No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #52

Hello, everyone! This week we have postmortems of two important gamedev events that happened this autumn. Having participated in one of them, and being tied by nostalgia to the other, I found the parallels especially interesting. I'm talking of course about the Procedural Generation Jam and the Interactive Fiction Competition, and I'll get back to both of them in a moment.

But first, a personal anecdote. This weekend, I spent half a day with a particular group of old friends -- a rare enough event. As it happens, we had a PS4 at the place where we met, with a healthy library of several dozen games. And because someone briefly dropped by with their 7-year-old boy, it was a no-brainer to try and find a game or two in there for him.

And we did -- a couple of cutesy colorful platformers that would have been just perfect... if they hadn't been absurdly complicated. Enough so, in fact, to give the present adults pause. Um, hello? Super Mario Brothers, anyone? I don't remember that game needing a tutorial level, or on-screen hints... or any written word for that matter (apart from the now-famous princess meme). Hint: at the age of seven, most kids barely start reading in their native tongue, let alone a foreign one.

No really, why do modern games have to be so complicated? Later on, another of my friends, who is both an adult and a gamer, tried his hand at a couple of the shooters available... and found it impossible to get anywhere at all in either of them. I suppose it can work, if you play the tutorial and pay attention, swap hints with other players and try a thousand times until you get it right. In other words, if you're a hardcore gamer.

But if you've just picked up the controller looking for 5 minutes of fun, you're screwed. And I wonder how much of this is publishers catering to a hardcore audience they don't realize is vanishing, and how much is the developers themselves trying to show how clever they are.

Where was I? Oh right, the postmortems.

It's worth comparing the IFComp and the #procjam because they couldn't be more different. The former is a long-standing competition, with high standards and strict rules that were only relaxed in recent years. The latter is a recent event, with no rankings and radically inclusive. It was this trait that encouraged me to enter the jam at all, and I seldom felt more welcome anywhere, online or in real life, even though my entries were among the least impressive. Funny how the IFComp has always had problems with subpar entries despite tight controls, while the #procjam enjoyed over a hundred high-quality works. You're going to say the requirements were lower; but those requirements were consistently exceeded. And the lack of rules meant there was nothing to cause controversy, or dilemmas.

Now, I'm not saying this model is suitable for every event. But rules by their very nature prompt feelings of resentment and rebellion, so when you set a rule, you'd better make sure it's really carrying its own weight.

After all, perfection isn't attained when you have nothing more to add, but when you can't possibly remove anything else.