A bold statement, perhaps, given the fact that the development of most games is not helmed by one of those few termed auteurs, yet still manage to turn a profit and keep their teams afloat. From a purely economical standpoint, the concept of the industry dying out due to a void of those most creative individuals is ludicrous. It is historically true that the masses respond to the entertainment products that cater to the lowest common denominators, while those that aim higher, striving for literary achievement, are left to languish for years until their status as a Classic is recognised and grants them a degree of public interest. With the primary goal of auteurs being to create something that falls into the latter category, pushing the limits of the medium to new heights, with the result almost inevitably a lack of consumer interest, the profits that their games generate are almost negligible in the grand scheme of things.
That’s all business, though. And although the hunt for the almighty dollar is an integral function of any industry, evolution and revolution is required to push them forward. That doesn’t spring from board rooms and corporate suits, but from individuals determined to bring change. Evidence of that can be found from transportation to medicine and beyond. Entertainment is no exception and such people are vitally important in a time of tumultuous upheaval, such as the gaming industry is currently going through. There is no need to document the rise of online gaming, social platforms, free-to-play or crowd funding here, only to say that auteurs are able to adapt to these fundamental changes, with many actively embracing them to better promote their creativity.
A perfect example of this is Peter Molyneux, the creator of Black and White, Fable and pretty much the entire god-game genre, who split from Microsoft to pursue his own goals and wound up with a curious little quasi-game called… Curiosity. It’s a straightforward concept that sees users tapping away at the layers of a cube with the sole goal being to tear away that exterior and discover the surprise that lurks within. In spite of its simplicity, or perhaps because of it, people seem to have responded to it. A part of the reason for this is the hype and media attention that the game has received due to it being a Molyneux project, but another is that it takes grand advantage of the functions and nature of mobile games, while remaining unique. It is exactly the kind of thing that one would expect a visionary of the industry to create.
“Tapping on a touch screen? Makes perfect sense!”
But Molyneux isn’t the only visionary to move away from console development to explore ways to create smaller, more personal games. David Jaffe has reportedly scaled back the team at Eat, Sleep, Play (Calling All Cars, Twisted Metal) to work on iOS and Android games, and Fumito Ueda (ICO, Shadow of the Colossus) has effectively resigned from Sony to do the very same, except that he is contractually obligated to see The Last Guardian through to completion. There are still others that have moved away, and more will surely follow, but it isn’t right to call it a mass exodus from core gaming.
Indeed, the implementation of online marketplaces has granted new ground for the old and allowed new auteurs to flourish with smaller, purer games. Tim Schafer and Double Fine Studios have embraced them since 2009, constantly coming up with new game concepts, while the gaming world has been enamoured with the works of Markus ‘Notch’ Perrson (Minecraft) and Jenova Chen (Flower, Journey), among others. In spite of what else may be said these are still games tailored to the core market, but perhaps the greatest benefit that the internet has provided for such developers is concepts like Kickstarter.
It allows them to create the kind of games that they want to without the necessity of the backing of a big publisher. Obsidian Entertainment, helmed by Chris Avellone has used it to fund one of the best-looking RPGs of recent times, Project Eternity, while fellow Interplay alumnus Brian Fargo has used it for Wasteland 2. Back to Peter Molyneux, his company 22 Cans has chosen to take the same route with his next game, Project Godus, which is promised to reinvent the god-game genre. It’s a brave new world, and one that such developers are more than happy to take advantage of.
“Moving forward by looking back.”
At the same time, auteurs continue to push the industry, as we’ve known it heretofore, forward as well. The primary method for this is via storytelling, as Ken Levine (Bioshock), Tameem Antonaides (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), Toshihiro Nagoshi (Yakuza, Binary Domain) , Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) and David Cage (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls) are testaments of. Every creator of this sort seeks to fuse gameplay and storytelling together in such a way that the entire experience is one of the utmost cohesion, and the more memorable for it. Other auteurs seek to create memorable games through a reinvention of a particular genre, as evidenced by Hidetaka Miyazaki (Demon’s Souls), Todd Howard (The Elder Scrolls), Michel Ancel (Beyond Good and Evil, Rayman) and the Houser brothers (Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto).
This unique breed of creator delves into every genre and school of development, constantly bringing something entirely new to the table and reinvigorating the love of gamers the world over with each new project. In most cases, their games are the crème de la crème, those most deserving of being called Classics in the years to come. They push other developers to try harder by setting an insurmountable bar and that improves the standard of quality. Forget the argument of money, as crucial as that is to sustain industry, it plays second fiddle to freshness so just take the time, every now and again, to remember with fondness those bold designers that allow this medium to flourish, for without them it would be a realm of abject homogeneity.