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On the meaning of video games

The vision thing

Fondagrapes A few days ago I posted an essay on the many striking similarities between Godard's classic film Breathless and Sudo Goichi's No More Heroes. I suggested that Suda's work contains many of the signature elements of French New Wave cinema, and the post received some terrific and insightful comments for which I'm very grateful.

Mitch Krpata, whose blog Insult Swordfighting should be in every serious gamer's subscription list, has responded to my essay and advanced the "designer as auteur" ball farther down the field. He raises some interesting points, including a comparison of the artistic visions behind Burnout Paradise and No More Heroes:

By any measure, Burnout is the more polished and "professional" of the two games. Its open world is seamless. It is a technological marvel, and at its best it provides a gut-level thrill that I'm not sure is matched elsewhere. But the game lacks any kind of a voice or point of view. Paradise City doesn't possess an ounce of the character that Santa Destroy has. Whatever attitude Burnout Paradise contains comes from a place that rings false, especially as expressed through the riffage of DJ Atomica. My instinct is to attribute that difference to the lack of Suda 51-like personality at Criterion Games.

My sense is that it's often very useful to have a singular visionary as the driving artistic force behind a game (or film, play, opera, etc.), but it's not always necessary. The Hideo Kojimas and Orson Welles of the world have certainly left their marks, but many great achievements have been created by well organized teams of people united behind a shared mission.

The Hollywood studio system of the 1930s is a good example, when filmmakers like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and William Wyler produced works of surpassing excellence within a system of many collaborative partners. As unbelievable as it may seem, none of these directors had "final cut." They were, for the most part, studio employees. From all accounts, Super Mario Galaxy emerged from a similar team-based, distributed-work environment - see the "Iwata Asks" series of interviews for a revealing account of how this process worked inside Nintendo's EAD Tokyo office.

Mitch's post "The auteur theory of games" can be found here.

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