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Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
Okay, this is from Content Strategies of the Future: Between Games and Stories -- Crossroads for the Video
Game Industry
by Mikolaj Dymek and is one of the sources I'm drawing on for my Master's thesis.

For me, I feel like it echoes some of the back and forth on these forums, both with and about STO's development. Ordinarily, I'd probably never post this kind of stuff on a games forum but, hey, Star Trek fans are all bright, from trolls to fanboys and all the Trekkers and Trekkies inbetween.

I'm gonna bold the parts that stand out for me.

Quote:
The video game industry incorporates numerous perspectives
regarding the core of its activity, i.e. the video game. It has
historically been perceived mainly as an electronic toy, but
currently two dominating perspectives permeate the industry:
games as IT products, and games as “show-biz”/cultural industry
products
. While these perspectives provide interesting insights
into the game industry as such, it does not give satisfactory
accounts of its internal dynamics.

In the case of cultural industries studies hitherto much
research have been focused on traditional media industries (such
as cinema, music, books, newspapers), performing arts (e.g. opera
houses, symphony orchestras, dance companies, musicals) and
fine arts (e.g. painters, sculptors) and has given scarce attention to
the tremendously expanding game industry. In Caves’ book
Creative Industries - Contracts between art and commerce [11] an
analytical framework is presented, which defines the economic
characteristics of cultural industries. This paper will apply and
examine this perspective on the game industry, and also further
analyse to what extent this framework can describe critical
features of the game industry. It will be argued that the cultural
industries perspective provides valuable insights regarding the
economic dynamics of the game industry, but is, due to its
foundations in neoclassical economics, incapable of taking into
account a medium’s unique characteristics and its influence on the
industrial dynamics of the medium’s respective cultural industry.
This is particularly evident in the case of video games, where the
interactive dimension provides revolutionary exclusive features,
previously unavailable through any other medium, but is omitted
in the cultural industries perspective.

Simultaneously, the “IT perspective” on video games
presents an exaggerated focus on the technological aspects of the
video game industry, consequently overlooking, in broad terms,
the “creative” and “cultural” aspects of the medium and its
influence on the industry. Numerous examples of “games design”
literature propose a plethora of approaches [6, 44, 45] of how to
understand and create new games. These perspectives in various
degrees elucidate the uniqueness of the game medium and the
technological challenges associated with the creation of this
medium, but seem to lack any elaborate theoretical views on how
to bridge these perspectives with aspects of business, media,
commerce, organization and “culture” (in a cultural industries
sense).
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 2
01-17-2012, 01:03 AM
Now, a history lesson:

Cryptic Studios launched City of Heroes. I think that team had a somewhat balanced view between views of games as cultural/entertainment/narrative products and the ludological view of games as a system of abract interactive possibilities. They skewed a bit towards the latter but, hey, if they went to game design school, I'd expect some of that skew, as Dymek notes that game design literature itself has that skew.

NCSoft, the publisher for City of Heroes, told Jack Emmert and the honchos at Cryptic to lay off half their staff. They balked at this and instead split the studio in two. Half stayed behind the form the basis of Paragon Studios, which runs in CoH. In turn, NCSoft bought out CoH and set up Paragon as its own in-house studio.

Cryptic, with money from its sale of CoH, began work on Marvel Universe Online with Microsoft and Marvel Comics.

That fell through. Struggling to make bills, they bought out Champions and picked up Star Trek cheap through connections at the also struggling Perpetual Entertainment These license arrangements plus possession of a working engine built from their experience on CoH made them attractive enough to be picked up by the struggling Atari, a French gaming company which had picked up the Atari name and logo on the cheap, and later by the thriving but struggling to make a dent in western markets Perfect World Entertainment, a publicly traded American company in the Bay area that is primarily owned and established by the Chinese company for whom it is named.

Now... Here's where the theory comes in:

When they split, the "entertainment/cultural" people stayed behind because their interest and skillset was in continuing to nurture a game. The folks whose skills revolved around game creation stayed on with Cryptic, the "IT perspective" people. This is what enables Cryptic's rapid product turnaround and what drives their infatuation with new flashy mechanics every patch.

Now... I'm not saying that's the whole team. Jack Emmert has his Master's in Mythology. Dan Stahl's background is in community management at Wizards of the Coast and Microsoft. Kestrel has an English degree from Purdue. CapnLogan is an artist first and foremost, a split I think you see game artists often fall on more the art or the gaming side.

But they've never recovered their balance since they left their arts/culture people behind at Paragon and have never had the team size to regain that, triaging for purely ludic game designers who could crank out products out of development on very little manpower overall.

Even if they need X number of systems minded designers however, their structuralist, ludic approach to game making has skewed development priorities due to the lack of a liberal arts/storytelling/pop entertainment balance.

And I think this is especially perilous for an MMO. Because MMOs are not pure games. Tetris is a pure game and modern gaming tends to have more advanced purer games on consoles whereas MMOs are a different animal. They get to cheat. They get to stay in development after launch and continue to sell product well beyond the lifespan of any console game.

But they accomplish this by not being games in the pure sense and therefore getting by with elements of repetitive or underdeveloped or non-innovative gameplay. But audience members get a trade off in this equation: they get enhanced socialization and ongoing, serialized story.

The problem is, these necessary trade offs require a partially non-ludic, non-IT focus. They require sociologists and English majors... Anthropologists, screenwriters and actors at the high end. In an MMO, the balance between game design and cultural criticism is more essential than it is in most other game formats in order to have a realized vision that engages the audience.

If I could have one message for Cryptic THIS would be it.

The simple version you'll hear most of the time is:

- "What about content?"
- "That's not content!"
-"Need more missions!"

That both is and isn't the full picture. The full picture is that, yes, sure, artisans, liberal arts scholars (with or without advanced degrees), and people focused on social and cultural analysis absolutely can't make games without technicians and engineers, the lights in the theatre don't go on without the stage manager and the folks in black. But you also need a balance of scenic and lighting designers, playwrights, dramaturgues, directors, actors, and acting coaches or what happens when the lights go up will be unsatisfying.

And there's no cheating on that point. There's no hedging. There's no miracle system that can make audiences in an MMO appreciate pure game design without narrative focus and artistic flourish, not just in the pretty graphics but in the engine room plotting the course and at every level along the way.

Just my $.02 there.

Good luck on the F2P launch. I'm eager to see some new faces in game. Just remember this post. :-)
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 3
01-17-2012, 04:13 AM
We were told sdangelo comes from an engineering background when he first came aboard. His posts are written like an IT manager. He sets priorities like an IT manager.

Now all we need is a replacement...
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 4
01-17-2012, 04:33 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sekrit_Agent
We were told sdangelo comes from an engineering background when he first came aboard. His posts are written like an IT manager. He sets priorities like an IT manager.

Now all we need is a replacement...
Well he IS the Chief Technical Officer for Cryptic as his main job, it's always been stated that it's just a temporary gig until thy can find a permanent EP.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 5
01-17-2012, 04:34 AM
Very, very good. Certainly explains quite a bit. However the problem runs slightly deeper, these "IT perspective people" do continue to push out more flashy mechanics as you say, however for whatever reason (my guess is top down pressure) these get pushed out too early, unfinished and requiring far more work after release than they perhaps should, creating another hinderence.

Still, good post, so good I can't turn it into a joke so I'll have to go off on a tangent from your "theatrical" simile...

When I was but a wee lad I was a lighting techie for a travelling theatre group (y'know, god-awful versions of Chicago and such) and at one theatre I found something scribbled on the wall of my booth...

"Techies are Gods, why you ask? Some actors, writers and the like say techies are useless. They often talk of the ancient Greeks and how they never needed lighting and so on. However they did, and who provided that lighting? The Gods." Made me giggle.

Not saying the "IT perspective" devs are gods, but they're pretty darn important...
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 6
01-17-2012, 04:39 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sekrit_Agent
We were told sdangelo comes from an engineering background when he first came aboard. His posts are written like an IT manager. He sets priorities like an IT manager.

Now all we need is a replacement...
Here's the thing, whenever I talk about Cryptic's "systems obsession", some folks think I'm talking about D'Angelo.

I'm not, really. I'm talking about the whole corporate culture at Cryptic, as I see it, needing a balance.

I think he's probably great at his primary job. I would love a permanent EP so he can go back to doing that and we can get a fulltime EP.

But even if they got some artsy guy like Joss Whedon in the EP chair, there's still an imbalance and it's one we saw even under Stahl and Zinc and in what we were able to see in pre-production. I think Layman and the Champs team probably have a bit better balance overall but I think it's still there too.

Games are both a gameplay system and a narrative entertainment commodity with social dimensions. And you need a team that can support that.

*sigh* My thesis has to come first right now but I could make a very forceful argument for this in the scholarly literature that I would be really tempted to use to build a case for a larger overall staff with a balance.

Bioware has that balance or even skews the other way and ******** has Metzen as an insanely forceful presence pushing for that balance and really managing a lot of the game. I don't expect Kestrel to be a Chris Metzen but you gotta make up for that with numbers, all around.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 7
01-17-2012, 04:43 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain_Collier
"Techies are Gods, why you ask? Some actors, writers and the like say techies are useless. They often talk of the ancient Greeks and how they never needed lighting and so on. However they did, and who provided that lighting? The Gods." Made me giggle.

Not saying the "IT perspective" devs are gods, but they're pretty darn important...
Absolutely. And actors need to respect that. My own high school theatre teacher had problems with a prima donna actress in one production and she straight up had the technicians cut the lights on her to make a point.

The thing is, though, you need a team, a total production ensemble. You have problems without a balance. If everyone you place is the best at their job, it doesn't matter if the dynamic is off. And if you could just get a quality team without an eye towards composition, the guys with the most money would have a hit every time and nobody else could compete.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 8
01-17-2012, 04:53 AM
On the subject of the "systems" thing though... I think you see it in the patchnotes, the engineering reports and even City of Heroes.

Cryptic is always pushing five or six big new initiatives at a time.

Compare that to a lot of other MMOs and you'll see they're substantially slower with game systems releases and mechanical overhaul initiatives and, well... substantially faster with content and, even when they're not, telling a story with rising action out of the content that they do release.

Take the STFs. Great maps. There's an intuitive sense of an organic storyflow in the layout. But ask people to relate the bosses by personality type or catch phrases or their feats in the lore or any of the things people typically remember about MMO bosses and it isn't there.

Arthas killed his dad and burned a city... and when you see his horse, you realize he dug up his dead horse and reanimated it. You see it very strongly in the WoW bosses. But... hey, Emperor Cole/Tyrant enslaved a city and kidnapped Statesman and did lots of stuff to provide meaning to us fighting him in City of Heroes.

There's not a lot of sense behind a lot of the fighting in STO aside from, uh, "They want a resource we have or also want." That, intentionally or accidentally, is what made the Featured Episodes a quantumleap forward in storytelling... and... yet... even those still boil down to that fighting over Maguffins aside from Hakeev and Obisek and even then I'm on the fence a little bit.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 9
01-17-2012, 05:44 AM
I don't know. (and the following is purely conjecture) I think IT-types can make good content guys. Sure, their content tends to be formulaic, but that means they san spit it out quicker as they are more focused on the core of the experience rather than the substance. The substance is important to some people, but if you are an F-key spammer, the substance holds very little importance to you.

That being said, without some understanding of the art of story telling, the IT folks do struggle to get out of their formulas. This is not a slight on their abilities or content design skills. But they need another POV to push them onto a new formula. Which was what we got with Dan when the IT guys got off their "Kill/Scan 5 XXXXX." Bringing Kestral back helped influence the new FEs. But as you can tell, they still lean to the new formula ("2 to 3 FEs a year).

I think the DOff systems and the combat system were good in that they gave the IT guys something they knew. But that left us with one content guy who then became responsible for giving substance to their new systems. Even Dan's return to Cryptic was to solely work on the Foundry, admittedly an IT-focused area.

The plus side is they are hiring and brining in more content folks. [REDACTED] very interested in telling a good story while at the same time adding some new game mechanics to the game. Things will turn around.

It's just what will be left to turn?

(look, admittedly, we may be saying the same thing. It's early)
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 10
01-17-2012, 06:08 AM
>f-key spammer< also why tor is trash in my eyes Im loving the discussion thus far.
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