What is Game Design - IGDA San Francisco Microtalk


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In early 2012, I embarked on a quest to answer a simple question, "What is Game Design?" I had design conversations with some of the best game designers in the world, including Soren Johnson, Lead Designer of Civilization 4, Ray Mazza, Creative Director of Sims Social, and Paul Barnett, Senior Creative Director for BioWare. In this Pecha Kucha style microtalk, find out the breadth of possibilities for what happens when the world’s best design minds attempt to quantify their unique profession.

Find out more at www.famousaspect.com

This talk was originally presented at the IGDA SF meetup in April ’12.

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  • I’m here today to present “What is Game Design?”, a project I started a few weeks ago. What I do is, I have conversations about deisgn with interesting and influential game designers around the industry in an effort to understand the artform we love so much.
  • But before I start, let me introduce myself. I have been a game developer for nine and a half years, with a career spanning production, design, consulting and metrics. Most recently I have been working as BioWare San Francisco’s Design Manager, and before that shift was producer of Dragon Age Legends on FaceBook and Google+.
  • But I’m very happy to say that Friday will be my final day in a four year stint at EA/BioWare. I’ve chosen to leave the company to pursue indie game development and passion projects like this one. I need to recharge my creative batteries, and also spend less time wearing pants…
  • So, you can see some of the incredible designers and creative directors I’ve spoken with to date, with more to come. For the next five minutes, I will be weaving together some of my favorite quotes from these designers into a single narrative on design.
  • Paul Barnett: “I would say the following: if you are involved in the creation of a game, you are a game designer. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing audio, doing user interface, whether you’re doing the loading screen. It doesn’t matter. It’s all in the design. Every single person involved in the game is designing.”
  • Paul Barnett: “Every great designer gave a damn like you wouldn’t believe. Every great designer is in an eternal love affair with design. And accepts that it’s a love affair, which means, you’re at times powerless. You’re at times destroyed. You’re at times miserable. You’re at times elated and ecstatic.”
  • Michael John: “You say game design. I think what that is a description of the art form. If what games are as an art form is something that comes to life in the hands of a user, which is certainly true, then the game design is sort of the capsule in which that art sits.”
  • Ray Mazza: “What is game design? It’s figuring out what is fun. It’s basically trying to understand the concept of fun and then turning that into a meaningful experience.”Soren Johnson “The simplest way of putting it is, game design is how you find the fun of a project.”
  • Dan Chao: Design is determining“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 [the] systems work together, to make a cohesive, clean and consistent design.
  • Soren Johnson: It “is managing that loop between the player and the machine, where you’re presenting them with decisions; they make a decision and then you give them relevant feedback, so they know the results of their action and then they make another decision.”
  • Ray Mazza: One of the things I’ve learned becoming a seasoned designer is that you need to start simple. Otherwise you’re going to be wasting a lot of time upfront. It’s good to do expansive brainstorms. But to then go and scope right from there down to the core and the most interesting ideas, rather than planning to do it all. Because you will inevitably add more as you go, anyway”
  • Soren Johnson: “You have to figure out what are the things that are going to keep your game from succeeding. Early on in the project, a lot of teams get very focused on a lot of tech questions. But these are things you can figure out. The project is not going to fail because you were never able to answer these questions. So you have to focus on the questions that do not have an obvious answer,”
  • Dan Chao: “I like to tailor the design to all the limitations of the company, whether that be the resource limitations of being engineering heavy or light, or art heavy or light. And just the talents and kind of the DNA of the company. “
  • Dan Chao: For me it comes down to a business decision. It’s ultimately your return on investment. If whatever you’re developing isn’t going to make its money back, then it’s not worth it and you need to figure out a better way to do it, or a different way to make money.
  • Ray Mazza: “… the difficulty is really understanding what [players are]looking for and not just designing a game for myself. Because I could design an awesome … game for myself that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the players … it’s about understanding the ways they play.”
  • Michael John: “there’s a design mode of thinking that’s important. One of the things when I train designers is I’ll train them in certain uses of language.So for instance, I will say “I’m not going to hear what you say, until every sentence you say begins with the phrase, ‘The player’ Okay?” And that’s a silly thing, but … it changes the way you communicate.”
  • Michael John: “[design leadership] is about two things: it’s about shared vision and about process. And I’ve come to believe that for creative people, if you’re going to create something on [a large] scale, your putty knife, your paintbrush, is the process.”
  • Ethan: “a game designer is a practitioner of a skill. And a design leader is someone who motivates people.”Michael John: it’s craftsman versus architecture in some ways… I’m happy to consider the idea of a designer who would not make a good leader. I am unhappy to consider the design leader who is not a good designer”
  • Paul Barnett: “So, everyone’s a game designer. The poor sod who actually has the title is generally the person who is the highest position of pain all the time. Because they are the person in rawest place because everything they do is thwarted, compromised, belittled, misunderstood and butchered, in front of their eyes, often by themselves.So pain would probably be my number one thing of what is game designer? Someone who is in a lot of pain.”
  • So, there you go. This project is still very much in progress. This week I’m speaking with Journey director Jenova Chen and CityVille and Idle Worship lead designer Michael McCormick. Thanks for listening, and if you enjoyed the talk go to my blog to read the full interviews.
  • What is Game Design - IGDA San Francisco Microtalk

    1. 1. ethan levy | igda san francisco | pecha kucha microtalk | april ‘12 WHAT IS GAME DESIGN?www.famousaspect.com
    2. 2. A Brief History of Ethan Intern & Test Metrics & User Test Game Design Game Production• 9.5 years experience as a game developer• Core Competencies: Game Design, PowerPoint Decks, Inappropriate Humorwww.famousaspect.com
    3. 3. www.famousaspect.com
    4. 4. Project Participants• Soren Johnson – Lead Designer for Zynga• Michael John – Sr. Creative Director for EA• Paul Barnett – Sr. Creative Director for BioWare/Mythic• Ray Mazza – Lead Designer Worldwide for Playfish• Dan Chao – Lead Designer for Funzio• Andrew Mayer – Creative Director for Sojo Studios• Seth Marinello – Level Designer for Visceral Gameswww.famousaspect.com
    5. 5. Design is Teamwork… paul barnett, sr. creative director, bioware/mythicwww.famousaspect.com
    6. 6. Design is a Love Affair… paul barnett, sr. creative director, bioware/mythicwww.famousaspect.com
    7. 7. Design is Art… michael john, sr. creative director, electronic artswww.famousaspect.com
    8. 8. Design is Discovery… ray mazza, lead designer worldwide, playfish | soren johnson, lead designer, zyngawww.famousaspect.com
    9. 9. Design is a Loop… dan chao, lead designer, funziowww.famousaspect.com
    10. 10. Design is Feedback… soren johnson, lead designer, zyngawww.famousaspect.com
    11. 11. Design is Scoping… ray mazza, lead designer worldwide, playfishwww.famousaspect.com
    12. 12. Design is Problem Solving… soren johnson, lead designer, zyngawww.famousaspect.com
    13. 13. Design is Limitations… dan chao, lead designer, funziowww.famousaspect.com
    14. 14. Design is Business… dan chao, lead designer, funziowww.famousaspect.com
    15. 15. Design is Community… ray mazza, lead designer worldwide, playfishwww.famousaspect.com
    16. 16. Design is Thinking Player First… michael john, sr. creative director, electronic artswww.famousaspect.com
    17. 17. Design is Process… michael john, sr. creative director, electronic artswww.famousaspect.com
    18. 18. Design is Architecture…ethan levy, design manager, bioware social| michael john, sr. creative director, electronic arts www.famousaspect.com
    19. 19. Design is Pain… paul barnett, sr. creative director, bioware/mythicwww.famousaspect.com
    20. 20. More to come…• Upcoming interviews with o Jenova Chen (Journey) o Michael McCormick (CityVille, Idle Worship) o Andy Moore (SteamBirds)• Read www.famousaspect.com• Follow @FamousAspect• Contact FamousAspect@gmail.comwww.famousaspect.com