I recently found myself thinking about why we make games. Not just why I make games, personally, not why Raven makes games, but why the game industry exists at all and why humans have a need to make games. My thoughts, from the macro to the micro view, went something like this:
Basically, games exist to fulfill a need in mankind’s psyche for control over their world. Cause & effect is one of the most basic forms of fulfillment. You can see it babies begin to enjoy cause & effect as soon as they’re able to play. They love to do something (hit a tower of blocks) and have something big happen as a result (the blocks fall over). That same mechanic extends to gamers – do something (press a button) and something big happens as a result (something on screen blows up). Before we had video games, we had to be satisfied with sports, board games and simple toys. Even magic and early religion fulfilled this purpose and allowed humans to have control over nature. By anthropomorphizing nature, it could be bargained with and influenced as another human would be.
So, naturally, a business would rise out of this basic desire in humans. The game industry exists to fulfill that need for control and interaction. More and more, lately, the pure entertainment value of storytelling and spectacle has worked its way into games as technology has allowed us to emulate movies as a narrative form. But it’s a mistake to substitute narrative entertainment for interaction and gameplay. The best studios have found a way to use the former as a context that enhances the latter.
Raven Software strives to make games that provide players with unique, interesting experiences at a high level of quality. We try to make games that give players both interesting choices and cool, immersive experiences. We’ve tried to balance the business needs of the market by making games that aren’t too experimental, have a reasonable budget, may be based on licensed IP’s, and are in a familiar genre. At the same time, we’ve addressed our own creative desires to bring something new and cool to players bymaking a Star Trek game that was a shooter, creating Soldier of Fortune’s dismemberment system, adding Jedi’s force powers and saber combat, implementing varied multiplayer modes, utilizing Singularity’s TMD andWolverine’s lunge mechanic, and so on. Our goal has been to provide unique, polished experiences with fun and interesting gameplay as well as some innovation - but do it within a reasonable time and budget.
Each project, then, also has its own "why". Are we trying to make a straight-up action game that’s all about reflexes and timing and adrenaline? Or are we trying to draw the player into a certain mood and frame of mind to tell a stronger narrative? If it’s a licensed IP, what is the core of that license?For Star Trek, I felt it was all about the characters andthe crew. For Jedi, it was about feeling powerful like a Jedi. For Wolverine, it was about being a vicious, unstoppable death machine. This is a crucial element to determine when starting a project because every design decision that follows during the development of the project should be answering the "how" of accomplishing the "why" – the purpose of the game’s existence.
Personally, the reason I make games is to create experiences for the player. Whether that’s directly through narrative moments scripted into a game (Elite Force, for example) or by giving the player enough tools and freedom to create their own experiences (Jedi) and project a narrative onto that action. I like to take a very “experiential” approach to game development – I’m always trying to put myself in the player’s shoes and imagine an experience I’d want to have, then use that vision to create that experience.
Sometimes, when I get deep into the trenches of game development when we’re debating minor details of plot or mechanics, it helps to step back and take the big picture view like this and keep in mind WHY we’re making the game we’re making, what we’re trying to accomplish. Often a solution to a problem becomes obvious when looked at from this point of view or, at least, seems much less worth arguing over in the grand scheme of things.