Poor Unfinished Games

Since I didn’t make it to GDC this year, I haven’t heard about any amazing presentations that were given.  There was a fair amount of buzz on Twitter about some of the really bad presentations, but it seems that people must have actually been paying attention during the good presentations and didn’t have time to tweet about it (either that, or it was just a sad year for presentations).  Being thus out of the loop, I decided to write about one of my favorite presentations from last year, Chris Hecker’s rant entitled “Please Finish Your Game.”

If I am posting this video for anybody, it’s for myself.  With his one game at age 40, Chris Hecker is still one finished game ahead of me.  Ever since I first learned to program in High School (earlier, if you consider my early experiments in BASIC to be games), I have left a trail of unfinished games in my wake.  Some were nowhere near functional, while some just needed a few finishing touches.  Even my most complete game, which was about 75 percent complete after only two months of work, is still unfinished four years later (though a little bit closer).

While it may seem that this rant was given especially for my own benefit, Hecker names two groups specifically in hit presentation, namely the independent developers who, like me, make many small, somewhat unpolished games, and the mainstream industry, which fixates on ship dates for primarily economic reasons.  In all fairness, there is something to be said for keeping a game on schedule.  With no kind of restraint at all, a project can turn into a disaster of epic proportions, like Daikatana. In such cases, the added development time neither saves money nor adds to the quality of the game.  In most cases, however, I tend to agree with Hecker.  More and more often, big industry titles are shipped in a somewhat mediocre state, despite their million dollar budgets.  The advent of digital downloads has only exacerbated this problem, as developers need not even clean up all the bugs before the release date.  They can just do it in the first patch.

I have a great deal of respect for developers who are willing to rework or even scrap a game if they feel that it doesn’t meet their standard of quality.  Blizzard is famous (or infamous) for canceling development on several partially-completed games, such as StarCraft:  Ghost and Warcraft Adventures.  Valve is known for pushing back the release of the original Half-Life in order to completely rework the game.  In both cases, the developers could have easily released their lackluster products and hoped to recuperate some of their development costs.  Their choices to make creating games a higher priority than making money is a stance that I wish more developers would emulate.

Though I certainly wouldn’t lament certain industry players putting more effort into their games, the people that I really hope would take Hecker’s rant to heart are independent developers.  I’ve known quite a few developers over the years, most of whom have had considerably more talent than I.  Some even created algorithms and techniques that earned them a certain amount of notability at the time.  However, out of all my programmer friends over the years, I don’t think a single one has gotten any closer than I have to publishing a finished game. They’ve produced a lot of really neat experiments and tech demos, but, sadly, most people will never see them. I imagine that if I know this many people who have done some awesome things with videogames, then there must be a lot of people who have just as many awesome friends whose work I don’t even know about.

I suppose the message that I hope people take away from this GDC rant is simply not to give up, not to settle for less and not to lose interest. Experiments are good, but games are better. Imagine if World of Goo had just been left in the state it was in when it was still just Tower of Goo. Months of hard work took it from being a wacky little physics game into something truly magnificent.

Hopefully someday I will finish up all my poor, neglected games, too.

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