If you are active in game-design community then the names of John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite must be familiar to you. I had an opportunity to attend IGDA event where John and Brenda were talking about their craft – the game design.
I consider myself a casual gamer and an accidental game product manager. I have not been exposed to John and Brenda’s earlier work. Hence my appreciation of their accomplishment is through the respect other game designers show towards them. For me listening to them was like listening to two artists describe their work and their process. What I took away from their conversation is obviously limited by my relative newness to game design process. Anyhow here are some of the ideas, or inspirations I picked from the session.
Crush the game UI at the end of process and optimize
Once the games’ design is complete crush it’s UI. Optimize it. Rethink it. Remove what can be removed, arrive at the cleanest version of the UI.
I like this approach of rethinking, tweaking, and removing waste at the end of the design process. When we are in the design process, despite our good intentions there is a bit of patch work. To test the whole gameplay we sometimes have to allow sub-optimal design choices in it. When the process is complete and we think we have a solid game, then we can optimize the games UI.
You are building a rock not a statue
Think of a sculptor carving Venus from a rock. Game players want to feel as if they are the sculptors and through gameplay they carve their Venus. But what should you think if you are a game designer. Hence John’s comment that as a game designer we are building a rock not a statue. Of course you, as a game designer, should have imagined and hopefully experienced the same feeling as a player will when they are playing your game. But when you present the game to the player, it is an uncarved rock with a Venus buried in it. Beautiful.
In conventional product management we present the statue, i.e. our Venus to the customers. In games though customers are on a journey of exploration and fun, it is not a productivity challenge. Hence the design intent is to maximize fun. Interesting.
Fun is not the only thing “Engagement” is the word
People play games for different reasons. Calling it fun seeking is over simplification. A better word to describe why people play games is the engagement”. People want to be engaged. Some do it to escape. Some do it for fun. Some do is to show mastery. Some do it for a sense of accomplishment. For every man there is a reason why he plays any game. But the essential common experience they are all seeking is the engagement.
Asimov, Dan Simmons : Read for inspiration
Dan Simmons’s writing created the world, extraordinary worlds that inspired John. Asimov was another good read. Brenda recommended reading Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Interesting. Dan Simmons imagines the worlds not imagined before while Zen connects you with the universe and universe within you.
Make games. Good bad or the ugly.
Practicing the process of making games is key. Not the quality of the game. Build a game.
It maps to everything we do in our lives. If you want to write a book then write it. You want to produce a tv show then produce it. You want to build a company then build it. The act of creating something once exposes mind and body to the process. You build physical, mental and metaphorical muscles. Great. It reminded me of Robert Rodriguez of Desperado fame. He and his home video recorder and his siblings as actors were enough for him to create a number of home movies. No wonder his first movies the we get to see were so polished. He had the wisdom of making hundreds of home videos.
Note to myself: Make things. Make games. Make products. Make companies. Make them. – Good bad or ugly.
Germans make great boardgames too
This one is new for me that Germans make some of the best boardgames. So I will check these boardgames. Personality, strength, style and engineering of BMW is inspiring me to explore their boardgames.
Learn the technical aspect of your profession
Brenda mentioned a number of times why she thinks John was better than her – he could program. She attributed her being good at maths as an enabler of her success. Whether it is programming or coding or understanding customers and markets – learn the core technical skills of your profession.
I was a bit reluctant to embrace my comfortably with technology. I hated being lumped with stereotypes about geeks. But I can not deny the facts that I was comfortable with technology. Now the understanding is my strength and I am comfortable with moving with both technical or business crowds.
Energy mechanics is like tokens on arcade games
“Should I never use energy mechanics coz it is perceived bad”, asked one of the young ones. The mater replied, think of your social games of today as having a token slot. Now think about having to put token every few minutes to continue to play the game. That it essentially the energy. Nicely put guys.
Designing for social (games) is different
Amen to that. Think of how players can work together. Think how can gameplay force that. Think how can that lead to a better engagement. Think of how that can lead to better monetization. Think about bringing additional player to social game through interesting and engaging gameplay. Every player that is having fun will monetize well. (of course they would love to pay if they are having fun.)
Social is service, AAA title are a movie
Think of social games as a service. Often the size of the team that developed the game is smaller than the team that manages it. You have a life time to monetize users. Think long-term.
I heard another analogy. Think of social as a TV sitcom and AAA games as a movie. In sitcom you have to think of creating multiple interesting episodes. So how would you maintain, engage and increase the player’s interest over time. (Idea: Are there any parallels between charters of sitcom and game’s characters. In TV shows if you put some really interesting characters in an interesting situation – drama happens. What is equivalent of that in games.)
Game Product Managers should identify the problem
A good product manager should identify the problems a game is having. Then let game designers to come up with the solution. I heard a similar suggestion but on a slightly different topic from friend Noah Goldenberg. He suggested that the best way a product manager can take advantage of his analytics teams is to tell them the problem he is trying to solve. Let the analyst suggest where, and what data will help illuminate on the problems.
Work with the team you enjoy working with
Even if the idea you are working on is not the best, great team can convert it into a success. A bad team will mess even a nice idea. If you are to choose which team to join then chose the team that you want to work with and respect.
I was thinking of going zen on this. A bad team has a bad energy about them. It just poisons everything: like a drop of pee in the milk leaves it un-drinkable. One may say it is just a drop, but hey its pee.
You be loyal to your people and they be loyal to the games they create
Some companies are paranoid with their employees talking to anyone. John and Brenda’s company LootDrop puts the names of their game designers on company website. Why? Well, if the employees feel they are being treated fairly they would love to work for the team. Companies should not worry about recruiters poaching their stars but them leaving out of frustrations.
Visionary, data driven, or design by committee
There are three designers on a project, which one is right?. The visionary who drives by the strength of his vision. A data driven designer who listens to numbers. And the designer who asks the community (committee) for ideas. Which one is good, John?
Vision is good, but it should be educated by real data. Design by committee is bad.