Sunday, March 11, 2012


Just now getting around to Isaacson's great Steve Jobs book that many folks read months ago. While many of the great Jobs quotes and pearls of wisdom have been discussed and paraphrased ad nauseum , there's actually great Isaccson insight when it comes to the bullshit 'ideas are cheap, execution is everything' line that many folks in my industry like to toss around a lot.

When discussing Jobs and Apple taking a lot of the XEROX PARC ideas, Issacson writes, 'There falls a shadow, as T.S. Eliot notes, between the concept and the creation. In the annals of innovations, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important...good execution is as important as good ideas'.

To me, many video games feel like special effects show reels and glorified tech demos. Most video games- once a few months/years go by and the visuals and fx and the new hardware no longer wow- are forgettable and do not stick to your bones.

I think a big reason for this is so many in our industry value the tech and execution over the ideas that drive that tech. This does not apply to all games. But for most games, we are like the movie business if there were no writers or directors but just the brilliant, genius craft folks who make and run the cameras and build the sets and create the special effects.

If you just want to pump out products and keep the widget machine going, execution is WAY more important than ideas.

If you want to create amazing games, great ideas AND great execution of those ideas must be nurtured and respected.

The only people who want to make great games who claim that execution is more important than ideas are the people who have never actually had a great idea.


Brad M said...

Don't worry about your game having inferior graphics Jaffe (which I believe the root cause of this post).

As for the "execution" being only about graphics and presentation, I think you should give it more thought as to what Steve Jobs meant about execution.

da criminal said...

Interesting, Brad M. I honestly was not even thinking of Twisted Metal when I wrote this post; more of a 'general industry observation' kind of thing.


G said...

your the man Jaffe you have extrordinary ideas and your execution of them is close to flawless.

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

Having a great idea with poor execution prevents you from realizing the idea's potential. Yes, there are hits that are more style than substance but there are also titles that fail because of poor art or stiff controls despite their brilliant design.

Woodrow said...

@Sadeq, Yes, a great idea being delivered poorly is a sad outcome. Of course. That's out of question.

But what I think Mr. Jaffe means is that some developers don't approach the making of games with the ideas primarly in mind - they are afraid to innovate and think out of the box, in terms of gameplay or what the game could be, overall. Instead, they rather consider the idea as trivial, compared to approaches that value the powerful engine, the pretty presentation, the technical fidelity more.

IINM with his opinion.

While I share Mr. Jaffe's criticism about the industry, I don't think either that this is a right interpretation of Jobs' "execution": to me, that's more about if the jumping feels tight and right in a platformer, or the shooting in a shooter (the actual shooting of a gun). Not "the visuals and fx and the new hardware".

A good game needs (among other things not related to execution) well-polished controls and as few bugs as possible that break the immersion. That's why the Zelda franchise is so popular: they are as well executed as Apple products, imho. I wouldn't go so far as Jobs and call ideas cheap, though. That's just ridiculous.

Alveredus said...

It really throws me off/frustrates me in gaming conversation that the industry battle lines seem to be story vs. gameplay/interactivity.

I study oral traditional spoken word storytelling. The focus there is on both.

For me, lack of interactivity is a hallmark of a media product that is ditching story. And lack of story is, again, a more limited media product.

Story IS logical and relevant interactivity to my way of looking at things. Illogical or irrelevant interactivity or lack of interactivity are NOT story. Being packaged focuses on an autuer's rendition rather than story, which shouldopen people's minds.

I thought I'd gotten up enough on the lit to get into writing critical analysis that makes sense but, man, I interviewed for a game design job a few weeks ago and I think I confused the heck out of the interviewers by claiming that story is the middle ground between too much interactivity and not enough and that story vs. interactivity is a false dichotomy.

Game developers are wired to think of movies as being story and story in games as movie elements seeping in.

I'd argue that story is all about flow and providing action with meaning.

I think Ms. Pac Man is probably a purer and better example of story than, say, American Beauty. In large measure because Ms. Pac Man supplies meaning and context and employs superior Aristotlean unity and encourages viewing the protagonist sympathetically. American Beauty is the technically more sophisticated artistic expression that synthesizes many aesthetic and emotional layers. But it doesn't do squat for meaning or identifying with a single figure across a series of meaningful challenges with well defined rules and, in fact, rails against the idea of meaning.

In general, prepackaged narrative is a very limited use of story as I see it. and we shouldn't be identifying film (or even print) necessarily with the idea of story, which serve as rigid performances. Story ceases to be story a bit once it shifts from concept to a fixed execution. In game design data analysis, I've seen this expressed in the idea of these imaginary particles called textons and scriptons. Textons represent information and scriptons represent information as expressed. An idea ceases to be an idea once expressed (it becomes a conveyance of an idea) and story is really just an idea... that becomes less and less story the more and more concretely scripted and presented it is.

I think it confuses people when I try to explain that, though.

I'm working on a Master's Thesis in oral Storytelling that looks at the relationship to games and is informed by Warren Spector (Deus Ex, Epic Mickey) and other people.

Sorry for the rant but I was just exposed to your DICE 2012 keynote. And I've never simultaneously agreed and disagreed with a gaming discussion this much. Because I think your thinking is absolutely what I'm trying to say, coming at games as an arts critic but that there's a language barrier that's making the idea part difficult and it comes down to different ideas of what STORY is and does.

And with our powers combined, we can change the world. This is the idea that has the power to innovate if we can meet our views somewhere.