Monday, July 18, 2005

Preferred by Experts!

This weekend, I didn't really get much done. A fairly large amount of time was spent wrestling with mouths. Given the limitations of Torque 2D, doing a believable mouth is tough, especially with my rather perfectionist bent. While it can do a lot of emotions and even open and close, there are some serious flaws and shortcomings. For example, it's extremely difficult to get different types of lips. It's also very difficult to do complex shapes, such as sneers or disgust. I'm trying to find another way to do it.

The other thing which stole my time away was Evil Genius, which I just got recently. It has the dubious honor of being the most incredibly irritating game I've ever been addicted to.

Then, today, I was reading a few blurbs, and I realized that my preferences in movies and games is very different from "normal" people.

I have expertitis.

Once you've studied something, your outlook really does change. I've studied games, I've studied faces, I've studied movies. So, now I've got this problem: the games, movies, and pictures made for the general public bore me to tears. It's the same with comic books, but I've almost totally given up on them. I haven't been impressed by a printed comic in a long, long time. Not since Maus, as far as I can remember. Sure, the art might be nice in some of today's works, but a comic is more than just the art.

Reading on-line comics, I have a short attention span and very high demands. I'm probably the worst possible target audience, since you have to do something fun in eight or less panels. Without too much text. With good art. Without simply pandering to the lowest common denominator. Worse, I never buy anything! I'm a total dick!

I was thinking about this, and I realized there have got to be a lot of people like me. I mean, if a billion people regularly watch movies - or even just ten million - then there have got to be hundreds of thousands of people out there who are suffering from expertitis, even if they aren't, technically speaking, experts. Why is seeing something for THEM so rare? Wouldn't you think that you could make a movie that the experts loved, and simply by that weight, the general public will watch it?

Maybe they do, and I'm just not in the business, so I don't get to see them. Maybe that's what they show at all those hoity-toity shows that cost several hundred dollars to get in.

But that shouldn't be true of comics, right? You can publish them on the internet and they're not exactly expensive to produce. But there's really not any comics for those suffering expertitis out there. A very few, although I'd be happy to hear you suggest some to me.


I think it comes down to two reasons. First, someone who is good enough to write for experts is probably making a nice little living for himself. Why waste time pandering to an audience which is 1% or less of the normal target? What will it get you - recognition? Write a book! Like "Understanding Comics". They'll buy your book, and it's less effort than having to continually come up with new and interesting comics on some kind of schedule. You can keep poring out formulaic crap for the real money.

The other reason might be because of specialization. I'm a scriptie. I appreciate the power of a good script, and I can smell a formula from a thousand paces. I haven't seen a single movie in the past five years that I couldn't tell exactly what was going to happen, when, for at least 75% of the movie's major plot points. Excepting Troma films, which don't appear to actually have any coherent plot to point at.

So, when someone puts out a movie 'for the experts', what are they going to do? Well, MAYBE they'll have an expertitis-friendly script. Or maybe it'll be the acting they concentrate on. Or the special effects. Or the film techniques.

Moreover, even if they do choose to make an expert-friendly script, what kind of expert-friendly script is it? Is it a freaking dramedy? I can't stand those. Does it mock the norms, or simply ignore them? If it ignores them, it is pioneering some relatively unexplored land, and that means it can go off at some tangents I don't much respect. Hence my distaste for most 'indie' films, which are usually just pretentious people with no budgets being 'artistes'. IE untalented hacks who want attention.

Of course, I might be wrong about that, nowadays. I haven't seen a 'real' indie film since the last time I watched Dark Star. Which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed. I guess Troma films might count as indie films I've "enjoyed". :)

But out of all of it, GAMES are the one industry I would expect to have expert-friendly pieces. After all, the gaming audience is highly concentrated, marginally more intelligent than average, and generally continues playing games until they get married, giving them decades of experience. So, do they make expert-friendly games?

They do. In fact, they make so many they've totally lost track of what 'expert' means.

Some of them are exquisite. DDR is both expert-friendly and totally accessable. It is astonishingly good. Similarly, Katamari Damacy is good for both pros and plebes. These are rarities. This is like a movie which appeals to both critics and common viewers. These are like the "Forrest Gump" of games.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have games which appeal only to people who have mastered the play dynamics of the genre. Like any 2D fighting game made in the past five years, where you're simply expected to (A) be able to memorize and whip off complex strings of buttons and (B) have reaction speeds rivalling that of a Dew-spiked housecat. The classic comic idea of "button mashing wins!" has some basis in truth, in the same way that SWAT teams dislike the unpredictable 'virgin' hostile. Although those mashers may win the first time, it doesn't take more than five minutes for the expert to bracket them and annihilate them.

These games are therefore wholly inaccessable to those who aren't experts. The last fighting game I felt thoroughly pleased by was Evil Zone, which I don't think anyone else has even heard of. It had two buttons, one of which was block. It had no keypad gymnastics, no hidden special moves, and didn't run at the speed of light. In short, it was playable, in contrast to every other fighting game out there.

Other genres which are wholly inaccessable: RPGs, real time "strategy" games, wargames, first person shooters, adventure games... wow, that leaves us with a lot of choices for the mass market, doesn't it?

Since so many of our people are experts, that means we really have another tier above that: super-experts, if you will. You can identify these people by their incredibly and continually bitter rants about every game that crosses their plate. Toot-toot, baby!

There are few games that appeal to these people, because the games for the experts are, in fact, too predictable. The only reason I was addicted to Evil Genius was because of the freeform trap system, which I enjoyed until I mastered it. It was, at least for a short while, unexplored and interesting. Most other games aren't. At all.

Like if I went to Sundance every year, I'd get really sick of independent films. Actually, I'd start sick of them, but I'd get really good at predicting them.

But we still have few games which appeal to the public. We've got, what, DDR? Donkey Konga? "Come on, these are shtick games," you say, "they rely on a doohickey to make them fun!"

If you thought that, then congrats, you are an expert. Or maybe even a super-expert. You're not the target audience.

Some people think that The Sims was good for the "mass market", which is wholly untrue. It sold very, very well, but the actual gameplay was not very friendly. It was detailed and complex and very high-pressure.

Sigh... I guess what I'm really trying to say is this:

I really liked building traps in Evil Genius. I miss the more freeform levels in Lemmings and The Incredible Machine. Those games were like DDR: fun for beginners, fun for experts. The combinations could be as simple or as delicately precise as the player could handle. The game could be low- or high-pressure with the flip of an option.

There's nothing wrong with making an expert's game. In fact, it's the safe bet. Making a game which appeals to super-experts would be extremely hard. Making a game which appeals to hoi polloi is probably a good way to quickly find yourself out of business, as it is rejected by our bulk of experts.

But, damn it, I want to see games which appeal to hoi polloi without being made for children and fools. I want to see a game in which the difficulty scales as beautifully as it does in DDR and TIM. I want a game I can play, then play with children under ten, then play with my aunt, then play with my game design friends.

That's why I love Apples to Apples.


Darius Kazemi said...

I think Amplitude is a pretty good example of a game that most non-gamers find intriguing enough to play, but most experts (and super-experts like me) can also thoroughly enjoy.

Craig Perko said...

I would love to agree, but seeing as I've only played it for about two minutes, instead I'll just sob about my lack of a PSII.

Yeah, I think you're right, though. It's the same kind of appeal DDR has, but without the sweating.