ACHIEVEMENT, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.
- Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Dictionary
If you ask me, and I strongly advise you don’t, I’d say a love for playing games is the worst reason you can have for joining the game industry as a developer. Similarly, a love for playing Japanese games is probably the worst reason to relocate to Japan to do the same. If you’re anything like me, poor thing, it will ruin your enjoyment of games, any games, possibly for the rest of your life. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too strong, but it will certainly change your perception.
When I was at college and developed my first photograph the sudden appearance of the image on paper as it floated in a bath of chemicals was a kick. Seeing other photographs became a study in technique. When I was taught filmmaking and editing things became a little more complicated. I started seeing the cuts and edits in other productions. Whenever an action line was crossed or a continuity error occurred it became poison in my eye. But when I entered the game industry I became privy to the Belly of the Beast, cut open and sprawled out in front of me; a sight I am unable to unsee ever again. Games were never the same. It’s a little bit like meeting a hero of yours and finding out he’s a prick, or loving sausages and visiting a sausage factory. Some things are better left unknown.
Since I have known the effort, politics and struggle that goes behind every game production playing games, though not quite torture, has been spoiled somewhat. Only a handful of games ever fulfill their potential; the majority never reaches that level it could have been if the harsh reality of economics and time weren’t an issue. Development shortcuts, asset recycling, gameplay padding all jump out at me with every game I play. As an artist I pay particular attention to those errors that relate to my skills; texture warping, bad UV layouts, tiled textures with seams, I see them all. And I know in the back of my mind some poor artist had to throw this particular asset together in a matter of hours as a deadline loomed or a last-minute change was required. In stead of playing and enjoying the game I am constantly on the lookout for these little slips.
And it spills over into real life too. Walking the streets I am constantly looking out for modeling issues. Ah, that building, I could do that in a 100 polys and a single 128 texture. Oh, I wouldn’t have put that wall there; a meter or two to the left and it would block out that expansive view behind it. Man, that little corner there is a collision model nightmare! How would I fudge that interior if I wasn’t able to use alpha maps for the window?
In my career I have been lucky enough to not really have worked on any games I like playing myself. Working on a title I would never buy means I won’t be confronted by all the mistakes and errors and shortcuts. I see the art asset and know it isn’t as clean as I would have liked, that it wasn’t the well crafted and organized piece of geometry I set out to make but that it turned into this Frankenstein’s monster of a hacked together piece of garbage because of the many changes that had to be implemented at the last minute. I know the original Maya file was obfuscated and slow, with unnamed texture nodes referring to files all over my hard disk. This doesn’t matter to the consumer, but dammit, it matters to me!
I thank whatever Deity there is that I have never worked for Nintendo, so I can still enjoy their games as I do. Luckily for me Nintendo feels the same way about me, as their rejection letter proves. In my nightmares I would stop playing Zelda because I am privy to and part of the inevitable development Hell that created it.
Another aspect of this is that I hate whatever I create. The moment something I do is finished it’s already not good enough anymore. This makes it very difficult for me to create a personal portfolio, as you can imagine. It goes with everything I do, including this blog. The moment I press that “publish” button I think “Oh flip, why did I do that? What a horrible, whiny waste of text. People are going to hate it.” Given an unlimited amount of time I would never finish anything. At work too I often find myself scrapping a few days’ work to start again from scratch, simply because I feel I have to. I work fast enough for this not to be too problematic in terms of scheduling.
Don’t think me a miserable old coot. I think it stems from an obsessive compulsive need for perfection, which, of course, is unattainable. The worst thing that can happen to a person is for him or her to realise his dream because that puts an end to the drive for it. I always set my sights too high and when it looks like I am close to achieving my goals I reset them; I move the goalposts just a little further, otherwise I become complacent and bored. A friend once told me I do my best work when times are hard, when I absolutely must do, and not when I have the time to pore over it with leisure. And she was right.
So if you are thinking of working in the Japanese game industry simply because you love playing Japanese games, beware! Think twice about it before you pack your suitcase. Knowing how things work on the inside may ruin your appetite, the very same drive that brought you here in the first place! Maybe, just maybe, it’s best to leave your view on the matter on that high pedestal and enjoy it from afar as much as you can. Or you could choose to not be such a preening ninny like me and enjoy your achievements as a sane person would, I’d imagine.
I guess this malaise was brought on by the looming end of the current project; apparently this time it’s real. The game is complete enough for me to look at it and see all the missed opportunities and the things I’ve created that really should and could have been better. And I know I’ll never play it once it’s finished. Familiarity breeds contempt, it is said, and I have spent a large enough chunk of my life in the company of this project to never want to see it again. Soon there will be the inevitable journalistic exposure where people either agree with me or have some strange, positive reaction. I found general gaming forums a pretty decent place to gauge public opinion amongst the so-called hard-core crowd. They all speak in hyperbole so you have to even out the responses a little. And there will be outright lovers and bitter haters of your game, which is a given. But in the end if even just a few people think it’s fun, or looks good, it’ll be somehow worth it. Not in a financial sense, of course, but in a personal sense.