Relatively

I saw a comment yesterday referring to the quality of some games released on Steam lately:

“It’s never been easier to write a bad game”

You don’t have to learn C++ or whatever, you just get an out the box package, throw the game out into the world and you’re golden or something. Well. That’s an interesting point of view, that’s for sure.

I mean, there’s a couple of things to unpack from that. Like learning a language is one of the big barriers to making a crap game for one and whilst it’s definitely a barrier to making games fullus stopicus, quality doesn’t really come into it there. And the other is, kinda, the flood of easy-access game making software is causing a glut of shit to be released and every person and their pet sheep is at it, throwing low quality videogames out there into the world. Like, this is a new thing, yeah?

Well, nah. It’s all relative.

Let’s say that for the sake of argument folks writing their own games has been a mainstream thing for around thirty years or so. If we go back to the early eighties there’s a huge imbalance in the good:maybe not ratio and it’s skewed towards the maybe not. Historically, having to learn a language doesn’t seem to have presented the slightest barrier to folks not achieving videogame greatness with their work and on a fairly large-scale too.

I could list you a hundred more games for every game we stroke our beards over and call a classic, no worries. For every Jet Set Willy there’s an Alien Kill, an Alcatraz Harry, a Drunk Policeman, a Street Hawk or Night Rider. An Elite. You can pick a year, any year, in videogames and you’ll find this to be the case. A ruck of games that probably maybe aren’t that and the six you like and what they’re coded in seems to have no bearing on quality. Sort of as if being able to code isn’t a process that automatically qualifies someone to be a person who can make a thing that wot is good. Sort of like as if there’s other talents that come into play. Sort of as if the very good games you love are constantly and consistently outweighed by stuff you think isn’t because you’re a human or something.

It’s probably aliens.

But of course, there’s also this thing where because we’ve now got all these accessible packages, everyone is making more rubbish. And well, in a way that’s true because everyone is making more games. It’s also massively ignorant of the history of videogames.

Y’know, considering where there’s a computer, there’s accessible game making software. Like, maybe shipping a computer with BASIC built in, the first point of learning for a lot of the older generation of people who wot make games. For a few years there was a huge, huge flood of BASIC games that when put up against other Machine Code titles didn’t fare so well. Magazines that would list whether a game was BASIC or Machine Code too. Yet still folks kept making crap games in Machine Code even after BASIC became consigned to type in listings for the most part.

It wasn’t too long before things came along to make life easier for some people and PAW and The Quill, GAC, HURG and other things with catchy names gave folks an opportunity to make games with much of the heavy lifting under the hood done for them. A copy of Melbourne Draw and Wham:The Music Box could go a long way for art and tunes.

And this stuff was picked up by publishers and games made with the packages sold for cash money. Back then in the UK we still had mail order things going on so stuff could be sold there too, in mags and in more specialist zines and that.

And plenty of things made in them were fine, y’know? Better than, even.

So as time marched on, we got SEUCK, we got AMOS for tinkering with code, we got 3d Construction Kit for putting together solid 3d games, we got trackers, Deluxe Paint and so much more and as time, there’s always been a side order of accessible packages and games made in them relative to all games made. I once argued that we lost a bit of this in the late nineties/early two thousands but someone smarter than me pointed out this was the era of mod tools coming into their own. This is a good and fair point.

It’s always been easy to make a game that’s not all that. Thing is, I can’t draw a line between being able to code and the ability to throw out a good game because, well, all these infamously shit games exist and they weren’t made with more accessible tools. Someone put a lot of time and effort into that stuff. Fuck me, Duke Nukem Forever was hardly written in FPS Creator (arguably it might have fared better…). I look through Steam and the only thing games I think look a bit rubbish have in common is that they look a bit rubbish in the main.

Mind, what we are proving and we’ve been doing this since the eighties (seriously, there’s some incredible stuff made with The Quill alone and careers were started with it) is that getting these tools into the hands of folks leads to great games coming from folks who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make a great game. Hotline Miami, Undertale, thousands of other remarkable things.

We’ve always had accessible tools, the amount of games in them has long eclipsed the amount made by people coding for realsies to the metal or just low level or whatever. At no point in the entire history of videogames can I think of a time it’s not been easy to make a bad game. And the reason for that isn’t ‘because anyone can make a game now’, it’s because making a good game is fucking hard, whatever you’re writing it in.

Oh, and us now mainly selling our games on one store front instead of many so we kinda see a larger view of what’s going on in videogames in a smaller space. Well. If we’re looking, anyway. But ssssh. Secret.