Dark Souls was the first Let’s Play I finished, but not the first one I started.  No, even that ill-fated Recettear LP was not my first.  My first LP actually went on about five years ago, on the online forum I took part in at the time, covering good old Shin Megami Tensei.

There I was, trying baby’s first screenshot LP on a board that was already full of frankly excellent screenshot LPs by a lot of people far more eloquent, funny, and informed than I was.  That was one of the first online writing things I put so much effort into,, but reading over my stuff didn’t seem as good as what everyone else had, and frankly, I lost my confidence in the quality of my work.  I stopped the LP and quit the forum a few months down the road, which was really in large part because I was going through some big life changes and just didn’t have the time to keep up, but a not insignificant part of it was because I thought my work was poor and I just couldn’t hang.

Well blast from the past, on a lark, I just went back and read it yesterday.  And you know what?  It was great!  Five years gone, I’m divorced enough from the creation of it to actually enjoy it as I would something that anyone else did, and I really enjoyed it.  It’s like somebody who knew exactly what I like in a screenshot LP was putting it together!  Seriously, reading through it now, I am really proud of what I created.  And yet I was feeling nothing but uncertainty while I was creating.

It’s kind of a running joke among authors that everyone hates their own work.  There is no pride in a job well done, there’s no honest ego, there’s only all those flaws the artist can’t get their eyes away from.  There’s truth to that, though.  When you’re in the middle of creating something, you’re already committed to seeing it from a different perspective than the eventual reader will be, and that changes the way you look at it.  Necessitates a critical eye.  There’s still some things you can look for in the quality of your work, but once you’ve moved yourself that close to the source, you lose your perspective.  That’s why you get John Romero saying he’s going to make you his lady for the night when the game he proposed to do that with played like a migraine on wheels, because everyone involved in creating and marketing that game was just too close to the project to get proper perspective.  Although they realized Daikatana was falling down the tank towards the end of development, they still didn’t have the perspective required to take the steps necessary to either fix the game or at the least not make the marketing campaign a horrible embarrassment.

And that happens all the time.  Every creative work you’ve experienced.  Every game, every book, every movie, every work of art.  For someone to have created something worth experiencing, they would have needed to have improve their craft, and improving  requires the critical eye that leads one to doubt their own work.  All but the most arrogant of creators, everyone from my fellow bloggers to the highest paid content producers, go through this every time they make something.  And even the arrogant creators lose perspective on their work.  Hell, even now, calling my first LP something I can be proud of may stem from a complete lack of perspective.

This lack of perspective does go a long way to explain why studios spend so much on making bad things.  That’s why Disney un-cancelled the Lone Ranger film and spent $375 million in production and marketing only for it to fail so, so hardcore.  That’s why Marvel so often announces these big events, their authors putting so much spirit behind their works, only for them to actually come out and be infuriating.  That’s the reason for almost everything Silicon Knights has produced and failed to produce since Nintendo stopped overseeing them.

Creation is hard.  And it gets even harder just by the fact it’s next to impossible to get the consumer’s perspective on your work, after you’ve gotten so involved in building it.  Even the stuff I put up on this blog, although entertaining to me, I have no idea how good it is to anybody else.  But that’s the way it goes.  There are a set of skills you can develop to overcome this, to start getting a sense of what is going to translate well for the reviewers, but oddly enough, overcoming that gap in perception is not always necessary.  Sometimes, the greatest works come out of letting that risk be, out of ignoring the focus testers and going your own route.

That’s just something to keep in mind the next time you play something and start wondering what the developer was thinking.  And hey, the next time I write something that sucks, just keep in mind it’s all because you don’t have my obviously proper perspective.

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6 responses to “

  1. That Daikatana advertising campaign was a legendary disaster, wasn’t it? A lot of people seem to be bringing it up again in light of another reprehensible trailer released last month. The parallels are quite staggering.

    But yeah, I definitely agree in that it’s good to have feedback when creating content. It’s interesting knowing that your perspective on your own work is in the vast, vast minority, and one of the reasons for that is because (ideally) you know how the journey ends long before it’s even an idea in the public eye. When I make reviews, I know what score I’ll award along with what’s on my pros/cons list (indeed, the latter serves as an outline for me and a recap for the readers), so what I’m doing is writing my way to the prechosen conclusion.

    Along the same lines, I’ve found that going into games blind is something of a trust exercise. That is, you place your faith in the developers to not implement an aspect that can possibly put you at a severe disadvantage (or in an unwinnable state in extreme cases) simply by playing the game like a normal person would. I remember playing Cave Story only to later learn after I completed it that I was locked out of the best ending because I didn’t submit to the designer’s strange bouts of anti-logic. At one point, you have to ignore an injured character; his wounds will be fatal if you speak to him, but if you ignore him, he makes a full recovery later. Relating back to what you’re saying, I think this aspect would have been overruled had this game been made by more than one person. It’s definitely a landmark for the indie scene, and it’s admirable that it was created by a single person entirely from stretch, but it could have done even better had more people been involved in the development process to tell him what did and didn’t work.

    • That’s the new call of duty trailer, right? I watched it. It was pretty aggressively dumb. Still not sure I get all the hate, but I wrote off the series a while ago.

      Well, feedback as part of the creative process is both a valuable and dangerous thing. Something like blogging, or really even that Let’s Play, while it is good to have the guidance to help you hone your craft, those are so incredibly personality driven that you’re really at your best just writing what works for you. If you have fun with it, that’s what really comes out to others. Then again, as much as that’s true, if you’re putting it out there publicly, you do need to keep the audience in mind, and write something they’ll enjoy, too. Else you just waste everyone’s time but your own.

      But something that’s being released commercially? It’s really hard to get away from working around the public perception on that one. Still, you can’t always trust the focus groups. You have to give audiences what they really want, which can often be different from what they think they want.

      And yeah, it is really, really dangerous to go into a game blind sometimes. I’ll always give the first shot without a guide, but that doesn’t work so well. I went through the same thing with Valkyrie Profile, which requires you to hold off on doing a lot of things long before you ever have a clue any of that actually matters to get the best ending. I can understand making someone work for their good ending, but some games just take it way too far. So, it’s less likely to make such screwups when you have a few people to run ideas by, but that’s never a sure thing. Might lose some good ideas in the process too, the way groupthink works.

      • Almost. The Infinite Warfare trailer is indeed pretty dumb, but I’m surprised because it seems to be disliked for a combination of abstract reasons, and that is not the M.O. of most swarms of downvoters. It’s usually for a single, obvious (though not always sympathetic) reason as was the case with the hilariously awful Mighty No. 9 trailer that was also released last month. Seriously, “make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night” is the new “John Romero’s about to make you his…” er… well… yeah.

        Whether or not you wish to incorporate feedback is a judgement call to be sure. Sometimes, you have to hear people out to get a different perspective, but other times, you just have to drown them out and bet on you being right. It’s exactly as you say – sometimes what a group of people thinks they want is far different than what they actually want, and more importantly, what is best for everyone. It’s certainly a balancing act because amazing things can result of ignoring rules and expectations the public have set forth. On the other hand, you might just end up proving why they’re there in the first place.

        Your situation in Valkyrie Profile reminds me of a moment from Metal Gear Solid V when I was forced to spend twenty minutes or so examining my roster of soldiers for a certain trait they all shared. You see, I tried to do all of the optional sidequests in each mission right off the bat, and in doing so, I amassed an army with capabilities far beyond what was expected at that point. I eventually learned that I shouldn’t have bothered; it would have been better if I had attempted them later on when I had access to superior equipment you simply can’t get (no matter how diligent you are) at the beginning of the game. In other words, it felt like the game was punishing me for being too good at it, and while it wasn’t a deal breaker, it did make me think worse of the experience.

        Cave Story is definitely a game that expects too much from the player when it comes to getting the best ending. Not only do you have to jump through many unintuitive hoops just to be eligible, you also have to complete a brutally difficult bonus area that has no checkpoints and culminates with a boss that has multiple forms. Die at any point and you have to start all over again. It’s one of those cases where you complete the earliest portions over and over again when it’s the later sections you need the most practice with, which you won’t get. I’m all for the best ending involving a personal challenge such was the case in BioShock and Undertale, but Cave Story took that idea way, way too far.

      • Ah, yes. I had forgotten about Mighty Number 9. It was especially ridiculous in their case, as the company had put in a couple of kickstarter bids to start an animated series, including one based on the Might Number 9 property, before the trailer every came out. Don’t disrespect your market. That’s not good business. Especially don’t disrespect your market when your product is, you know, already going through some troubles. Glass houses and all that.

        What is it about this games headlined by a major industry person feeling they can take liberties like these with their audience? It just makes that person seem like a straight dick, which I’m not sure why you’d hire a marketing team that’ll do that.

        That ending issue, it all does come down to the developer working from a different perspective, although if they cared, it really wouldn’t be too hard to correct. They’re generally working backwards, with the end result already in mind, mostly laying sticking the hoops you have to jump through into a structure that’s already been established. In these egregious cases, they’re not keeping the experience of the player in mind, requiring action that’s completely out of place with where they’ve brought the player thus far. Just a bit of feedback, honestly taken at the right stage of development, could fix that. Need someone to play the game from the player’s perspective. But, you’d have to be able and willing to take that feedback and make changes around that at a time that may not be optimal in development, and it just doesn’t work out with a lot of games.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more about the industry taking such liberties with those who enjoy video games. As I’ve talked about on various blogs, it really is a problem that only this medium seems to be saddled with (one could argue that musicians have this problem as well, but they usually tend to be a bit more tongue-in-cheek about it). I have a difficult time imagining this kind of advertising flying in any other medium; such a decision would ensure the work’s demise. Traces of this mentality even manifest in the games themselves – how many times have you played a game that jumped on you for making “wrong” choice even though there was only one way to proceed? Planescape: Torment, a game made in 1999, realized that making the player feel like dirt only means anything if they actively choose to be evil, so I don’t know why designers going into the 2010s still fail to grasp this. This strange brand of condescension creators often display these days makes many of their games very tiring to get through. I think an effect this will have in the long run is that it will make certain critically acclaimed games stick out to historians not as masterpieces that have stood the test of time, but as period pieces that showcase the more embarrassing aspects from a somewhat chaotic era.

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