Last weekend I saw Iron Man 3, and was oddly disappointed. The movie was fun despite a few flaws, and was really quite entertaining. It took me a couple of days, but I think I’ve figured out why I was underwhelmed by it: because I’m (some might say finally) getting sick of media that’s satisfied with just being entertaining.
The problem is that in the last few years, we’ve had an influx of movies that were incredibly good at just being entertaining (Transformers, Star Trek* and pretty much any Marvel movie comes to mind). The quality bar was raised, and that, for a while, was enough. It’s fine to have movies like that every so often (I still really enjoy them), but now that there’s so many of them, it’s starting to grow stale.
*This article by Rohan Harris describes a similar problem from a very different angle in regards to Star Trek in particular. It’s well worth a read.
Unfortunately, the same trends are true of games. In some ways, our industry is more problematic than film. The mobile sector is completely obsessed with the idea of simply capturing attention for the sake of doing so, and there’s an insidious and pervasive notion amongst developers that if your first goal isn’t ‘fun’ (whatever the hell that means), then you’re automatically a bad developer and your game is going to suck. What results is shallow games, whose existence is fine, but whose sheer numbers are really quite demoralising.
So today I’m going to talk a bit about ambition and depth: specifically, a quick test I’ll make for any project to make sure that it’s going to be interesting.