Because where else would I be?

Wasting Real Estate In Games

2008. · 2 Comments

Dear Game Developers,

After reading that 7 of 10 games lose money, I have to let you guys in on a little secret, you really don’t understand what I really Icare about in a game, and you’re wasting lots of time/money. In fact, you could even cut development costs by focusing less of things like world building. First, let me make a comparison:

A large portion of movies and shows I watch are based in either NYC or LA, and you know what? I’m okay with that. Both of these cities have been imaginarily destroyed more times than anyone wants to count. And you know what? When we’re sitting in darkened theaters, waiting for a blow-up-a-city-movie to start, and we see a trailer for another blow-up-a-city-movie? We lean to our friends and whisper “We gotta come see that!” (Remember the Cloverfield trailer before Transformers?)

Cut to video games, where more and more people are fixated on rebuilding NYC (Spidey 2+, True Crime 2, GTA:(3, LC:S, 4,) Driver, Crazy fucking Taxi, and probably more ‘open’-NYC games I can’t recall,) more times than can possibly be healthy. You’re long past the point of diminishing returns, and you larger publishers in particular need to make one NYC, and work from it. “Oh, but gamers would hate to play the same city in Spidey that they would in Crazy Taxi! They’d call us lazy!” Some will, but the rest of us, who actually play games to [i]play games[/i]? We’ll be okay. Hell, I’d call you smart because I just don’t give a shit about the city you place your game in, really. The city (the buildings and roads,) are just a location, and not characters. The ‘character’ often attributed to cities are actually NPCs, sounds, lighting, and textures that work in tandem to bring the locale to life, and changing those things changes the locale so much, that if you take out people and moving cars, and add crashed ones and zombies, then it’s a different world.

For the life of me I can not fathom why EA, Activision, or Rockstar, haven’t created high detail models of a city (or worked together on one,) to generate lower-rez iterations from as needed. For that matter, why haven’t larger cities created their own virtual models and licensed them to game developers? (Well, government’s lack of metaphorical artistic testicles/ovaries, coupled with the low artistic aim of most games actually explains that, now that I type it…)

But my main point here is that, as a gamer, I’m okay with learning the streets of NYC like a veteran cabbie. Hell, when you think about it, it almost makes sense for characters who’ve lived in NYC for any extended period of time. But even beyond that, creating large worlds is just pointless if they’re devoid of context, and so often the race to create large environments leaves those same environments empty of vibrancy that would make them memorable. Of course, this could easily work to ones advantage by taking the opportunity to fill in the blanks…

“Here is our “Lives of Liberty City” line. A new series of games centered around Liberty City, allowing you four full length video game experiences in one persistent world as you play between the games.” Sounds good, right? While playing a GTA4, imagine being able to pick up any of three other games, each focused on a single island. As you took over neighborhoods in a Mafia-esque crime/RTS, the burroughs in which Italian families come after you in GTA 4 change. As you redevelop South Bohan in a city building sim, the neighborhood becomes gentrified in GTA 4, with some of your friends being displaced. And then in the middle island, a game using the exact same geometry but with much more film noir-ish lighting, music, and music, is an action love story as you play a detective trying to save a young girl caught up in the vile world of blackmail at the hands of the United Liberty Paper Co., only to become a pawn in their twisted game yourself.

So, in closing, don’t be afraid to reuse assets and save money. Just do it well. It’s so easy… In theory, anyway.

Tags: Gaming's future

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 GameGhost // Aug 14, 2008 at 11.22

    While I think that high quality digital representations of cities, landmarks, and other geographical locations is a good idea, I don’t think that games are (or should be) the driving force behind the digitalizations.

    I think that the demand for these high-quality virtual representations of real places will be generated by mapping services (like Google Earth) and educational services. There may also be some call for them in virtual tourism and other related industries.

    However, games should avoid them for a couple of main reasons. The first being that realism rarely makes for good level design. With perhaps the possible exception of “Do Anything” games, level design has to be tight enough to keep the player on track. There can be visual details, but they have to be implemented without distracting and confusing him. In the same way that movie sets can sometimes be real locations, most are heavily doctored, altered or mis-represented to present the film-maker’s intended view of the area needed to present the story.

    The second pitfall that should be avoided is that of controversial mis-use. There was a case a couple of years ago where an FPS used a very realistic model of a church in a level. Without the permission of the real location’s occupants. This caused a kerfuffle because the church did not apprieciate being made a part of a violent game.

    How would you deal with the licensing of buildings and areas? Does the city own the rights to the visual representation of your property? What do you do, as a game designer, when you try to lease a location (say, New York), but have several landmarks deny your application due to the content of your game? Does the city skyline simply have gaps, or do you design your own place-holders and obvious stand-ins?

    Games are fiction, and in the same way that you can rarely use (fiction) books or movies to navigate real locations, so too with games. They present the appeal of the place, but not the reality of the space.

  • 2 Jeffool // Aug 15, 2008 at 09.21

    In all fairness you refer only to the use of realistic locales which, yes, would have legal implications. My main trust is that I, and possibly gamers in general, would be okay with doing this with any locale, even fictional ones like the Liberty City example. There are no legal implications there, just the implications of the attitude of gamers and their willingness to play such games. Granted, I’d like to think a cheaper (shorter) production (from the reuse of a massive asset,) would make for a cheaper product (but who knows if consumers would get anything off of that end of things.)

    But, so far as realistic ones, I don’t particularly think that games ‘should’ be either, as I’d like to think there are more ‘benevolent’ reasons behind such things, like educational endeavors like you said. And yeah, I totally get that real locations do not inherently make ‘fun’ locales, that’s definitely an impediment.

    So far as legal issues, I’m sure there are variations in UK versus US laws, but I know that you’re allowed to take any video/picture you want on public property for personal use or when representing history with accuracy, but there are obviously other rules in effect when fictional commercial endeavors enter the mix. I think (though I’m not sure,) this comes into play when a city creates, or contracts, a film commission to oversee such things on behalf of the city, supporting themselves by those paying for permits and such.

    Also, thanks for the comment. I just realized how long I’ve been shouting to myself over here. :D

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