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A Work in Progress

November 23, 2008

I see it at SCAD, in mod videos, and in the professional industry. People or companies showing off early versions of a product, and when who they’re showing the product to says, “Why are there only a dozen zombies on screen?” or “What is up with these terrible textures?” the developers respond by saying, “More zombies,” or “Better textures will be in the final version.” Oh, well, that’s great. So then why are you showing us what you’ve got now?

I have Triwing in an early phase right now, but I have only shown off its current technical iteration to a select few. Why? Because it’s early. Human beings have a tendency to view what they see as final. Even if you’re just showing off that the code works in your game or website, people are still going to want to see the art. No one can see the code, but they can see the pictures.

For example, here are some comparisons of Dead Rising on the 360 and the Wii.

Hey! Check it out! Zombies!

Hey! Um… 6 zombies!

Capcom continues to claim that there will be “up to 100” zombies on screen at once. Sounds to me like the “at least 100 years ago” meme when people on the internet have no idea when something took place. Which means, of course, Capcom probably has no idea how many zombies they can fit on screen on the Wii. So far, the max looks like 20. That ain’t bad but it ain’t the 360’s zombie count.

To continue with the undead examples, a new, user generated level for Left 4 Dead demonstrates the “Dawn of the Dead” mall this modder has been working on for a while.

Throughout the video, messages popup that say, “These textures have been replaced” and “better models in the final version.” Well, that’s nice, but then howabout you show us the final version instead of the work in progress, especially because you claim that the better textures and models have already been implemented?

To be honest, I’m tired of the BS. Yes, people are interested in what you’re doing, but why risk losing interested parties in showing off work that’s so early in development that people will lose interest upon seeing it? My guess is because the PR department gets bored. But seriously: know your goals and hit them. If you honestly think you can get 100 zombies on screen on the Wii, show us that, not six. If you claim to have new textures implemented, show us the new textures, not the old ones.

There really is no easy solution to this, though. On the one hand, you want to show off what you’ve been working on. On the other hand, you don’t want to lose potential buyers by showing off a shoddy project, and often you are forced to show off what you have been working on. I find that the best thing to say is, “Work in Progress.” This way, you don’t have to make false promises about what the final product will deliver and can still let people know that it’s in an early form. Also, never give specifics if you’re not 100% certain you can do them or they are already implemented. For example, do not say, “Then this dragon mouth will close and make a RAWR noise when you enter it,” and when you show off the final product and weren’t able to implement either, you WILL get called out on it. People will say, “Where is the animated dragon mouth?” and you will be all, “I didn’t have time to implement that.” Oh really?

The bottom line is know your limits and pick what you say carefully. If you promise specific things, your audience will want to see those certain things by the time you’re done. But, if you have them in there already when you show your product off, there is a lot less pressure on you to get those things done, especially if they are essential to the core. Never be afraid to kill your features, but try to promise the features you know you may have to kill.


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  1. Thomas permalink

    “why risk losing interested parties in showing off work that’s so early in development that people will lose interest upon seeing it?”

    I have to point out that this post could have been put to better use. Mentioning hype in games in general would have yielded better opinions.

    There is a huge curtain between you, the developer and the publisher. We could assume all day why some*one* would release, or as they like to call it, leak early development stages. The PR that is manufactured isn’t always geared toward the consumer. Sometimes its more for game journalists or even stock holders. The Devs may want to “know [their] goals and hit them.” but they are not the ones in control of what gets out.

    Try this as a thought exercise; think of Spore, Mirror’s Edge and MK vs DCU. Try to remember your preconceived notions about them, play them and then compare and contrast your experiences between each of them. I’d much rather see a critical blog about your experiences with a specific game instead of you calling something out as BS. You’re essentially pointing at E3, TGS, PAX and every mod.

    So for something more specific, what do you think of L4D’s demo release? It’s on topic with your blog and I think it would serve
    as a better example.

  2. I was, in fact, very impressed with Left 4 Dead. However, you’ll notice that no screenshots or video from Left 4 Dead were shown before they could get massive amounts of zombies on screen at once. Granted, the character models went through some serious revisions by the final version, but the core gameplay was demonstrated clearly even a year ago.

    With Spore, my predictions pretty much came true: a jack of all trades, master of none. Definitely some great ideas in the early stages, and then the rest seemed phoned in: a limited Sim City, a limited Civilization, and the space exploration pretty much spoke for itself. However, Spore does work as a base for expansions and EA/Maxis knows this. It is only a matter of time before we see SporeCity, Sporivization, Spore Wars, etc. However, the hype for Spore is a decent example of what I was talking about: promising lots and not delivering all of it.

    This is something I see both from the media hype and at school. It seems to stem from the “It’s meant to look like that” excuse people get away with using in their Freshman year of art school, when really, they smudged something and couldn’t fix it. This kind of behavior develops a comfort in making excuses when, really, there are no excuses. If a feature you promised did not get implemented, it is your fault. Time, money, and energy are all excuses when, in the end, you just could not deliver.

    In my games collection, the best example I can think of is “Star Wars: Force Commander.” I remember reading the promises of kickass RTS action in the Star Wars universe, hearing the metal remix of the Empire theme, and watching well cut gameplay videos. Then I bought the game, installed it, played it for ten minutes, and proceeded to uninstall it. The game was ugly and unplayable, and it was about that time that I started taking hype with a grain of salt. Since then I am yet to buy a game without first playing it somewhere else (like at a friend’s house or in demo form), unless it is in a series of which I am already a fan (Unreal Tournament and Legacy of Kain come to mind).

    I do, however, like your suggestion of being critical of specific, hyped games in depth from this point forward. For now, though, I will just say that it is a “work in progress.”

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