Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Experience First, pt.1

Several years ago, when the PS3 and 360 were on the verge of being released, I attended GDC and noticed various game disciplines having discussions about how to overcome the challenges and take advantage of the possibilities of the new consoles. The exception to this rule was design and designers, who screamed about the death of design, and perhaps the world as we know it, because the cost of other disciplines would make publishers averse to trying new ideas.

It made sense, but the alarm seemed excessive compared to other disciplines', who were having reasonable discussions about how to overcome new challenges instead of declaring about the end of the world. And the sheer volume from my peers made me wonder about my discipline. If our audience wants it, they buy it, and publishers demand it, so is it really the end of the world? If our heyday is behind us, why didn't we leave our audiences wanting more?

Now that time has passed and design still thrives, it may seem like an odd thing to bring up, but I remember that moment because it made me ask, Does design think too highly of itself? Thinking about this guided my philosophy as a designer. More on that tomorrow. [1][2][3][4][5][6]


  1. If it makes you feel any better about it, I think every discipline thinks too highly of itself---but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I see it like marriage---they say if each person gives 50% then you come up short in the end, and the only time it works is when everybody gives like it all depends on them.

    Great game development is so complicated and relies on so many factors that unless every group is treating the development process like it "all" (meaning everything within their influence) depends on them, then something important is bound to fall through the cracks, regardless of how carefully controlled/designed the development process is. I believe that's why game development and movie development will never work the same way, but of course I don't have data to back that up.

  2. Sure, thinking optimistically of one's own situation (and importance) is just human instinct, helpful in many situations and unhelpful in others. But I plan to bring up how the role of designer as both mechanics-builder and assembler-of-all-elements gets wires crossed too often.

    I'm curious about the game/movie dev comment because I'm not sure I grasp it. I understand the idea behind disciplines giving 110% to achieve success, but I'm not sure I understand the difference between movie and game development; just complexity?

    On a side note, I read once that in a study where both members of a married couple were asked to objectively gauge their contributions, the total between both well over 100% (I don't remember the exact number: something like 120-140). Humans are actually quite accurate at gauging others' capabilities, but impossibly blind to their own; unless, I also read once, they suffer from extreme depression.

  3. There are probably other differences, but the biggest one in my mind is the linear nature of movies vs. the interactive nature of games. The assets of a movie, while directed by multiple departments (costume, props, cinematography, etc.) can still be carefully controlled in every particular by a small set of directors (or even a single director in some cases, see George Lucas).

    The same set of directors have many more factors to consider when giving the player freedom to move and interact in a world. So maybe I don't think the idea of directing a game in this way is impossible, just impractical given the budget and time constraints that we usually work under. Or maybe I'm just trying to support my personal philosophy of leveraging the creative energy of a team as opposed to the carefully crafted, carefully controlled top-down style of management that a lot of people seem to prefer.

    I'm sure there are other factors of course, a fighting game could probably be more easily controlled than a story-driven RPG epic.

    As for the 100% thing in marriage, the main problem is that there's no 100%---there's always more that can be done. So while people feel like they're putting in 75% of the "work," they don't realize that the amount to be done is constantly shifting and even grows as a result of doing said "work." This probably has a lot to do with the shifting expectations and attitudes of the other partner in the relationship (which is really human nature). This is true even if you only apply this idea to household maintenance, not to mention the hundreds of factors that go into emotional fulfillment.

  4. Also, I realize don't have a clue what I'm talking about with any of this. But it is fun to blurt out whatever crap I'm thinking about in response to your posts. I hope that's okay.

  5. Thanks for expanding on it. I thought that might be the gist. On the marriage thing, I think I was just making a point about how humans overestimate (and overvalue) themselves; the context in the book that both partners are adding up how much they contribute (e.g., 60%) vs. their partner (40%), but if you add up the two perceptions of their individual (not partner) contributions, you get 120% instead of 100%, which is evidence of bias to themselves. Hardly surprising, but still funny.

    I have the same disclaimer about what I say, and so it's very okay. I expect nothing less, and appreciate everything you say. It makes me feel like that much less of a hermit, so thanks. :-)