In every game I’ve been involved with (and I’m sure most developers would agree), there’s a single teeny-tiny word that creates conflict more certainly than anything else: “More“. Developers want it. Gamers want it. Reviewers want it. Executives want it. Marketing people want it.
Everybody wants their game, whether the one they’re making or the one they’re playing, to be jam-packed to the gills with stuff. Why? Well, features just make everything seem cooler. A gamer feels like they are getting better value for their dollar… and extra bullet points on the back of the box makes everyone happier.
But you’ve gotta ask yourself, is a game with 500 weapons really better than one with 10? Sure, if the game is about acquisition, like Diablo… However, a lot of action games generally aren’t better off with 20 different models of assault rifles (and there are plenty to go around… I used to play Phoenix Command, remember).
Is that extra stuff always worth it? Was No More Heroes really a better experience for having that empty open-world you could drive around in your motorcycle? Would Kane and Lynch have been better if you could get into those parked cars and driven around their dense one-block-sized levels?
How about Spiderman 2? I’ve noticed this one to be a bit more divisive with developers, since it feeds into the almighty “gamer expectations”… Sure, he ran around an open-world like Grand Theft Auto, but should Spidey have been able to hop in a car and drive around New York City? Would it still have been a Spiderman game if instead of swinging through the rooftops, he was tooling around town in a low-rider?
Game development is just as much about focus as it is about “doing neat stuff”. Your game is nothing if you don’t make a great core experience. Believe it or not, God of War really had a pretty simple combat system under the hood… they just polished the hell out of it. There weren’t 20 weapons, or an intricate collection of grapples and throws. There weren’t even that many enemies. They honed in on what their audience enjoyed and they were rewarded with a huge hit.
Bioshock started as a much more complicated game, reflecting its RPG roots in System Shock. There were a ton of cuts made to the game to make it more like a “shooter”. But dear lord, you sure can’t tell as a user of the end product… it’s still an incredibly complex game! I’m sure there were tons of fights inside the development team when the axe started falling.
As I play GTA IV these days, for all its great gameplay and amazing accomplishment, it’s an iteration of a series that has been in development for over a decade. It’s got the biggest budget of all time. People are already starting to wonder what it’ll do to people’s expectations… Do they really think that Gran Turismo will suddenly allow you to get out of the car, enter the stands and buy a popcorn? That Soul Calibur will add rocket launchers and monster trucks? That Halo will allow you to hop in a frigate and become a free trader across the galaxy?
And more importantly, would those great experiences be better for it?
I’ve talked before about making sure that your game is scaled appropriately, but when and where do those cuts happen? I’ll hit this next time.
See also: Making the Rules: The Scale of a Game