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Any intelligent fool can make
things bigger, more complex, and
more violent. It takes a touch of
genius – and a lot of courage – to
 move in the opposite direction.
     E.F.Schumacher, 1973
Pursuing Elegance
Simplicity, Complexity and the Creative Process

Joel Burgess
Bethesda Game Studios
simplicity.
“The poor architect succumbs
 to every temptation and the
     good one resists it.”

    Ludwig Wittgenstein
Developers are Problem-Solvers
●   Long-term Appeal of Development
●   Solving Imaginary Problems
●   Pride in Hard Work and Cleverness
●   …both of which are largely irrelevant
(a somewhat large videogame)

●   Full Scale Production: < 3 years
●   Team Size: 90+ Developers
●   Outsourcing: Limited
●   Level Design: 300+ Locations / 8 LDs
●   Hit Ship Date – No Delays
Studio Culture
    “We can do anything, but we
        can’t do everything.”
● Ambition
● Compromise
● Everyone Is Accountable
The Idealist                         The Realist

• Ambitious Ideas   Be Of Two   Time Conscious 
• The “Right Way”                  Perspective 
• Fears Not Scope     Minds          Expedient 
in practice.
Loopback Layouts
                                         Exit

                                “Boss”
                                            1-way drop
  “Boss”



1-way drop


                     Entrance
     Entrance/Exit
Unexpected Circumstances
                 I go where
                  I please.
Asking “So What?”
●   Usually the more Ideal Solution
     ●   Greater Player Expression
●   Doing Nothing is Efficient
     ●   Easier than any alternative 100% of the time
Less
              Work!
  Better
Experience!
Radiant Story
●   Broad Data Awareness
●   Semi-Procedural Experiences
The Radiant Assassin
●   Successful Use of Story System
●   Appears If:
    ●   Player Level >= 10
    ●   Player is not Dark Brotherhood Member
Mistaken                            Possibility
                  ?       Identity                              Space
Authored
 Story                ?                 ?              ?


         The Jarl         An Assassin
        Purchased         was sent to               Romance
         Political
       The Contract         kill me!
                                                ?
                             ?
             ?                                         ?
                      ?
                                            ?
                           Revenge
The Headless Horseman
Body Slot
                     Ears Slot

  Hair Slot

            Head Slot

      Circlet Slot
15-Minute Proofs
●   Explore Risky Ideas
●   Save Time in Long Run
●   Especially Useful w/Multiple Fixes
scripting.
bool function playerHasTools()
     if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0
     ; player has a pickaxe. Return true.
           return TRUE
     Else
     ; player has no pickaxe. Return false.
           return FALSE
     endIf
endFunction
if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0



if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0
                          OR
Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe02) > 0


if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0
                          OR
Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe02) > 0
                        OR
Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe03) > 0
bool function playerHasTools()
      if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(mineOreToolsList) > 0
     ; player has an item in tools list. Return true.
           return TRUE
     Else
     ; player has no items in tools list. Return false.
           return FALSE
     endIf
endFunction
Barred Doors    This door is
                 You must
                barred the
                 raise from
                bar to open
                 the other
 This door is    this door.
                   side.
 barred from
  the other
    side.


                  Toggle bar
if barred == true && actor == game.getPlayer()
        if actor.getDistance(Door) < actor.getDistance(LockBar)
                ; I cannot be opened from this side!
                barredMSG.show()
        else
                ; player must be on the "right" side
                UnlockMeMSG.show()
        endif
Scripting Literacy
●   60+ Years of Shared Knowledge
●   Readable Code is Good Code
●   Logical Design is Universal

●   Designers & Coders – Unite!
complexity.
Occam’s Razor
Simple   Complex
Simple
 Direct    Robust
          Complex
Critters
Critter Feature Set
●   Limited Environmental Awareness
●   Procedural Movement
●   Interactive (Damage/Collection)
Considering The Alternative

        Fully Scripted
              Vs
         Canned Art
Justifying Critter Complexity
●   Pioneer Test of Scripting System
●   Richer Player Experience
●   Repetition Of System
     ●   Player Experience
     ●   Workflow
Artist
                Artist               Artist

                                     Artist
                Artist               Artist     Artist

                                     Artist     Artist
                 Artist              Artist     Artist
Implementers

               Designer
                 Artist              Artist     Artist
                 Artist              Artist     Artist
                                     Artist     Artist
                Designer

          Programmer                Designer   Designer




                            Users
                                    Designer   Designer
               Programmer           Designer   Designer

                                    Designer   Designer
process.
Direct

    Elegant

          Robust
Elegance
●   Merges Best of Both Worlds
●   Always Optimal

●   In reality: Usually Unavailable
Pursuing Elegance
●   No Direct Path Available
●   Disguised as Compromise
●   Revealed Through Process
“Write with the door closed, rewrite
       with the door open.”

     Stephen King, On Writing
The Creative Cycle
●   Begin Idealist, End Realist




    Pre-Production                Content Lock
      Initial Layout               Final Iteration
         15-Min Proof               Implementation
●“You have to practice
Improvisation, let no one kid
       you about it!”

        ●   Art Tatum
Thanks for Listening



Questions/feedback?
joel@joelburgess.com

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Pursuing elegance

  • 1. Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. E.F.Schumacher, 1973
  • 2. Pursuing Elegance Simplicity, Complexity and the Creative Process Joel Burgess Bethesda Game Studios
  • 4. “The poor architect succumbs to every temptation and the good one resists it.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • 5. Developers are Problem-Solvers ● Long-term Appeal of Development ● Solving Imaginary Problems ● Pride in Hard Work and Cleverness ● …both of which are largely irrelevant
  • 6. (a somewhat large videogame) ● Full Scale Production: < 3 years ● Team Size: 90+ Developers ● Outsourcing: Limited ● Level Design: 300+ Locations / 8 LDs ● Hit Ship Date – No Delays
  • 7. Studio Culture “We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.” ● Ambition ● Compromise ● Everyone Is Accountable
  • 8. The Idealist The Realist • Ambitious Ideas Be Of Two Time Conscious  • The “Right Way” Perspective  • Fears Not Scope Minds Expedient 
  • 10. Loopback Layouts Exit “Boss” 1-way drop “Boss” 1-way drop Entrance Entrance/Exit
  • 11. Unexpected Circumstances I go where I please.
  • 12. Asking “So What?” ● Usually the more Ideal Solution ● Greater Player Expression ● Doing Nothing is Efficient ● Easier than any alternative 100% of the time
  • 13. Less Work! Better Experience!
  • 14. Radiant Story ● Broad Data Awareness ● Semi-Procedural Experiences
  • 15. The Radiant Assassin ● Successful Use of Story System ● Appears If: ● Player Level >= 10 ● Player is not Dark Brotherhood Member
  • 16. Mistaken Possibility ? Identity Space Authored Story ? ? ? The Jarl An Assassin Purchased was sent to Romance Political The Contract kill me! ? ? ? ? ? ? Revenge
  • 17.
  • 19. Body Slot Ears Slot Hair Slot Head Slot Circlet Slot
  • 20. 15-Minute Proofs ● Explore Risky Ideas ● Save Time in Long Run ● Especially Useful w/Multiple Fixes
  • 22.
  • 23. bool function playerHasTools() if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0 ; player has a pickaxe. Return true. return TRUE Else ; player has no pickaxe. Return false. return FALSE endIf endFunction
  • 24. if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0 if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0 OR Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe02) > 0 if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe01) > 0 OR Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe02) > 0 OR Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(pickaxe03) > 0
  • 25. bool function playerHasTools() if Game.GetPlayer().GetItemCount(mineOreToolsList) > 0 ; player has an item in tools list. Return true. return TRUE Else ; player has no items in tools list. Return false. return FALSE endIf endFunction
  • 26. Barred Doors This door is You must barred the raise from bar to open the other This door is this door. side. barred from the other side. Toggle bar
  • 27. if barred == true && actor == game.getPlayer() if actor.getDistance(Door) < actor.getDistance(LockBar) ; I cannot be opened from this side! barredMSG.show() else ; player must be on the "right" side UnlockMeMSG.show() endif
  • 28. Scripting Literacy ● 60+ Years of Shared Knowledge ● Readable Code is Good Code ● Logical Design is Universal ● Designers & Coders – Unite!
  • 31. Simple Complex
  • 32. Simple Direct Robust Complex
  • 34. Critter Feature Set ● Limited Environmental Awareness ● Procedural Movement ● Interactive (Damage/Collection)
  • 35. Considering The Alternative Fully Scripted Vs Canned Art
  • 36. Justifying Critter Complexity ● Pioneer Test of Scripting System ● Richer Player Experience ● Repetition Of System ● Player Experience ● Workflow
  • 37. Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Implementers Designer Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Artist Designer Programmer Designer Designer Users Designer Designer Programmer Designer Designer Designer Designer
  • 39. Direct Elegant Robust
  • 40. Elegance ● Merges Best of Both Worlds ● Always Optimal ● In reality: Usually Unavailable
  • 41. Pursuing Elegance ● No Direct Path Available ● Disguised as Compromise ● Revealed Through Process
  • 42. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Stephen King, On Writing
  • 43. The Creative Cycle ● Begin Idealist, End Realist Pre-Production Content Lock Initial Layout Final Iteration 15-Min Proof Implementation
  • 44.
  • 45. ●“You have to practice Improvisation, let no one kid you about it!” ● Art Tatum

Editor's Notes

  1. “Making Unknowns Known”
  2. Add text labels for clarity?
  3. Creative Intent of the Idealist amplified by the focus of the Realist