Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talent and ambition versus failure

I was reading an article earlier today which collected a number of choice quotes from Roger Ebert's most negative reviews - the films he really hated, and got really creative expressing that hatred. One quote in particular stood out to me, from his review of the Robin Williams/Ed Norton/Jon Stewart "comedy" Death to Smoochy:

Only enormously talented people could have made "Death to Smoochy." Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience. To make a film this awful, you have to have enormous ambition and confidence, and dream big dreams.

The film industry is full of well-intentioned failures made by talented people. Some of them are successful, some are not, but even in this scathing takedown of Death to Smoochy Ebert has to admit the talent and ambition of the people behind it, even if the end result is a total disaster.

Which got me thinking: are there any videogames that could be described similarly, or are the huge teams and vague ownership of ideas constructed in such a way that intent and even talent is difficult to identify if a game is bad?

And not even "so bad it's good", where the enjoyment comes from a place not deliberately targeted by the development team. Just a game that fails on every level but still has a spark of ambition in it. Where you can see the talent struggling to make a connection.

This probably comes down, in a lot of cases, to the lack of singular vision on a project compared to the director's final authority on a film. There are so few auteur videogame directors, possibly because the disciplines required to direct and design a game are so broad that they can't be as hands-on with every aspect as a film's director.

Directing a two-hour feature is one thing; directing an eight, twelve or forty-hour game is another entirely, and it's going to be exponentially difficult to make sure you've got your eye on everything.

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