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You'll notice that though we've arrived at a working definition, we've come to no grand conclusion on the absolute nature of games. That's because we prefer to leave the question open to further investigation. The areas of structure we've mapped out are important to the process of design, and as such need to be clear. The areas left in shadow are just as interesting, and we encourage you to think about aspects of games that interest and inspire you.
Our goal in this exercise is to provide a starting point. It's not meant to constrict you as a designer. Having said that, terminology is key. The lack of a single vocabulary is one of the largest problems facing the game industry today. The terms we have suggested here are just that-suggestions. We use them consistently throughout this book so that we can have a common language with you with which to discuss the design process, and to help you evaluate and critique your designs.
Once you've gained experience with this process, then it's up to you as a designer to move beyond any limitations you find with it. Consider everything you read here a starting point from which you can jump off-a launch pad for your expedition into the world of designing games that will hopefully push the envelope and transport players to places they didn't imagine possible.
Studio Director, Ion Storm (also Project Director on Deus Ex PC and PS2 as well as several other games)
Project list (five to eight top projects)
2000 Deus Ex: PC, PS2, Ion Storm, Project Director
1994 System Shock: PC, Origin/LookingGlass Technologies, Producer
1994 Wings of Glory: PC, Origin, Producer
1993 Ultima VII, Part 2, Serpent Isle: PC, Origin, Producer
1991 Underworld: The Stygian Abyss: PC, Origin/LookingGlass Technologies, Producer
1991 Martian Dreams: PC, Origin, Producer
How did you get into the game industry?
I started out, like most folks, as a gamer, back in the days.
Back in 1983, I made my hobby my profession, starting out as an editor at Steve Jackson Games, a small boardgame company in Austin, Texas. There, I worked on TOON: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game, GURPS, several Car Wars, Ogre, and Illuminati games and learned a ton about game design from people like Steve Jackson, Allen Varney, Scott Haring, and others.
In 1987, I was lured away by TSR, makers of Dungeons & Dragons and other fine RPGs and boardgames. There, I worked as an editor, developer and designer. I ended up managing the games division for a while and managed to write some adventures for AD&D, Marvel Super Heroes and other TSR RPGs. I also got to collaborate with Zeb Cook on The Bullwinkle and Rocky party role-playing games, with Doug Niles on Top Secret/S.I. and with Jeff Grubb on the Buck Rogers Battle for the 25th Century boardgame. In addition, I wrote a solo adventure book (One Thing After Another, featuring the Thing, of Marvel comics fame) and a novel, The Hollow Earth Affair, set in the Top Secret/S.I. universe.
1989 saw me homesick for Austin, Texas and feeling like paper gaming was a business/art form that had pretty much plateaued. I was playing a lot of early computer and videogames at the time and when the opportunity to work for Origin came up, I jumped at it. I started out there as an Associate Producer, working with Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts before moving up to full producer. I spent seven years with Origin, shipping about a dozen titles and moving up from AP to Producer to Executive Producer.
In 1996 I left Origin to set up an Austin development studio for LookingGlass Technologies and to Executive Produce their role-playing line in Boston. I'd had the honor of working with Doug Church, Paul Neurath and other LG folks on the Underworld games and System Shock, and the opportunity to work with them again and get more hands on with the games than I could as an EP at Origin was too good an opportunity to pass up.
A year and a half later, LG lacked the funds to keep the Austin office going, so we shut it down and I left to do a start-up. Instead, I ended up starting an Austin development office for Dallas-based Ion Storm and, even though the Dallas office went away, we're still going strong down here in Austin.
What are your five favorite games and why?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES): Link to the Past is simply the most fun I've ever had sitting in front of a game. It's the perfect balance of excitement, challenge, control, narrative, audio, and graphics. Everything in one simple, elegant package. I got done with this game and felt like I'd done something epic, something heroic. And that's a feeling games don't offer often enough.
Tetris: How long ago did Tetris first appear? And how many people still play it? Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know? If I were stranded on a desert island (with infinite electricity, of course) and I could have only one game with me, it would be Tetris. You can play it forever and not get bored.
M.U.L.E.: I loved this game back in the Atari 800 days. Playing solo it was a ton of fun but it was the first multiplayer game I ever played and it's still one of the best. The gameplay was as simple as Monopoly so adults and kids could enjoy it; the graphics were simple and iconic which makes the game timeless; even the music was fun and so memorable the theme song is still stuck in my mind. Just a great, great game.
Diablo: Highly replayable and fun enough that you want to play over and over again. A lot of folks (folks with no joy in their souls, no sense of wonder) often say Diablo is 'just' a watered down NetHack with pretty graphics and nice sound. So what's wrong with that? The sounds in Diablo are Pavlovian in their power-I salivate when I hear the sound of Diablo cash hitting the ground. And that ring sound? Man, give the guy who made that sound a bonus. And talk about a time-passer! I played Diablo for fourteen straight hours the first time I booted it up and didn't even notice that any time had passed. I still play it today. It's like a minicourse in behavioral psychology and fun, to boot!
Half-Life: Game-story-game-story. I love games that walk the fine line between gameplay and narrative and very few games have done that as well as Half-Life. At some level, it's 'just' an incredibly well-executed shooter, but the extra story hooks built in make every shot mean something and every step seems significant. I lost a lot of sleep to Half-Life. Love it.
What games have inspired you the most as a designer and why?
There have probably been dozens of games that have influenced me but here are a few of the biggies:
Ultima IV: Richard Garriott's masterpiece. It proved to me (and a lot of other people) that giving players power to make choices enhanced the gameplay experience. And attaching consequences to those choices made the experience even more powerful. This was the game that showed me that games could be about more than killing things or solving goofy puzzles. It was also the first game I ever played that made me feel like I was engaged in a dialogue with the game's creator. And that's something I've striven to achieve ever since.
Super Mario 64: I was stunned at how much gameplay Miyamoto and all managed to squeeze into this game. And it's all done through a control/interface scheme that's so simple it shames me. Mario can do about ten things, I think, and yet you never feel constrained-you feel empowered and liberated, encouraged to explore, plan, experiment, fail and try again, without feeling frustrated. You have to be inspired by the combination of simplicity and depth.
Star Raiders: This was the first game that made me believe games were more than just a fad or passing fancy, for me and for, well, humanity at large. 'Oh, man,' I thought, 'we can send people places they'll never be able to go in real life.' That's not just kid-stuff. That's change-the-world- stuff. There's an old saying about not judging someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes, you know? Well, games are like an experiential shoe store for all mankind. We can allow you to walk in the shoes of anyone we can imagine. How powerful is that? impressed me because it proved to me how powerfully we can affect players on an emotional level. And I'm not just talking about excitement or fear, the stuff we usually traffic in. Ico, through some stellar animation, graphics, sound and story elements, explores questions of friendship, loyalty, dread, tension, and exhilaration. The power of a virtual touch-of the player holding the hand of a character he's charged to protect, even though she seems weak and moves with almost maddening slowness. The power of that touch blew me away. I have to find a way to get at some of that power in my own work.
Suikoden: This little PlayStation role-playing game showed me new ways of dealing with conversation. I had never before experienced Suikoden's brand of simple, straightforward, no player choice options unless they're really significant, binary choices-little things like 'Do you fight your father or not? Y/N' or 'Do you leave your best friend to almost certain death so you can escape and complete your critically important quest? Y/N' will blow you away! In addition, the game featured two other critical systems-a castle-building mechanic and a related player-controlled ally system. The castle-building bit showed me the power of allowing players to leave a personal mark on the world-the narcissistic aspect of game-playing. The ally system, which affected what information you got before embarking on quests, as well as the forces/abilities available to you in mass battles, revealed some of the power of allowing each player to author his or her own unique experience. A terrific game that has a lot to teach even the most experienced RPG designers in the business.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I guess I'm pretty proud of the fact that 'freeform' gameplay, player-authored experiences and the like are finally becoming not just common but almost expected these days. From the 'middle' (44-6), to Underworld, to System Shock, to Thief, to Deus Ex, there's been this small cadre of us arguing, through our work, in favor of less linear, designer-centric games and, thanks to the efforts of folks at Origin, LookingGlass, Ion Storm, Rockstar/DMA and so on, people are finally beginning to take notice. And it isn't just the hardcore gamers-the mass market is waking up, too. That's pretty cool.
I'm hugely proud of having had the privilege of working alongside some amazingly talented people. It's standard practice in all media to give one person credit for the creation of a game but that's nonsense. Game development is the most intensely collaborative endeavor I can imagine. It's been an honor to work with Richard Garriott, Paul Neurath, Doug Church, Harvey Smith and so many others who will now be offended that I didn't single them out here! I know I've learned a lot from all of them and hope I've taught a little bit, in return.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring designer today?
Learn to program. You don't have to be an ace, but you should know the basics. In addition to a solid technical foundation, get as broad-based an education as you can. As a designer, you never know what you're going to need to know-behavioral psychology will help you immensely, as will architecture, economics, history. Get some art/graphics experience, if you can, so you can speak intelligently with artists even if you lack the skills to become one yourself. Do whatever it takes to become an effective communicator, in written and verbal modes. And most importantly, make games. Get yourself on a mods team and build some maps, some missions, anything you can. Oh, and make sure you really, really, really want to make games for a living. It's gruelingly hard work, with long hours and wrecked relationships to prove it. There are a lot of people who want the same job you want. Don't go into it unless you're absolutely certain it's the career for you. There's no room here for dilettantes!
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