I love this thread on Slashdot which pretty much sums up my thoughts on games and gaming in general. The thread is inspired by this article which takes a view on the current state of the nation in gaming. We all know what a huge business gaming has become in all aspects: in browser, on mobile, on console, on computer, on handheld. The argument has always been that the more money comes into the business the more that gameplay and game longevity suffers. This argument has been around as long as video games have.
My take is that big games companies are lazy, risk averse and profit-driven and that independents are so confused by the panoply of platforms they can target that they become paralysed by anxiety. Additionally the third-party tools that aim to ease the confusion are the only true winners at the moment. Either you need to be a focussed independent or a major label looking to try something new.
Now, this doesn’t always work. Remember Mirror’s Edge? And check out The Unfinished Swan. Great looking games with great feel don’t always succeed at the box office. Innovativation hardly ever assures success, gameplay is golden, and gold as we know is impossible to synthesise. To make a great game today you must combine graphics, environment, interaction – find a balance – sprinkle on that fairy dust.
The last few days have involved all sorts of user interface ridiculousness. WPF, .NET, Java, Swing and Eclipse and then back to .NET and then on to C++ and then back to .NET again. It’s nice getting on top, underneath, beyond, behind and inside of things sometimes and then it’s also nice to hear something like this announcement and just think – Ok perhaps this is where I should be going now. Stop running around like a headless Christmas Chicken.
MonoGame is doing what Unity and GameMaker Studio and and Xamarin and all those other platforms are doing – they’re allowing you to target multiple systems (iOS, Android, WP7, XBox etc) with one codebase utilising a clever framework. What MonoGame does differently though is that it builds on something that is already there and established (i.e. XNA) and it targets all those platforms from pretty much the same codebase (they say) and it’s open source and it intends to stay that way. The others are going to charge you money to do this – a lot of money. The paid-for ones have fancier tools but they all essentially do the same thing.
So I now have something new to look at. After a year of XNA fiddling with Friendlier and having made progress with Android and OpenGL development I feel I can have an objective look at something like MonoGame without feeling that I’m taking the easy way out. I’m already writing a framework, I should understand their framework. And this might be a good opportunity for a little decluttering of the projects that have built up over the last year…
It appears we have come to a juncture in information technology where the sheer weight of data is forcing us to draft everybody into the ranks. Over the years there have been multiple plays to gamify programming – make it cool – make it understandable – rather have people just stare dumbly at that results and prod occasional buttons. Our limbic system flinching in response to sounds and colourful 3D shapes was previously considered satisfactorily. Now we are encouraged to buy virtual stuff inside other stuff to make our experience more valuable. And it works – because unlike pharmaceuticals – these things aren’t licensed and our kids are hooked into them from an early age.
And it’s no longer enough to just consume these goodies – we’re also taught to create. Creation is cool. Photos, videos, blogs, apps. It’s a self perpetuating cycle of creation – no destruction, just additive, endless piling upon piling of bits into bytes into terabytes into hard disks in drawers and burned onto disks and stored away never to be looked at again. The world may soon fill up soon like the Stross/Doctorow dystopia planned and we’ll be forced into living in the Clouds ourselves or turn the solar system into one big computer. Our bodies slumped in the corner of our living rooms while the substrates fill up with our souls emancipated by the combined efforts of humanity – from east to west – working together to abstract our lives away from a flawed meatspace.
So there are these guys like Bret and Light table guy and Anonymous Game Framework Guy who probably all live on the West Coast in the sunshine and think purely in terms of web servers, big data, shiny tablets, closed feedback loops and turning everyone into a developer. And that is all well and good and also sometimes I think like that and the world is all shiny and exciting – but there is somehow a missing element here. Our thoughts turn to the lack of boredom thanks to smartphones. The gap between waking and sleeping where we’re not sharing our lives with each other or silently just consuming others thoughts or the thoughts of machines. How many of those twitter people you’re reading are actual people typing stuff and thinking stuff? Are we even paying attention enough to pass our own Turing Test?
A lot of effort, direction and money is being spent/burned/created/transferred in order to capture and inspire developers. To draft a few inferior souls into the wake of conglomerates who have spotted our Achille’s heel and are making us all believers of a doctrine whose only basis is that inaction and not thinking of anything better to do is a good reason to glance down and lose ourselves again in our hand held worlds. At the same time as these real businesses – ones that provide a service and get a payment for that service – are making a lot of money out of this shuffling around we are held fascinated in the glow of the Gorilla[R] glass. We are marking time. This developer for all, creator for all – as I read it this week the ‘democratizing’ of the development landscape – is no such thing. And despite these tools being wonderful and in their own way addictive (so that one can become addicted to simply learning more development tools) occasionally it’s just nice to sit around and do something worthwhile and with merit rather than worrying about what technology it needs to use in order to attract the most attention.