When I first started in the business (Jeez, is it really fifteen years?) making games really was, well, a lot of fun and games.
There were, of course, plenty of creative frustrations and long hours, but back in those primitive days game development was just like what you want in a game: adventure, exploration, and immediacy. When I look back at the kinds of stuff I did in the Wild West days of games — like the Mechs in MechCommander, the Ospreys in Half-Life, or the animations in Counter-Strike — I remember it almost the way you do a great gaming session: a lot of drama, laughing, cursing, and pushing yourself hard.
In a word, fun.
The modern games business still has lots of passionate people, but modern games are just so big and costly that bureaucracy, inertia, and bottom-line economics start to push that passion onto the sidelines. In my writing for Game Developer and helping out with the GDC, I hear the same complaints over and over: even as the technical frontiers continue to expand, it seems harder to find the shared excitement that drives the team, and then reaches out through the screen to really grab the player.
I think you can see where this is going. When Jeff and I started talking about Undead Labs — a place where a team of veteran devs could make a game that went toe-to-toe with the triple-A behemoths in terms of quality without all the baggage of a boring, bureaucratized cube farm — I was already half hooked. And it’s got zombies! Hell, where do I sign up?
The game we want to make is like a mirror of the kind of company we want to be. It’s not just about whacking zombies or knocking items off a task list; it’s about building something together.
I’ll grant you that pushing polygons around is a wee bit less stressful than fending off the undead hordes. Still, facing down disaster alongside a close-knit band of fellow survivors is precisely what made the games industry fun in the days before bazillion dollar budgets and marketing tie-ins. The fact that it’s also the perfect formula for most zombie movies isn’t accidental.
All great art starts by matching the medium and the message. You make fun by having fun. And this is gonna be fun.
[PS: If you just can’t get enough Steve and would like to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff’s introduction.]