Been busy brutally murdering imaginary people.

Been quiet lately. Finally bought my copy of Relic’s wildly entertaining RTS, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War.

At my core I’m a long-time RTS nut, and this game tickles all my favorite spots. I’m a big fan of extremely graphic violence, sci-fi and great art, and this game has all three. Additionally, the focus of the game is on meaty, visceral, brutal combat unlike most RTSes, which emphasize base building and careful strategy. Dawn of War is just fun as hell to sit down and watch.

You control entire squads of marines as a single unit, and they’re all animated individually to interact with enemies on a very personal level. My favorite interaction is a giant mech called a Dreadnought picking up an ork, hefting it in the air, and squeezing buckets of blood out of it while roasting it at point blank range with a flamethrower, then tossing it aside while it looks for another victim. The first time I saw it ingame I just started laughing and couldn’t stop.

It got me thinking about how much fun it would be to work on a game like this. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized this:

Games I like to play and games I like to work on are two different categories..

I’d imagine most people thinking of entering the game industry want to make the type of games that they enjoy playing the most, and that most other people do, too. I’ve proven to myself rather thoroughly that this isn’t always true.

For example, as much as I love playing RTSes, the insane polygon constraints and sheer amount of intricate busywork involved in developing art assets for them is an enormous turnoff. Seeing Age of Empires 3 at E3 made this excruciatingly clear to me as I saw all the work the artists had to go through to make every constructed object smash apart realistically and I imagined how I’d go about it, wincing and thanking heaven that I didn’t have to do it.

Another example: Rise of Nations, the terrifically fun RTS from Big Huge Games seems at first thought that it would be fun to develop for. Then I realized how each individual race has their unique units (peasants, knights, archers, etc), their unique architecture, and a series of chronologically advancing updates for each unit type, through the stone age to the Renaissance to World War 2 to present day, and I realized what a truly daunting workload that’d have to be.

Working on Daxter PSP is a blast because of the dramatically reduced number of art assets compared to your typical RTS and the increased amount of time allotted to work on each asset that the reduced scale makes possible.

Put simply, I can put as much time into one character as an RTS artist may have to put on a set of 10 tanks.

The kicker is that I’m not even that big a fan of platformer games. Unless you count The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the first platformer I’d ever played was Jak and Daxter, which I quite enjoyed, particularly from an artistic standpoint. But it’s not necessarily one of my favorite games. And does it really need to be?

What I like most about working on Daxter PSP is the increased amount of love I’m able to show toward each art asset I create. My primary job is creating the characters (which, for the fanboys’ sake, I’ll say includes several familiar cameos as well as quite a few new faces, including the new female in the series, who is effing hot 🙂 but the real delight comes in creating the enormous animated set pieces that Daxter interacts with in the game.

Because of the increased freedom of the camera movement in a platformer like Daxter, we’re able to do a lot of crazy things with the camera in certain minigames and dexterity challenges that you can’t pull off in an RTS. In our E3 demo at the end of the Wine Cellar level, there’s an enormous animated set piece I created that regulates the pressure of a giant boiler. It’s eight animated valves, a progress meter and approximately 1.4 miles of wiggling, jangling pipes on the verge of bursting from steam pressure. You have to mash the buttons perfectly in time with the valves lighting up to release the pressure and exit the level.

I was able to have a lot of fun experimenting with camera placement and focusing the detail toward where the player was able to see most, and get to push crazy detail doing it. This isn’t the type of fun I’d be likely to have in another game, because I actually have input on how it’s presented to the player and don’t have to worry about much else aside from that and it looking good. 🙂

Ultimately I just get more opportunities to make the type of art assets that interest me most, without regard for what type of game it actually is. I just thought that entire subject was a fairly interesting distinction people might not think about, and figured it was worth bringing up.

I wonder if it’s the same for programmers, level designers and game designers? Anyone?

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