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About the Author(s)

Mathew Kumar


Mathew Kumar is a graduate of Computer Games Technology at the University of Paisley, Scotland, and is now a freelance journalist in Toronto, Canada.

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