Design Process

Kojima!

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, mainly due to starting uni next week and having a module that revolves around teamwork, is designing games. Although my primary skill is digital painting and I really want to become a concept artist I think I have some design skills too. They many not compare to one of my develop idol Hideo Kojima, but I think I could design a game that is fit for purpose.

There was an article I read today about Kojima and specifically his inclusion of the title card “A Hideo Kojima Game”. This is what spurred me on to write this particular entry.

On Monday, we get assigned our teams in which we must develop a game or prototype for a game. This is composed of a selection of artists (though labelled as designers on our course) and programmers from the respective courses. We have a blank slate and are able to create our own brief and essential go through the entire process of making a game, or at least that is the plan. There are several problems with this but the one this article is about is the design process. Technically, as designers we should be the ones planning the game and its production, including the story if there is one, scenario design, the level design, art direction, audio design, etc. In the industry this is what I assume happens, though obviously depending on the studio, programmers will have variable levels of input in the creative aspects of the game. (They will however have full control over the technical side of how the game is produced, the engine and tools developement, etc.) One of the problems we face on the course is that many of the “designers” are just artists and have no design ability or experience.

The programmers know this is the case and usually at the beginning of team project, everybody will have ideas. This is not really a problem since the project has only just begun and almost all reasonable ideas are acceptable but with up to 8 or 9 people in a team, that’s a lot of ideas and many will clash. The team will then filter the storm of ideas and end up with perhaps one or two main ideas which they like. This is where the biggest problem comes (in terms of teamwork and decision making). If there are ideas that designer disagree on, they would have little leverage on each other as they cannot affect the code in the game. If there are ideas and programmers really dislike them, they could say no and it would be unlikely that the idea would pass and it would never be coded in. The reasoning may not even relate to whether the idea was good or not, it might be a case of pirates vs ninjas. I hate it when that happens. I don’t mind if a programmer makes the opinion that a gameplay feature or character or weapon doesn’t belong in the game if there is a valid reason for it. Perhaps it off-balances it or the object would shouldn’t exist that a certain environment. This is unlikely to happen in professional, paid environments because people are paid to certain jobs and cannot ignore it because they dislike it.

This isn’t a rant specifically targetting programmers though I think the above situation could happen. I do know a few programmers who are very competant with designing games. They know a lot about mechanics and graphical capabilities and how to implement them. In fact, the problem is the artists on the design course. Though they do not have the ability to cut off an idea through technical skills they can nag a lot.

Having reasonable people on your team might go a little way to resolving this but since the teams are picked at random by the staff, there is a massive chance that you would end up with at least one person you don’t know or dislike and the situations depicted above will happen. I would prefer if the teams had a more rigid structure, so that maybe one or two designers are selected purely for the purpose of designing the game. <Captain Obvious.

I want to be able to say that I am the designer on the team when we start but I don’t think this would go down well with people on team but I think that design by committee can create games with too much thematic and stylistic variances. This isn’t always bad, and having people crit and advise would certainly make a game a little more rounded but this seems to be at a sacrifice of flair and perhaps originality. It depends on the team that design the game.

I guess in the end I am just afraid on being stuck in a team that cannot agree on decisions.  😛 I’m also afraid of getting stuck with programmers who are afraid of a bit of hard work. And artists who are too lazy. In fact, I think I would prefer to be in a team of two, me and one good programmer….