Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't get all excited by the rat pellets

Many years ago, while it was still known as the CGDC, Chris Crawford gave a talk (no, not the The Dragon Speech) in which he brought up the concept of rat pellets.

Crawford has long maintained that a game's interactivity as expressed by its algorithms, systems, and play mechanics are what's important. I'm paraphrasing from an ancient memory here, but I recall Crawford saying that he'd work on a game to the point where it was fun to play, and at that point he considered it to be done. But then he'd have to add the rat pellets: the graphics and cutscenes and eye candy that the publisher required for a shippable game.

Subsequently the industry ignored Crawford and went on a twenty-year binge of emphasizing graphics over everything else. Well, most of the industry, anyway. Blizzard emphasizes gameplay, and Chris Hecker is taking that approach as well:
Make the deep and hardcore game first, and make it accessible later in development. I’m ripping this off directly from a 2006 speech by Rob Pardo, the Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard, about how they design games for the long term.  Here’s a great quote from the Gamasutra writeup:  “First we try to come up with what are really cool things, things that will get people to play for two to three years. Then we actually start talking about accessibility, how to make the content approachable and easy to learn. But it starts with depth first.”
One of the greatest achievements of Minecraft has been to allow gamers to see that graphics don't make a great game. It's always entertaining to read another admission by someone saying that after initially being turned off by Minecraft's simple graphics, they found the gameplay to be compelling.

I'd been thinking about bringing up this recollection of rat pellets and was moved to action by a recent posting over at Bio Break, where Syp posted 8 thoughts on the new Old Republic cinematic. Take it easy there Syp, I know there's not much else to go on at this point, but it's just a cinematic that nobody will care about once the game launches and folks can actually play it. Don't get all excited by the rat pellets!

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