Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Catalog of Excuses

- or -

Why You Cannot Be An Independent Game Designer

Here are the "reasons" the game industry tells you why a game design document cannot be written by an independent, free agent designer and then sold as such...

You Become A Utility, And Your Value Becomes Diminished Significantly
This excuse is exactly what the principle of Silicon Knights, Dennis Dyack, said recently. According to Dyack, if you become a free agent game designer, you become reduced to "a commodity".

This one makes me laugh. It reminds me of the old-school industrial executives who implemented the Workers Compensations Acts we see in various countries, ostensibly to "protect employees" after suffering workplace injuries: these acts were made mainly to prevent workers from suing their employers.

Pray tell, Mr Dyack, are your internal designers not already commodities? Or do they work purely for charity?

The fact is, at some level, we are all commodities. We are all objectified at some point or time. When you get into many professions - indeed many facets of life - the question of when one is objectified and when not is complex. But you can't just paint it black and flush it down the toilet. Any great artist, for example, makes a work that is transparent in its execution and speaks from their non-objectified humanity - and yet executes it as an object-like creator: like a machine (i.e. using skill, knowing tools, code or grammar or math, calculating effects, manipulating light, color or mood, and so on). Martin Buber wrote an entire book on this, I and Thou.

Personally, if I'm going to be a commodity (i.e. a worker getting paid to produce x-number of pages having y-quality in the form of a design document), I would rather prefer to be in control of my own destiny thank you. I appreciate your concern for me Mr Dyack, but you can let me off my leash now. (I think the statement says more about your fear I may discover my own freedom - and, God forbid, not be your peon any more - than your concern I may [gasp] be objectified.)

Ideas Are A Dime A Dozen
There is legitimacy behind this excuse, but more than likely it is a cover for fear or laziness.

Legitimately, many gamedev professionals are confronted by bug-eyed, enthusiastic noobs who like to play a lot of games but have no idea what it takes to make a realistic piece of software. That is when this reason is not an excuse.

However, this said if you are in any entertainment business - like the game one - you know your lifeblood is hit-based. A "hit" is not the middle of the bell-curve - it is an outlier: that little one in a million thingy at the far end of the graph. (See I know what an outlier is because I'm a game designer and know a lot about probability.)

Now, since you need hits to survive, your job is to find them - meaning your job is to find outliers. Therefore, your job is to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and actually sift through those thousands of dime-a-dozen ideas actually looking for the one that is a diamond. This may seem like too much work, and it may hurt your little brain and make you sweat, but really it is done in other industries all the time. Time to get your hands dirty.

A corollary to this excuse is as follows: If a person with a professional and realistic demeanour - a person who speaks clearly, writes well and so forth - tells you they have a great idea for a game, and it is written up in a well-crafted and -organized design document - you are incompetent if you have not made a process to vet that idea/design.

A Design Document Does Not Tell Us You Can Execute

Actually, a design document can anticipate many gameplay and development issues that may arise. So you can't really stand behind this excuse. If it is written well, by and large you may assume its author can indeed execute.

And if the concern is that by looking at a designer who is not attached at the hip to a team, that too is not an issue. Hiring teams, finding middleware is not an issue. Just buy out the designer, take away control (though reward him handsomely, offer him a job, and reward him for any sequels you will make), and you will not need to worry about execution. You can build the company that needs to execute the game. What's important is whether the design works or not.

We Don't Believe In The Genius Game Designer
This one is widespread, but it was recently stated by Alex Seropian. It's hard to criticize Mr Seropian - after all, Wideload Games has done us all great help by introducing into game development the core-team/outsourcing model familiar to film production (which, thankfully, gets us away from the bloated 100-person internal game development studio model... and all its problems [cough - sequels - cough cough]).

However, I just have to ask Mr Seropian where he gets his information from? How does he know that genius does not exist? Has he done an exhaustive survey? Has God reported this to him - presumably in a white light vision: "Alex, rest assured - there are no game design geniuses, so you aren't missing anything..." I would point out that much of the Western world is founded on the premise that genius exists, and the acts of those geniuses spanning back centuries. I'm not claiming I am a genius, but for God's sake... don't you think it's worth it to figure out if that assumption is true before making such a shotgun claim? How, indeed, do you know what you're missing?

This is particularly ironic when we learn that Sid Meier wrote Civilization essentially as a lone genius game designer - which has come out recently: "Meier remained remarkably private about Civilization during the early development process. 'He rarely let anyone else play the games until he thought they were pretty solid,' says [Bruce] Shelley. For months, [assistant designer] Shelley was the only person allowed to see prototypes of Civilization in action. Other MicroProse employees commonly visited Shelley's office to bug him about the duo's current project, pestering him not to be stingy with the latest Sid Meier masterpiece; they were anxious to try it out themselves."

Someone should have informed Sid that he was not allowed to be a game design genius. (Thank God they didn't.)

I suspect that what this excuse really amounts to is the following insecurity one may imagine in the form of soliloquy: "I have laid awake at night and realized that when I took the full stock of myself as a game designer, I saw competence, experience, some talent for making things fairly fun - but I did not really see a truly truly deep vision for what a game could be. So when I hear of others who claim to have such a vision - who claim to possess it and badger me about looking at it - it frightens me. I don't like to be frightened, so instead of facing that fear I will refute their claim and live happily in the bliss of my ignorance. Besides, they're only games after all..."

Man, Don't Talk About It - Just Do It
Well... First, we aren't all programmers (though it's invaluable to know at least the basics of programming). And even if we were, having a programming mentality might actually impinge our ability to come up with something original (like, say, a game that explores a complex facet of human life [something a generalist designer would focus on], rather than a challenging series of puzzles or something technology-driven [what a programmer would be drawn to]...).

Second, this is just a circular argument. A person stands up and says "we can do things better". Your response is "man, just do it the way it's always been done". It's pointless. It would be better for you to simply not say anything, because there are enough dismissive spirits out there that have moss growing on them. Get outta my way, man! I have a vision for a design but no interest in:
  • Programming it all on my own (again, I'm not a programmer);
  • Trying to convince a group of indie developers - typically a cluster of post-adolescents - to work for free for a year or more to build the proverbial "vertical slice" of a game to pitch to publishers. If the design vision survives such a hazing I would be surprised. Not to say a design shouldn't change as it undergoes prototyping, but the indie-team vertical slicing process - with too many chiefs not enough braves - can take an idea for a new bicycle and transmute it into a "canoe with wheels" pretty damn quick.
In the end, you say a game design cannot stem from an individually-developed concept and I say it can. So we disagree. But I have the stronger position. Why? People who say something cannot be done without really investigating it are usually proved wrong. History has shown that.

If you drop off a design document, you've only done 5% of the design work involved in making that idea a good game, and it's the easy 5%
This excuse comes from one of the comments to this very blog entry. What's ironic about it is that the commenter is oblivious to the limitation of their own understanding of brilliance or genius.

Genius is not a brute force quality. You cannot measure it by how much suffering it undergoes to get something done. No. You measure it for what it does. In fact, if it does it effortlessly, then it is all the more brilliant.

Let me put it another way. If you are hunting and going to shoot a dinosaur with a rifle, maybe 1% of the energy involved will be that expended by your body to hold and aim the rifle at the target. The other 99% will be from the shell as it explodes and sends the bullet forward with enough kinetic energy to make the kill. This said, a cynic with limited imagination would conclude that the energy spent to actually aim the rifle is really insignificant since, if you measure it, it's minuscule compared to the energy needed to kill the dinosaur. Well... it may be a small proportion to a bean counter, but it is in how that small proportion is spent that makes the difference between a year's supply of dino steaks and just firing off into space.

Translation: A cynic knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

If you cannot understand why the initial spark of a concept and the first blueprints that will set the direction of a venture true are so incredibly crucial... well... I think nothing I can say will help you see.

The Average Publisher Gets Far Too Many Submissions
A variant on the Ideas Are A Dime A Dozen excuse, above. All you are telling me here is that it would be too hard. That if you actually "let the floodgates open" - if you actually accepted submissions of independent design documents from lone designers (or small teams) - there would be too many to go through.

Because you can't let the proverbial floodgates open, you use the arbitrary excluder of forcing design submissions to be advanced to the form of a vertical slice (which I have written on elsewhere). Again, an arbitrary hurdle thrown up not to find better designs, but merely to "cull the herd" of incoming ideas that come your way.

Well... You make money. In the film industry they have an entire system in place to get a screenplay from a lone writer's desk all the way to a finished piece of celluloid. There are agents, there are the readers of studios, often screenplays are adapted from novels, plays, magazine articles and so forth. All of these things are vetting mechanisms that don't require the screenwriter go out and shoot the first 30 minutes of his science-fiction action movie. I'm sure you can come up with something equal to that.

How Would You Feel If You Made A Game Company And Then Some Outsider Asked You To Look At A Design?
During a long, brawl of an IGDA thread someone asked me this (to paraphrase): How would you feel if you made a game company but then some guy from outside approached and asked if you would take a look at his game idea?

My answer is simple: If that guy has a better design than anyone inside my company I would feel grateful and lucky.

(What is normally said is any game company already has a roster of ideas it wants to make, so won't consider an outsider's. It's a non-reason, but a popular non-reason.)

However, I don't propose game designers pitch designs to game companies anyway. Instead, I propose that design agents appear, these agents package independent designs, sell them to funders, and that a company be built around said greenlit game design; a company that will later be sold lock-stock-and-barrel to a marketing entity (probably a publisher) - less (hefty) fees for the designer and (outsourced) developers, and fees to exercise ancillary rights and so on (should the design be turned into a sequel, movie, T-shirts, etc).

Design Is A Team Process
So what? Film is also a team process; a helluva lot more so than games. (Ever been on a cold location on the 14th hour of production? With a dangerous stunt about to be executed? That makes game development "collaboration" look like kindergarten my friend.) And yet screenwriters are able to independently sell screenplays. Screenplays which are shaped by other creators - the director, actors, art director, cinematographer, etc - to ultimately make the final film. And yet filmmakers are not tied together in the arbitrary collectivist team - stuck together for years making the same games over and over; and the leads get their names on the box.

Certainly there is nothing to say that a design document, once drawn up and sold, could not then be altered as the other important parties - art director, producer, lead programmer and so on - become involved.

Get over yourself. You're just scared.

You Need To Work Up From Within A Company
As in, if you want to be a game designer you need to get work with an existing game company, work there for a few years to get yourself established, and then propose a game.

This excuse diverts attention away from the matter at hand - the actual game design you wish to propose - and focuses it on you, the designer. It assumes, basically, that the purpose of a game design is to be a stepping stone for a person to become a game designer - rather than to be realized for its own sake.

This excuse has a careerist outlook and is ultimately cynical and rigid. Holders of this position cannot comprehend that a game design might need to be executed (and then turned into a game) - let alone that it could, say, actually change people's lives. To do so would require them to open their minds too much. No. Game design is just a means to power, money and fame. Sad.

If you or I are struck by a vision to make a really revolutionary game, trying to fit said vision inside this careerist box is going to be painful. Since this view's proponent automatically assumes designs in and of themselves are worth little (it's the designer that counts), you will have to let your design gather dust on a shelf for years while you build up credentials. And then, when you finally have time to revisit your design, everything may have changed. The timeliness of it may have passed (your design may have contained genuine commentary on current events, for example); your passion for it may have faded; the company you chose to work for now may be "looking for" a certain type of game that your design does not fit... Any number of things.

David Mamet said (to paraphrase) the ruination of many writers is that they think of themselves as writers. Then he draws a comparison to being a chairmaker. When you are a chairmaker, you don't sit around naval-gazing and thinking "Wow, I'm a chairmaker." No. You make chairs. If the chairs get better then you, by inference, are a better chairmaker. But the point is to focus on the chairs, not on yourself.

If you are a game designer you write designs. Designs to get made. What you need to focus on is those designs. This is precisely what book authors do, what filmmakers do, what architects do - they focus on the product. Yes, there are career elements (like you'll need to get work to support yourself while you write your design), but there is never a rule set by God in stone that young upstarts must serve x-number of years before they are allowed to reveal the work they have done. If there is, it needs to be torn down because it's destructive and it throws up barriers to the real prize - which is finding original design concepts, writing them, getting them made and in front of players.

You're Just Bitter
An ad hominem cop-out. Address my points, if you can - don't throw mud at me, personally.

And let's say I am bitter. So what? You know there was a time African Americans felt bitter (or internalized that bitterness to crippling depression) because the population at large simply assumed they were sub-human property. They wanted to be let out of the mental cage those with power had put them into, so as to gain their freedom. Would you dismiss their claims with a flippant "You're just bitter" remark? Look at the issues, not the mood of the speaker.

That is an extreme example - and I'm not saying that I'm a slave - but on the other hand, when you go to the trouble to write a damn good design, but nobody will (seriously) look at it - not because it's bad, but just because, arbitrarily it isn't done that way - you start to feel the air leave your lungs; you start to feel yourself suffocate. Like that character at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, who sees the world falling apart around him but, more so, the blindness of others to the threat. Archibald MacLeish said the duty of a poet is speak their poem before it rises as a cry in the throat. He acknowledges a great truth: that the passion and vision of a (potential) creator, if disowned or imprisoned, will turn inward and rip its owner apart. Why would the same not be true of game designers? Is it not a creative occupation? If it is, will its creators not begin to feel their voices rise into a bitter cry when their destinies are effectively controlled by cynical bean-counters who couldn't give a damn about getting something out there that needs to be gotten out, but only in cranking out formula?

This Argument Is The Toilet
Over on IGDA I got into an argument about this and felt the wrath of many being dumped on me. But I stuck it out. Someone asked why the thread hadn't been locked. The admin said it hadn't because every discussion place needs somewhere to dump its shit, then declared that this thread is a toilet.

Okay, it is a toilet. But it's through the absolute shit of life you sometimes need to go.

It's telling to call this debate a toilet. It acknowledges the darkness of feelings some have around this topic. I often wonder why, when I repeatedly call for the liberation of game designers - for a world where a game designer gets to have his name on the box (even if he isn't a Sid Meier); where he gets to sell a design and earn money for it and for its sequels and its spin-offs - that people dump shit on me. However, looking over history and psychology it's really not such a surprise. If you smash the master's house and set the slaves free, the slaves might often hate you more than love you. You offer them freedom, but freedom - as Erich Fromm tells us - is damn terrifying. So terrifying, people may set upon the liberator rather than face the frightening unknown freedom offers.

That's the toilet: that terrifying unknown.

I call for the freedom of game designers. The freedom for them to work and be known as individuals, their name always on the box. To be able to work out a design on their own, get an agent on their own to package and sell said design directly to a publisher (not as part of a game company), and to follow their creativity to its ends (instead of seeing themselves as merely a part of a larger herd known as a "team" or a "game company", always serving the top-down command of some high-up financial executive who knows little if anything about games). And I get shit on for doing so.

The toilet is there. But it's your toilet, not mine. If this world comes into being, you now must face the possibility that maybe you don't have the talent to be the game designer. That the bar may raise so high that games of today become laughably stupid to gamers ten years from now - much the way we chuckle at old films that, in their time, were viewed as high art.

It's your toilet. To stare into that shit - into that monster. To look into its teeth. If this world comes true, you know that simply serving time and building up seniority and "experience" will not disguise your mediocre talent from the world and let you design the game you dream to. Is your design talent mediocre? I have no idea. Is it scary to think it might be? Absolutely. But it's a fear that must be faced.

I think that people sense I believe very strongly in my own talent. Otherwise why would I so vehemently insist over and over again that we get the ability to open up the game and let individuals sell designs. Obviously I have designs I want to sell and I believe they are damn good. Recognizing the basic violence in the impulse of mimetic desire, I know this will draw hatred onto me. That others may perceive in me something they do not have, and will hate me for that. The dynamic of mimetic desire has been that forever. That's why I am adamant that I must remain anonymous. I don't want to become a scapegoat (which, in terms of my professional life, would amount to being blacklisted and effectively forbidden from working in game design - it may be a confining labyrinth, but I have to make a living).

Yes, I seek to free up the playing field for myself. But if one person frees it, it will become free for all of us.

All that has to happen is one person sell a design document independently. Once that happens, the whole structure will crumble and reform itself. You're a game designer (I assume). You must then know something of probability. What do you think the probability is that a designer will sell a design document as a free agent in the next, say, two to five years? Ten percent perhaps? And then in the years after that? You must know that if you keep rolling a ten-sided die over and over again, you will eventually roll a "1". It will happen. It's just a matter of time.

I think maybe you can see where I'm going. It's inevitable. Some day someone will do this. There are already sites like that are appearing for this very reason. Someone will sell a design alone, and then designers will become free agents and the crusted framework of game companies will come apart at the seams - the entire way games are made permanently altered. All it takes is one person to sell one design document and that will happen. Sooner or later that will happen. And deep down you know it. Then, no longer having the comfort of melding into a team of buddies and building up experience you will have to face the reality of your own talent as a designer.

Do you have what it takes?

That's the toilet. It's your fear. Face it.


Patrick said...

I hear you man. I'm currently living in Buenos Aires, investing every dollar I have to see a design I think could be fantastic to a vertical slice. Fortunately its not some grandiose AAA vision I'm pursueing. Hopefully someone will take it seriously when its polished up.

If I see a largess of funds, I'd like to follow this process you describe.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you offer us except grumpiness. Sure it would be great if I could sell my design ideas. I can't. And your grumping isn't offering me any cash. Those people cannot evaluate designs anyhow, they only understand products so you have to show them one to get anywhere.

So instead I make the games and sell them myself. Same ends right?

Jonathan said...

I read the article for a while, then skimmed the rest. It strikes me as being fundamentally flawed, because it places far too much importance on a design document, or the idea behind a game.

Sure, there is such a thing as a good idea. But that is only a small piece of what a talented designer does when developing the game. Much more important, ultimately, is the stream of little decisions that accumulate day after day in response to the game as it develops. These little things add up harmoniously to make the overall design compelling, to make the player feel like the designer really cared about the game.

If you drop off a design document, you've only done 5% of the design work involved in making that idea a good game, and it's the easy 5%.

So why should anyone pay you for that?

Jonathan said...

After reading some of your older postings, I notice that this same idea pervades them: that creating a game design, on paper, is somehow the primary thing that a designer does, and that implementation is relatively unimportant.

This is totally wrong, because a game is a running process, not a static thing.

Let's look at programming by way of analogy. If a programmer writes a bunch of code, but has never compiled it or tested it, it is not worth much. The more code he writes without testing it, the more it will be full of bugs, perhaps with entire sections that are nonsense. If he writes a million lines, it's going to be a million lines of garbage.

Code only starts to have real value when it is run, debugged, made to handle input cases that were not foreseen during the design phase, etc.

The same is true for a game design. Until it's implemented, you probably didn't see several major aspects of the design in action. Once you see these, and take them into account, they change the rest of the design. Often a designer will go through many iterations of this process, ending up with something very different from the original design idea (but also much better).

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Yes, Jonathon. I know that a design is not a static thing.

I think you should read my entries carefully. I never ever say that a design document is a holy thing that must not be touched.

But, then again, no one in film production treats a screenplay as a static thing. They make it a film from it. But you CAN pitch a screenplay to make a film out of.

And, to continue, because you value going to code so fast, you are again placing the value of the manifested thing over the concept behind it. There is a fundamental flaw in that. If anything, you place more emphasis on something far FAR more static than a design document - and that is code.

Eisenhower said that plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable. There is something true about code as well. Getting the language and conceptual structure down BEFORE you write any code is far far more important than actually writing the code. Yes, the code needs to be written, but if you write it too soon you can never venture far from remaking yesterday's game.

So you're analogy falls flat.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

My last point, Jonathon, is you have not done 5% of the work. Only someone who lives in a world of nouns can think that. Tell me, do you also think that an architect has only done 5% of the work he does when you builds a small scale model of a building? - because, after all, he hasn't laid any of the bricks, right.

You're thinking is rigid and conventional.

Jonathan said...

Disagree. I have a game coming out on XBLA soon that I think is as far from "yesterday's game" as anyone's, and it had code from day one.

It's your analogies that are inappropriate. We don't need to start laying bricks in order to ensure a building is properly designed. But with games, it's different. A game design is much subtler, harder to perceive and understand. To think that your design works properly, without it seeing implementation, is foolishness (else you are a much more gifted designer than I, in which case I'd like to play some of the games you have made.)

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

A written design is an implementation. It just doesn't have a physical frame rate.

I suppose you would also say that a screenplay isn't an implementation of a film because you can't put it in your DVD player and run it. Yet somehow screenplays are crucial in filmmaking.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

I also edited the blog entry to add one of your comments as one of the excuses.

Jonathan said...

Wow, I don't know how much more clearly I can say it, but "games are a lot more interactive and thus a lot more complicated than films."

I find your update to the main entry to be insulting, and made in the spirit of just trying to argue regardless of the facts, rather than trying to legitimately understand and address what I am saying.

What I've been saying is that designing a game is not like aiming a bullet; you can't really see the target from where you are standing, so how can you expect to aim? You kind of know what direction the target is in, but that's all. Designing a game is more like piloting a homing missile, which requires constant attention and thrust to guide it to the target. Someone needs to be steering that missile during its entire flight.

I get the feeling that you haven't worked on many substantial games where high design quality was a prominent end-goal...

Jonathan said...

Wow, after reading the rest of the posting I realize how high on yourself you are, and how little you have done in terms of actual work.

That's not an insult -- you're just young.

I'm going to drop out of this argument since there's nothing in it for me.

Jonathan said...

("Young" when it comes to making games -- of course I have no idea how old you are in actual years.)

Chris said...

As long as developers believe they are taking money from publishers to make games for themselves, there is little hope of progress. Change the mindset of making games for oneself, and everything else changes with it.

I don't think the games industry is sufficiently mature to make this change yet... But it also doesn't mean that it won't get there.

Also: when the change comes, it might not be this one. But any change at this point would be a plus.

Best wishes!

JP said...

I'm a designer myself and I'm not super thrilled with any role description that doesn't involve carrying the initial plan forward. Much of the real design on every game I've worked on, from personal projects to bazillion-dollar mainstream projects, happens once production is underway... tuning, iterating, solving all the smaller problems that come up.

Design docs are kind of like the moves two adversaries in a kung fu movie do at each other before actually fighting. It's exciting and gives people an idea of what to expect, but it's just a prelude to the actual fighting.

I'm definitely not saying that you shouldn't have a clear plan in place at the beginning. On bigger projects especially that would be disastrous.

I'm saying designers should not be career doc jockeys. That's not the core design skill in my mind. The core skill is more the ability to make all the implementation decisions that best serve the game's experiential goals, and to make sure the aesthetic and technical goals square with those.

It's not clear to me how a designer can provide that if their role is to come in at the beginning, lay down a doc and then move on.

JP said...

Reading back over the post, the Sid Meier anecdote actually supports what I'm saying. He might have had a fantastic doc to start with, but he turned that into a prototype. I'd be curious to hear Sid's take on it, but I'm guessing that the point where he had something interactive, with all the basic variables in play, was the real moment Civ was "born".

Anonymous said...

Wow, I dunno what to say to this post. I can't believe you snipped that guy's comment and blindsided him in your blog. That is just...all kinds of wrong.

That said, what I'm reading is you think you are a genius game designer and if we don't get it its our problem we should just give you mad cash for your great design because its incredibly valuable because you say so.

I don't think I'd fall for that kind of con game in any field.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Sorry for "blindsiding" the guy, but he is fighting for the status quo, and like they said in the Matrix, anything that feeds off the Matrix will kill you in a second if you threaten the Matrix.

I actually never say I'm a genius. What I do say is that we should be trying to discover genius. And that means giving people a chance to reveal their genius.

To the "design happens more in production than at the beginning" - the volume of work happens in production, but it's like Sun Tsu said: the foolish general just tries to win the battle; the wise general wins the victory then wins the battle. Writing the initial doc so it has power, force and originality is winning the victory. When it leads to the game going into production, then you have to win the battle - but if you start with a bad concept at the front, nothing you do in production will change that into a good game.

Anonymous said...

That is patently untrue. I have *watched* excellent teams take an atrocious design and turn it into a best selling game that got 10s in reviews. Perfect scores!

The design doc is not the end all be all.

JP said...

I don't think the status quo has anything to do with this issue actually. I've been reading over your posts and the forum threads you've linked, and you seem to be fond of throwing up this "everyone's against me" defense as a kind of backhand validation of anything you're arguing for. Jonathan is something of a patron saint of the indie scene so it's especially absurd that you'd accuse him of fighting for the status quo.

Listen, it seems like you've drawn a lot of flack for your ideas, but I'm not here to flame you. You're clearly passionate but because you don't have any specific successes to point to, you come off as naive and ungrounded. More rhetoric is not the way to answer that.

The best thing to do in your position is to use whatever implementation skills you have - or learn some if you have none - and try to make something. The things you learn from that experience will temper your ideas and make them stronger.

This is what I'm trying to point to by saying that docs shouldn't be the primary output of a designer. It's weird to explain it like this, but games are played by humans, so unlike mathematics a particular game design can't be proven in the abstract or "on paper". A real design is something that humans have played. If you want to be useful to a dev team as a designer, you need to help them attain that.

It's true that almost no amount of execution can save a crappy idea. It's false that a good idea up front is the biggest challenge and everything after that is just details. These are two separate arguments and you should not conflate them.

JP said...

"However, I just have to ask Mr Seropian where he gets his information from? How does he know that genius does not exist? Has he done an exhaustive survey?"

Probably not, but others have:

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

Yes, it takes work - but then, if it's just work - why is it that you take one filmmaker, novelist or whatever and ten years of experience and he'll rocket far ahead of any of a hundred others with the same amount?

Even Mozart's contemporaries envied him how easily his talent came. And, if you've ever taught it would stare you in the face how some students excel while others struggle and struggle even after doing *more* work - same age, same grade.

This kind of talk is collectivist hogwash. It's a new variant on that violent resistance mediocre minds have toward true genius, which Einstein reminds us exists.

I can assure you, geniuses do exist.

JP said...

"but then, if it's just work - why is it that you take one filmmaker, novelist or whatever and ten years of experience and he'll rocket far ahead of any of a hundred others with the same amount?"

Your rhetorical question doesn't answer the actual question. Maybe your theoretical artist worked harder, maybe they had more innate ability. It's reasonable to suggest that it's some of both, which was my point in linking the article. You're on shakier ground insisting on one end of the spectrum while dismissing the other.

"I can assure you, geniuses do exist."

You'd be more convincing if your own self-worth weren't so clearly wrapped up in the issue.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

What about self-worth? You don't think self-worth exists?

Let's say I was a football player, but the prevailing wisdom said that no receiver was allowed to run a 50+ yard touchdown until he had 3 years' experience under his belt? What do you think he would do if he got the ball and navigated into the clear by his own talent... but was forbidden from running that touchdown? Why? Just because that's the way it's done! Individual talent won't be tolerated. Either that or if he did run it - several times - no one was allowed to declare him a star player, or put him up as an MVP?

JP said...

That's definitely the most absurd straw-man I think I've read this month. Bonus points for the Randian overtones.

I notice there's not actually anything on this blog about game design... rules, systems, representations. Is this intentional?

Like I said, the best thing you can probably do at this point is take the energy you spend ranting, trolling forums and backhandedly insulting people, and generate some actual output. Try to make some of your docs a reality. Implementing an idea will tell you a lot more about it than closing your eyes and trying to pretend how it will all play out.

You have to understand how it looks to the rest of us, when you insist up and down that geniuses do exist, but the validity of anything you say is unfalsifiable.

Likewise, on a development team if you consider your role to be to hand off a design that may or may not work only in theory, you come off as dodging blame if the team runs into trouble implementing it. By your definition the "pure" game designer is a Schroedinger's Cat of incompetence.

JS Bach wasn't so much "that musical genius guy" as he was "the guy that wrote Toccata and Fugue in D Minor". Let your work speak for itself. Unless you want to add "the Man is keeping me from creating my masterpiece" to your list of excuses.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

How do you let the work speak for itself when it is policy for no one to look at it if you submit it as an individual?

JP said...

Dropping a design doc in a pub's lap without much fanfare is probably just going to lead to disappointment and frustration. You shouldn't consider them your only audience, even if they're ultimately who you intend to sell your ideas to.

Posting docs and prototypes on your site won't get you anything you can buy groceries with, but it's one way you can build a reputation as someone who knows what they're talking about.

In film and related fields (animation) small teams of "creative vision" type folks tend to coalesce around one or two people. The ability to build a team and get other people interested in your idea, and especially take the important first steps towards realizing that idea, makes you immensely more credible to publishers than being a lone figure out in the wilderness. Pubs are the ones with a lot of money and a lot of promotional muscle, devs are the ones with the creativity and agility. Figure out how to do the things that don't require them first. It's a lot more than just writing docs.

Grassroots Gamemaster said...

All the pioneers were, at one point or another, lone figures out in the wilderness.

Anonymous said...

About Mozart: he had an advantage over other media.

Although he still had to work in order to get his work done (which means doing the equivalent of PROTOTYPING his own product), his best weapon was the WYSIWYG nature of music.

You don't get that with games until a long time in the project, and no matter the tools, it's about the sum of many talents of people who can reveal the value of the concept.
Before you get to that point, the concept is not conclusive in the slightest.

It surely helps to some degree if you work from a good concept, but it is still only a very small bit of the final product.

I've even seen cases where the original document was largely put aside, to focus on a more day to day progress. That's called empiricism, and it turned out more effective than sticking to the original doc. That for your zoo. Nothing of what you describe though.

Now, let's take Portal. The idea probably sounded neat when it burgeoned from a brainstorming, even before it was given its first name (Narbsomething Drop).
Yes, there was potential, but there was no way to know if it would be good, playable, and fun, until built, tested, refined, retested, etc.