I recently played through a couple of platformers that I found in the app store, and had a subsequent twitter conversation that got me thinking.
First off, the two games I played through were Rochard and Limbo.
Here's a taste of each:
Both games were inexpensive on the mac app store. Limbo was $10 and Rochard was $6. Both were relatively quick playthroughs - about 3-5 hours each.
The main similarities the two games had were the narrow scope, the low price and the high level of artistic execution. (Here's an excellent interview with Martin Stig Anderson who did all of the sound design and score on Limbo.)
Immediately after having reveled my way through those two works I had a conversation with the voice producer of a AAA game in real life, and then a subsequent conversation with AAA game sound designer Mike Niederquell on twitter.
The end result of both conversations was what I think is an important (though obvious looking) conclusion:
The resources needed to execute art on a high level rises disproportionally with the scope of the project.
This is because good art takes time, and lots of iteration and refinement. Every new weapon, gameplay parameter, or other artistic cog in need of creation requires time and expertise to develop, iterate, reject, recreate and revise in order to arrive in the end at high art. This is doubly true in complex mix environments where implementation is at least as intense as the creation of the audio asset.
3 hour platformers are not AAA games. They're casual games, and they require far fewer resources to execute. They also cost far less money to create and bring to market. But when you compare the level of the art achieved in those smaller games to some AAA titles you'll see that when you can over-allocate artistic resources by limiting scope you can really achieve something special.
Now, this is not to say that AAA titles cannot achieve the status of high art. I think games like Battlefield 3, Red Dead Redemption and Bioshock have proven where the art can go in a large scope game given the proper resources.
This is really just to say that sometimes the best way to up the quality of the art you're trying to achieve is to limit the scope of the project, even when the budget is bigger than that of a 3 hour side scroller.