Thursday, March 27, 2008

Workin' in a Coal Mine

"When my work day is over / I'm too tired for havin' fun"

Last month, Nintendo Power magazine had a seven-page spread on BioWare's upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog handheld game for the Nintendo DS. It's pretty exciting news, actually. There's finally a BioWare game for my 11-year-old niece. Since she's such a huge fan of fantasy books, she might like role-playing games, and Sonic is the perfect My First RPG. It has a fairly straightforward story, and it has classic RPG elements like dialogue choice and party member quests.

Working on Sonic was a complete change of pace from working on Mass Effect. I went from editing dialogue like, "Hurry to our planetoid, Commander Shepard! There is genocide afoot!" to "Run through that loop-de-loop to get to the other side, Sonic! There are more gold rings to collect!" It's going to be slightly awesomer than that, but you get my drift. Shepard and Sonic are not going on any "fetch my magic acorn before it grows into a possibly carnivorous mind-controlling plant that looks like the Jolly Green Giant's left testicle" quests together.

Over the Easter weekend, I had a chance to playtest Sonic. The Sonic team lent me a DS and "devkit" cartridge containing the latest build. I got home and quickly tore through the first two chapters, enjoying the gameplay and ignoring the inevitable hitches and glitches. Then it crashed. Before I had a chance to save nearly 45 minutes of gameplay.

I rebooted and played for another 30 minutes, saving every five minutes to at least prevent loss of data. It crashed again. After it crashed for the 12th time in six total hours of gameplay [Yay temporary builds!], I had two choices: put it down on the desk or throw it out the window. I chose the former, out of respect for my own sanity and the company's property.

See, this is what our gamer friends don't fully understand about game development. Playing games as part of our work is very rarely any fun. We play the games when they are broken and ugly and buggy. We might play only certain sections of the game, e.g. the writers play through the quests they wrote dialogue for, over and over and OVER to check for bugs. Dusty couldn't play Mass Effect for a couple of months after it came out because he had touched almost every part of that game and knew exactly where it might hitch and glitch. It's like when you've spent all day in the kitchen cooking a huge meal [Yay Thanksgiving!]: by the time you serve the food, you find you're just not hungry.

At least my stint with Sonic only lasted long enough for me to make a sandwich. I think I will still enjoy it when it comes out. I want to know what it's like after the first two cheese slices . . . er, chapters.

"Workin' in a Coal Mine" by Lee Dorsey/DEVO

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