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When improvements are worth the wait.

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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.

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Didn't anyone tell you that usage of the cool smiley on crack will get your head chopped off?? Well.... I suppose I could just let you off with a warning this time...


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