Today, I stumbled across this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_rCbrbzYLw. It is the first part of a two part video featuring my favorite video game critic Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw discussing what he thinks it is that makes a good video game. He discusses the differences between games that are made by teams of people, having each individual member of the team contributing small parts to eventually make a whole, and games made by one person or with one leader guiding the entire project as if it were exclusively their own. The advantage of developing games with either one person or one leader is that the vision is comprehensive, as it comes from only one source, and most of all, the leader gives a shit. Yahtzee describes how greater responsibility is taken by each member of a team if the team is smaller, and the more responsibility taken by the team as a whole, the more responsibly the game is made. Fuckin' brilliant, right?
Then there was a Q + A with Yahtzee.
I began to imagine what I would ask him if I had the chance. This is my question exactly as I would phrase it:
"It seems that well-educated gamers are really good at being able to spot a bad game when they see one. Take a recent game like Sunset Overdrive: the initial gameplay looked fun, but gamers quickly realized that the game would never evolve as they played. Gamers anticipated the game being boring, and professional video game critics agreed once the game was actually released. If both gamers and critics can spot a bad game from miles away, why, do you think, can't developers?"
Based on what Yahtzee said in that video, I think he would say something like this:
Q: If both gamers and critics can spot a bad game from miles away, why, do you think, can't developers?
(theoretical) A: They can. They just don't give a shit.
Right now, I am playing God of War for the first time. Simultaneously, I am playing Deadpool. The games are literally exactly the same- navigate through a semi-linear level, take out every enemy in your way, solve simple puzzles, and fight bosses while acquiring new abilities to move the story to the next semi-linear area where you will do the same thing again and again until the game ends. Both games feature exactly identical gameplay, so riddle me this: Why do I find Deadpool to be a goddamn pleasure while I find God of War to be more boring than watching paint dry on a painting entitled "Watch the Grass Grow"? Because I feel like while developing Deadpool, Activision gave a shit.
There's no question that the gameplay in Deadpool is a bit outdated, very samey and repetitive, and at times perhaps even a bit redundant and arbitrary, but the goddamn writing and dialogue in the game is some of the best I've ever heard in my 20 years of life. Seriously, each carefully crafted line of dialogue in this game has me crying laughing, gasping for air, and putting an enormous smile on my face at least once per session. Good writing in video games is optional, people. Writing is a little detail we appreciate but don't necessarily feel entitled to. Good writing is delightful when it is there, but most importantly it requires someone on the development team to give a shit. The writing, dialogue, and art style in Deadpool make the game feel like it was somebody's baby- somebody's vision that has come alive, and the game is more engaging because of it. Developers who give a shit about their games go back to rework parts of the game that break flow or bore players. Developers who give a shit will never say "ehh good enough".
God of War feels like a game about which someone was very quick to decide "ehh good enough". God of War functions fine as a game, but it doesn't suggest that any additional thought was put into it besides the excessive gore. GOW feels like a game whose development started once the dev team had two or three good ideas, and never got any more; it feels like is was made by a development team who didn't mind that each level is aesthetically identical, didn't mind that the gameplay never changed nor evolved, and didn't mind that both Kratos and the game itself stay the same for 9 hours before ending pretty much at the same place we were when we started. Of course, it would be extremely ignorant for me to say that the game was made lazily, but it certainly wasn't made with enough effort- this I know for a fact because if the game was made with more effort, it would be a better game.
I like Deadpool because you can tell that the dev team put a lot of time and a lot of care into each and every section of the game. It's not by any means a perfect game, but the consistent attention to detail found in Deadpool suggests that someone over at Activision really gave a shit about the quality of the game. That person was not satisfied by doing the bare minimum amount of work to make a game function, he/she was much more interested in making the game fun. God of War feels like the dev team was interested in making a game that functioned but was not interested in improving any ideas to make them more fun.
Giving a shit about your game- taking the time to rework and improve ideas, add little details, add good writing, add good music, subtlety, add things to the background in order to improve the foreground- slowly but surely, game developers (especially indie developers) are realizing that THIS is what gamers want in games. We don't need huge worlds if developers omit small details, we don't need huge bosses if they aren't unique, and we don't need bombastic stories if there isn't subtlety . We want details. We want developers to give a shit.