Monday, March 21, 2022

Peter Principle Case Study: Nova Drift

It's particularly great because the Chimeric is his own boss.

Nova Drift started out as a highly rational game being managed competently. Patches were accurately targeted changes in response to logical argument, and illogical arguments were discarded. Naturally it was buggy, but the bugs declined over time. Artifact and intent converged.

It is now like every other game: a mass of vaguely-connected mechanics with some pretty pictures slapped on the front. It is best played by ignoring at least half the game, because it doesn't matter or will actively hold you back. It's kind of a cool toy but it's not really a game exactly, at least not compared to fully-designed game like chess. You can play around with the pointless mechanics and imagine a great game where they mattered, and using them is kinda interesting, but at the end of the day it's like real life in a bad way: there's a bunch of garbage that's best left to the landfill. There's a bunch of new mods and new weapons and new ships and new enemies and the best strategies are the same degenerate minmaxing as found in the buggy alpha version.

There's one meaningful change: there were some enemies that acted like enemies and fought back. These have been nerfed to the point of being trivial. Probably so they could fit in around the landfill. Wouldn't want pixel ship-mans to have awkward (discarded) watercooler conversations.

What happened? Basically peasants create wealth (code, art) and problems. In specific, the project's complexity grew beyond the peasant's management ability, but, as a peasant, he simply allowed it to keep growing. Chimeric likely isn't even consciously aware of the difference. I expect he feels a vague sense of being overwhelmed, but has no idea what this sensation means.

Nova Drift sold enough that Chimeric was able to keep working on the project, making it a bigger project, and now it's bigger than he can handle. Promoted himself beyond his level of competence.

It will never occur to him that management complexity might have a ceiling, nor will anyone tell him. Perhaps if he explored strategies for minimizing necessary management he could bring it back within his limited horizon, but it can't occur to him to try. He isn't consciously aware of his own intent, or perhaps can't strictly be said to have an intent at all except to make a game the way you're "supposed" to. When intent and artifact diverge, he's not aware of it or at best can't work out why he feels something doesn't fit.
Peasants man, I tell ya.

Having seen this more or less first-hand, I can now recognize this is probably exactly what happens with every videogame. They all grow beyond the scope of the management attached to the game, because why the fuck would a real lord go into making videogames of all things? Nobody tells the studio to stop and stay in their lane, so the scope growth is stopped by physical factors. Not by planning, but by running out of budget. Running out of deadline. Analogous to a marathon that's not stopped by crossing the finish line, but by collapsing of exhaustion or running face-first into a wall.
Running out of players, once the problems accumulate so much that other videogames happen to be less janky.

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