Seems like a good time to mention The Cutting Room Floor, an excellent wiki that catalogs cut/unused content, debug features, and secret messages left in video games.
The page for Gex  describes a good portion of the cut assets and secrets mentioned in the article.
 - https://tcrf.net/Gex_(3DO)
Wow, that's an old blog post. At first I thought the comments with datestamps of "16 years ago" were some kind of bug!
Pretty surprising this retrospective post was made only a couple years after the game released -- usually people wait a bit longer to "spill the beans" on development of games they worked on. :)
I think one true measure of a superb game development studio is the ability to make a game enjoyable and interesting within the construct of the chosen setting.
It would have probably taken much more than the small team they had initially, but there's no reason in theory that they could have gone with their idea and made an extremely rich game, with different play styles in each thematic genre, for example.
Dark Souls does this well. Without modifying the properties of the universe, each area requires modified strategies and this keeps the game fresh, and clever, while staying within the confines of this medieval fantasy world.
Point is, you dont have to force platforming onto a game; but these guys were doing this 20 years ago on potato technology with an understaffed team. I didnt understand gex when I played it, but as a hobby game dev, I respect what they accomplished.
The problem tends to stem from misplaced feedback, not intentional badness. In this case the scenario is set by copy-pasting the dev cycle of previous games onto a new one. The game gets designed from the surface(marketing, and specifically marketing artifacts like the Gex character and a pitch that dictates the design) inwards and so ends up with huge gaps in what it wants to do versus what it actually does, and tons of stuff that gets thrown out as unusable. And then new technology gets in the way.
I am actually finishing up a project that went very similarly, just at a smaller scope.
A lot of game studios are also not ran by professional management (especially at the time, it's been slowly getting better in the intervening 20 years). I've worked for many different companies & a lot of stuff is really just decided/made up as they go without much process.
Even succesful studios like Rockstar are not necessarily well managed, often success/money just papers over a lot of issues (plus burning out their staff with insane working hours to compensate for lack of planning).
I'm always baffled by the randomness in such productions.
I mean, what is even happening there from a business perspective?!
Okay, people want to make a game that gets big and sells merch, but then the whole thing gets crazy, like nobody even thought about that they needed a game that was SO good that everybody wants to buy merch for it.
To be fair, the mascot character was a fad at that point. There were a bunch of stand alone games (because they didn't do well enough to get follow ups) with character designs like that. Never played 3DO, but I played some of the later Gex games on Playstation, and found it enjoyable enough.
And they were all Sonic ripoffs. Nintendo had Mario, okay fine, but then Sega had to come up with a character to "beat" Mario and that was Sonic. Then all the other companies came out of the woodwork and they had to have mascot (with 'tude!) of their own to represent their brand. So we got GEX and Aero the Acro-Bat and... motherfucking Bubsy...
By the mid-90s, even Sega seemed discontent with Sonic headlining their brand, so we also got Ristar, Tempo, Wild Woody, etc.
But the lesson the marketroids failed to take away from Mario and Sonic is that this really only works if you have a strong game, not just a strong character.
Two mascot platformers from the side-scrolling, Sonic ripoff period that really delivered on their promise, gameplay wise, were Jazz Jackrabbit and Rocket Knight Adventures. Both of those had consistent gameplay, a tight feel, and neat mechanics that made them fun. Hence why I still remember these, but tend to forget all the others...
Maybe I have the sense of humour of a five year old, but Wild Woody sounds a lot too NSFW for a kids gaming mascot.
I think that was kind of the point. He was a hideous CG pencil, and his attack was rubbing things out with his eraser ass. Cringe and gross double entendres all around. Of course inappropriateness was a hallmark of Sega's 3edgy5me days; Sonic was originally supposed to have a sexy, blonde, human girlfriend.
That's horrific in several ways, and in particular brings to mind the old joke about porcupines.
But it must have been a fairly old concept. I was a big Sega fan as a child, owning the original Sonic for the Master System, and don't remember any humans except for Dr. Robotnik.
It was nixed by a Sega of America staffer named Madeline Schroeder, who did a lot of streamlining and de-crufting the Sonic concept before the game was even made.
Oddly enough she would go on to establish Crystal Dynamics, the studio that made GEX. And Sega would go on to ship Sonic with a human in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
>When I was interviewing at Crystal I was told that Gex was to be the next Sonic. It was to be a huge hit, the newest mascot, one of those titles that inspires all kinds of merchandising like toys and cartoons, pens, pencils, notebooks, underroos, ...
Gex certainly felt like it was designed by a marketing team rather than a game designer with a vision. You could always tell by the "edgy" renders that would show up on magazine covers and the like. It never really appealed to me.
On the upside, the Gex 3 engine was used as the basis for Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, so at least we got that out of it.
Gaming is just a much bigger market than a lot of people seem to realize, niches can still be profitable and so you'll just see more and more of those types of games, making it seem like a trend, even if you look at it from an overall market revenue standpoint they're still pretty niche. Like you might think there's a trend for more and more unoriginal sports games, you wonder if they'll ever stop making so many, but even so those only account for ~12% of the market. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/189592/breakdown-of-us-v... and broken down slightly http://www.mweb.co.za/games/view/tabid/4210/Article/28870/ES...)
Plus anything that is cheap to produce that still makes a profit will tend to have more representatives. I doubt I'll ever play any of those anime visual novel 'games' Steam keeps showing to me but sometimes it feels like that's a trend that won't go away, and I have to wonder if I knew an artist whether he and I could make one that would sell if not well, at least generate a bit of extra income even after the cost of the effort. Meanwhile it'd be fun to work on something like Dark Souls but that's not the sort of game you'd want to take on solo or with a tiny team. Similarly there are lots of indie "8-bit" or just "pixel graphics" games I'll never play, but I find that I usually object to them more on gameplay rather than their often lazy art. e.g. sometimes I find something fun like Rabi-Ribi... Meanwhile Cuphead looks like a good game that also has a way different, you might say truly retro, art style but I don't really have an interest in playing it since I've never had a desire for more of that art style plus I feel like I'll just be disappointed it's not Contra 3 in terms of gameplay.
Additionally something being unprofitable doesn't mean people won't still make loads of it :)
My unscientific anecdotal experience with the European game dev scene suggests that the vast majority of indie/small developers are people working on their first game who then go out of business upon release and/or are funded by government funds for "creative media" and the like.
The curious thing about this is that vector graphics for 2d games is soooo much easier to make than pixel graphics. It scales better, it's easier to animate, and it's easier to edit.
Pixel art requires hand-animating each frame of each sprite. Want to change something about the character? You're now changing 20 frames worth of that same something.
Personally I really dislike almost all vector art in games and prefer things pixelated. Vector graphics make me think Angry Birds, pixel art makes me think Secret of Mana. SNES era pixel art is my favorite.
It's been years since I last tried, but I remember vector graphics being much harder to import. Not only do you have to bring in considerations more familiar to 3D like consistent units and origin points, but it's also just not supported by most libraries. Even random tiny game engines that some hobbyist put on github and abandoned support bitmaps.
They may be easier to make but I find 2d vector graphics tend to look very bland and generic.
My thoughts exactly. It's really hard to get any kind of interesting textures with vector graphics.
It really depends on how you're displaying those vectors. Depending on the game engine, bitmaps are often much easier to display.
depends on the style, pixel art often doesn't require that many frames per animation (especially at low res).
It's also generally a lot harder to find people who can competently animate at all so animation-light style are often preferable.
Pixel art has a ton of advantages:
* It's cheap. It takes as much talent to make great pixel art as anything, but it takes less time to do than most styles. Some cartoon vector styles or voxel styles could compete here.
* Passable pixel art is relatively easy. A team with mediocre art skills can still do something okay this way. And even a team with a great artist can get away with letting the programmer draw some objects.
* It's a well-defined aesthetic. A lot of the work of art is defining an art direction for the project. Some pixel art games have great art direction, but most get away with looking roughly like Final Fantasy 4. Only photorealism does better at being pre-defined.
* It's already accepted. If you go for a non-traditional low-fi aesthetic, even if it is artistically stunning, some people will see a low resolution or low polycount and say the graphics are bad.
* The toolchains exist. You can build cool artistic styles around a novel way of rendering things like making everything out of particles or using triangular pixels. But Photoshop won't draw on a triangular grid.
* The artists are already there. You can hire someone who knows pixel art. It's harder to find someone who can draw Cuphead or do good work in a janky one-off tool chain.
* It plays well with the medium. Pixels and polygons are the native elements of the way games are rendered. Any minimalist style other than low-res or low-poly is just a simulacra of minimalism: you could draw stick figures, but that requires the same graphical freedom as a high-res game.
Yes, I think the trend is driven by, ultimately, digital distribution.
I don't think we would have independent developers without digital distribution. It allows small developers and publishers to create games with a smaller scope than AAA games, and to sell them for less. I think this is allowed because of the reduced logistics of digital distribution versus physical.
But smaller scope will also mean smaller teams - sometimes even just one or two developers. A sprite-based, retro-ish game is much more realistic for a handful of developers to finish in a reasonable time.
Personally, I greatly enjoy the graphics that tend more to the 16-bit, SNES era
SNES-era (relatively) high-res pixel art is where it starts getting not actually cheaper/easier to produce than just 'normal' 2d art made in photoshop at native resolution.
That's why you mostly see 8-bit/early 16-bit style pixel art.
The 6x investment needed to move from 16bit to 32bit, in the author's estimation and experience, makes me understand the trend toward 8-bit retro games a little better. Even if no modern "8-bit" games are that in anything but name and some graphics only.
I've been hoping in vain for a couple years that the trend toward faux "8-bit" would pass as a fad, but it seems to really have become a niche with staying power.
Is there something I'm missing that's driving this trend? Or am I alone in preferring line art or other styles over "8-bit" graphics?
I first though it was about "Gex: Enter the Gecko" 1998 (a Super Mario 64 like early 3D platformer): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gex:_Enter_the_Gecko
But the article was about Gex 1995 (2D platformer): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gex_(video_game)
"Gex Enter the Gecko" (3D, part 2) used the same 3D engine as Tomb Raider 1 (from CORE Design). Crystal Dynamics improved the engine with every game (like Legacy of Kain) and in the end Crystal Dynamics won over the Tomb Raider franchise with Tomb Raider Legend (2006), where as Core Design's engine fork looked old-school by then and basically killed the company. Even to this day "Rise of the Tomb Raider" is still based on that engine, obviously much improved over those many years. (source: check the Wikipedia pages)
And while the 3d sequels were at least somewhat competent 3d platformers, it's pretty crazy that Gex had a playboy sidekick in the third one. (Somewhat NSFW https://i.pinimg.com/originals/18/20/93/18209312f22639374c84...)
Thanks for this, never read this before! I still remember how back in '95, after I had had my mind blown with titles like Tekken and after seeing it hyped in so many magazines, being so disappointed at what Gex actually was. Biggest disappointment since Vortex on SNES, heh.
The point was that the second concept is more fantasy-like, so the level designers can get away with using more classic video game design elements.
If he's supposed to be a stuntman on a "real" movie set, they'd have to explain why their wild west set has magical floating platforms flying around.
Very interesting read. However, I'm not sure why a game where you do stunts to make money is "a lame concept" but getting sucked into a tv isn't?
This was one of my favorite games as a kid. Loved the whole style of it.