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Subject: Videogame players don't think that game design is a discipline. rss

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Keith Burgun
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Hey guys. So for a very long time I've felt like digital gamers don't have the same kind of reverence for game design, as a discipline, that boardgamers do. I think there's a bunch of reasons for this. I wrote this thread over at Reddit's Gamedev subreddit about it. Take a look and see if you agree?

http://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/xzgxw/some_recent_d...

Thanks!

-Keith
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Derry Salewski
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Well since digital gamers pretty much means 'a huge slice representative of the general population,' I wouldn't expect them to have much reverence or respect for how most things work.
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Johan Haglert
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CapNClassic wrote:
Carmack didn't create any new innovations for Doom, right? It is the same game as Wolfenstein, just with different skins. Forget all that 3D Graphics design work, the "game" was already designed.
Doom got height-movement.
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Adrian Hague
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CapNClassic wrote:
Digital game designers that are "Idea Men" aren't held in high regard, nor should they be.

Ummm... Sid Meier, Geoff Crammond?
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Keith Burgun
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I should clarify. In my dealings with digital game developers, the attitude seems to be something like this:

Unless you are a MASTER game designer, you shouldn't be paid for your work, because all game design is is "coming up with ideas" (which is wrong, which I talk about a lot in the article I linked to).
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John "Omega" Williams
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Part of that is simply that video game players likely assume that board game design is alot like video game design. The designer is merely an idea guy and its the coders who do all the real work.

Designer in the vid biz has a different meaning than in the board or RPG biz. Friend of mine has worked in multiple media areas and he prefers RPG design over video. Another I know with work out there nearly across the gamut from comic to video to RPG to novel to board to animation even, has a simmilar outlook that they prefer more hands on board game design.
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Mike Arlington

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@Keith I'm a video game designer and programmer by trade. I wasn't under the impression that people downplayed the importance of designers. It might be slightly more likely in video games due to the high number of similar games being made these days. But you yourself mention in that post several indie games whose designers are well known in the game industry.
Some people WON'T understand the importance of game design. I get the same thing about programming though. It is 99.9% of the time going to come from someone who hasn't ever tried their hand at the craft they are citing the unimportance of.

On a side note: Kudos on not turning that one guy's comments into a flame war. It was refreshing to see someone on the internet respond rationally to a negative criticism.



@Michael I find your dismissiveness of video game designers to be kind of surprising. There must be at least a few video games that you think are bad games. Out of those games, is it the programmers' fault they are bad or is it a bad design?
Additionally, designers don't just say "Let's make Wolfenstein with jumping." Designers lay out levels and enemies for proper pacing and difficulty progression. Designers tweak the fire rate, damage rate, clip size, and reload speed on guns so that they are appropriately worth the effort to get them, making them just strong enough to be a substantial reward without breaking the rest of the game. Designers decide on what specific strengths and weaknesses each enemy has that create interesting experiences.

Programming is difficult, but the best programmer in the world can't make a bad design into a good game.
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Mike Arlington

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Tangential, but related in a sense of comparison:
A lot of people who can't (or don't try to) do art don't respect artists either.

Just look for posts on here about people that try to take advantage of art students by "helping them build their portfolio."
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Troy Winfrey
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I work in user experience, and I'm used to getting resistance from engineers/coders about what's "really" important. The thing is, and I've seen this hundreds of times, engineers seldom have a grasp on what people really care about. They think everyone is like them--a position that is (somewhat) tenable for mainstream video gaming, increasingly less so in other areas of technology. When you direct technology producers to change direction according to what you have established that people really care about, some incredible things happen.

A lot of video games ARE Wolfenstein with jumping (or, God, try to be and fail). Better games deemphasize lighting textures and tweaking rates of fire in favor of real narratives and intangible "flavor." (Left 4 Dead 2, for example, which manages to capture the actual feeling of the rural South perfectly...the Carnival campaign, in fact, actually gives me flashbacks to my childhood.) That's not something a coder is trained to do. It takes training, and training that is inherently more difficult than learning to code, which is just hard. You can optimize code through refactoring (though of course many "ace" programmers don't). You can't optimize a mood, a feeling, an effect, or a reading of a text. To begin to participate at all, it takes experience and significant exposure to culture, which does NOT include "other video games."
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This explains the snail pace of actual improvement in gameplay in contrast to the lightning improvement in graphics for video games. I was an avid video game player for about two decades, yet I can count on the fingers of two hands the games which brought real and innovative improvements in game play (for example wolf 3d and Dune2). Thanks for the insight.
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Mark McEvoy
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AdrianPHague wrote:
CapNClassic wrote:
Digital game designers that are "Idea Men" aren't held in high regard, nor should they be.

Ummm... Sid Meier, Geoff Crammond?


Shigeru Miyamoto, Tim Schafer, Hideo Kojima, Peter Molyneux, Goichi Suda...
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Mike Arlington

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I wasn't intending to start a flame war either, just pointing out a fact. Just like sarcasm doesn't translate well, my arguments some times have the unintentional effect of making me come off like a jerk! My bad.

Edit: I see what happened. When I was talking about the flame war I was referring to the commenter Keith received on Reddit, not yourself.
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Andrew Laws
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CapNClassic wrote:
@Mike, wasn'ttrying to start a flame war. Sarcasm doesn't translate well in textual form. I think yo missed my meaning. Idea guys that come up with a first person shooter where you shoot Nazis shouldn't be held in high regard.

Game Designers that create level layouts should be.
Game Designers that create the tools to create the maps should be.
Game Designers that tweak the mechaics to balance the game should be.
Game Designers that develop the engine so 3D worlds can be displayed in real time before dedicated graphics cards existed should be.
Game Designers that come up with idea sketches for characters should be.
Game Artists that translte concepts to real product should be.
Game Designers that translate ideas into a game classes architecture should be.

Boardgame Designers that can translate an idea into tangible rules that other humans can understand should be.

It's all about implementation. As for Carmack, Si Mier, Miamoto, etc. They are designers and implementers. Sid and Bryan Reynolds both collaborated and created Civ, based off of Colonization. CivII has lots of fan following, while CivIII doesn't, yet the rules are very similar. It is all about implementation.


I'm having a bit of a hard time with this. So 'ideas men' shouldn't get any credit because it's the coders that implement it? By that logic screenwriters shouldn't get any credit because it's the guy on Camera #2 who implements it.
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Andrew Laws
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"I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty."
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oeste wrote:
HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
CapNClassic wrote:
@Mike, wasn'ttrying to start a flame war. Sarcasm doesn't translate well in textual form. I think yo missed my meaning. Idea guys that come up with a first person shooter where you shoot Nazis shouldn't be held in high regard.

Game Designers that create level layouts should be.
Game Designers that create the tools to create the maps should be.
Game Designers that tweak the mechaics to balance the game should be.
Game Designers that develop the engine so 3D worlds can be displayed in real time before dedicated graphics cards existed should be.
Game Designers that come up with idea sketches for characters should be.
Game Artists that translte concepts to real product should be.
Game Designers that translate ideas into a game classes architecture should be.

Boardgame Designers that can translate an idea into tangible rules that other humans can understand should be.

It's all about implementation. As for Carmack, Si Mier, Miamoto, etc. They are designers and implementers. Sid and Bryan Reynolds both collaborated and created Civ, based off of Colonization. CivII has lots of fan following, while CivIII doesn't, yet the rules are very similar. It is all about implementation.


I'm having a bit of a hard time with this. So 'ideas men' shouldn't get any credit because it's the coders that implement it? By that logic screenwriters shouldn't get any credit because it's the guy on Camera #2 who implements it.
I think from what I gather the logic is more that the marketing team who analyzes the market and says "FPS games with Nazis or terrorists are the big thing right now. We'll have the designing and coding team make a game with terrorist Nazis" shouldn't get much credit, but the people who take that generic idea and lay out every part of the game to make it a memorable experience for the player, despite the generic theme, do deserve credit.


Ahhh, i see, so to continue the analogy we're talking the cine-mill that spits yet another Rom-com based on a guy who won't commit, as opposed to Terence Malick.

Well explained. Though in fairness did they do market research and realise that what everyone wanted was to shoot SS stormtroopers?
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Keith Burgun
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In some of my chatting on reddit, I had one guy say:

Game Designers are to Programmers what Interior Decorators are to House Builders

Basically, it's like I wrote about: people can't tell the difference between "software" and "game".
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Mike Arlington

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keithburgun wrote:
Game Designers are to Programmers what Interior Decorators are to House Builders


That actually sounds like a good analogy to me.
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Nate K
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cznrhubarb wrote:
keithburgun wrote:
Game Designers are to Programmers what Interior Decorators are to House Builders


That actually sounds like a good analogy to me.


Is it? Is the Game Designer an Interior Decorator or an Architect in this analogy?
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Mike Arlington

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kurthl33t wrote:
cznrhubarb wrote:
keithburgun wrote:
Game Designers are to Programmers what Interior Decorators are to House Builders


That actually sounds like a good analogy to me.


Is it? Is the Game Designer an Interior Decorator or an Architect in this analogy?


You can make plenty of analogies based on what qualities you are trying to demonstrate.

I was just thinking that if you go over to someone's house and make the remark "I love the way your house looks!", they are probably talking about what you've done with the house and not how well the people swinging hammers did setting support beams.
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Nate K
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cznrhubarb wrote:
You can make plenty of analogies based on what qualities you are trying to demonstrate.

I was just thinking that if you go over to someone's house and make the remark "I love the way your house looks!", they are probably talking about what you've done with the house and not how well the people swinging hammers did setting support beams.


Maybe. I'm also a fan of high ceilings as a way to make small rooms feel larger, and I can appreciate a well-positioned archway or staircase.




Also, I just finished reading the article and the first 30 or so comments. The general tone on reddit seems to be rather mean-spirited, I must say. But I enjoyed the article, other than the opening section about racism, which was a bit ham-fisted and strained. I understood the logic, but the connection was not well-explained, I think.

It is pretty sad that game design is underappreciated in some (many?) circles. Creating a system of rules and crafting a decision tree for players is significantly more difficult than some people realize. I, for one, can appreciate the necessity of having a skilled designer guiding a team when creating a digital game. To me, the best analogy would be to think of game designers as architects, drafting the (ahem) design of the building, while various other workers supply the materials, assemble the building, and decorate it. The architect and the construction worker can be the same person when the project is small, but with large projects, the labor must be divided by necessity.

I think this is one of the reasons why so many digital games out there are highly derivative. The design process is handed off to programmers--the construction workers. "Here," say the higher-ups, "are some materials. Make a game." But they haven't been trained to make games (or draw up plans for buildings, in this analogy). So they fall back on what they know. They assemble a building very much like other buildings they have constructed. The building may turn out to be exceptionally well-built, but it looks extremely similar to all the other buildings on the block.
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Mike Arlington

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kurthl33t wrote:
I think this is one of the reasons why so many digital games out there are highly derivative. The design process is handed off to programmers--the construction workers. "Here," say the higher-ups, "are some materials. Make a game." But they haven't been trained to make games (or draw up plans for buildings, in this analogy). So they fall back on what they know. They assemble a building very much like other buildings they have constructed. The building may turn out to be exceptionally well-built, but it looks extremely similar to all the other buildings on the block.


Actually, the reason is because video games are much higher risk (and reward) than board games. The higher ups need to earn $X of profit this year, and FPS games are popular. There are designers at all of these companies, but they are told by the people with money (who are the 'Idea Men' some people have been mentioning) what type of game to build.
Most programmers don't have any say in what they write.
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Nate K
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cznrhubarb wrote:
Most programmers don't have any say in what they write.


Which is ALSO problematic, I think.
 
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cznrhubarb wrote:
Actually, the reason is because video games are much higher risk (and reward) than board games. The higher ups need to earn $X of profit this year, and FPS games are popular. There are designers at all of these companies, but they are told by the people with money (who are the 'Idea Men' some people have been mentioning) what type of game to build. Most programmers don't have any say in what they write.


Television writer Mark Evanier was asked why he preferred to write comics when the television industry pays more. His response was that so many hands are involved in television, that, while he's credited as a writer, he doesn't have the *control* he has over the story that he does when he writes comic books.

I imagine it's the same difference between the video game and board game industries. "Game designer" in video games is an entirely different role than in board games.
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cznrhubarb wrote:
Programming is difficult, but the best programmer in the world can't make a bad design into a good game.


I think the best programmer in the world can make a bad ass game from the worst possible idea
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Having worked in the computer games industry as a games designer I'd say that a large section of the industry thinks much the same way - definitely not all of it though.

The problem is, you can essentially sell a game without really having much in the way of decent game design just by employing a lot of really talented coders, programmers and marketing people. It'll never be a great game, but you can still sell a crapload of copies before anyone notices.

This isn't helped by a lot of coders, artists and marketing people thinking that they are also good game designers. In my experience this is rarely (but not always) the case. It is really hard to find someone who's brain is wired up to be a really good programmer who also understands what makes a game really fun to play. Artists are usually slightly better at it but the less said about marketing people the better.

As a result a lot of people these days grow up having never played really deep, interesting computer games - let alone boardgames. It's kinda sad.

I just wish I was a better programmer and artist
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Joe Mucchiello
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The problem here is the word design. As it applies to computers and video games there are program designers, usually called computer architects. They figure out how to translate the various keystrokes and flipper twitches into something visual (and sonic) on the screen. There are story designers, who create the story of the game. And there are level designers who take the gameplay (designed by the architects) and turn it into a game.

kurthl33t wrote:
I think this is one of the reasons why so many digital games out there are highly derivative. The design process is handed off to programmers--the construction workers.

And then there are the programmers. Programming from a design still requires the ability to turn one abstraction into another. That is not a science. That is an art. So even calling them construction workers is a bad analogy. Construction workers aren't allowed to be creative in how they solve problems on a job site. Programmers are allowed to be creative in implementing most designs.
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