Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Zeitgeist & I, Sept 2007

Noticed a couple interesting stories on industry portals where insiders are talking a talk parallel to my own.

Epic's New Solution

In a recent Gamasutra article, Epic China CEO Paul Meegan was talking about Epic's latest practises a few months ago. The reporter conveys the following...

Epic's solution that can be leveraged elsewhere? Use a small, tightly-focused core team focused on creating value - using middleware and investing carefully in differentiating projects. In addition, practice targeted hiring, purpose-built for the project, and with exactly the right skills and passion for that game.

I believe I wrote that was the way things should be done in my first posts in February this year. If nothing else, at least I'm in touch with the way the industry is moving.

Specifically I wrote "Alfred Hitchcock knew that 75% of his work as a director wasn't in the work he did on the set: it was in casting. Same here. It amazes me that game companies actually think that the art director who worked out so well on their horror game will have the same feel for their upcoming military game. Hey! Pay attention to casting! A technology or art person or solution that was good for a horror shooter is not necessarily good for a military RTS or what have you. It might be a tiny little difference, but professionals focus on tiny little differences (as they all add up)."

I also wrote, "Take in the individual designs at the early level with the fewest number of people attached to them. The fewer the better. Stripped down small teams, like special forces units advancing far into hostile and dangerous territory. Let someone or a few people come to you with a design. Like they say in the film biz, focus on the script first. You can make a bad film from a good script, but you can't make a good film from a bad script. Same with design. Then develop the design with that tiny two or three person team, until it works. Let him/her/them make a tiny little prototype for you - even if its just a small flash game, or a pen-and-paper/board game you can play out on a table in your boardroom; just to test out core ideas - and work on the design design design!"

Glad to see that Epic is pursuing a similar solution. Still looking forward to the day the creators get their names on the front title screen (e.g. "Epic presents... A game designed by X..."). (I would say on the box, but that is getting less relevant.)

(Of course, I'm guilty of using colorful description instead of nice bland business talk - but the basic message is the same.)

Naturally I do not claim those were my solutions either - indeed they are the solution of many industries, notably the film industry. I just can't understand why the game industry so resolutely refuses to learn from anything that goes on outside its little bubble.

However, I do claim I've been hammering on these things for years.

Teaching Game Design

Next up is this more recent reply to a letter in GameCareerGuide.com. In it, the expert responder says...

If the only thing you've done is gone to game school, chances are small game developers will see your experience as being too limited for their line of work. Small game development studios need employees who can do a little bit of everything and whose experiences will bring new information and ideas to the table. They fear that game graduates -- especially those who went directly from high school to game school -- have little to no life experience and work experience, and are in essence a bit parochial.

This is a very recent idea in the game industry. Like, very recent. So recent it is probably a buzzword now. In fact, if you look on job postings on Gamasutra, say, you'll rarely see that attitude reflected. I can tell you when I've worked on indie projects, they almost always drill down to what tools do you know how to use, but only later, when they're up to their eyeballs in confusion that has been generated in trying to take apart basic design devices (I'm not talking about technology here) do they realize how important fundamental general intellectual knowledge and skill is.

Anyway, I put forth this idea in my "arch post" (as Gamasutra called it) on what they don't tell you on the design job ad. Specifically:
  • 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!...]
And of course, again, this is not my idea. It's a classic practice of those with well-rounded knowledge and perspective. Still, it's value is often little appreciated in the efficiency-obsessed, machine-like game industry.


Anonymous said...

Master diplomacy, and so humble!

Anonymous said...

Wideload did this with Stubbs the Zombie (and their current tile if I remember correctly).

Before that Planet Moon did this with Giants, and as well with Armed and Dangerous.

Several other companies do this, as well as having strike teams to do quick turnaround development on designs as well as more focused ones to design gameplay systems, etc.

Try not to take credit for practices that have been in place and used successfully for years.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Actually, prior to being Grassroots Gamemaster, I was hammering on the need for this practice for years.

But fair enough, dude. It is the zeitgeist, and I don't claim to be the author of these solutions, just the advocate.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Edited some of the hubris out of this post.