While many video games feel almost effortless, you can do impossible jumps, drive cars at breakneck speeds, conjure magic out of nowhere, and much more, but making these games is a superhuman feat in itself. Just one game often requires the efforts of a huge team painstakingly working out every minute detail, and very little of it is easy, as described by numerous developers who spoke to Rebekah Valentine at IGN in this article that you should read.
Valentine’s article has many fascinating stories from developers answering this question, “What is one thing in video games that seems easy, but is actually extremely difficult for game developers?”
Take elevators, for example, which in a video game isn’t just a moving platform behind doors. Bill Gardner, Lead Level Designer at BioShock and BioShock Infinite, described the potential problems just trying to get into one:
The first thing you have to do is call [an elevator] via a button or whatever. By calling the elevator, you give the player, objects, or AI the chance to wander underneath and get crushed or trapped. You suddenly have to deal with that. It is an invitation to make your enemies or companions look stupid, with physics objects flying or quest items getting stuck.
Or how about responding to player input? This is how Johnnemann Nordhagen, developer at Dim Bulb Games explains:
Something I’ve spent many hours doing is player input. It seems simple – you hit the space bar; you jump. But then you start falling into all the special cases. What if the player crouches? What if you want the spacebar to also activate items that the player is standing near? What about players using controllers instead of a keyboard? How about players having their control scheme reassigned? What happens when the game is paused or in a menu? What if, god help you, this is a networked game and you need to send it to a server? It becomes a system that requires multiple levels of abstraction to handle all sorts of things that can happen in a game when a player tries to jump or hit the space bar.
And the developers don’t just discuss the game mechanics challenges in the article; they also describe difficult aspects of things like storytelling and localization. Here’s just one really good anecdote from JC Lau, a producer at Harebrained Schemes:
When I was working on localization at Xbox, the console introduced its friends list feature and there was a little popup that said “Contact Your Friends” that told people to use the friends list. In Polish this was translated into “Support socialism with your friends”, which luckily was picked up.
The whole article is packed with other interesting details and stories. Great games are easy to take for granted when playing, but the stories from these developers are a good reminder that making games can be very difficult. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read the Valentine’s Day story on IGN.