The Divide?

I don’t know whether us gamers are just programmed to enjoy a good argument – or flame war – but it seems to me that for a social group that essentially all love the same form of entertainment we have a daft amount of internalised divisions.

Console vs PC. ‘Core’ vs ‘Casual’. Single-Player vs Multiplayer. Inverted Y Axis vsNon-Inverted Y Axis…

The particular division that has been discussed multiple times in the space of a few days recently is that of gender. This is not a new debate within games, and this is the fact that makes this particularly odd, because in modern society there are few things where an obvious division between masculinity and femininity would be tolerated. Yet within the games industry there is a trend for making a mountain out of a molehill over the fact that sometimes, the fairer sex also indulge in this entertainment medium.

On the one hand, we have the recent column in Edge magazine by Clint Hocking who says that studios need to encourage more women to join their development staff. As Quinn Dunki rightly points out, making an issue of the fact that there are minimal female staff is part of the problem – any women wanting to break into the industry immediately feel singled out.

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RPG Cinderella Life

On top of this sort of attitude, there is another assumption bubbling under the surface that all female gamers can be tarred with the same brush – the one that drips with NintendogsCooking Mama, and the entire Imagine series. The image above is from a recently announced game from the developers of the Professor Layton games entitled, rather worryingly Cinderella Life. CEO of developer Level-5, Akihiro Hino, also stated that the majority of the development team were female.

This smacks of an incredible level of patronisation. Not only is the subtext here stating that female gamers want an abundance of pink and the ability to dress up their avatars in the same way they may have dressed up a Barbie when they were little, it also suggests that even when these girls grow up and become professional game developers, that all they are then capable of doing is producing more of such games. I’m not female, and even I feel offended on behalf of the numerous female gamers I know that like nothing better than to shotgun soldiers’ faces off…

It is as though the industry is saying that ‘boy games’ – i.e those that contain war, fighting, blood, guns, most sports and generally not much pink – are all far too hard or far too scary for the feminine mind which requires pretty colours, nice clothes, and not a lot else. It is misogonystic to medieval proportions.

The likely reason that there aren’t so many female gamers is precisely because they are prevented at every turning from liking games – because after all, girls don’t play games. It is a never ending cycle. It is an entertainment medium like any other, those that like it, like it, those that don’t, don’t. Stop making an issue out of a non-existent divide and that’ll be that.

Passion with a Problem

You don’t get far in anything in life if you don’t have a passion – a fire in your belly that makes you want to do it. Few careers highlight this more than games development. You need to eat, sleep and breathe games and games development; you need to want to do it in your spare time – heck you need to want to do it when you don’t have spare time. It’s clear by looking at job requirements as they become available, each one indicating a need for the above albeit in slightly more professional and less emotional wording.

The problem is that when people are this dedicated and this willing to partake in the development process, they become very easy to take advantage of. The recent whistleblowing regarding Team BondiRockstar and the LA Noire development process are a case in point although they are most certainly not the only guilty party. A catastrophic mismanagement of the staff, based on punishing crunch periods over a seven year development cycle. The general consensus – or threat, to give it its correct name – is that if someone isn’t willing to put in inhuman numbers of hours then they clearly aren’t dedicated to the industry; and it’s very easy to replace them with one of the thousands of others eager to get a break into the field. This generates a feeling of oppression and entrapment, which is bad for the individual, bad for the studio and ultimately bad for the game being developed.

The concerning thing is that, very quickly, that all important passion is stifled as the development team burn out; and this isn’t just an industry problem, I have seen it happen at University level as well – I’ve even been on both sides of the scenario – both as programmer and as project manager.

This is why I think the best teams (and therefore the most successful companies) are formed, not by a passionate team of developers alone, but a passionate team lead by a passionate leader.

Even better, a leader that has worked their way up through the lower developmental ranks. My institute offers both a Games Development, and Games Enterprise course, but they have a significant amount of crossover. The would-be entrepeneurs still learn the key parts of actually making a game. This produces more empathic, well-rounded producers, directors and managers that have witnessed first-hand the development passion in action, and (hopefully) understand its need to be nurtured and not trampled.

There will always be managers with unreasonable expectations – even those that could be described as bullies. However if enough graduates enter the industry over the next few years with this more empathic attitude, I think we will slowly begin to see a much-needed shift in the way the industry operates.

Are Developers Purposely Stifling Local Split-Screen Play?

It used to be a simple activity, going round to your mate’s house, sitting down in front of your (then) rather small television set and playing some four-way split-screen Mario Kart. For example. Now it appears that developers are going to the effort of actively discouraging this simple pleasure – sometimes in the most utterly ridiculous of ways.

Two recent games have brought this to my attention; namely Killzone 3, andF.E.A.R 3. Both of these games are big, Triple-A titles from established development studios. Both lend themselves perfectly to cooperative, tactical game play. Yet both have decided to adopt what has got to be the ugliest split-screen solution I have ever seen. The screenshot at the top of this post taken from Killzone 3 shows the bizarre misuse of screen real-estate in action.

The reasoning purported for this design is that it was found in play testing that a more traditional horizontally split-screen made it harder for players to see above and below them. Other reasons, such as being less processor intensive have also been suggested. Surely however, what has worked for many many years on previous consoles is just as acceptable in today’s games; heck, it worked absolutely fine in Gears of War – and that is a 3rd person game, with even less freedom of camera movement.

Now the cynic in me would suggest that by making the process of playing locally with a friend so aesthetically and functionally displeasing developers are aiming to shift more copies of games as players take to playing over the Internet. The optimist in me hopes that these titles are simply anomalies, and the play testers that thought that this method of split-screen was better have been put out to the proverbial pasture.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t care either way about this, but equally a quick browse around the interweb shows I am certainly not the only one who does care; and I wonder, like me, how many of those have decided to put off purchasing games because of problems with the local multiplayer design?

Of course, I could just be annoyed that my investment in a big HD television seems somewhat void as I squint at a tiny box of game play in the corner of it…