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Advocate, harbinger and supporter of the idea game design will save the world, I do not drink decaf.
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Been awhile since I posted. Been working on some video and some standup here in Mill Valley.
Wanted to report I have been working on a 'people game' for a few years where the state of play was related to the society you locally lived in and the area within which you went daily.
It's finally occurred to me how to mesh my game conflict challenge to the player and the time and space they can actually dedicate to play without having to clear their schedule and sit down and play, but rather to make it part of the payoff of working and living. Games as a lifestyle is a lofty goal in game design, and I have been fascinated by this subject for years.
It's nice to have a breakthrough like this.
Keep you posted.
After finishing up this last interview article with Marc Jackson, I finally got some time to focus on design. One of the next articles/subjects I was thinking of tackling next is perspectives on Raph Koster's discussion about a game design process description system inspired.
So I went about to work on my own, and game up with an iconography/pictorgraphic system that covered the topical rows of my player/implementation experience interface table.
A long time fan with tinkering like most of you resulted in a reasonable but not thunderbolt group of symbols representing process. I added color coding to the symbols for prioritizing, and numeric sub and super scripting for elevation or deprioritization of production resource attribution scaling.
While I was at it, I added business systems iconography with three or four variant expressions for process streamlining, and was happy with it. Now all those little symbols I'll test rum through some process production scenarios and see how they stand up to my software factory architecture.
It was the first real game design I'd had time to seek my teeth into, and it was good to refresh at the oasis of the goddess of design.
I just heard about level design in excel for indies mentioned in the channel by Superpig, and thought I'd look into that development efficiency as well. I also took the bait and got imagediff, but as a writer, I have to admit, technology and design, wonderful artistic vistas to explore, never have the savor and sweetness of coming home artistically to one's own project. My adventuregame is really starting to shape up its processes, and my documentation base that drives the project is experiencing becoming more and more connected from a producer's standpoint.
I have to admit in the community with what we have all been seeing lately with the magnificent posts of wavinator. This dude is getting picked up in the limosine sent by the goddess of design. I always enjoy watching and interacting with a cutting artist on the leading edge of his game, and he sure has had me thinking about stories in games, as has the strong questions raised by Ketcheval.
It wasn't until I stumbled across my multi genre formula that didn't stink when it played did I realize there were interactive writing methods that cross disciplinistic lines into screenwriting and general story plot design for that matter. Here I had been chipping away at interactive writing with screenwriter's approaches, and while learning interactive writing, beginning to test in the opposite direction.
I gotta say, I think it is the epic format that really works best in large story driven games, and that's probably no news to a lot of game writers. Screenwriters tend to write in an imagic manner, but really the size of the story depicts the size of the game in some parity respect I suspect.
While all the industry lathers and furies about the growth of hot business, media and market trends in game development, I think my spider sense tells me there's about to be a huge runaway title out there to be released soon. It's the design these business elements have been waiting for, and there's going to be a trend of an order larger in market share initiated soon.
I'm sure everyone noticed Game Developer Magazine has published their First Annual Business Issue, and by golly they were smart to get this tack into the winds of the public interest in our industry now. There's been a lot of storming lately about violence, and the ESRB has been really on the PR ball, and we all should stand and give them a round of applause for their efforts on our industry's behalf during this last round of disastrous media regarding gameplay's repercussions into human life. Indeed it is a powerful medium we hold in our hands. I've never been too big a fan of reminding game designers of moral obligations any designer has to the experiencer of their design. I'm one of those First Amendment people because the founding Fathers put it first for a reason. Even in the moral whirlwind the media is in and its runaway growth resulting is every kind of program you can think of, interactive or not getting its production legs under it.
Yep, I think there is a breakthrough design out there coming, considering how many people are in various stages of production in this art and science and business.
Well, time to get into the testing of the pictographics; I'm sure there are going to be adjustments to be made. Happy Independence Day.
In player advancement and player/character/avatar growth in many games, the designer often allows greater and greater power to be accrued by the player, which inevitably, they will have to use (oftentimes) right around the next corner or at the end of the level with the superboss.
I realize this kind of immediate payoff is a great takeaway value for the players of games. I wanted to introduce a different approach to the purpose of power in my adventuregame. I wanted the power to have practical uses, as well as strategic, long term uses. Heck, it was hard enough trying to find a way where the player could 'save the world' without doing some trite and hackneyed reproduction of how other designers had saved the world in prior games, so I am not going to say by any stretch I've done something new.
But what I did find creatively satisfying after being my own harshest critic was that I wanted my player to obtain massive amounts of power, which they would logically need to save the world, in chunks that were utilitarian (they could use the power quite mechanistically to progress towards the final objective of saving the world), dramatic (the power they attained was objectively symbolized in anything but a sword, amulet, spell, cloak, superweapon or superfeature that had been done to death before [I'm following Peter Molyneux's advice of 'new, cool shit' from his lecture on The Future of Gameplay at GDC]) and was proportional in scale to the task necessary in the steps I'd designed to complete the function of saving the world.
Finally, I had to place and pace (time the completion or attainment) of the world saving power device or task to the overall progress pace of the victory condition as a function of the scale of the gameworld represented by all levels and settings I felt necessary for a broad, varied and contrast filled array of levels. This all has been done before in plenty of good game design, I am not sitting here trumpeting I've reinvented the wheel, but what I am happy about are three things:
One, my player gets what they need in the way the design needs it in methods of acquisition satisfactory to the play value I choose to design for fun. Two, just like in writing, it's not about every story having a beginning, middle and end, it's your story, your way, having a structure of beginning, middle and end. Three, I scale down the result of saving the world in such a way, that my player gets the 'whew, I just barely f*cking made it!" manner, instead of "the big parade and the shiny medal moment/FADE OUT/ROLL CREDITS"
Writing fiction books and scripts has taught me that if you are going to go to all the trouble to be a perfectionist, you might as well make the process as creatively satisfying to you as it possibly can. I'm beginning, as a result, to think my game is more unique now without losing fun take away value due to relying on devices that have come before, both in terms of mechanics and in terms of dramatic device symbology.
If my adventure game ever gets made, when you save the world at the end of the game, I want you to really like, "Wow, that feels really like how it would be to save the world." This is where I am departing from Molyneux in some sense; my game is very realistic, not a lot is stylized. The gameworld look and feel is very much like what is outside your window right now.
That was the big challenge of picking such a familiarized setting, in that what could I choose as a dramatic plot origin structure that was something all of us had not seen in reality before (that was the post about the multigenre plot crystallization some time back), knew too well and was bored with it and had turned to computer realities for the escape. Well, the plot solved that.
You won't be bored at all playing my game in a virtual world that looks a lot outside your window, and, when you attain world saving power ability (whether symbolic or mechanical) the plausibility (read: how believable could it actually be?) will be so dovetailed to reality's possibilities, even though you've maybe saved the world dozens of times already, here on earth or in time or on another planet or space, you're really going to feel like you saved *your* world. And, your going to save it in a very real way, which is good for a fictional approach. I hope that play value sells.
I was working on my adventuregame last week, and after overcoming some large design hurdles, many of which I have chronicled here, I was able to come up with the cover art for my strategy guide.
Most of you may not be thinking about your strategy guide yet, as this aspect of project development is far, far down the line for most of you. I however, have learned that creativity in not necessarily linearly productive process for me.
I come from the old school of publishing, where font sizes, typeface and format of the printed matter weren't drop down export functions from Word or other publishing programs.
Plus, since this is an adventure game, I had to consider that the player's strategy guide had to be used in the field, part of my whole approach to mobile entertainment options in computer entertainment.
So, I dug into my library, and found an old Army ranger field manual, where the pages were waterproof, had a small handheld footprint, and was designed from the printer's standpoint of the end user. It had to be light, capable of being packed along with your gear in the field, easy to read and well organized - most of the things that are givens.
I then began to wonder if this manual could become part of the smart device I'd envisioned for the game, a PDA/cell/mobile computing device. I began to design a custom PDA where the outside was camoflage, and not the shiny silver things we are accustomed to flashing around in our busy metropolitcan, technological lives.
I finally settled on the concept of the "recon PDA" where the device had real life adventure elements such as map creating, route checking and planning modules and other essential scientific data relevant to exploration and discovery, important premises to the style of gameplay I am creating.
I looked around the web for devices like this, and why wasn't surprised when I found that meter maids were already using devices like this. These devices are designed for extreme tempurature operating environments, can be submerged underwater, and repeatedly dropped onto concrete. They have up to 40 hour battery lives. They survive well in environments of wind, rain, chemical exposure, and have a temperature range of -4 to 140 degrees. That will surely get you out from behind your workstations, won't it?
Best of all, they are as expensive as a healthy desktop unit, around 2000 dollars. That will really motivate buyers in the marketplace, huh?... "And to play this game, all you need to do besides spend the 49 dollars on the disks is to drop another two grand on this device, and you are ready to play!"
Well, I'm not deterred. Games, and the player is a changing, evolving, dynamic thing, and there are few who will argue victoriously that consumers are going to demand longer, bigger, more variety involved games, and well, that is what I am designing for. We've already seen games online where players have been involved with their game community for very long times, so it's not going to be hard to imagine that the right kind of game that comes along won't justify the cost of a field computer when that cost is amortized out over the life of the playstate.
What disappointed me really, was that I would no longer be able to, in the era of diplay technologies, have glow in the dark ink, a perennial favorite amongst mystery fans.
I'll keep working on it.. maybe I can make your game T-shirt glow in the dark or something. I mean, they have laundry additives now that allows you to wash into your clost SPF 30 sun block protection. Who knows, in the next few generations of game evolution, you will be able to drive your computer to work, have your latte come out of the brew port, and boy, won't we be having some integrated fun then...
Just got an long article on the Game Connection up for you to peruse and benefit from. Since pitching entertainment products is subjective, it's rather long, but there is an interview in the coverage with Caspar Gray, Acquisitions Associate with CSI game (remember 'Carmageddon'?) with several good tips for meeting, pitching and follow up after the pitch meeting.
It also contains the Game Connection process and model description so you can evaluate it's value to your studio, and towards the end is a developer interview with a new game in their dozen or so game publication track record who was at the Game Connection utilizing it's services to sell their new game.
The sponsor of the event was Film Financing, Inc. and I will be bringing you and interview with them on the financing model of filmmaking as applied to game development funding.
More to come..
Hey Gamedev.net Development fans..
Live from the GDC 2005, it's adventuredesign checking with the community. I've got some exciting and useful events and initiatives I'm covering for your benefit, as well as some industry tradewinds puffs here and there while scooping around the conference well hidden in my innocuous loser disguise..
Some of the business, marketing and production aspects I'll be posting on soon as the articles come out of the drafting process will be:
The game connection, a GDC initiative bringing developers and publishers together in a unique, effective and efficient way, including an interview with an acquistions associate with a game publisher who tipped your reporter on the new Carmageddon coming out next year. This article will include information on what to do when the face to face over the table with the publisher meet when selling your vision and your executable simultaneously in that magic meeting space called the pitch and the demo..
Gary Molyneux's presentation in the Vision Track lecture on "Gameplay Moves Forward into the 21st Century" and a look into Black & White II, where Gary and Ron Miller of Warcraft fame detail the merging of the God game and RTS games genres in that title.. tasty tasty stuff..
I've also got coverage on a Developer's Roundtable Discussion on Communications Strategies for Design and Production, with input from designers, project managers and producers from: Rockstar, Sony, Red Storm, THQ, Take 2 and others.. very useful information on how the pro's handle internal communications while in development..
I'll be also covering later today the bottom line on licensing, content management for Halo 2, and some interesting stuff on Science Design in Cinema, Games and Life..
Floating around the conference this year in the subtle undercurrents of attendees I spot interviewed were university department heads developing bachelor's degree academic programs in game design in Norway, Venture Capitalists from the Ukraine acquiring game development companys, and for a later potential interview and article, Patrick Kennedy, formerly EVP of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment on physics as a commodity..
It will take me some time to get all these hastily scrawled notes into proper shape for members to benefit from them, so stay tuned...
Most of you know me as a writer. I do screenplays mainly, and game design became a creative goal of mine in the late nineties.
I love this art form, and it has been a real journey down the side road of science for me to get my mind around how to turn what I envision on paper into a codebase, models and graphic animation.
Members like RedBeard, Gwihlidal, Oluseyi, and countless others have been invaluable time and time again steering me back on course between what was visionable and what could actually be technically implemented. I owe a great debt to them all.
Today, it's payback.
But what I am going to talk about here is within my own expertise, not necessarily related to game design per se, but just as critical as technical problems solving skills.
I'm talking about going the distance. I'm talking about not giving up when there's nobody but you around to do the job. I'm talking about getting through. I'm talking about what it takes from inside of you, something nobody else can give you, to make it -- to get to the other side of 'being produced.' It doesn't matter whether it is the film business or the game publishing business; the intrinsic internal character quality is what I am going to be talking to you, teaching you about.
To do that, the best and only advice I can offer is my own experience. The following is true. The names have been changed, except mine, to protect the innocent.
It was the great storm. The hundred-year storm in Santa Barbara, back in 1992, or 3, you do the fact check, I lived it, and it isn't exactly the most pleasant memory for me, so precision is not important to me in this instance.
I had my first little writing studio down in old Monolive, it was called, between Santa Barbara and rich Montecito where the movie stars lived. I had just help found The Actor's Workshop of Santa Barbara with two others, and became the business manager. I was writing my first mystery (the one that would later become the basis for my adventure game for which my nom de plume stands) which the infamous Barron Ron Herron was to produce as a radio drama that got almost no airplay but lots of enthusiastic support from talented actors and it was an interesting credit for the credits list.
This little studio was the perfect bohemian living situation, large, cheap, quiet, lots of electricity for lights and cameras, thick concrete walls for rehearsal, and, best of all, allowed me to not have to work much for money and spend lots and lots of time simply practicing talent skills that serve me well today. This is, if you have not surmised, a foreshadow, as we say in screenwriting, of the lesson for you all here today. Practice. A butt load of it, far beyond what the ordinary human considers sufficient. Practice or fade into obscurity or mediocrity later.
When the warnings of the storm came, we were all hardy and ignorant paradisans, as most Santa Barbarans are. We went on about our little paradisan ways, having coffee, going to the beach, doing the State Street Crawl. But the clouds kept gathering, and the thunder and lighting began.
Soon, official sort of things started working into the conversations around town at espresso stands and microbreweries. Words like "sandbag", "floods", "low-lying areas", "emergency provisions" -- things we Californians take for granted today were not such back then.
Then the rains began.
It rained hard from the start, and didn't let up. I knew, because of the location of my studio, down by the lower elevations, that getting some sandbags and visqueen around my stuff, as well as getting things up off the floor, was smart business, and went about it right away.
I was using the small delivery truck from a friend of mine's pizza parlor to deliver sand, sandbags and construction plastic to the building where my studio was when the old man who owned the foundation design and construction firm two doors down from me showed up. He looked at my truck, and it's contents, and said, "That's the right idea. Get started, I'll be right back to help."
About twenty minutes later, as I had most of the sand into bags, was arranging them at the door in an arrangement harmonious with the layering of visqueen so as to prevent any water from getting into the front door of the building, when the old man showed up in a large construction truck, with two and a half tons of sand, some hundreds of bags and two extra shovels.
The man, in his sixties but hardy and hale from years of hard construction work, even though he was an engineer to boot, jumped down out of the cab like a redneck ready for a good ole' time, looked at my work so far, which had depleted most of what was in the truck, and had built about a foot and a half high dam, and he simply said, "You're going to need a lot more than that. Take that truck of yours back and come back and we'll do this together." I finished off the truckload, took the vehicle back to the pizza parlor where I'd borrowed it from, and walked back in water about shin high in about twenty minutes.
We got to work. We both bagged and stacked, and the water rose about three inches every five minutes. We had about a four-foot high damn done in about an hour and a half. We worked like dogs, and the water rose as the rain kept coming.
Three hours later, we had between us two and a half tons of sand bagged, and placed around the four entrances of the building.
To say we were exhausted, every muscle sore and ragged was an understatement. Think working against time in a rising flood protecting our very livelyhoods, and you get the picture of the earnestness, gravity and hustle we put into the job.
When we were done, the water was waist high, and he told me, "well, nothing more we can do now. Better get out before you have to swim out. We'll come back after it's over and see what remains." We shook hands, I thanked him and he wished me luck and I walked out from Monolive in waist high water, looking back at my studio where the majority of my life's work lay on top of two stacked desks, with only my mother's letters and my two current manuscripts in my backpack. It was in mother nature's hands now.
I got to Milpas street and called a cab. Waiting in the shivering wetness inside the convenience store for my ride to the Hotel on State Street, I ate power bars and drank green tea to bring my body back from exhaustion.
After an hour and forty five minutes and three calls to the cab company to no avail, I saw a friend of mine pull in for gas in a large pickup, and asked him if he could take me to the hotel. He was glad to help, but the roads were so washed out, we had to journey all the way north to Hope Ranch to be able to make it onto upper state street to travel downtown to the hotel.
It took an hour or more, and I was really ready for a hot shower, and some good sleep well deserved.
I checked into the hotel I'd reserved, to find that there was no power and no hot water, and there had been none for awhile and for the foreseeable future. "No matter, the sheets are clean and there are extra blankets, just give me my keys," I muttered only thinking of washing off the bacteria and dirt, and getting some shut eye.
I took the key, was at my door and into my room, into the shower and out on the bed falling asleep like a stone when it happened.
This is where discipline comes into your life. For if you are really dedicated to your art & craft, and your dedication decides to reward you with some inspiration somewhere, sometime, be prepared for it to come in the least expected places at the least expected times, just so your art is sure you are on board one hundred percent, and are willing to serve to earn the sweet, sweet rewards that your talents are prepared to give you should you do your duty to it. As you shall see..
For as I fell asleep, confident I had done everything I could for my life's belongings, not really sure when I would be able to get back to a normal life again, not really sure how bad the flood was going to get, and if life would ever be the same again in sleepy little Santa Barbara - it was then that my talents decided was the appropriate time for me to become inspired, and a whole, new, complete screenplay concept, with structure, detail, features and motif downloaded itself right into my consciousness from my subconscious. Right when that lovely last little sigh that says, "Oh man, am I going to really, really dig this sleep tonight" had come from my mouth.
Well, those of you who know that if you let a good idea pass, and you get into the habit of not writing it down, well, sooner or later, you are going to program yourself that way, and, that IGDA award winning concept, or that academy award winning screenplay, or pulitzer prize winning novel, take your pick, will relegate itself to the "I wish I'd written that down" pile of regrets we have later on in life when we are in a dead end job in a mediocre company with a boring, boring life, and pissed off at ourselves in some mid life crisis or something. You see it happening all the time, so don't consider yourself immune.
You may not think you will end up that way, however, we *know* if we are to develop bad creativity habits, undisciplined creativity habits, lazy unproductive and inconsistently applied creativity habits, surely that will happen to you as it has happened to most of the planet.
I swore I would never lead that life, having only had to taste that kind of disappointment once to know I never wanted that to happen again, and well, my talent was checking in with me right then and there, at the worst possible time in all practical senses, to see if I was going to honor my commitment to my art and craft.
Man, did I bitch and moan. I was pissed off at myself. I said to myself, "Self! How the heck can you do this to me now!? How can you, after all the work I have done, simply up and pop into my head this great idea that I know has to be paid attention to now! How can you be so cruel? Is this some sort of sick test? What kind of asshole am I to me?"
My self instantly replied, "You know if you keep wasting time bitching and moaning like some newbie who can't cut the mustard when the tough get going, this great idea is going to simply disappear, and you know how this process works, this idea is going to disappear in five, four, three, two..."
I was right. I knew how the creative process worked. It doesn't screw around or put up with any crap of any kind. In fact, bullshit is the ricin of creativity. I knew it. Now you do. Now you know why there are so many unpublished writers and unproduced games. You have to summon something within yourself to see it through no matter what. I repeat, no matter what.
I quickly stopped growling, and dragged myself from falling slumber, reached for my legal pad and pen, and began to write with calloused and torn hands.
I wrote for two hours. It was a pain in the rear, but, two hours later, I had a first draft of a short screenplay that was a thing of beauty. I tossed the pad on the floor, and fell back on my pillow congratulating myself on a process well served, and promising myself to start the rewrite judiciously and professionally right after I woke up.
Hah. Not so fast. Just as I was falling back to sleep in a cloud of self congratulation, my talent decided to dump the entire second draft, with necessary changes and enhancements right into my brain about oh, five seconds later.
Great. Well, no sense in grumbling about it now. I dragged myself back to consciousness, turned on the lights, reached for another legal pad, grabbed the first draft off the floor, and went back to work.
About two and a half hours later, the second draft was done, and it was really looking much better, as the interative process inevitably can do. It was now four in the morning, and the lightning and thunder that I had been oblivious too for most of the night was in my ears again.
I fell back on my pillow and said to myself, "Really son, you just can't do another, so I hope it doesn't come to you, because you are really to tired, and you are going to have to let one go if it does."
It didn't, and I fell deeply asleep instantly.
It felt like I had slept for hours, but only three had passed, and I woke strangely well rested. The rain had stopped, and I decided I would get up and go down five floors to see what was left of little Santa Barbara.
I grabbed the manuscripts, packed them into my backpack, and put on some clean clothes I had packed along, and went downstairs in search of a hot cup of coffee.
There was nothing for a few blocks in any direction, so I headed for the beach in the paradisan manner, and lo and behold, the Santa Barabara Roasting Company was open, had power, and the smell of fresh coffee, as you may imagine, never smelled so good. I grabbed a cup and sat down at my favorite writing table, and as I began to sip it, the strange evening of creativity slowly came back into my mind and I began to relive the wild night.
All of a sudden, draft number three appeared in my head. This time, fortified by the good coffee and the promise of no more rain, I went judiciously to work again, and, about a cup and a half later, draft three stood shining in the morning gray like the new sun, and I was all about my self with my new story, proud like a new father, happy with the confidence of a veteran who had survived another battle seemingly against all odds.
I sat there, finishing up my second cup of coffee, realizing nobody would probably believe me if I told them what kind of night it had been, and, most everyone around had had a wild night of their own coping with the storm and floods, and well, probably weren't in the mood just then for a tale of artistic triumph, which, you will find in your careers, is not always an easy thing to tell or easy to hear upon the ears of the creatively undermanifest.
At best you will get jealousy, which is something you should prepare for from all those people you will meet on the road of life who gave up on their dreams for the sake of something stable and secure. At worst, and most often, you will get contempt or hate. That is part of the price you pay for following your dreams. Somebody else put it better than I when they said, "The degree of innovation of an idea is reciprocal to the resistance it meets." Or something like that. You get my drift.
So there I was, with one of the most amazing creative stories I would ever have to share, and, nobody to tell it to. Can you say writer's hell? It felt like that, almost, except it wasn't, and it wasn't for one reason. I'd accomplished it.
Then, of all people in the world to appear before me, Ross MacKenzie, the Brooks Institute of Photography student I had written my first screenplay for stood before me with his girlfriend (whom I'd always thought was just as creative as Ross, but had better people skills).
"Ross, my god, how nice to see you," I said, adding, "I thought you were down in LA now?"
"We were," he replied, "but we heard about the floods, and came up to see how people were doing." "My god, how great to see you Ross, especially now, because you won't believe the night I had," I said. "Let me get a cup of coffee, and you can tell me all about it," he replied.
They went to get a cup of coffee, and I, in the true grand storytelling style, gave them a big buildup, with all the details, just like I have here with you, and then got around to the story writing process, and they laughed and laughed and laughed. It was great to share it.
Being a budding film director, Ross had the presence of mind to then ask, "So, what kind of story did you write on this stormy, stormy night?"
I told him the entire story, right off the paper, and they both listened intently for over half an hour. I knew from experience that as long as they are not talking, and just listening, you've got something written worth paying attention to.
I got done, and they just stared at me in amazement, which people seem to do with me a lot. Ross's girlfriend then asked me, "Is the script exactly just like you told us now?" "Yep," I replied. "Can I see it?", she asked. "Sure," I said, as I handed her the sheaf of hand written paper.
She looked through it carefully, then put it back together, sat quietly for a moment, then looked at Ross and said, "Ross, if you don't make this, I will."
She was the kind of woman filmmaker who did not say such things for the sake of bravado or ego, which is something that departs the consciousness of all serious artists eventually. Naturally, as a screenwriter, my heart lept, but I kept my poker face on. Ross, a seasoned but still minor league director then, kept his poker face on, took the manuscript from her, leafed through it, and then said, "We'll talk about it."
He handed it back to me, and I wisely said nothing.
The whole moral of the story here is that, I finally started making money for my writing not long after that. Ross's girlfriend never made the film, but it was more of Ross putting the brakes on her more than her desire to do what she said she was going to do. I got there because I stuck to my craft and art with honor and discipline when everything in my life was all up in the air at the time.
With a little luck, you may never have to create works or art in trying circumstances as I have, but, if you do, take it from me, sticking to the process like a pro, and having confidence in your talents and skillsets when nothing else in life seems to be making sense or looking like it has a predictable or positive outcome and getting the job done when there seems to nothing else but that to do will result in things like being where I am today with my writing.
I can tell you all with confidence that with as little ego and hubris as one can possibly muster when making career predictions of the creative type that in the next five years, I plan to be one of the best writers in America. And god willing, a decent game writer/designer.
I know this in my heart and in my guts because I have stuck to my guns in every single trying circumstance life has thrown at me with respect to things trying to get in the way of my creative career.
I have turned down many lucrative job offers to stay the course of my own vision of writing, and someday, you too will have to risk it all on your talent, and when you do, should that day come for you, and lucky may you be that is does, though I guarantee it will not feel that way at the time, remember what I have shared here with you today.
And that is, when walking the road less traveled, reaching for your star, your way, you can guarantee that most of the time you will be absolutely alone on the path, and you will often not be sure of anything about where you are going except for the fact that you must keep to your craft with discipline and all the talent you can muster.
Brother, that will get you there and get you through when the vast majority of others will have given up and gone home. I don't advise that path, because not knowing you could have done it if you'd have stuck it out it is a terrible memory I would rather not live with.
Well, it's good to be back after my medical hiatus. I had a lot of time to think about my game while away. I came up with some things that might benifit those of you who are, like me, used to long periods of work between paydays.
You see, besides designing this new kind of adventure game of mine, something I have been working on in the research and pre-production phase for since about 1999, I write novels and screenplays, projects which in their format can take a long period to develop as well.
My current book has taken three years to get to the second draft at 1194 pages, and my screenplay currently took six and a half years of research and development, and the first draft took a summer to bang out. Computer game design, as we all know, depending on your resources and time, can, depending on it's complexity or simplicity, take a lot of time or not long at all. Three of the members here I know have put out three titles of varying scale and sophistication in just the time it took me to get the second draft of the new fiction novel past three hundred pages on the second draft.
But if there is one thing my thirty six years of writing have taught me, its that patience and open mindedness while redrafting and rewriting leads almost inevitably to improvement and often to a final product quite different from the original concept envisionment.
I've been coming to gamedev.net for about five years now, even though it didn't occur to me to register and begin to contribute to the community as my abilities and talents would lend for about three years, and so like many, I trolled about a lot in game development, learning what I could grasp and enjoying what I could improve as time went by.
Once I got more and more involved in this art and science, it did not take long for me to realize I was never going to be a programmer, and that at best, learning the limitations of software engineering on a minimally articulate and understanding level, so I would not design farther than what technology could support, would sustain the viability of realistic production should that fortunate event one day arrive.
So I went with my strengths, drawing on my writing and design skills of my career, and plodded ahead. I had to come to grips with a lot of the dichotemies that exist in the artistic and technical choices facing every game designer. One that I grappled with was should I build a story driven game, or an interactive game. When I came to learn that most games were actually designed response and not true interactivity, that really let a lot of pressure off my decision, and I chose to write a story driven adventure game.
The original concept for the story derived from a radio drama I'd written years ago for the Actor's Workshop of Santa Barbara, where I was one of the three founders and the business manager. Working with highly trained professional thespians, besides being a great experience, taught me that in scene, in action, the more choices the performer has in terms of skills they can apply, the better they can utilize the fundamental logic of the scenario you write, and improve upon things on the fly, doing with your work something you never saw coming, and owning the audience.
This effected my perception about game mechanices, so I began to design three tiers of mechanics for my avatar character, so that I could have a great deal of player choice in interacting with the world in terms of the things they could apply. I considered this my first draft standard of mechanics, and as I began to develop the rest of the gameworld criteria, such as the settings that suggest levels topography, geography and scale, the kinds of resources and foos that would make sense in context of the gameworld objective(s), there began to be more and more completeness to my gameworld, as a homogenized, complete world more and more took shape.
But I was troubled with the story design question. I had a basic conflict, that was no problem, but a great story, irrespective of whether it is on stage, screen, TV, or monitor, is a delicately balanced and dynamic thing. I pondered the mystery and fantasy and contemporary action adventure elements of my game story, the real audience pleaser in many respects, if we are to subscribe to the notion that we are not out to please just core gamers anymore, as any maturing industry in interactive entertainment ought to conclude as it persues the mass market game market share.
So I drew on my years of writing experience and realized that patience, and reliance on the creative ability inherent in many cognitive functions such as imagination and subconscious symbology derivation would do their work, and eventually the things I needed to complete this critical aspect of the creative quality assurance process standard would materialize.
So, last night, after working on this delicate process for almost five years, I figured out how to balance several genres of storytelling: macabre, fantasy, mystery, contemporary action adventure, near future science fiction and history. It's quite a bunch of toppings on this pizza.
No, I don't mean the entire story just downloaded out of my subconscious onto the page, though that has happened before with a couple of short films I have written (let me tell you, I feel you programmers now when you forget about sleep because the job is flowing out of your mind so fast you know if you don't get it down, it might not be there tommorrow), but you have to understand something: I write thousand page novels, not two hundred and fifty page novellas, I write macabre historical fantasy screenplays and near and far future science fiction, not shoot-em-up bang bangs with hot supermodels screaming "look out!" and "oh my god I think I love you" -- no, I set my standards dramaturlogically a lot higher than that because that is the product I a, think my audience deserves (something they've never seen before) and b, you make a name for yourself in entertainment with hits, not sure fire similar-to-everything-you've-seen-before-but-just-slightly-different-with-brand-new-eye-candy material.
So, a key design piece has put itself into place in my game design, and now, with the right relationships between each genre type, the lines along which I can switch genres believably, the proportion and scale of presentation of each (giving me awesome ability to please horror fans on one level, mystery fans on the next, contemporary action adventure fans on the next, science fiction fans on the next *and* have it all make sense, not be cheesy, and most importantly, make the standard studio level screenplays require of the suspension of disbelief) well, all I gotta say, is that when this pre-production is completed, you all are going to be in for the story ride of your life if this title ever gets built.
That's why, in the long hours of waiting and working, believing in your talent when you are not really sure what you are going to need, where it is going to come from inspirationally, and when it will arive, and how you are going to apply it when you do find it or get it, and wondering if it will work harmoniously with the other design standards you believe the game requires, well, I just want you to know, it's worth the wait and the work.
Because like the myth of writer's block which doesn't really exist (its actually the periodicity between problem posing and solution which when longer than general expectation will allow, is percieved as writer's block; believe me, there is nothing negative about creativity, if you have a block, it's not the work, it's the worker) because you are still working out the creative problem on some level of your consciousness, well, the devil may be in the details, but salvation and triumph exist in hanging in there and working them out.
Can't wait for you all to enjoy the fruits of this labor, because I did some pretty sophisticated stuff long before I got into game design, and this breakthrough is good enough for me to say not only is this one of the best things I have ever created, an amazingly satifying and worthwhile feeling, but sometimes you have to change the rules of the game in order to create a better and funner way to play.
I recently moved from one side of the San Francisco Bay area to another. Almost all my PC title development data was on my old box, and I was working in the new place off the laptop, barely having moved the rest of my stuff.
I finally got the old box over here, and started the data transfer. Some of the early stuff I wrote about my adventure game wasn't in exactly the best format for transfer, because back then, I just opened up Outlook and created a new note in Outlook 97. Well, thanks to MSFT, I couldn't simply drag that object into an e-mail and send it through to the new address, even though I tried, the mailer daemon(s) handling the transaction chewed on the attachment forced me to do it all over again.
This is not a bitch entry at all about technology and it's limitations - we know those just as much as the extents thrill and motivate us- this is an entry about going back over old material in your design and reconnecting with the thrills and qualities (or not) of the enthusiasm you had when you first started out on your design.
As I went through the bits and pieces, now mind you, my game is very large in both scale and concept, so there is a lot to keep consistent for the quality of user experience (read: da stuff that brings home the bacon baby), and having skill in preproduction in film, I knew how to keep that foremost in mind while designing, at least at my skill level.
While I was going through this stuff, I saw all the giant levels and incredible puzzles, tricks, traps and mysteries I had envisioned as part of my original level progression to the game goal. In short, I was jazzed, and it reinvigorated me.
It pays in writing, and in design, speaking strictly from my screenwriting and architectural experience, to go back over early designs to see what you did and where it went, sort of a quality check process for me, as well as potentially a problem solver for later versions of a particular design.
But what it also does is it reconnects you mentally to the excitement and thrill you had at the moment when the idea was created in your mind, and that has immense value when it comes to keeping up motivation over a long development period, as well as validating your creative powers, an area even deeply experienced talents have a degree of emotional vulnerability in. You would be surprised how paranoid people at the very top are, at least in the film business. It's that old, "You're only as good as your last project" public/industry perception.
I don't know if a lot of people do this, but, my advice today likens to that of the long jumper.
You have to go down the same approach with the same distances and limitations in order to launch to a new attempt at a personal best.
Now, everyone necro those early designs, and see what it can do for your momentum.
I was talking to a developer the other night in #gamedev.
I was advised familiarity with general principles of software engineering would be beneficial for my writing for games.
Then, it finally occured.
It was not long after scanning The Scripting Language and Game Mods forum, which has been an interesting read lately.
The discussion between scripting and hard coding was going on, and I was trying to understand it myself. Example of code were posted in both scripts and hard coding examples.
I thought nothing of it because I was still thinking about the posts, though I'd had some untested foreclusions.
Meanwhile, on another wavelength, I was thinking about the priciples of software engineering in my modest way.
These two concepts moved towards each other deep in the back of my mind unnoticed as I went through my day.
Suddenly, my fingers began moving of their own free will across the keys. I knew from long experience I was in the flow. Without conscious knowledge, my fingers darted out like lightning, a condition I have fortunately known from time to time as a scribe. It's a big payoff, and a tasty part of the deal.
I have no idea what it means, or how it relates to this merging of two ideas while digesting on the back burner of my thoughts. It finally occured.
I typed this:
I was talking to a few programmers in #gamedev chat before the DDOS, and I was surprised and not to find that one of them was developing a game that for all intents and purposes, would have been a great companion game to the adventure game I have been documenting the design for.
I knew this person to be a lot smarter and more experienced that I was in game design, most particularly from the technical side, so to see creative simile in design was enjoyable from the standpoint it gave validity to design lines I have been thinking and developing across for some years.
Now, I should state that when I say design, I mean from the player experience, world and challenge design and the consistent theme and goal of the playstate in the mind of the player as they control their agent/avatar in the game loop.
That's about as technical as I am going to get, because my strength is in design and writing, and frankly, somebody else someday will be my CTO.
Whoever you are, you lucky dog, it comes with a seat on the Board of Directors.
Anyway, back to the story -- I told this individual with this design idea how great and viable the idea was, and, if he ever built it, I would surely be favorably dispositioned to some sort of cross brand marketing strategy for the game.
All that being said, I come back to the idea that a whole bunch of are thinking along the same lines design wise, and probably holding our best ideas closest to our chest and only share with trusted parties for development purposes, just like any pro in any area of IP development.
You see all the times in the forum people running general game designs for MMORPG's and other stuff by the community, and you see great insight and suggestion amongst the membership. Yet the consistency in design approach, and the style and technique input by member feedback just keeps tugging at the back of my brain we all have a great deal of market sensitivity, mostly because we all want our games to sell well, and we need a creative design fascinating, enjoyable and challenging enough, as well as competitive enough, to put all these efforts into building and releasing it.
This consistency in mind reminds me that there is perhaps more opportunity for collaberation on projects between members than perhaps already exists, simple because so many things are consistent in suggested design approaches.
Well, I suspect the reason that there is not is because some of the projects engaged in by members together are already in development, and schedules are full, or, competition is healthy amongst the members who while community members now, and in the early stages of development, always wonder in the back of their minds if they will be competitors one day, and that may restrict the degree or amount of collaberation.
I can't put to much stock in the competition, because even if you and I were working on something almost exactly the same, before we got to that point we would have executed legal protections with each other for our IP to allay worries about competitive moves later, because signed agreements legally have to be honored, but I do know more people familiar with a particular entertainment type and the successful models in it would know what to work towards design wise as proven market succeeder, and the chances of having the same idea be so consistent with genre construct that there would be very few details about two similar designs that would be inconsistent.
In fact, I once had a budding writer tell me a story about his approach to a science fiction short story concerning supernovas, that would have been on less level of evolution (in the sense of physics effecting the story world) than one I had published five years earlier.
This writer had a lot of ego invested in their idea, and when I listened to the story, and related my same idea an evolutionary scale higher, they were crestfallen, and was so wierded about it that they ended up leaving town because their dream of writing greatness seemingly was quashed by the single relation of a tale better than theirs.
I thought this was overreacting, but people hold creativity in some sort of emotional view a lot, and it effects their direct ability to collaberate, or in this case,
their ability to take parts of their idea similar to another's and test for improvement. This is the constructive criticism side of creativity that can send you back to the drawing board with an improvement you were greatful not to have to produce on your own, or make you rethink some significant detail or technique.
Either way, you grow as a collaberator and an artist, and, even though we are in a very competitive industry, knowing just what the next blockbuster will do and the job necessary to build one, well, I am not sure what the community will do to improve what could be a major competitive advantage.
After all, we are the largest independent game development community online, and more organized, could have much larger effect on the industry as a whole. Food for thought.
I was responding to a few threads this week as I got back into the swing of things.
One of them was on adult games, not XXX adult, but mature emotional and intellectual content games, as the poster specifically stipulated for clarity.
In responding to the questions the poster asked, I began to examine some of my own reasons for wanting the type of adult oriented content in a game I would like to design and play.
Being a screenwriter by trade, and amazingly influenced artistically by film, the first imagery that sprang to my mind was the computer Hal from Stanley Kubrick's "2001".
Hal, the computer was a very advanced computer with a personality and resoning and logical skills that were considered the best extant at the time the story supposing. As things got worse and worse problematically for the protagonist, Dave the astronaut, his relationship grew and grew with the computer entity Hal.
It eventually became clear Hal was the antagonistic force in the situation, as this was exposited to the audience well before the protagonist learned about it, a useful dramaturlogical technique, as Dave eventually came to find out fearfully.
Now, this perception of relationship to a computer based entity is of course, designed to sell movie tickets by supporting the dramatic structure of pushing cultural hot bottons we can safely experience in a dark theatre.
Brave Dave the astronaut, lonely and with little resource, is pitted against Hal the mega-intelligence computer that controls the entire spaceship that is the source of life for Dave. Pretty overwhelming odds.
But, that is a established notion that still exists, and we designers and developers see it all the time, though we probably subconsciouly avoid it and insulate ourselves from it all the time.
It's called the fear of technology, and even in an established World Wide Web (as a subset of the Internet) for almost a decade and a half that I can recall, as the ease of computing has gotten better and better, skills became more common and widespread as people get more and more exposure, in the comfortable, non-threatening, self paced manner most humans comprehend, retain and utilize with, every one of us still knows or sees mortal recoil now and then upon the part of someone somewhere when the subject turns to computing and technology.
It's a generational thing, in part, I think, but also it is clearly the fear of change that we all left behind long ago when we realized we had to move on to the next version of the language or implementation or format.
Mr. Kubrick's representation of the relationship between man and machine in that film pushed a cultural hot button long before there were a billion PC's sold. Yet, with now more than a billion PC's sold, adding in laptops, PDA's, smart cells and the forthcoming handheld PC pushing us towards our second billion devices for computing, the fact remains that cultural hot button of fear of technology remains strong in society, albeit the inevitable, sobering acceptance that it is the way it is and it's only going to get moreso has set in further in the collective consciousness of the aforementioned fear.
In my dealings in production and development matters in film, video and events, the fear of exposure to media, the nakedness before the camera lens, and the necessity of perfect performace before the camera 'that sees all', all form another fear (leading to further validation of my supposition of the vast fear cultures live in) - the fear of exposure, that clues us into what my version of Hal ought to be, and is one of my guidelines in development of personalities in computers, whether they are game NPC's, or the OS of the future.
First off, anybody who has done any sales knows that before you even try to sell anybody anything, you need to establish at least even a little bit of a personal relationship with them, even if it is only cordial, professional and boundary sensitive to a small degree.
Thus, following this, I would make my "Hal" into "Ha", or the humorous OSelseNPC, because it is pretty much consistently true for humans to psychologically hate somebody they have laughed with.
In fact, one of my best sales techniques is going right to the human factors argument -- "I got this done in spite of my dog eating my homework, or ten women ringing my phone off the hook_ -- you get the fictional idea.
So Ha, my spaceship control system of 2004 and beyond, is going to have some sensitivity and personality to it.
Now, we all know that bringing sensitivity and personality to a computer AI entity is a huge, daunting and time consuming desing and implementation. In fact, only the basics are considered enough for oppositional, neutral or cooperative AI today.
But I submit for your consideration, to paraphrase Rod Serling, that development along these lines, where the virtual persons who run alongside you in a game do more than just blow open doorways, render first aid, know the way out of someplace you are lost in, cover your back with expert marksmanship, is an expensive, exhaustive and lengthy proposition.
Yet these kinds of developments and designs I feel are the new battleground for market share in the mind of the player-consumer of interactive entertainment. They want the machine to think, to suggest, to decide independently, to lead sometimes, to follow sometimes, to go off on it's own for no reason and come back with something you forgot or didn't think of, to be able to compliment or constructively criticize.
This is consistent with with what Will Wright said at the Stanford Lectures on "How They Got Game", and I quote:
"The hardware wars are over. The graphics wars are over. The behavior wars have begun." Well, he might have said, "just begun", but I'm not one to split hairs when intent is clear.
I suggest that this kind of entity (and I use the word entity in the context of a virtual character of either cooperative, indepenedent or oppositional AI) is the biggest competition in town for a long time to come.
I suspect the relationship value between players and sophisticated virtual characters is underestimated as gameplay value in terms of interaction, and ought to be persued. I think it will allow American competitiveness to stem the outsourcing tide, and make AI our own discipline of mastery. I think it is where the game business is going.
Nobody talks about AI much in the gamedev IRC channel. The few questions I have asked about it has been responded to with the view it was just another aspect of the engine, and it was generally viewed with boredom. I have to admit, I did not take a large enough sampling to find out if that was really the case in the context of the community as a whole, however, that was my first response array when querying.
Zoomcrypt, whom I know to be a professional in the game development business, and a really smart and likeable guy to boot, related to me once that the AI was the perview of a couple of old programmers at the company he worked for, and they did not talk much about it, and though he could program it as well, he did not mention much about it as fertile territory because he was focused on project management, his real expertice.
Since I am a designer and not a developer or programmer, I cannot speak with expertice about developing artificial intelligence entities. But I bet there are classes of behavior being written, or have been written, out there now, and I am planning for the research time.
Surely as good as the minds are that I encounter in the community regularly must think about this as potential in their designs and on the industry level as a whole.
Is it some deep, dark secret of the business? Or, is it just a really boring aspect of development, where previous perceptions about what had to be available to the engine as state logic or artificial intelligence were sufficient, and now are ripe for review or repurposing or revolution?
I would like to know more, because I think there is a lot of money in it, as well as a lot of player satisfaction. If those two things are true, then there is correspondingly a PITA scenario in development and expense. Is there any other choice really? This inquiring mind would like to know, and I'll be digging around and let you know what I find out.