A lot of creative types tend to give producers a bad rap. The suits. The MBAs. The squares. Those guys who take their SACRED and HOLY capital A Art and turn it into something profane in pursuit of that almighty dollar. Those who ruin everything that was good about the original creation. Those who cause all the bad things you ever hear about that one thing you like.
But no. In truth, producers, good producers, are usually very valuable to the creation. They may not be popular. People who impact the artistic vision of the creative types aren’t usually very welcome around the bullpen.
A producer’s job is to make sure the creative work is profitable. This means making sure it’s… you know… good. Also means making sure it’s going to be palatable to enough of an audience to support its cost plus margin. Sometimes, it means changing the vision of the creative folks heading the production. Sometimes it means making sure they have the free rein and the resources to thrive. Usually, they’re in charge of cultivating the material from the beginning either selecting the base and giving it the resources to grow or coming up with the source idea itself and putting the right people in place to build that seed up. Producers can be known by different terms in different mediums. Editors are more common for written form. But yeah, these are the people in charge of making sure this thing makes money.
A good producer can make the product. A bad producer ruins it. When a producer does their job well, you will rarely ever know what they did in the final product. When a producer doesn’t, well, that’s where we get all these stories from.
Just look at Silicon Knights. When they had a good, strong, producer, they made magic. Much has been made of the quality of their work when they were a second-party developer under Nintendo. Let free of that arrangement, their work just fell apart. An article (admittedly, published by Kotaku, so, you know keep that garbage can handy) published a few years back sees an anonymous former Silicon Knights employee credit Nintendo’s very involved producing with the reason for the high quality behind those releases.
Likewise, you know all those Kickstarter games by proven developers that seem to keep crapping the bed. Most of their problems seem to stem from things a quality producer would help them avoid. Not to say that the creative types, people involved in the development, can’t be good producers in their own right. There’re plenty who can manage both the creative and the business needs of their projects. Most of the indie successes out there can attest to that.
But, at the same time, it takes a lot to be a good producer. You need good strong knowledge of the creative process, a great awareness of your team and what they’re capable of, and you need to be able to fit everything in with an ultimate vision for the project. Without all of those, it is really, really easy for a producer to have some strong adverse impacts on the project.
Much has been made of Shigeru Miyamoto’s ability to upend the table on any project Nintendo’s working on. If he sees you doing something, and he decides you need to change, you’re changing. Miyamoto’s also got a very distinct taste in what makes a good game. That’s one of the reasons Nintendo puts out games with a very unique flavor. Overall, it seems to have been a positive arrangement for Nintendo, overall.
But if you’re going to be changing the creative vision of something, you have to be choosing the right time to do it, and make sure the team has the time and resources to follow through and implement that new vision totally. Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures seems to be lacking for that. The game was originally designed as a direct prequel to A Link to the Past. In its original form, it told the tale of the war that led Ganon to the situation he was in in the middle of the SNES game.
Miyamoto wasn’t into that. He’s never been big on continuity and storytelling in games, and didn’t like the connections this game had with A Link to the Past. So he made sure the Links between the two were removed. In the end, Four Swords Adventures ended up in a completely different branch of the timeline than A Link to the Past.
I don’t know when in the development cycle the change was made. But it was obvious it wasn’t near early enough, and once the change was made, the team didn’t have what they needed to implement it completely. In spite of having no story ties to a Link to the Past, Four Swords Adventures is LTTP as all hell. The art style mimics that of the former game, much of the music comes directly from the earlier game, and the overall feel is very, very much that of “Link to the Past callback”.
To the point that the lack of story elements and the insistence of telling a different tale caused me a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. Now, I don’t demand a great, in depth story in my Zelda games. The games are what they are, and while they do have a story, it’s not the most important part of their experience. But when you have the story actively running counter to everything the tone and atmosphere and visuals are telling me, it makes it really hard to get involved in either. Because of this change, elements were in strong conflict with each other, and it made it a lot harder to get myself involved in it.
Maybe the decision did lead to a better game. Maybe the tale about the Sealing War in Link to the Past’s backstory just wasn’t very good, and is one of those things that are better left to the imagination. Maybe the change was necessary. But it wasn’t handled effectively, and that really comes down to the producer. The change completely altered the game’s vision, and at the time it came around, there either wasn’t enough time or enough resources to make the necessary changes to the sound, art, and atmosphere to see that through. If that decision just came at a better time, or with more of a mind to what the team had to work with, Four Swords Adventures may have been a much better game for it.