Animadversions.

The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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I’m famous on the Internet… AGAIN!

March 4th, 2007 · No Comments · Gaming, Misc.

This piece was originally published here.

This month, please also find me here, here and here (near the end).

Everything I Need to Know About Design I Learned in Kindergarten

If you’re like me, you’ve been playing games for as long as you can remember. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been playing PC and video games for most of your life. If you’re like me, you’ve played a lot of good games, a fair number of awful games and a glorious handful of amazing games.

You’ve spent your whole life playing games, remembering each moment of joy and terror and frustration and anger and wonder and accomplishment from the hundreds (thousands?) of titles you’ve tackled over the years. Every experience – good, bad and indifferent – is like a seed in your memory.

And over the years, nestled snugly in the fertile depths of your mind, those seeds have grown into something. For most people, they’ve grown into an understanding of what they like (and DON’T like) to play – when, where and HOW they like to play. They’ve grown into a robust and effective understanding of what they expect and want from games. We love these people. These people play our games.

But there is another group whose seeds grow into… something else. This group’s seeds firmly take root and turn them into potential designers.

Many of you are probably in this category. You’ve played great games and felt a sense of awe - not simply due to the experience, but awe stemming from the realization of what an accomplishment that game really is. You’ve played terrible games and wondered how on earth they got made. And you’ve played decent, imperfect games and thought of a million little ways that YOU could’ve done things better.

Most of you will probably never decide to take the plunge, as it were, and put some of your ideas to the test. This is a good decision because it means there are fewer people competing for my job. I encourage you all (or at least those of you in the U.S.) to go out and become bakers instead. America suffers from a severe lack of quality baked goods.

For the rest of you – that brave number who have your sights set on one day working on a Real Game – read on.

Some designers are just flat out brilliant. They’re visionaries. They’re mavericks that roll out of bed every morning with genius seeping from their pores. Every moment they aren’t engaged in the creative process is a terrible blow to the collective potential happiness of mankind. And, as you might imagine, there are precious few of them in the world.

So how do the rest of us get by?

The vast majority of design-minded folks are part of the top tier of fanatical devotees of gaming. They’re passionate, experienced and extremely dedicated. They can explain in detail the precise differences between various classes in any number of MMORPGs (and then go into even MORE detail about what’s wrong with each). They can pontificate at length about the relative efficiencies of any number of strategies, specs, templates and on and on. They want to design games because they love games.

That’s certainly why I want to design games. We have a team full of designers of various shapes and sizes who feel the same way. I think it’s a noble motivation.

But the hardest – and most important - thing for folks like us to realize is that loving games and having noble motives isn’t a skill set. We are not, in all likelihood, brilliant, maverick geniuses, so it’s going to take hard work and brutal honesty to get us anywhere. It’s important that we stare into that particular Dark, Scary Place because it makes it possible for us to avoid certain critical mistakes by recognizing hard truths like this one:

That game we’ve been subconsciously designing in the dark recesses of our minds for our whole lives is probably a game only we would enjoy playing.

Cold comfort, I know, but good designers understand and accept this fact and spend a great deal of time and effort making sure lots of smart people who disagree with them get a chance to tear their ideas into tiny bits over and over again. This is, of course, why it’s so handy to have a team of people around you who all have their own precious, crystalline bauble of a game floating around in their heads.

Good games aren’t the result of a single person working in isolation. Good games are the result of the collaborative effort of small armies of dedicated lovers of games.

They’re also weirdly like grade school, when you were taught all sorts of strange lessons like:

Always do your homework.
That’s not for eating.
Play well with others.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. (Especially true regarding any and all forum discussions of your game.)
Always share – especially the art supplies.
Accept legitimate criticism with a good heart. (Extra credit: Solicit it whenever possible.)
Everybody loves Pizza Day.

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