I am the Program Director for the UC Santa Cruz Master's in Games + Playable Media and the CEO and Co-Founder of Loot Drop, game studio focused on fun. I have been fortunate to make games my whole life.
Hi everyone – I’ve received numerous requests to re-open my old blog for reference to the old articles. I am too busy to update the blog at the moment, but if I get time, I’ll do so.
I rewatched Indie Game: The Movie today with a group of young game developers just past alpha on their games. It is a good time to rewatch the movie. Often, alpha is reached with the same sense of relief one might feel when one reaches the end of the flu: glad it’s over, but completely worn out from the effort.
Game development is not for everyone. Our verbs are visceral, particularly in singular form.
- Throw up
- Let go
Not everyone will make it through.
I am working on a book about game balance starting with experience points, curves and progression. The starting point reflects the answer to the question I am most often asked about game balance. What questions do you suggest based on your own experience or what questions do you have?
Watching this 10-minute movie actually brought a tear to my eye. Highly recommended.
(I get a lot of emails on this subject. This is my answer to one such email.)
Game companies aren’t interested in outside ideas. At our company, we have a backlog of easily 20 games that we would like to make, and these ideas come from the likes of John Romero and Tom Hall. An idea is only that. There are a 1000 ways for it to go wrong in its execution. Ideas and concepts are a dime a dozen.
Game design is not the idea. It is the execution.
So, if you desperately want to make games, the only advice I have for you is to start making them. You can work your way up through QA as others have done, or you can learn to code. In my own job, I work with three other designers who can code, and I would be a much better designer if I could.
Being a game designer and being responsible for multi-million-dollar budgets requires years of expertise and proven practice. Passion is only 5% of the puzzle. Discipline born of experience is the other 95%.
While our products are compared to the movie industry, we as game designers are much more like doctors. The only reason that I get to operate and sometimes put an entire company’s stake in my hands is because I spent years apprenticing and understanding the systems that I am working on. I know how to fix things through iteration when stuff goes wrong and when to call something DOA. In my case, nearly 13 years had passed before I became a lead, and during that time, I learned from a lot of great people. I am still learning. To go back to the movie metaphor, a game designer is also not like a scriptwriter (though a game writer can be). We are much more like directors. We need to be aware of how everything interacts with every other thing and always mindful of the player experience. That means we DO need to know how the camera and everything else functions and how it affects the final product and, like Orson Welles, sometimes we cut holes in floors and innovate the art.
Directors and game designers know how to execute an idea. It is every last little detail that makes a great movie and a great game great. That comes from experience and from working with others who have done it.
But, it can be done. Literally not a day goes by that I don’t think about Notch and the wonderful game he created in Minecraft. It is the greatest success story in the game industry, and I hope many more find even a quarter of his success.
Imagine a conversation with a recent film school graduate about the greatest films in recent memory. It would not be uncommon for such a student to mention Star Wars. After all, the film’s impact on culture was tremendous, and its effects are still felt daily among those in the video game industry. Some have joked that nearly every game made is merely some kind of retelling of some Star Wars meme. So, with this scene in mind, imagine the following conversation:
Me: “Star Wars: A New Hope – do you know who directed it?”
Recent graduate: “No.”
Again, I ask, can you imagine? No, of course you can’t. Such a conversation would be embarrassing, ridiculous, and a statement of failure upon the film school that graduated such a student. Similar comparisons could be made to an architecture student who knew nothing of Frank Lloyd Wright, or an art student who could not identify Michelangelo but was totally aware of the majesty of the Sistine Chapel.
I had a nearly identical conversation tonight with a recent graduate of a game program. I wish I could say it was uncommon. However, I regularly encounter graduates of game programs who know nothing of game history. They can talk about Final Fantasy, DOOM, the Sims, Age of Empires, and WoW, and acknowledge them as foundational in some way, yet they know nothing of the key minds behind these same games.
This has to stop, and we don’t need full-on game history courses to correct the problem. What we do need is early and regular reinforcement of the creative and technical people behind these games. Architects care about Frank Lloyd Wright because he was innovative and influential and they have much to learn from him. Likewise, I care about Dani Berry because she was innovative and influential, and though deceased, I still have much to learn from her. In most cases, the answer to, “Who made this game?” is as simple as a Mobygames.com search.
Sometimes, we fall back on the old, “Well, lots of people made that game.” Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t build those houses by himself nor did George Lucas make Star Wars all on his own.
Students are paying thousands of dollars for an education. They have a right to get one.