Monday, August 20, 2007

Calling All Cars: The Postmortem (Part I)

It’s been almost 4 months since Calling All Cars! was released on the Playstation Network. As of this writing, it has garnered a decent-but-not-great review score of 77/100 on It has sold well, but not so well that it’s broken records or established the current ceiling for best selling downloadable titles. Overall, it’s performed solidly, respectably, and gathered up a loyal group of fans who really seemed to dig and enjoy what we were trying to do.

So now that some time has passed, I feel I’m at a place to look back and see what we did right and what we did wrong on the title. Some of these issues are game design related, others are PR related, while some deal with the philosophical aspects of what a game reviewer’s job is supposed to be and what customers should be expecting out of these new breed of ‘smaller games’.

Time being as limited as it is these days, I’ve only had a chance to write up the first part of this postmortem. The final part will follow in a few days.

All that said: here’s what I learned from working on Calling All Cars:

LESSON #1- GET EVERY ELEMENT RIGHT OR RIP IT OUT- We should have not included a single player mode in this game. From day one, CAC was designed to be a multiplayer title, an action/party game designed to make folks scream at the tv and trash-talk their buddies (online and in the same room). And because the only way people could purchase the game was off the internet, we knew there would be- usually!- at least a handful of people online to play with (so the idea of downloading the game and not being able to play it in multiplayer mode was never a concern). The logic behind putting singleplayer in the game was- I suppose- an unconscious, ingrained game design choice born out of the pre-internet days where every multiplayer-designed title still needed a singleplayer component, even if that mode was not all that great. The problem is, if it’s included, people will judge it. Unless you bury it in bonus features- where people are grateful to get anything extra, including elements that are not-quite-up-to-snuff- there is the expectation that everything on display should be great. And this is a fair expectation. I made an incorrect assumption that it was clear the game was multiplayer centric, an incorrect assumption that most people would play singleplayer to just warm up and learn the game (I mean, who plays games like NBA JAM, or Madden for that matter, for the singleplayer?) But there were people out there judging it mainly as a singleplayer title- as was their right to do since we included it in the core package/shell- and because of this, we got lower scores on some sites and some message boards. This is not the ONLY reason we got some bad scores, to be sure, but I did see a number of reviews (pro and amateur) where people were complaining that the singleplayer game was not very fulfilling. And they were right. But it was never designed to be. The team executed it well, but there was not much to it, design wise, to begin with. So now I know. In the future, if our game is really meant to be a multiplayer title, we will only provide that and not spend valuable time trying to make the singleplayer work. We had a very talented programmer focused on single player for months. I kick myself now when I think that his talents could have gone towards making the multiplayer game player even better.

LESSON #2- SOME CRITICS GET IT, OTHERS DON’T- I got a lot of crap when I called out the Gamespot 6.7 review on this very blog. Most people didn’t like the fact that I- the designer of the reviewed title- was responding to a review, but I didn’t- and still don’t- care. I just don’t agree with those folks who have a problem with it. And today- 4 months out- I still think the Gamespot review was off base and I think I had/have every right to shout about it. And it’s not because of the review score. We got a lower score- a 6.0- from the European site, but not only did I not have a problem with this lower review, I thought it had some excellent points. Like this one:

More than that though is the fact that Calling All Cars! can swiftly descend into a series of multiple bumper car-style melees, with little reliance on skill required to emerge victorious from the scuffle. Too many journeys back to the clink are essentially one-note, repetitive ramming contests that effectively randomise who the eventual winner of the round will be. Short of an extremely well-timed nitro boost it's difficult to break out of this cycle once it has begun and you can't help but think that it wouldn't be happening with more balanced gameplay.

I love that! Well I hate it, cause they hit the nail on the head. But I love that a review understood the game- warts an all- well enough to be so eloquent about the mechanics under the hood. Their critique is so true and it’s the biggest weakness of the title, one we should have caught very early on but simply didn’t (more on why in Part II). But to the point: if you want to give us a 6 and you can back it up with good, solid analytical critiques like that? I not only can live with it, I support it and appreciate it (as a player and designer). I am a better designer for such a succinct analysis of the issue. So thank you, Eurogamer!

LESSON #3- 10 BUCKS IS WORTH DIFFERENT THINGS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE- 10 dollars to me is an impulse buy. I’m 36, make a great living, and barely notice when 10 bucks gets spent. If 10 bucks flew out the window while I was zooming down the freeway, I’d wince but keep driving. 100 bucks, I’d turn around and go back for. Not for 10. But some- many- people think 10 bucks is a lot of cash. And that is fair. I have no issues with this. But it DOES affect the game design mindset and I am resetting my mindset for future PSN titles to make sure we pack in as much value as possible into our games. Not that we didn’t feel we were doing that with CAC, but we should have pushed harder, for extra levels and extras modes (I still hold that more weapons would have hurt the balance). At the same time though, it does get a bit frustrating to read comments from forum posters saying things like: it’s a great game but it gets old after about a week. To these sorts of responses, I usually shout the following at my monitor: ‘Dude! It’s 10 dollars! You can see a movie for that and after 2 hours (usually less) it’s over and you’ve got nothing to show for it. We entertained you for 7 days for the same amount of cash! Why are you complaining?!?!’

Yes I’ve seen the net response that you can buy a full used game for 10 dollars and get 60 hours of play from that used game! And to that I respond: I have no response. You are right. You can do that, and in doing so you can get better value for your money. And that applies to most downloadable titles, not just CAC. Hell, that applies to all titles, even upcoming 60 dollar monsters like HALO 3 and DRAKE’S FORTUNE. But isn’t the logic then being trotted out by this statement that: games should only ever be 20-100 hour beasts and they should only sell for 10 dollars and anything else is not worthy of my time/money?

It may very well be the logic on the part of the gamer but it’s hard to do the job of a game developer by going down that path. So the promise I can make is that we will work so hard to make you always feel you got your money’s worth. We don’t set the prices on these games (that’s the publisher) but we will pack in as much value as we can. It will never be enough for some, but for others, we hope you will play our games and always feel we gave you a great time for your money.

Ok, time to get back to work. Part II coming soon.

Oh, and let me leave you with this:

This is me and Lee Wilson, the creator of Sweet Tooth! We were shooting the Twisted Metal doc in Los Angeles last week and he flew down from Microsoft (where he is now a concept artist on Halo 3…and was on Halo 1 and 2 as well) to be part of the doc. He really was key to the series, creating the look of the world and the characters and the initial visual heartbeat of the whole thing. So thanks Lee! For coming to do the doc and for helping us bring the world of Twisted Metal to life!

Ok, gotta run…talk to ya’ll later!



Bryant said...

Great post, Jaffe. You perspective is always so refreshing. It's easy to place the blame on others for simply "not getting it," but I definitely agree that many critics, players, developers, and publishers alike still don't understand how these "short session" games or downloadable games fit in with the traditional retail market. But that's to be expected at this point in the game, right? You're a trail blazer. This paradigm is brand new to the console market, and it's going to take some time to figure things out.

Keep on innovating :)


Coldhand said...

Good luck Jaffe
I want to have a Sweet tooth like on TM: Black :D he was the craziest of all clowns.

btw. whats about the logo from EAT SLEEP PLAY ? ^^


Anonymous said...

Heh, kind of funny how the tables have turned. I've worked on 4 single player titles who all have had multiplayer tacked on at the end just to have it and that's what always hurts.

NO FEAR said...

Interesting retrospective, it was very insightful, I'm looking forward to part 2. The TW doc info is looking pretty cool. Looks like your getting support from the people you want to make it very interesting and entertaining.


Torgo said...

Dave, great writeup, I can't wait see part II. It's gotta be a bitch having so many people critique your work. I know that I have a hard time dealing with it from 4 different people at work, so I can't imagine what you have to deal with internally.

We just had an INSANE time playing CaC last Friday once again, and my thumb still hurts. It's the first game in a long time to bring back "Nintendo Thumb."

I can't wait to see what you have in store for us next.


Sadeq (aka EViD) said...

Nice post, waiting for part 2.

As for the value in CAC, I really believe that it was totally worth my $10 (it's the only game in years that made me jump while playing it).

My only wish is to have some new stages as downloadable content.

Christopher said...

Great post. I actually enjoyed the single player in CAC, though if it wasn't for my shoddy wireless I would definately play more online than I do. Also, I almost only play Madden alone, in Franchise/Owner mode. But as this post truly seemed to be about, different people have different tastes.

On another note, I am crazy excited about TM: Head On port for PS2.

Dan said...

Dude, hindsight is 20/20, as everyone already knows. As far as games, well, $10 is $10. They will get over that one day, we hope. If not, their lose.

Keep on trucking and making great games, whether is $10 or $60.


felman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
felman said...

Man Jaffe, you update about as much as I change underwear.

Seriously, there will always be haters. I mean, look at the guys at Sony protection group. They gave bioshock a 5/10 without even playing it, just because it was on the 360.


David Doel said...

Great insight.

For me I can say it was definitely worth the $10, and price is absolutely something that a reviewer needs to consider when reviewing a game. I remember reading the Gamespot review and feeling frustrated myself because he just didn't seem to get it. He reviewed it like a full-priced game (wanting more maps and weapons) though I can be somewhat guilty of that as well since I really wanted a friend's list, but that was more of a Sony PS3 issue then a CaC issue.

Anyways I'm looking forward to Pt.2, and DAMN, I need that guy's autograph! I don't know if you people really realize how much of an effect your games have on people.

I can say that the little Woman of TMB video I put together 3 or 4 years ago was the first time I realized I loved video editing. And because of that, in 2 weeks I'm starting College in a TV & New Media Production course.

Delriach said...

More levels would definitely be fun. As would more game options. Are you against DLC for the game? Or is the game not made for that sort of ability to expand? A few characters from the game had some Twisted Metal allusions... maybe you can just go all out and throw sweet tooth into the mix along with other characters. :D

As for me, the game looked interesting. Was priced for 10 bucks. I bought it out of interest and impulse. I haven't regretted that once. I even tried to get some people more interested into the game and started a league. It's at week 3 now and we're having a lot of fun. The members that have shown up like it, and I'm happy for that.

The league stuff is basic and we communicate pretty much through the PS3. If anyone wants to join you can :D

click on the CACL link. Send me (Delriach) a friend invite too.

Jeff said...

Great write up, but seriously I just don't see too many problems with this game. I just think that there are people that JUST DON'T GET IT. This game is a multiplayer game, and I love how you were inspired by games like NBA Jam because those are the types of games I loved to play the most back in the day, especially with other people.

I have spent more time and had more fun playing CAC with my friends than all the other PS3 games I have. I loved playing co-op on Resistance, but I didn't laugh and scream nearly as much as when I played CAC. Its just a flat out, solid multiplayer game that's a ton of fun to play.

Sure, having a few extra levels would be great, but the levels that are included are so solid that I loved to play them again and again. The beauty of the stages is that they each provide a completely different gaemplay experience, and that's huge.

All this for 10 bucks? How is this not a value? Seriously, I don't get that. I totally agree that many of the reviews were totally off base. They must not have played this with their buddies or even over the internet at all.

my only real disappointment with this game is that not enough people are playing online, and I believe its a real shame. I log into the game and I only see 4-6 people online. perhaps if it was multiplayer only this would have changed, I don't know. But I know that if more people were online I would be playing it a whole lot more for sure.

That said, I will still play this game when I have people over, and I will still have an absolute blast with it. Its definitely got me pumped for the upcoming Eat Sleep Play games.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about a great blog post.

Savory said...

Great write up, man. Looking forward to Part II.

I gotta say that Calling All Cars is one of the reasons I bought a PS3. It gives me this great nostalgic feeling of my college days and the heated Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye battles I had with my roommates and friends. It's a fantastic multiplayer game. It also makes my wife curse like a sailor so that's always good for a laugh.

Frank said...

When I saw your game on the PSN I thought it sounded good but I wanted a second opinion so I went to gamespot and they gave it a shit score soo I didn't buy it. About a month later I was saw in some European PS3 mag a perfect score for CaC which again changed my perspective. I threw down the 10 bucks when I had a friend over and we fell in love. We played for a good 4 hours until I almost pissed my pants while he was crying out of laughter. We kept making sexual innuendos about the paddy wagon doors and the scoring system.It was hilarious. Another night I was playing some ps3 game late and decided I wanted to play one single game of CaC before I went to bed. That was a mistake I played single player for over 2 hours. This game is like crack. You should be arrested for distribution. You are a genius. Keep doing what you do.

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