The following are excerpts from a conversation with Greg Kasavin, Creative Director at Supergiant Games, makers of indie blockbuster Bastion and the upcoming Transistor. Before helping found Supergiant Games, Greg worked as a producer at EA on Command & Conquer and served as the editor-in-chief for Gamespot. This conversation originally took place in May of 2012.
EL: What is game design?
GK: Game design is the art of making games, put broadly. It’s coming up with the systems and the inputs that will lead to an interactive experience with a player that hopefully creates some kind of feeling. So, yeah, it’s an open-ended question. I suppose that’s why you ask, more to kind of stump us, right?
GK: It can obviously mean any number of different things, depending on the type of game you’re talking about. I think it was always interesting to me that, at Electronic Arts, there’s a job family in quotes called the “game designer” who, on the totem pole, is usually below the producer. But this is a guy who in theory is making all the content for the game. He’s what makes the game exist in a way, though, really that’s the engineer.
Continue reading On Game Design with Greg Kasavin
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Richard Vorodi, Senior Game Designer at Crytek. Richard’s’s hit games include classics like Wave Race, 1080° Avalanche, Mario vs Donkey Kong, Metroid Prime, and more recently, Darksiders II. This conversation originally took place in April of last year.
EL: The question I start everybody off with is, what is game design?
RV: That’s the big question. And I think that you’re going to get a different answer from every person you speak to. I think it’s probably more of a personal question than an absolute.
Good game design means it’s your job not to make a fun thing. That’s one of the tools in your bag of tricks. A game designer’s role is ultimately to craft the rules and the presentation of an experience for an audience that you have in mind. Other tools in your kit would be knowing how to bring out anxiety in a player, or fear and discomfort, and then knowing how to reward them and knowing how to entertain them.
Continue reading On Game Design with Richard Vorodi
Rich Hilleman is the Chief Creative Director of EA. He is one of EA’s earliest employees and is best known for helping to build the juggernaut EA Sports business as the original producer of games including John Madden Football, NHL Hockey and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. This is the third part of an interview that took place in April, 2012. Part 1 and part 2 were previously posted to this blog.
EL: For the young designers you coach and help craft and bring into EA, what do you think is the biggest frustration point that they should be prepared for as a commercial game designer?
RH: So we’re a fantasy job, meaning lots of people who come into our business grew up their entire lives wanting to be videogame designers. You’ve got one of those guys named Blade Olson. You’ve met him. He literally is one of those people that I believe the first conscious thought he had was, “How do I get to make videogames?”
So we have a lot of those people in our business nowadays. And what is joyous about them, absolutely wonderful about them, is the depth of their appreciation for being in the business and their enthusiasm every day for what they can do.
The bad news is they have no idea what the job is before they walk in the door. When you’ve really invested a lot of time in the fantasy that you think something is, and then it’s confronted with the reality that’s different—not better or worse, just different—it’s a jarring event for most of those people.
Continue reading On Game Design with Rich Hilleman (Part 3)
Rich Hilleman is the Chief Creative Director of EA. He is one of EA’s earliest employees and is best known for helping to build the juggernaut EA Sports business as the original producer of games including John Madden Football, NHL Hockey and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. This is the second part of an interview took place in April, 2012. You can read the first part here.
EL: What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by modern game designers?
RH: I don’t think it’s changed much. It’s the same problem. Ultimately, players would like to figure out how not to pay for games. In the past, that was expressed through various kinds of piracy which was occasionally even humorous in its activity.
I think in some ways we have ritualized that. Free-to-play is really a ritualization of that process. That means that getting paid by the customer continues to be the hardest thing.
I used to do this bit in EPX [executive producer training at EA] where I said, “What’s the hardest job in video games?” And the producer would get up and say, “The producer.” The engineer would get up and say, “The engineer.” The designer would get up and say, “The designer.” I’d say it’s pretty simple. I’d say “Give me five bucks.” Or, “Give me 60 bucks.”
I’d walk around the room. Nobody would give me $60, right? Nobody will. So the answer is, “I think we’ve established right now what the hardest job in video games is: getting somebody to give you 60 bucks.”
So much of the organization I think of how successful companies do their job is either consciously or subconsciously organized around the process of getting paid. And if you as a designer think you can ignore how you get paid in the future, it is more important—not less—that you align your design efforts around it.
Continue reading On Game Design with Rich Hilleman (Part 2)
Rich Hilleman is the Chief Creative Director of EA. He is one of EA’s earliest employees and is best known for helping to build the juggernaut EA Sports business as the original producer of games including John Madden Football, NHL Hockey and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. This interview took place in April, 2012. For more from Rich, check out part 2 and part 3 of this interview.
EL: What are some of the games you’ve worked on in your 29-year career at EA?
RH: The very first game I worked on was a game called Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator, which then became Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer. We worked on a number of other simulations from that era with Lucasfilm and with others. We built driving games in that era which included Ferrari Formula One, an Indy 500 game. We also built Road Rash. I built the original Genesis version of Populous, of all crazy things. We built the first version of John Madden Football for the Genesis. We built the first version of NHL Hockey for the Genesis. Built the first Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Built American McGee’s Alice. I’m sure I’m forgetting other things I shouldn’t be forgetting, but I’m sure I’ve insulted somebody.
EL: [laughs] It’s okay. It’s good to have so many incredible hit classic games under your belt that that’s actually an issue.
So the question I start everybody off with is, what is game design?
RH: I think game design is the process of assembling the components that can make up a game to produce a desired experience in the player. There are a lot of different flavors of that I think. There are folks who build very prescriptive experiences. I worked on the Winged Commander series. We gave the user choices but trust me we didn’t give them that many choices. Apparently we don’t give them enough choices in Mass Effect anymore.
Those are games that the designer has a point of view about what they want you to experience. They want you to make some choices, but they want you to operate within a range so they can really produce a rich experience for you.
Continue reading On Game Design with Rich Hilleman (Part 1)
I spoke with Andrew Mayer, Creative Director at Sojo Studios, about game design and creative direction. Andrew’s 20 year career includes working for PF Magic, Cartoon Network, PlayFirst, Mob Science and Sojo Studios, where he recently launched WeTopia for Facebook. In addition to designing games, Andrew is the author of the steam punk series Society of Steam.
EL: So the question I start everybody out with is, what is game design?
AM: Okay. How many more questions do you have? Because, uh, [laughs]
EL: There are eight more.
AM: All right. All right. I think for me, the phrase I always use is “artful frustration.” Game design is about properly placing distance between yourself and the audience.
So, when you work with people who aren’t game people traditionally, they want to start pushing back this relationship between the audience and the game. And simplifying stuff. That’s a good instinct but, ultimately, if you simplify it to where the player can get everything they want whenever they want, there isn’t a game there.
Continue reading On Game Design with Andrew Mayer
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Jenova Chen, Co-Founder and Creative Director at thatgamecompany. Jenova’s meteoric rise began at USC after a viral success with Cloud led to a fortuitous meeting with Sony. Jenova’s hit games include the PSN exclusives Flow, Flower and Journey.
EL: Can you start by introducing yourself, talking a little bit about what your background is and the games you’ve worked on?
JC: I grew up in China, went through college there, and came to USC in Los Angeles, studied in the film school’s Interactive Media program. During my study there, I realized there’s a calling for me in my life that I wanted to do something to improve the game industry.
Particularly because we made a couple of student projects: one of them is called Cloud, the other one is called Flow. And these games helped me to realize that the game industry today has very limited emotional courage. Like, in all the traditional media, no matter how old are, what gender you are, what mood you are in, there’s always a music for you to consume. There’s always a film for you to watch, even if you are very sad.
Continue reading Jenova Chen on game design
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Ray Mazza, Lead Designer Worldwide for Playfish. Ray’s titles include The Sims 2, The Sims 3, The Sims Social, and a whole host of Sims expansion packs. Find out more about the multitalented Mr. Mazza on his blog.
EL: To start with, what is game design?
RM: What is game design? It’s figuring out what is fun. It’s trying to understand the concept of fun and then turning that into a meaningful experience. I think that’s what game design is. There are many different ways to do that.
EL: Has there been a time in your career where you’ve identified something that you know to be fun, whether it’s an interaction or a mechanic. You think, “X is fun, I know it in my heart.” And then you tried to turn it into a game and watched it sputter, just die on the canvas?
RM: Oh, jeez. That’s a good question. I feel like the answer is “yes.” It happens to designers all the time, and it’s why you often need to iterate on designs many times until they’re fun. I’ll try and think of an example… there was a time when we were doing a lot of prototypes for The Sims 3. One of the things that I thought was fun was combining things genetically, making some game structures that have genetics, and then letting the player see what they like about them and having them combine those things and see results.
Continue reading On Game Design with Ray Mazza
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Dan Chao, Lead Designer at Funzio. Dan’s work runs the full gamut of design, including releases in the Core, Casual, Social and Mobile segments of the industry. Dan has worked as gameplay engineer on Xbox launch title New Legends, lead designer on the casual game Wandering Willows, and most recently lead designer on social/mobile games Crime City, and Kingdom Age.
EL: To start with, what is game design?
DC: There are so many different parts of it. I feel like it goes down to the talents of certain types of game designers. There are obviously people that are good at writing story and coming up with characters. There are people that are just great with the numbers, tuning, the economy.
Then, there’s the system level design; how the game actually works. I guess calling it “defining the core loops” has become the fancy term that people throw around.
But to me, that’s really at the heart of everything is designing how all those systems work together, to make a cohesive, clean and consistent design.
Continue reading On Game Design with Dan Chao
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Paul Barnett, Senior Creative Director at BioWare/Mythic. Paul currently oversees a number of projects in the BioWare family, including Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes and BioWare Social.
EL: To start with, what is game design?
PB: Oh, dear, crikey. If I knew that, then I’d be rich. I’m with Stephen King. It’s probably telepathy. I thought that was the greatest answer to what is story writing is telepathy. Game design is probably telepathy.
People have ideas in the modern era they’re basically two groups. Lots of people trying desperately to get a straightforward idea made over a long period of time, for something like Star Wars TOR. Simple idea. Massively multiplayer Star Wars meets Knights of the Old Republic. But it requires hundreds of people, years, millions of dollars and it’s supremely difficult.
Continue reading “What is Game Design?” with Paul Barnett