Critical Path: Dev Superstars On Games’ Importance

By Alec Meer on July 23rd, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Get yourself a spare day or two and spend it burrowing into this huge, excellent series of video interviews with some of the most renowned/revered/contentious figures in the game industry, all discussing what games mean to them and to the human experience. Ultimately Critical Path promises to become “a transmedia project exploring the art, philosophy, politics and psychology of video games”, which could mean an awful lot of things, but it’s off to a great start with bite-size talking heads including Meier, Spector, Blezinski, Hocking, Kojima, Humble, Rohrer, Wright, Carmack, Levine, Garriot, Koster, Howard, Mechner, Bushnell, Muzyka & Zeschuck, Schafer, Chen, Molyneux and loads more talking thoughtfully, fascinatingly and with clear enthusiasm about many different facets of what they do, why they do it and what it might mean. Also, what games might need to do next.

Here’s the trailer, though it really is worth simply jumping directly to the mini-interviews themselves. They’re a lot less self-regarding than the trailer suggests, as they’re focused on discussing particular topics rather than being a collection of bon mots. It’s strictly devs talking about their work and their medium, and not as much navel-gazing as you might imagine.

As well as the philosophical and social dissection aspects, there’s also more practical psychology – such as why third-person perspectives can mean a greater connection to the game than a first-person one, the purity of 8-bit, how to make cutscenes more effective and the mechanics of Pac-Man.

Splendid, thought-provoking stuff (mostly), though I feel a certain frustration at only getting 30 seconds or so for each topic. This is the sort of thing RPS should really do one day, if we can work out how to operate a video camera and not giggle nervously whenever we meet anyone famous.

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83 Comments »

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  1. Meat Circus says:

    Oh, somebody keeps deleting my comment when I say bad things about that trailer and what somebody in it says about power fantasies.

    Is that obtuse enough? We’ll see.

    • Marijn says:

      Well, at least Bleszinski is being honest about it. I don’t like the man’s games (either?), but it’s a bit hard to consider his words a surprise… (Still curious as to your original comment though)

  2. Squirrelfanatic says:

    That’s really cool. I only have looked at 4 or 5 of the videos but the idea to have people from the “scene” talk about concepts and core principles of game design / creation might be a good way to introduce new people to a broader idea of what games can be.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lacero says:

    The internet is for text. This fad for video will never catch on.

  4. D3xter says:

    THIS SITE HAS BEEN OPTIMIZED FOR THE FOLLOWING BROWSERS:
    FIREFOX | CHROME | SAFARI

    I always hate that kind of thing, I mean I get it you don’t like IE, but why decide to lock everyone out using it, I even have the first two on my PC, but in such a case I usually say “No thanks”, since they don’t have to be c**ts about it…

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      What’s a “IE”?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Bit surprised they actually locked out IE completely.

      I know there’s a sort of movement in web design to basically force people to be effected by just how damaging IE is/was in relation to web-standards, etc, by simply denying people (there’s that one company who basically added a % to all sales for IE users because their web-design team had to spend extra effort accommodating IE’s disregard for standards).

      Explaining to people why IE is bad rarely gets a lay person to understand that the “blue E” is not “the Internet” let alone that IE’s problems extend beyond their own machine, or that the alternatives are functionally better from a usability PoV, not even from a technical perspective.

      • LionsPhil says:

        IIRC, that was specific to IE6.

        Which is, amusingly enough, where militant browser partisans think Microsoft left it. IE9’s pretty damn capable, standards-wise—bizzare as it may seem, I don’t have to cringe and brace for hours of workarounds when testing a page in it.

        (Unfortunately, the same is not true of IE8, last of the XP line.)

        • Hoaxfish says:

          Yea, IE6 was the real shit-kicker.

          There was a bit of a weird mess with IE’s “compatibility mode” which gave the browser a whole range of “this is supported here… but not in here”.

          IE9 is still playing feature catch-up, and IE10 is having a weird mental conflict with Metro (i.e. barely any functionality as they haven’t managed to rebuild it yet)

          Standards compliance is the new browser wars. Possibly the weirdest thing is that Chrome seems to be getting noticeable issues as it develops (I’ve had some truely bizarre misfunctionality in Chrome on pages which are very simple, and render perfectly in every other browser).

          • rustybroomhandle says:

            IE8 is pretty awful too. Even the jQuery folks have decided to srop supporting it as of next year.

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      FriendlyFire says:

      Usually, this is because the site breaks so horribly on IE that it becomes unusable. Rather than waste time fixing it, they decide that they can live without the small percentage of their audience still using the browser. Considering what the site is about, I’d say their bet is correct; their target audience likely won’t be using IE.

      It’s better for their image and for the users to show a message telling IE is not supported than to have the site appear broken. I really can’t blame them, developing for IE is a pain in the arse.

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      PoulWrist says:

      Props to doing it from me. I work as a frontend developer. Making everything work for IE 8 and 7 is a chore that you don’t want. At least it’s not as hard between firefox and chrome. Screw safari btw.

    • Kaira- says:

      No Opera? What a shame.

      Not to speak about the million other small marketshare browsers like Midori.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Nobody has ever really cared about Opera in the entire history of the web.

        Which is a bit of a shame, since around the same time IE6 was stagnating, Netscape was a dessicated husk, Mozilla was a mess, and Firefox/Safari were going through painful birthing processes, Opera was pretty much the best of a rancid bunch.

      • KenTWOu says:

        It works perfectly under Opera and my browser identification setting set to identify as Opera.

    • pilouuuu says:

      IE deserves that. And thanks for reminding me that it exists!

    • Sic says:

      This is simply wonderful, and I hope more web devs have the balls to do things like this.

      IE shouldn’t be allowed to exist if it doesn’t conform. It’s as simple as that.

      I’m building a page right now, and I’m considering dropping IE entirely. It’s all about the principle. If MS won’t play fair, why should anyone else be fair to them?

  5. mcwizardry says:

    Really interesting selection of game industry people.

  6. Marijn says:

    Oh wow. This is absolutely fantastic – I wish every medium had at least one of these, and it’s amazing that they managed to pull it off for videogames. Still, sure – many of these subjects could do with a longer treatment.

  7. aliksy says:

    Ah, video. This would work better if I had headphones or speakers here.

  8. clockworkz says:

    Ken Levine = Ben Stiller?

  9. Jenks says:

    I’d really like to put this on my TV, sit back, and watch the whole series. Do I really need to close each video and click to start the next one? There’s no playlist option?

  10. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Here’s something I’ve heard before from Raph Koster which I find a bit troubling.

    Single-player is an historical aberration

    And he’s right, especially if you look at the most successful casual games now. Single-player is almost certainly doomed to be a niche concept in the not-too-distant future.

    • Marijn says:

      Pshaw, not really. Don’t listen to the crackpot ludologists, there’ll always be room for narrative-heavy, single-player games, because they’re not an alternative to multiplayer games, but a different genre entirely, more akin to the way we consume novels, films and theatre as opposed to board games or sports. The entire either/or discussion about singleplayer and multiplayer is a red herring.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Single player extends the narrative ideas developed by Film, Books, etc whereas multiplayer takes surrounding world.

        Both single player and multiplayer “games” exist well before computers were even a thing.

        Playing with “action figures” by yourself (which I suppose developed in Sim City, god-games, etc), or Patience/Solitaire card games (puzzle games) are some examples of that.

        Multiplayer is a form of competitive sport for the most part (especially with the inception of “e-sports”), with Co-op campaigns forming a bridge between the two styles.

        • RandomEsa says:

          Games that blend single- and multiplayer together to create a perfect mix are very rare. The only good example maybe in the whole industry is what Demon’s Souls did ( and what Dark Souls improved).

          But I don’t buy that because you can link your achievements to your facebook or how having your achievements / badges being in display on your profile page for example in steam makes the single player game a multiplayer one.

    • Marijn says:

      But I hope every one of these videos gives us an excuse to debate these interesting questions!

    • Bobka says:

      It’s nice and all to say it’s an aberration, but that’s also a mostly meaningless statement in the long run. Computers are also a historical aberration, yet here we are, still. Everything new is a historical aberration until several decades have gone by, at the very least. It seems to me that the opportunity for single-player is, on the contrary, the very strength of videogames as a kind of interactivity – analog gaming and role-playing just can’t do it. Where is the “We must respect the uniqueness of the medium” crowd now, eh?

      Ian Bogost wrote an article about this (and other) claims a while ago, and the comments section on Gamasutra exploded. Which isn’t surprising; Gamasutra articles can easily ramp up 150+ comments if they (A) try to define the essense of “games” or refute any such essense, or (B) relate in some way to women’s issues.

      http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6446/persuasive_games_from_aberrance_.php

    • brkl says:

      Ludologist has never heard of solitaire card games or crossword puzzles.

      Or if you want to, frame single player games as a game between the player and the developers. Or in any way that isn’t totally superficial.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        They’re the exception. Very much a niche thing. The vast majority of popular traditional games require more than one person.

        Humans are social creatures, and an AI doesn’t provide any meaningful level of social interaction. That’s the point. “Social” not as a stupid buzzword, but as a real thing that people want.

        • Bobka says:

          Not all people, not all the time. Heck, probably not even most people.

          People have always and will always want social interaction, and games have always and will always cater to that; however, we’re at a point where games can also cater to our need for some alone time fun, without the pressures and stresses of social interaction.

          The only problem is that it’s easier to justify monetizing things in a multiplayer context; if it weren’t for the moneylust, we probably wouldn’t see quite the drive towards multiplayer we do. Of course there would be some, because, of course, most people want social interaction at least some of the time, and we’re still developing the designs and tech to manage that properly. There is no bottom-up consumer-driven reason for single-player to go extinct or even become a massive niche, though.

    • plugmonkey says:

      The most successful casual games? Like Peggle and Angry Birds? Even casual players don’t want to have to team up / compete all the time.

      As far as core gamers go: unless people suddenly lose the desire to be James Bond / Batman / Ogami Itto, then there will always be a market for a single player experience. Unless everyone else suddenly develops the desire to play the role of ‘defenseless minion who doesn’t stand a chance’ for me in a multiplayer game. It’s a very compelling fantasy, which if the first generation of games didn’t fulfil, the second generation certainly set about in very short order.

      Yes, the earliest games were multiplayer; but then, quite a few the earliest prototypes of modern games I’ve seen have been multiplayer too. Perhaps networking is just easier than A.I.?

  11. Merange says:

    To show how amazing games could be to humanity as an art form and entertainment….

    Let’s make a movie!

    • Marijn says:

      Yeah, yeah, that’s not actually as contradictory as it sounds. For instance, the people WRITING about film throughout history have had an enormous effect on the way the medium was perceived by the mainstream.

      • Merange says:

        Nice name.

        It just seems like the audience isn’t game developers, so it looks like the industry trying to defend itself to the outside rather than proving themselves with their actual products. Could just be me misjudging though.

        • JackShandy says:

          Hey now, it doesn’t have to be make-make-make all the time. All the people in this series have already proved themselves with the products they put out there. Sitting back and talking about what they put out there, and why they did it, is just as important.

  12. Hoaxfish says:

    I just can’t find it in myself to watch any of the Bioware videos. I just don’t want to hear any of their insight, when I consider their latest output.

    Also amused by John Carmack being in, but John Romero apparently not.

    I would love to watch this edited into a proper interview, as selecting a new video to play every 5 seconds is quite distracting.

  13. matt606 says:

    RPS should have done this first.

  14. BatmanBaggins says:

    Rob Pardo’s video about “Sense of Accomplishment” was hilariously telling.

    Also – Would have been cool to have Gabe been a part of this as well. He always has interesting insights.

    • Premium User Badge

      Cross says:

      I don’t think Gabe would be the best choice out of all the close to 400 people at Valve. Gabe’s a businessman, much more focused on long-term developments and the evolution of Steam than actual game design. I’d be interested to see Robin Walker, Chet Faliszek or Adrian Finol on here, instead.

      • Voon says:

        Which reminds me, why didn’t they get Chet to give his shares of insights as well?

        Also, why didn’t they get Shigeru Miyamoto to join in? After all, he’s a pretty important person when it comes to games development.

  15. rocketman71 says:

    Wow. Who decided to put CliffyB in there?. I’d be offended if I were ANY of the others to be put in such company.

    • Brun says:

      Why? This isn’t about PC gaming, it’s about gaming in general. And whatever you might think about Epic’s treatment of the PC as a platform, there’s no denying that they’ve had a huge impact on gaming.

  16. Abndn says:

    Well David Cage sure proved to be dumb as a brick in those interviews.

    “According to statistics only 20 to 25 percent of the players see the end of the given game. What does it mean? It means that you played 6 to 9 dollars to play a game, you played it for 3-4 hours and then for whatever reason it just became so difficult that you didnt want to play with it anymore, and you stopped. Is it a satisfying situation? I don’t think so, I think it’s absurd. I don’t spend 6 to 9 dollars to be stuck”

    Or maybe the game was just BORING? Maybe it was TOO EASY? God!

    • Acorino says:

      You know, I also didn’t finish reading a lot of novels, and it wasn’t because they were too hard to understand. I just weren’t bothered enough, probably.

      Edit: Also, only two short snippets with Jordan Mechner? Why? By the way, I hope he returns to gaming soon…

      • plugmonkey says:

        Exactly. A lot of people, particularly in development, seem to forget that as entertainment mediums go, games are looooooooong.

        In terms of size of content, the closest equivalent is probably a TV show. How many TV shows have you started watching and given up on before the end? If you’re anything like me, almost all of them.

        Likewise, I finish maybe 5% of the games I start. I can’t think of a single one I’m actually stuck on.

    • BatmanBaggins says:

      Yeah. This annoyed me too. Maybe they were just too boring/not fun? I honestly would strongly doubt that most people stop playing a game because it’s “too hard”.

    • pilouuuu says:

      Thanks to guys like these we got Mass Effect 3 ending… Really, how is it possible that developers don’t think (or want) players to finish their games? Make the game more enganging for God’s sake! And make the journey worthwhile, giving the game a decent ending or better yet many different endings according to how you played.

    • woodsey says:

      Cage always strikes me as a wannabe filmmaker who didn’t make it (not entirely surprising if you look at his writing).

  17. Raph Koster says:

    The interview I did was at least a solid hour long. These are teeny tiny excerpts — they got a TON of material, filming across two separate GDC’s. So there is a lot more to come, I bet.

  18. int says:

    Has anyone else noticed Ken Levine’s vivacious puppy eyes?

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      Cross says:

      The visage of that guy reflects excellently on the nice and brilliant person he seems to be.

  19. caddyB says:

    I’m curious about what these people have to say. Even if I don’t agree with some of them, these people are way more influential than I am ( and that single handedly fills my understatement quota for 2012, yay! ) so it matters.

    Also I like seeing the people who make games. It’s like watching a band live for the first time. Always surprises me that they are actual people. You know, they exist.

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    RobF says:

    Ooh, they could compile all these into one movie and call it OLD PEOPLE:THE MOVIE

  21. mazzratazz says:

    I’m not a huge fan of the format (if I could get three-hour talks with each of these people I’d probably eat it up), but there’s definitely lots of interesting stuff in here. Flicked through a bunch of them, one of my favourites so far is this Warren Spector one: http://criticalpathproject.com/?v=38451972 because of passion and truth.

    • BatmanBaggins says:

      He’s absolutely right on the matter.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      He mentions D&D, which reminds me of someone’s recent comment on an RPG forum – that modern gamers have forgotten how to be simple adventurers, they want to instantly be badass heroes all the time.

      Personally, I hate the latter type of game. I don’t want a power fantasy, I want scenarios with interesting problems to solve. Problems that are in some way relatable to reality, even if they take place in a fantasy world.

      • pilouuuu says:

        I totally agree! I want more of the Ultima experiences where you can bake and live in a city and develop your human virtues, instead of just killing. Violence is fun in games as part of the experience, but I’m a bit tired of all gaming being based on that. I want to be a detective, solve mysteries. I want to meet people in the game and make good friends. I want to have a pet. I like games like Skyrim, but the focus on violence makes it not as fantastic as it should be. Even Fallout New Vegas had more variety and thus it is closer to my ideal RPG.

      • dE says:

        My issue with the badass characters is that they essentially aren’t. Most attempts take these character types too serious. They lack the comical part of it, the part that makes it look easy and smooth, the part with the charm that balances out the over the top abilities. The hilarious results of the mad and flashy action. But also the weakness of one sided power. They lack balance, if not in power but in background and persona.
        Today’s heroes only ever need one character trait: Be a cynical smartass.

        • pilouuuu says:

          That’s why I think that Tomb Raider’s approach of making Lara more vulnerable is more interesting. That’s why Bruce Willis is interesting as a vulnerable hero in Die Hard. It’s OK when you are really high level to be extremely powerful. That’s part of the fun in an RPG! But it should take time to get to that. What I totally hate are badass marine guys like those in Gear of Wars. Make main characters more human and vulnerable! Make their journey a quest for power, but don’t give the power right away.

  22. Igor Hardy says:

    Meh, those interviews have been done already as part of Matt Chat – the video games history channel run by Matt Barton:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/blacklily8

    It’s even named better – “Matt Chat!”. “Matt Chat!!!” Short and neat.

    Would you rather learn your games history from a Matt Chat, or some humongous venture called “Critical Path – a transmedia project exploring the art, philosophy, politics and psychology of video games”?

    Besides, there is more than 30 seconds for each topic.

    • mckertis says:

      Except nobody knows who he is, and his interviews are always rather …bland, to put it mildly.
      Not to mention he doesnt know very much about games.

  23. pilouuuu says:

    Now it’d be great if they applied all the innovative ideas, instead of keep on doing the same game over and over. I miss the industry when they would surprise you everytime with Lemmings, Worms, Cannon Fodder, Syndicate, Doom, Monkey Island… Now it’s all brown FPS games…

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      Cross says:

      Funnily enough, the only one of these people who i think is really involved in that is CliffyB. And that cinematics guy from Halo, but who gives a hoot about him?

      • Contrafibularity says:

        Are you looking at the same list of names as I am? Keeping in mind that the nature of videogames is such that as a developer you’ll be lucky enough to be regarded as an innovative figure for maybe one thing you’ve worked on, two or three if you’re very lucky, or more if you’re simply a genius.

        That said, the AAA segment of videogames is all brown FPS macho-jingo, but then who buys those games anyway? Just look elsewhere and you’ll find the games you’re looking for, because for the first time in years they’re almost all there, actually.

  24. Contrafibularity says:

    Is it just me or does that picture look like a line-up flyer to one of the most awaited musical events of the year.. except it’s not. Hmm no it’s not me, this looks like roughly two-thirds of all musical event promotion material. Oh well, enough pointless observation.

    Quite looking forward to watching these tomorrow, feels weird that I know almost all of those names.

  25. Sleepymatt says:

    turns out you put three slashes in there after all Alec! :D

  26. Bishop says:

    Anyone else find it annoying were that guy says “We use 3 x, not everyone knows what it is, but they er….they do cus they’ve played it” Yea thanks mate, great explanation.

  27. Duke of Chutney says:

    why Warren Elis, WHY. WHY cant you start making GOOD game again

  28. Duke of Chutney says:

    The Chris Heckler ‘Star System’ vid is interesting and something i very much agree with. I know who makes the films i watch, i know who designs the board games i play. And this knowledge is part of what drives my interest in the industry, it influences my purchases. I can name about 5 video game developers. Most games i play i have no idea who is ultimatly responsible for the design. Right its a team effort, and i can watch the credits but i dont associate the designers with their work so much in video games, and this is a shame. Instead we get the publishers logo shoved down our throats.

  29. JackShandy says:

    I love having all these people together in context. Hearing Ken Levine say “I could never make pacman,” and then going over and listening to a guy talking about how he made Pac-man. Cliffy B praising power fantasies, right next to Warren Spector raging at them. Fantastic.

  30. Duke of Chutney says:

    the logical progression for the origin of pacman is hillarious, and possibly slighty sexist.

  31. Sic says:

    Why do everyone keep saying that we’re at the start of an industry?

    Video games has existed for over half the time films have. The first thing that could be characterised as a video game was made in 1947.

    Sure, video games had a slow start, but so did films, so it’s a bit silly to call 2012 “the very beginning” of gaming. It’s been over sixty years.