Friday, March 30, 2007

Dead Game Designers Society

A classroom. The first day of school. Sam, Mike and several other young students, all uniformly dressed uniquely, file in.

Teacher: Hello. Have a seat. Welcome to Game Design 101. No time to waste - open your assigned textbook.

The class sit at the evenly-spaced desks then dutifully retrieve and open their thick textbooks.

Teacher: Sam, is it?

Sam: Yes.

Teacher: Please read. Page one.

Sam flips to the correct page.

Sam: (reading) Central to the issue of game design is the notion of fun. It goes without saying that you, as a prospective game designer, wish to create a game that is fun. What is fun? How do we achieve it in our game designs? (pause) A methodical analysis of the problem of fun points us to techniques we may use to ensure our products deliver this core commodity. Examine, if you will, figure one.

The teacher walks to the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Mike retrieves his laptop, flipping it into tablet mode. Sam continues.

Sam: Assuming for a moment we take the setting or genre of our game as a constant - say, a routine science-fiction or military shooter, it doesn't matter which - we may then isolate its quantity of fun in the form of a chart. Across the bottom is the axis of playing time, which can also signify the progression of levels. The height of our table forms the axis of playing action, which is a measure of the number of significant interactions the player must execute via the interface in order to progress through the game (a value we can easily isolate through keystroke recording).

The teacher draws a corresponding chart on the whiteboard. Mike duplicates the chart framework on his tablet. Sam reads on.

Sam: We can then shape the volume and density of significant interactions in a rising manner over the game's time axis so as to assure our game is easy at the beginning and then difficult at the end.

The teacher plots a line on the chart, moving in a wiggling manner across it in a gradually upward motion. Mike mimicks the line with his stylus.

Sam: This analytical methodology has been proven to yield the optimal output of fun per unit of time. If we then multiply this quantum by the graphic quality factor (which will be addressed in chapter three) we can go on to interpolate a total appeal quantum for the game. We must however define certain-

Teacher: Okay, Sam.

Sam stops reading. The teacher examines the whiteboard for a moment.

Teacher: Excrement.

The teacher turns to the class. The class looks at him in silence. Mike stops drawing.

Teacher: Excrement! Rubbish. Horse-hockey. Can you think of any other words?

Mike deletes the chart he just drew.

Student: (surprised) You mean, garbage?

Teacher: (points) Exactly!

The teacher moves in among the class and crouches.

Teacher: Students, gather in. Huddle up, huddle up.

The students crowd in around the teacher.

Teacher: (low voice, almost a whisper) I'm gonna tell you a secret. Anyone who knows basic math and can use a calculator can analyze a game design to figure this shit out. This will tell you how much activity the design generates - how well your game will distract the player until he is distracted by the next game with loud graphics and marketing. But it can't tell you one key thing...

Mike: Which is...?

Teacher: Why? Why make the game? And therefore, why play it? Why playing it will make you feel alive! Unless you ask why - and ask that not within the confined context of gaming, but out in the open context of human experience; of a living breathing human being who chooses to devote his time to playing your game as opposed to reading a good book, starting a new business, visiting his relatives, travelling to the Himalayas... or any other healthy thing that contributes to the human race! Unless you ask why, and speak on those terms, you won't have a goddamn clue how to make anything fun. How to make it really compelling.


The teacher stands and walks to the front.

Teacher: Now I want you to rip that page out of your book.

Mike: What?

Teacher: You heard me. Rip it out. In fact, rip out the whole first chapter.

The students meekly begin to tear pages out of their textbooks.

Sam: But I paid fifty dollars for this book!?!

Teacher: How ironic, Sam.

The tearing of pages slowly picks up its pace.

Teacher: Come on, I'm not hearing enough ripping!

Sam starts to tear the pages. He looks at Mike. They smile.

(To be continued...)

Monday, March 19, 2007

What They Don't Tell You On The Game Design Job Description...

Lead Game Designer - [City, State]

Job Code:
Job Category: Designer
Job Location: [City, State]

Job Description:

[Company] is seeking an experienced Lead Game Designer to join our team developing games for [console] and other next-generation platforms. The ideal candidate will have developed and released multiple games in the role of Lead Designer. Experience on consoles, handhelds, or casual games is highly valued. We are located in [some bland suburban place with cheap rent; you can't walk, bike or take transit there, ensuring you pile on extra pounds and diabetes] minutes [via car] from [big exciting metropolis, which we are too cheap to have an office downtown in] and we have a highly collaborative, low ego culture headed by game industry veterans [meaning we want you to be passionate... but not THAT passionate...].

  • Lead the overall design vision for the game [Yes, we want you to be a visionary. Visionaries, we acknowledge, are seers, prophets, people who can read the future, or who, through their sheer passion and willingness to suffer for a cause, create the New which society depends on to shed the Old so that we may all experience rebirth. Or at least, this is what visionaries have been through all of human history. Well, that's what they tell me at least... I know there's some guys around here who "reject the notion that the visionary must suffer over their art". 'Course they've been working in the industry for fifteen bloody years and never produced much you could call "visionary" - maybe some nicely done stuff, but visionary? C'mon... Anyway, this is why we are hiring you. To be the visionary...]
  • Drive the game design through every phase, from concept, presentation, implementation, tuning, and release [Yes, all the prosaic and necessary work you have to do. You will have passion to do this game somebody else told you to do.]
  • Develop working and final design documentation, including but not limited to play mechanics, game systems, asset lists, and game fiction [You know: all the nitty-gritty stuff. I mean, all that "vision" stuff, well, that's okay, you know. As long as it fits inside these formatting requirements, that's okay. Did we say you were a visionary? Even visionaries need to learn the tools, right.]
  • Foster consensus and enthusiasm for the game vision within the development, production, and marketing teams [Did we say you had a vision? Well, if you really had a vision, like Moses or Van Gough or Stanley Kubrick or whatever, well, it's only a vision if we say it's a vision. I mean, you didn't really believe it was, you know, a real bonafide vision did you? We don't need any weirdos here, sorry.]
  • Collaborate across departments on level and asset creation to deliver exceptional and compelling play experiences. [Right, again. That "vision" thing. If the lead artist thinks it's too, like "out there" for him. Well, the vision thing just has to be... You know... It has to be a nice little vision. One we can all agree on.]
  • Oversee and assess work created by other game designers on the project. [You know all this shit we're saying to you now? Well, here we need you to say it to them. Easy. Next...]
  • Ensure the vision is realized within the game. [Ah yes... The vision... That one that we all have to agree on... The one that flooded your mind's eye with a white light; but then - in grasping its size, its sheer magnitude, the depth of its beauty - left you in a pool of hopelessness for its fleeting retreat from you; a hopeless struggle with yourself over the possibility you might ever truly attain it. The one that left you in the dark of the soul's night, wrestling with the slings and arrows of your misfortune. That made you wonder how you wasted your life on a dream; a dream that somehow you might have made a game that bettered the human lot... That held a mirror to the world and the human story, and given not only entertainment... not only gratification... but insight. Insight... Yes, that vision... Well, I have the number of a good shrink here...]
  • Assume responsibility for ensuring the critical and commercial success of the product. [Right. It's gotta be critically and commercially successful, plus we all have to agree on it before it goes out the door. And even though we will compromise your vision, and you will not only accept that you will damn well like it - you (not us, you) are on the hook to make sure it makes money. Don't fret about it being a critical success - any game with 90fps, a million polys and "insane physics" is a critical success these days (lame-ass "game journalists"). What we really need is for that beyotch to make us the dough. But don't worry, if it does make millions, and it really was your vision (one you somehow got past the group's consensus; one that, through compromise, did reveal itself as an acceptable version of "your vision"), don't expect you will either get your name on the box or even a slice of the monetary return commensurate with your input. I mean, we like visions and all, but let's not go crazy here...]
  • Full product life cycle experience, with two previously shipped games. [Yes, did you say you had a vision? Well, okay as it happens, you have to have a vision, but we need guarantees here. I mean, we want you to be vocational - to feel you have a calling - but WE don't want to be the ones who take a chance on hiring you first, say if you came from another industry or fresh out of school or something. We need you to be professional, too. And indoctrinat-- erm... experienced. (What's that, Frank? Vocational and professional are opposite things? Sit down and shut up, Frank.) Where was I... I mean, vision or not, hell you could be some psycho off the street for all we know!]
  • Excellent interpersonal and verbal skills. Able to communicate effectively and objectively with programmers, artists, and other designers. [If you actually say "no" to this sentence, you will be the only candidate in our 20-year history who has. In fact, Frank, can you tell me why in hell we have this sentence here again? I think this is the idiot-test question.]
  • Demonstrated ability to motivate and lead other team members. [That means two things: one you describe your vision, but then when the team cuts it down you just shut the hell up and take it. Two: you really get around to doing what we want you to do, to transform your vision into something everybody in the group - from the topmost producer to the lowliest QA guy - can get... can understand... right off the bat. Because believe me, if we don't understand it right away, it ain't gonna fly. I mean, who the hell do you think you are, Stanley Kubrick or somethin'? There ain't guys like that in game dev, boy. Let me tell you.]
  • Passion for games and the ability to articulate that passion clearly and analytically. [Frank, this is another one of them sentences we left in for why?... Because everybody else has it in their job spec? Yah. Okay, candidate. Listen. I'll be honest. Nobody here knows how to articulate a damn thing. We just kind of talk a lot out of our asses. We say "cool" and "like" and "whoah" a lot. And we don't know how to write worth a damn. Just go with it, it'll work... But now tell us you can articulate. It's a hoop. Jump for me baby, jump.]
  • Clear and concise writing ability demonstrable through writing samples. [Not that anybody will read that shit anyway. I mean, you know, you'll write it down then we'll glance at it, MSN your ass over to our cube and just ask you to explain it all anyway, like with talk, right. Though I will agree, we mainly do that because all the game designers we had before, well, frankly, maybe ten percent of these game designers can write worth a damn, if that. Most are wannabe screenwriters or novelists who write these gawdawful specifications that go on and on and on, but are preciously dry on actual specification. The rest are essentially gamers-at-heart (I don't care how many years under their belt) who produce cluster-fucking messes of exposition on what the game "can" or "might" or "could" be, full of useless info like how many stun bullets are in the main character's sidekick's familiar's ankle-holster pistol (which is an owl by the way, the familiar that is), interspersed with masses of inconsistent numbers and acronyms that are so confusing the programmers just send the poor bastards out for Starbacks and then sort it out on their own time... Ah, we know you'll say yes to this question anyway, so just say yes and get it over with. We don't pay much attention to it anyhow...]
  • Willing and able to travel internationally at least once per quarter. [Yep. Of course, we're going to drag your ass across the continent already to take this job, maybe even from another country (and that is after a different company dragged your ass to an entirely different continent for a different job) - and unbeknownst to you we really expect this job to evaporate after this game is done (in which case you will have to move thousands of miles again), unless somehow it turns into a hit franchise (in which case your ass will be stuck remaking this "vision" over and over and over in umpteen sequels until we've milked it for all it's worth. Bitter irony for a visionary, huh?). Anyway, we heard about this thing called the Internet, that would let you maintain a stable life in one place so you could work remotely and move around as a free agent from project to project and develop your creative breadth, and which, come to think of it, we could use to hire the best designers out there as well... But as I said above, we don't like free agents, and we don't really read any of the design shit you guys write anyway, and we want you to stand over us at the desk and tell us how the game works while we code it (I think they call that Xtreme Programming or something); or at least how you say it works [we'll have a say about that - vision or no]. So I hope you're ready to rack up some air miles, buddy...]
  • College degree or equivalent game industry experience. [Again, you could be some weirdo off the street for all we know. (Of course, I won't bother to mention the supreme irony that our "creative" director has a software engineering degree. The guy you're replacing made the mistake of trying explain to him what compositional aesthetics were, or some damn like that.) Anyway, we heard that in other creative professions - like writers, musicians, web designers and whatnot - they make decisions based exclusively on portfolios and stuff, but in game design we know your work on your last project is so totally enmeshed with the work of everyone else on your team - and again, the design or "vision" you had that last one is so totally different from the actual piece of software they churned out - that we need to make all these little bullshit hoops for you to jump through to figure we are doing our job in really screening you. Because to tell the truth, I have been so indoctrinated in making software code that I have forgotten any really deep understanding of people I might have picked up from English classes way back in high school...]
  • Developed and shipped multiple titles as a Lead Designer or other lead role. [Again... you ain't some weirdo, are you? We need proof, right. Hoops, baby...]
  • Proven track record with AAA console products and/or online game development. [Again... vision or no... we want proof. Not that it really means anything, or really does prove that this new game you or anyone else will be worth a damn, but it's comforting to us... Think of all those shitty games out there made by people with "proven track records"...]
  • Significant experience in another game development role; preferably art or engineering. [Okay, this is helpful. Helps if you know what the other guys go through. Frank, you were smart on this one. Gotta recommend you for a raise. What's that Frank? You say that for a game designer maybe it would help if he had work experience in a field outside game development? To try to break out of the self-insulated, derivative nature of game development? Jeezus Frank! Stop making this harder than it already is, all right!...]
  • Demonstrated ability to work under tight schedules and reliably hit milestones. [Okay, yah yah. You got us! All this vision stuff... Yah, okay, we admit it. It's all just bullshit. What we really want is for you to crank something out as fast as possible so we can hit the milestone deadlines. Yah, I heard that visionaries might take years, sometimes go over budget or over schedule. I also heard some visionaries weren't so self-indulgent, but that with a little support - a little actual belief in what they were doing - they could crank out some good stuff in a damn short time. But damnit! We don't move at the pace of the creators here! I don't care how many countless successful films, pieces of software, music albums, books, volumes of scientific work or what have you that took so long to make yet weren't released until they were ready. See, that stuff was for real. For real, man. This is just game development! I mean, look at me. Look at me! We both know this ain't really significant shit, right? It's just, you know... games man! Nothing major. Just some poor dope wasting his life away in his basement. Right? You do agree, right? Right? Might as well take some of his minimum-wage burger-job money while we can, right? Well, maybe we could create something of value for him and the rest of the human race, but I don't think we should look into that. Much better to just churn out entertaining garbage that doesn't challenge or demand much. I mean don't you agree? That we feed him white bread? That we don't really take this stuff seriously?... Don't you agree?... Don't you?...]
[Whoah! Got carried away there. Tryin' to prove somethin' to myself. Tryin' to avoid somethin', maybe. All this talk about visions... Anyway...] Please submit your resume (in MS Word format) with cover letter with “Lead Game Designer” in the subject line.

Please note that only qualified applicants will be contacted.