Archive for November, 2011

Lots of Spreadsheets

This is a wuss-out blog post for #NaBloPoMo, as in it is very short.  But I still think it’s important for anyone thinking about getting into game design.


Holy F-in sh-t there are a LOT of spreadsheets and math.  I mean, I knew this was the case; people had told me.  But I wasn’t ready for just how many graphs and numbers and equations and spreadsheets of data there were.  I sat with a not-yet-launched game today and looked over just their data for early-stage development, and I was already overwhelmed.

It hasn’t made me think twice…yet.  But it’s definitely made me more willing to slow down my process and urge myself to have more patience in me while I learn.  Yikes.

Anyone know if this is the case in other game studios?  Lots of spreadsheets and graphs for designers?


Limitations Generate Creativity

So as I mentioned in a post a few days back, I’m interning twice a week at a game design studio in downtown San Francisco, a position I got through my event work.  I was hired as the production manager for Inside Social Apps, which is hosted by Inside Network, where the game designer at this studio used to work.

The first task I’m lined up to do is to write about 50 daily quests for a Facebook game they are working on.  These are all small one-step grinding sort of things.  You RPG players know the type: “Rats have invaded my garden! Go Kill 10” or “I need some Iron, go find 5 pieces.”  And sure, most of mine are about as creative as that – when you need to write 50 of them, they can’t all shine.  But with these limitations in place (one step, straight forward to complete), it’s been kind of fun to find little *wink wink*s I can give to the audience.  Like naming a giant spider that lives in a cave Sheleb.  Or referencing a Rat King that stole the bar tender’s nut cracker.  Or even just trying to write some sort of character quirks into the 4 people you tend to get quests for: like how the bar tender loves experimenting on new drinks, the trainer really wants a girl friend, etc.

And reminds me again how important limitations are for creativity and design.  If your game has a limitation, don’t try to hide it; embrace it!  Some friends and I are working together to try to build our very first game…ever.  So right now we want to keep it to one screen and one character that goes back and forth killing enemies that just walk across the screen.  So we’re using those limitations to create a reason for them to be there: a space-person who’s task was to terraform a planet.  But the terraform-machine broke, so it’s radius of breathable air is small.  And your gun wasn’t meant to be a weapon, it was meant to be a terraform machine or some sort, so it can’t shoot anything fancy.  And tadah, compelling (we hope) story where coding challenges once stood.

So for myself and others learning something new: give yourself limitations before diving into the process, else you’ll likely stall before you start.

Marissa Mayer at Google agrees – Turning Limitations into Innovations.
(I wish I could find something on where games have been innovative due to limitations, but I couldnt find one.  Please link if you have a good example!)

Staying Relevantly Balanced

ADR sessions for Trash and Progress

So along with playing Skyrim, which I will delve into in a later post but will summarize saying: it’s awesome if you really relish open-world experiences.  I ended just now because my next quest was easily a 20 minute run away.

But anyways, so along with playing some Skyrim, I actually spend the majority of today working as assistant (IE new) producer on my boyfriends feature-length film, Trash and Progress.  It’s his first feature, and he’s been working on it off and on for 3 years.  We’ve decided to get this thing done and screened by the end of January, and were doing some final ADR recordings today.

Why is this relevant to this blog?  Because I continue to see my unemployed friends making a mistake: they say “I’m treating applying for work as a full-time job” but instead of the 40hrs/week that would entail, the spend 15 hours a day for two days and the burn out and watch TV, play video games, stay out late, etc. and don’t complete the important follow-up and balance that is required.

I offered to help produce Abe’s movie because it both sounded like fun and was still a bit relevant to what I want to do: produce creative projects.  It let me both watch how a different creative team communicated, while taking a breather from “work” and enjoying a day with friends.

So remember, while you pursue a new career, job, or education be sure to keep balanced time between friends, activities, and work.  40 hours in 2 days of one is NOT healthy nor will it lead to much success.

Too Many Options

So now I’m stuck.  I’ve received essentially 3 “opportunity” options (They aren’t really jobs, not all of them: an unpaid part-time opportunity to shadow a game designer; a part-time paid opportunity to help set up something in the gaming industry, and a paid management position at a start-up gaming company.)

But I havent even really had a week off, let along the 6 weeks I thought I wanted.  So initially I figured I’d say no to at least 2 of them, and anything else that came my way…

But what if I am closing doors that won’t open again? And I also realized that at the moment, I just have ZERO experience, to the point that when I sit at home “working” and “studying” I just get frustrated being unsure if I’m even taking the right steps.  If I do take work now, at least I get sideways into the industry, even if it isn’t yet doing quite what  I want, and I stay productive – which tends to make me more productive in my off time, too.

But if I am going to take work, is it better to take something handed to me now, where I will probably have more control and an easier in, but be working with less famous people; or to try to get in with “higher” mentors and perhaps miss a good chance?

I lean toward the former (smaller companies and opportunities now) but welcome feedback…

While I’m generally not a huge fan of Facebook games, as past posts can attest, I do enjoy playing the new ones to pick apart how they work, what they do to get me hooked, and why I end up getting bored.  I also have two games I am actually kind of enjoying: The Sims Social and Mousehunt.

But when Google bought Slide and closed down their biggest social game SuperPoke Pets (yep, still around) – the few players left exploded.  And it got me thinking about the inevitable lifespans that most social games are going to have, and how this could be a pretty massive weakness.

MouseHunt players are bound to get pretty furious if the game disappears.

When I bought Fable 3 or Skyrim, for the most part I was hosting my progress on my own system.  Even if xbox went out of business, I could still play that character (in some cases.  I understand that many games are now saving in the Microsoft cloud of xBox live – but it’s also a long shot that this will go away any time soon.)  The money and time I’d invested don’t go away.

Now I don’t invest money in the Facebook games I played, and Sims Social (being owned by EA) probably won’t disappear any time soon, but Mousehunt is created by small studio HitGrab, and is bleeding users.  Those who do stick around are mostly those who have invested tens and hundreds of dollars into their traps and stats.  At some point, HitGrab will probably have to close down the game.  And what do those players get?  A big ol’ nothing.

I guess I’m just curious if there are things that can be done to fix this.  Can people download the most recent version of MouseHunt and preserve their equipment as it is, even if they dont get upgrades?  Can we port it to our mobile devices?  Is this something social games are even thinking about?  Because as a dedicated player, I sure am.

Carson City Board Game Cover

Carson City: great atmosphere and story-telling, but too complicated a set-up to get there.

I know the articles I was reading urged designers to work predominantly with Action style, especially if you want to create a really unique experience.  Well when one – like myself – can’t draw even a discernible cube, visual-oriented gets tricky.

Not to say I don’t still fall into it.  I feel like, as I’m working on ideas, I start with an atmosphere or a basic story I want to capture in the game.  Before I even think about how things look, though, I then need to move into how it plays.  With board, games I find I get overwhelmed here, but it makes me think about how visual and action can work together.

Recently I’ve been obsessed with the idea of mystery board games: each player having information the others wish they did.  Clue or Mystery of the Abbey, only more grown up.  I picture how to tell the story of Jonestown, or of the TV show Damages, or the DaVinci Code novel.  But for each of these, things got really complicated really fast.  Whenever I needed more mystery, I added some element to a player.  Until even I couldn’t keep it all straight.

And then I was reminded of a few things some of the designers I met with last spring said: Have one core unique game play idea; start with simply a deck of cards.  And so I’ve started trying to think more action-oriented and simpler.  I think of Poker, which at it’s heart captures the idea I like so much in the stories: everyone knows a bit of the same information, and then a bit of their own information, and has to bet on what everyone else is going to do.

So once I get my head out of Skyrim and movie producing this weekend, I’d like to sit and try working on this atmosphere with just a deck of cards, and see what can come out….

The Spirit Realm from The Amber Spyglass (work C/O Jown Howe)

I have a meeting with friends to work on a game idea tonight, and we’ve been asked to design baddies/weapons/environments.  This simple request has been helping me figure out my skillset incredibly well.

1)  I can’t draw.  Period.  I cant event make a clear sphere.  So actually designing the baddies has been a disaster.

2)  That lead me to thinking a lot about how baddies would integrate and reflect their environment.  If they evolved on this planet with this ground and this gravity, how would they move.  And in a game, how could a small change in the environment change your weapons?  The villains you are fighting?  And even your basic mission there?  And this I found a lot of fun.  (Clearly we’re thinking about a space-themed game).


3)  From thinking about the environment and the type of baddies that might be there, I could better think of the sorts of weapons that might work on place and not another, how their functionality would change, and what you could do with even just 2/3 core weapons (Knife, object shooter (bullets, explosives, etc.), and energy shooter (laser, freeze ray, flame thrower, or even gravity changer).

And even earlier in this process, I found that it’s hard for me to think of the theme of games and the core mechanic,  but that I have a lot of fun finding variations on a theme.

LESSON FOR OTHERS:  Give at least a little time to any potentially relevant project.  Notice when you find something hard to do or frustrating, and ask why.  Decide whether it means you need practice, or whether it’s just not in your skillset.

I’ve found the baddies really hard to do – too specific a request.  So I think about the environments, and how I could

Anyone heard of Code Hero?

I saw that Code Hero is demoing tonight at SF Beta; essentially it looks like they’ve created a game to help you learn how to create games.  Meta, and pretty brilliant if you ask me.  If it works, of course.  It looks like the essentially put you into the world of Unity3D (so I was planning to learn Ruby on Rails…should I be learning this too?  I’ve heard this platform mentioned a number of times now), give you a Javascript-shooting gun, and make you rearrange the world with code to solve puzzles.  I haven’t tried it yet, but anyone have thoughts?

On the bigger picture, the draw of this game is also the core of my draw to the gaming industry overall.  Think about how much we learn when it’s put into a game.  I memorized 150 pokemon, all of their attacks, when they learned them, what they’re type was, how they leveled up, etc.  Imagine if that had been presidents (hell, there are only 44 of those – could I memorize 3 times the facts?) or molecular compounds?  I’ve learned how to navigate bizarre inter-dimensional portals, how best to equip a character for an imaginary world, and yet I still can’t tell you the capital of every state.

And studies continue to get published showing the importance of play in our earliest development; that through play we learn how to navigate both our physical world (this hurts, this doesn’t, this moves, that hits me back) and our social one (I can break that rule, but not that one.  If I give this, I get that).  Why don’t we learn languages through games, or coding, or how to sew?  Or, more accurately, why isn’t this more normalized in educators education?

So in the end, while I will gleefully start making short-lived goofy mobile games or addicting social ones, my real goal will be to make games that teach us something about our surroundings and help us feel better about the time truly well-spent playing.

Say Yes To Everyone

Okay, no.  Not really.  Then I wouldn’t have any time for myself.  But for the most part, I am trying to say yes to just about ever phone call or meeting request I get – or at least offer to do a quick skype chat.  The “why” made itself very clear today.

I, stupidly, scheduled 7 meetings today.  Well, 3 calls and 4 meetings.  All of which, at the time, didn’t really seem relevant to my job search.  But they were wonderful people, I had a lot of fun, caught up with friends and…

…got someone with a mailing list targeted to C-level executives at growing gaming companies to offer to let them know I’m looking for opportunities to shadow producers and/or designers.  Now of course, I don’t know if this will actually happen – since this guy’s never really met me in person – but I can certainly keep asking. 😉

So you really never know who knows whom and what they might be able to provide.  So regardless of status, give everyone at least a little bit of your time.

How Do You Overcome Fear?

While I was working on less-enjoyable tasks for clients and FailCon, I could look forward to this time to explore and learn, to pursue a new passion.  I generally was joyful for time for myself, and for the opportunity to try something new.

Well, now I don’t have something to distract me; now I am actually supposed to be focussing on this.  And I am engulfed with soul-crushing terror.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I don’t even get meetings?  What if I can’t handle a structured work-place?  What if…what if…what if.  And at times it’s so bad as to be paralyzing.  I find small hobbies to distract myself, games to play, blog posts to write (heh).

So I’m on the hunt for suggestions on how to overcome this.  Some things I’m trying (that work to some level) are having a very structured schedule, working out (which seems to work off stress), talking to as many people as I can (which also has the problem of keeping me from learning), and working to set small goals (which right now is hard, not even knowing what is realistic to start.)

But I welcome any other suggestions – small goals I can set, low-anxiety foods, etc.  Please do let me know, as I find myself short of breath more often than I would like to be…