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.