The Naked (War) Developer

Ste Pickford, one half of indie-devs the Pickford Brothers, dropped me a line recently. Their most recent was…
We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time. We can always fly-fuck.
Which is another major piece of evidence in the “Indie games=Best names” argument. In passing, Naked War was one of my favourite underground games of last year and a really cute tactical PBEM game: The Gollops’ Laser Squad Nemesis possessed by the spirit of Sensible Software. I gave it 80% for PCG, and Dave Taurus concurred over at Eurogamer. Despite me being better than him at it.

But that’s not what this is about – Ste has entered the blogosphere. Since the Pickfords have been doing this for longer than a good chunk of our readers will have been alive, they’ve seen games change enormously. In the most recent post, Ste’s talking about talking to Rare about developing on the NES and the strange demands that they insisted upon…

“Rare explained to us that every game had to be bug free, and had to be able to be completed – they even had to send a video of the game being played through to the end as part of the submission process. In those days we, the devs, never expected to be able to complete our own games. We just presumed that some expert player out there might be good enough to get to the end. Often we just made each new level more difficult than the last by increasing a value controlling speed or number of enemies, presumably until the player died or the game crashed. It was a real eye opener to start thinking about the actual experience of the player – the customer – rather than just showing off how many sprites we could get on the screen or what clever screen scrolling systems we could program.”

We’ve come a long way.


  1. Radiant says:

    Touching on what Pickford said about what he learnt from making naked war.

    What we’re finding with casual games is that because we are making so many and at such a fast rate we are evolving the games and learning from them exponentially.

    We could have 2 games almost exactly the same but cause one emphasises ‘this’ over the other’s ‘that’ people will take to it [or the other] a lot more.

    With mainstream [heh] dev companies only making 1-2 games before going under and dispersing their work force [1 or 2 games representing anything from 3 to 8 years of work] games are not evolving as much as they should.

    They’re kept artificially juvenile.

    Look at Valve, it took the time [and took it’s money and invested] into looking at what works and what doesn’t over the course of a few ‘quicker’ developed games [it’s mods and episodic content] and the results are pretty obvious.

    Minter with Space Giraffe was out of touch with who plays [and will pay for] games on Xbox Live.
    If he learns anything from Space Giraffe it would be to look at his delivery systems and make his games fit that and to make them A LOT more accessible to get involved in.

  2. Radiant says:

    Quit your jibber jabber!

  3. Laco says:

    Radiant: I agree with your general argument, although I think the quality of Valve’s games can only be attributed to their internal, rather than external, selection processes. After all, for marketplace evolution to refine your games, you need to actually release some failures! Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 both had very long development times with little to no publicity, and the design of TF2 was completely changed a number of times without any input from customers.

    While the quality of the episodes has arguably gone up compared to previous full-length titles, I don’t think that’s been caused by tighter feedback loops; at least not as much as episodic proponents would hope. I think they’re just able to spend more time polishing the shorter games, and don’t have to expend as much energy on technology development.

  4. Ste Pickford says:

    I think your point about developer evolution is really interesting. It’s not something I’ve considered before, perhaps because it’s been a long time since I’ve been involved in any kind of rapid development!

    Kind of related is the fact the devs are often quite isolated from the publishing and selling process. It might be different at publishers’ internal dev studios, but I’ve only ever worked at independent developers working with publishers as clients. Typically we’d receive very little feedback about sales (publishers were always cagey about numbers, in case they had to pay us royalties) or any customer feedback. We weren’t really in the loop once we’d delivered the final version, so it was difficult to respond to any reactions to your previous game except in the most blunt and obvious ways (it was a flop or it got bad reviews, or this year all the publishers want platform games because there was a successful platform game last year).

    I guess this is another way that publishers kept developers ‘artificially juvenile’.

    Self publishing, even on the micro scale of something like Naked War, has taught me more about player reactions to a game than years of development.

  5. John O'Kane says:

    One of the first rules about business is that the person with closer access to the customer has more power.

  6. Radiant says:

    Ste absolutely.

    If you take the example of someone like Big Fish, who put out a game a week, they know more about who buys and who plays their games [as well as what works for that audience] then any mainstream developer bar perhaps Ea [in house] and Valve.

    So when somebody like Sweet Tooth Games [who are part of Big Wig Media who run casual game behemoth] decides to use a year to put what they know into a game like The Scruffs it is a resounding success.

    I’m really looking forward to what you guys come out with next btw; I loved naked war.

  7. kaka22 says:

    why do they call it naked wars