Posted: January 20
So, I waited to finish act one before jumping to conclusions. First an important note about myself, I´m a 27 years old art director specialized in animation, I work for the game and advertising industry. So, I probably suffer a little because of this during gameplay; it´s hard to fool someone that knows where all the strings ussually hide. Also, english is my third language. Beware.
I honestly think that Tim got all wrong here, out of good intentions, but wrong indeed. I dont think he jumped the shark (I enjoyed VGAS mini adventure a lot) but the lack of focus and strategic management is intriguing. Tim has no problem seeing all that´s wrong about publishers and their intrussions in the creative process, but he clearly doesnt see that his workflow kind of depends on them. Running out of money in a proyect is not something to become used to. Specially when you propose a semi-open comunication platform.
DoubleFine invested in this game more than they should. For me, this was the first intrussion into the kickstarter work dynamic. For them, its a "make or brake" project. Why? Dunno. Maybe their finances justify such a bold move, but that desition made the backers accesory. The fact that they depend on a larger sample to justify the investment, leaves us out of the picture. We paid for a game, and on the run they decided to make another one. Tim presents it as a "bigger game" but to be fair, that´s not a precise term. Broken Age turned out to be wider, not bigger.
Dont get me wrong, it´s probably the right move, with PC sales declining and tablets sales trough the roof, priorizing the casual tablet gamer represents a bigger target audience. But, it cant be denied, they used our money to make a game for other people. People that probably dont even know about the kickstarter campaing.
I made a list of Tim mistakes, since I think the team really warned him about everything im goint to point out:
1) Not having a game idea ready before the kickstarter or changing it on the fly due to budget increase. This is clear from the documentary, over 2 months of the guy writing alone and delaying both the art, animation and programming team. The proof behind this is the fact they ended up using test levels and characters in game. They didnt had the time to turn their backs to that amount of work.
2) Not hiring a 2nd writer so he can do what he does best, direct the damn thing. This is derivatory from point 1. It´s clear how Tims writing hurt the game. He was behind on the game concept, behind on the game name, behind on dialog. Animating without dialog is frustrasting, as most of the work ends up being redone or retouched. You can move ahead, but you have to pretty much do it all over a again ( or at least supervise it ) so theres little time saved. Tim clearly delayed production time, and even worse, couldnt concentrate in writing ( his words ) due to "interruptions".
2) Not listening to the community manager, that was the only one with the gut to tell the guy what everyone was thinking. The idea was too big for the budget. And at the end we got a small game that feels empty.
3) Making Bagel a human chokepoint. This was ( since it´s my area of expertise ) the most intriguin desition of all and i know it really hurt the game. I'm a Bagel fan, but the idea of a game with his style and his style only, is flawed, because the guy only has 2 hands. Not only this, Bagel is more of an artist than a game art director nowadays. The art team suffered this desition; Bagel, because of the work load and responsability towards composition in a bigger scope, and the rest of the team for being subdued to someone elses stlye. This shows in the current version of the game. The contrast between scene and scene its hard to swallow, I personally can tell who draw each background.
5) Changing the scope of the game "because he cant think of a smaller game" and then make it smaller due to budget constrains. The amount of concept art developed for this game is morbid, mostly when you consider how little we got to see implemented. All those hours of work could be better spent in many other areas that clearly needed of polishing.
6) Priorizing art over gameplay. Now we get to the rough part. Yes, the game can be funny, but sincerely it isn´t really fun. Shay´s portion of the game altough conceptual feels empty and streamlined. I didnt break free, they gave me the perfect tool for every single puzzle, because of reasons. I solved the teleporter puzzle even before knowing why i should solve it, i saw it coming from the distance.
7) Being OK with exploiting employees. This really got my gears going, since it's something that I suffer myself. Tim made a big game, because his a big boy that only knows how to make big games, and because of that, art directors, illustrators and animators, had to work overtime, because his damn schedule DOESNT MAKE SENSE. His words. I was OK with it ( I work overtime due to passion, not explotation ) untill I hear it from the man itself, he made a game that REQUIRED fathers to spend time away from their children. That's wrong, it doesnt matter how you present it.
8) Forgetting that implementing audio and doing animation tests takes a lot of time. This is linked to point 2. Dialog really delayed everything. Without lines you cant record them, without the records you cant take your time to carefully choose the best takes, and then tie them to animation that actually makes sense with the tone and cadence of the voice. So little time to polish shows. At least for me, this was a deal breaker. The quality of the game it´s so sporadic that the beautiful made the ugly look more ugly.
9) Leaving the sound team alone. Yup, this one is hard to write, since it´s clear in the documentary how much passion went in to the game. But, the voice takes they endedup choosing are baffling, many dont fit the tone, and in many cases, not only does the voice acting missfit the emotion of the dialog but the animation also does so, so we really see it. Watching a character moving his arms and opening his mouth like he's screaming, only to hear a calm voice whisper to my ears is baffling. I re-watched the voice acting episodes, and saw many takes much clear in intention than the ones they ended up using ( example, bellas "screw you bird" was off, really off ).
The score has moments of greatness, I must be sincere. But often, the disconnection, the lack of time to adjust things is palpable. What use is a director if he doesn't have access to his most powerful tool, saying "No, you got it wrong, do it again.".
10) Playtesting and making a simple game simpler, because you forgot what adventure games are all about. If you test a puzzle game, and fear that your user is going to get stuck, then you really dont understand how adventure games work. Chokepoints, are most necesary, they build up tension, that is released, and that´s what you call satisfaction. Play "The Dig" if you forgot how that feels. The fact that the internet is a thing, is even more of an incentive for such dynamic. If you get really stuck and feel really ♥♥♥♥ty about it, you dont have to buy a magazine to move forward.
11) Backwards rationalization. Tim did this so many times that I lost count. It goes like this: Tim: "I WANT A". Reality: "You can only get B" Tim: "Now that I think about it, B is much better because..." It´s hard to make a game specially when you keep moving the target over and over again. When Tim said "part 2 has to be much harder" he really meant that part1 should be much harder but he couldn´t do anything about it.
12) Forgeting to make smart production choices. Tim grew fond of shotting himself in the foot. I wouldnt be so harsh if it werent for a single game: "Swords and Sworcery". Made with little over 200,000$ in less than 8 months, the game is a great example of smart and creative choices, that fit a low budget perfectly.