Pulling Back the Curtain

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
Editor’s Note: Oh, look — it’s Brett Bates again. Like the announcer from NBA Jam would say, "He’s on fire!" And for good reason — his post about game makers revealing more about the development process is certainly something we’d like to see more of. Hell, getting to know all the dirt that went down making Duke Nukem Forever is surely enough to make anyone scream, "Boom-Shakalaka!" -Michael

What will we find behind the curtain?

Last week, David Jaffe posted some early documentation (with sensitive bits blurred out) for a new game on his blog, along with the following paragraph:

Ok ya’ll- will post more next week but you know, at least for now, I’ve been thinking more and more about turning this blog into more of a ‘behind the scenes’/’making of’ style blog and doing less personal rants and stuff. So I may start posting a bit less (until we have stuff to reveal about our game…then I’ll post like a madman!) but the stuff I do post will be more related to our game and our company, and less about me personally. But I will also start Twittering more about the day to day workings on my end of making our game. Once we get our company website rolling (soon, I hope) ideally we can wrangle in a coder, artist, producer,etc to do some blogging and twittering on the official site. It would be great to give ya’ll a good idea of what those crazy talented folks do all day.

Of course, the Internet being what it is, some intrepid but misguided soul immediately defogged the images, and they ended up on the major gaming blogs. Stung by how his openness was treated, Jaffe has since removed the post and threatened to stop blogging altogether. He recanted on that, but I do think he’s now going to think twice about his "behind the scenes" idea. And that’s a shame, because the videogame industry could definitely benefit from pulling back the curtain a little bit and revealing the creative process.

Think about the film industry: How many movies made in the last 30 years had separate crews documenting the filmmaking process? Sometimes, these "behind the scenes" documentaries even outshine the movies they’re documenting (see Lost in La Mancha). Even when they don’t, the documentaries provide an essential look at how a film gets made, useful for future film scholars. And they’re often entertaining to boot.

If film can be so open, why is the videogame industry so buttoned up? What do we have to hide? It’s a sad fact that we know more about how The Hottie and the Nottie got made than Ico. One could argue that a filmed documentary makes sense for a filmed movie, and not as much sense for, say, a brainstorming session at Insomniac. But there are a myriad of different ways to document the game-making process: concept art, early renders, email exchanges, design documents, and so on. One might also say that we need to protect intellectual properties. But how important is that after a game is on store shelves?

Some producers and developers are opening up, and I applaud them for that. Occasionally the supplementary material for the "special edition" version of a game contains insightful information. 2K Boston released to the Web an excellent book of concept art for BioShock. Valve even offered a "commentary" playthrough for the Orange Box. More significantly, indie developer Introversion has revealed a wealth of "behind the scenes" documents for their upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title, Darwinia+.

Unfortunately, most "extra" content found in games is nothing more than marketing material. Which is what makes the controversy around David Jaffe’s post so sad. Whether he likes it or not, Jaffe has the clout in the industry to cause a sea change, and I feel that his "behind the scenes" blog would be just that. David, if you’re reading: I hope that you do pull back the curtain on your creative process. Not only because I’m curious, but also so that future generations can understand how your latest classic came to be.


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