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Not Looking for An Answer to a Problem

June 7, 2008

Over the last few months, I’ve had the great opportunity to study various designers and read books possibly related to game design in search of nothing in particular. Rather, it’s a bit like taking a hike and then coming across a beautiful falls.

The fact that I’m searching for nothing in particular, I think, is key.

The process started with this interview I did with Sid Meier. I sat with my laptop and typed as he talked about his new game (you’ll get to see the interview when the strategy guide for Civilization Revolution comes out). It lasted maybe 45 minutes, and I caught the whole thing. During the process, I said maybe the sum total of 20 words. It wasn’t because I’m shy – rather, this was an opportunity of a design lifetime. He’s one of the three best game designers in the world, and I was there to listen and type. There was nothing I needed to say that would have possibly been more important than listening to Sid talk about his design, his game and his process. That he is kind, gracious, friendly and a normal guy helps tremendously.

In these six months, I’ve also read a bunch of stuff on Reiner Knizia, played about 50 board games (maybe more), read books like Blink (don’t bother), Half Real and Theory of Fun, gone to GDC and GDX, and discussed dozens of game design topics with students.

The important part is this – I did it because I could, not because I had to or had a specific design problem to solve.

Contrast this with, “This level sucks, and I need a solution.” Yes, yes you do, and it’s important to go looking for one. However, when we research *only* at times like this, we miss so much more. I’ll fling through all kinds of awesome information just looking for that nugget-o-fixing, hoping against hope that I find it. For many in the industry, this is what it’s like, really. It’s not because of desire either. In many places that I’ve worked, it’s because value wasn’t placed on free form research (contrast this with Google which allows employees time to work on individual projects).

Of the three reasons to research, our industry often follows the first: researching because a) you have a crisis, b) you need to improve your skills in a particular area or c) you can.

For me, the last is the most beneficial. It makes us better designers in all kinds of ways. In looking for the solution, particularly if we’re under intense pressure to find it, we may exclude all kinds of stuff along the way.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    June 8, 2008 3:14 pm

    Being a good programmer means learning new languages and algorithms every day. It makes you more versatile and helps you learn to approach problems in totally different ways.

    I imagine it’s the same thing for game designers as well. That’s why I like to read and research anything and everything.

    Out of curiosity, if Sid Meier is one of your top three designers, who are the other two? And how do other designers stack against those three?

  2. June 11, 2008 1:50 am

    I enjoyed your post. It reminded me of another excellent post about how ideas can come by the way we make observations.

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