Ask a Game Developer Anything: Your Excellent Questions Answered.

Jeremiah Slaczka, Creative Director, 5TH Cell

Hey, Kotaku readers! Welcome to my very first column. I'm now officially a game journalist as well as a game developer! Unfortunately, I don't think they'll let me review my own games… [Editor's note: Correct!]

I always get a lot of questions from people outside of the industry on how to break in, what the day-to-day life of a developer is about, or if we really tweaked the graphics on level three. 5TH Cell is an independently owned game developer that's been around since 2003, so I've seen a lot of crazy stuff over the years.


I told the Kotaku folks that I'd like to answer some reader questions. They came through, and so did you.

There were a lot of great questions from you guys last week. Actually, there were way more than I anticipated! I wish I could answer them all, but I do have a day job where I, you know, make games. Instead I decided to select a few choice questions about disciplines within this industry. I'm the CEO and Creative Director of 5TH Cell, so my main areas of expertise are focused on business, game design and management and less on programming and technical art.

If your question didn't get answered this time, don't worry there's always next month! For future reference, questions that people promoted through replies meant to me that others were also expressing interest in having the same question answered.

And to all the game devs who helped answer questions in the comments section, thanks for offering! This column is about enlightening the gamer community on our industry, so the more info the better.
Anyway… On to the questions!


ben.littlejohn wrote: "Do developers ever realize that the game they're making is objectively bad (let's use Iron Man 2 as an example), and if they do, do they try to make it better or are they under too much pressure to complete the game that they must swallow their pride and finish the product regardless?"

This is a very interesting question! There are a lot of factors going on that determine the difference between what makes a great video game and a bad video game. Actually, just finishing a game, regardless of quality, is a very difficult feat. It requires many people working toward a common goal, usually for years, without ever really knowing how good the product is going to be until it's close to done.


About the Author Best known for his multi-million unit selling franchises, Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life, Jeremiah focuses on creation of innovative new titles. His latest project, Hybrid, is due out this summer on XBLA.

I hear from many developers that they don't have fun playing the game during development; this can be a very bad sign for the game and the company's morale. However, you have to understand that game development is unique in that, unless you are making a derivative title that outright copies another, you're going to run into many, many roadblocks. As a result, the fun of the end product sometimes can't be assessed until far too late in the process.


Let's list them! We have to deal with performance issues (frame rate, shaders, draw distances), tools to make the game which require engineers to constantly update them at the request of the design or art teams. Then the game has to look amazing, feature tight controls, be a unique experience, and don't forget that the player can control the camera (as opposed to a film which always has one camera angle at a time), and usually includes leaderboards, online play, and 10 to 20+ hours of gameplay. Oh! And have an interesting story too! No other medium has this much to worry about (side note- movies also don't crash).

To nail all of the above can be very difficult. So, to answer your question, most people would rather ship anything even if they know it's not going to be great, than nothing at all.


digital_clover said: "The game purchasing audience has become much broader, and a lot more diverse in regards to which platform they prefer to play on. What are your main deciding factors when choosing a platform to start development of a new game? Do you try to aim for the largest install base for a chance of high profit; or does the platform itself inspire the core design of a new game idea?"

"Actually, just finishing [making] a game, regardless of quality, is a very difficult feat."


First I just want to say I love that the video gaming audience in general has become so much more broad and diverse, it's such a fun time to be in the game industry! Back to the question—every developer is different, but for us, we view 5TH Cell as a business first. That means we need to make games that are targeted specifically at the platform and the audience on that platform. So we would have never decided to make Hybrid, a competitive multiplayer shooter, on the Nintendo DS because the audience demand wasn't large enough to justify the business costs involved (development, marketing, distribution, etc.). Publishers (and some developers) write a P&L statement (Profit and Loss) that factors in the cost of making a game with the potential revenue the game could make based on comparable titles on that same platform.

Our personal philosophy is to create games that take advantage of the platform, showcasing what makes it special. But that's a very hard thing to do right. Many developers have trouble getting good gameplay down with just a standard controller. Aiming for the largest audience possible is one possible way to help mitigate the commercial risks inherent in making a game, but not always. You still have to make a title people want. Sometimes it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a huge pond.


Shagittarius asked: Do you think the inevitable move to cloud based computing will be detrimental to game development?

No, it's going to be glorious! No more worry about outdated hardware, just beautiful, lag-free streaming of content to any device you own. Your TV, PC, phone, wrist watch. The technology still has some progress to make, but I'm eagerly anticipating cloud gaming on a worldwide scale!


heman84001 asked: "What do devs think about the people who get super pissed off about a particular aspect of a game, whether it be story, customization, gameplay, etc. Do they take it personally or completely ignore it?"

I like this question because you're addressing the human side of game development. Games are made by people, not companies, so short answer—yes, of course it can hurt.


Long answer? Ever had a school project you worked really hard on, but didn't get that A+ you thought it deserved? Or made an awesome present or dish for someone you thought they'd love and instead they were blasé toward it? How did that make you feel? Sad? Angered? Hurt?

"Games are made by people, not companies, so short answer—yes, of course it can hurt."


OK, now take that same idea, but instead work for three years on it, pour your heart and soul into it. Spend your weekends thinking about it and spend long hours in "crunch" working toward it. You even missed out on some fun times with friends or vacations just because you want to make this the best thing ever…

And then watch someone on the internet make a flippant joke about it.

It hurts sometimes. And to make matters worse if you react to the reviews or the fans, you're called out on it because you're the "professional" and supposed to be above it all! We're humans, just like you. If you prick us, we will bleed. We're putting ourselves out there, and if you put yourself out there you need to grow a thick skin, but it's impossible to detach yourself from all the passion you poured into your project completely.


Domon Kasshu wrote: "I have some interesting ideas, but I don't know how to bring these ideas to life in a game. How would this be made possible?" rgilx13, arcdemon88 and a few others had a similar question.

This is probably the number one most asked question for professional game developers. Most people will tell you to give up right now because "ideas" are a dime a dozen and so are "idea guys". While that's true, it's only mostly true.


I'm an idea guy. I can't program, I can't make 3D models, I can't animate, but I have a clear vision for what our team should be doing. And you know how I went from idea to execution? I started my own company with a few other great guys. We started small, making mobile games. Nowadays you could try connecting with a flash developer, mobile developer, or even join a mod team. If they like your ideas enough, they could help you. Start small, stick with it, and one day you could be directing the next blockbuster.

If you're starting from scratch, I'd probably give yourself at least five or six years before you'll be doing something big, but anything can happen! Still want to put in that kind of effort? If you don't, I promise you, someone else will!


Arppis: The Big Meanie asked: Why do you look like Soap MacTavish so much?

I wish I looked that bad ass… But people say I sound like James Woods, so that's something I guess?


Sorry if I couldn't get to your question this month. I'll be back next month with another installment of Ask a Game Developer Anything. I look forward to your questions. We'll post a call for questions early in the month here on Kotaku.


(Top image via fotographic1980, Shutterstock)

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