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MatthewMorigeau

What programmers want from a designer

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Note:  This topic has been re-named to aid discovery through search, as it contains some valuable information.  The original title was "So you're a programmer?"

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A question out to all the code-heads out there. I'd like to get a sense for what you as a programmer like to see out of designers to spend a few dozen/hundred hours on writing code for free. I'd also like to ignore the topic of the game design idea, we all want to build the next great game idea but I want to know the elements aside from money and design idea that has drawn you to a project. This post focuses on when you're reading the classifieds you're looking for something out of a team or the individuals to instill a sense of commitment and components to indicate a unified design idea but what are those components. In a priority list what matters to you?

I'll do a little addition to this to keep the post from continuing down the abyss-like spiral of venting frustrations, I'm sure its very cathartic for you all but this isn't meant to be the point of the post. I'm looking for positive experiences, constructive re-constructions of moments where you as a programmer have looked at a free project (no monetary incentive at all, money is for suckers anyways) and decided to join the project and what it was about that project that drew you to it. What are the classified "hooks" that matter to you? Fancy art, clean sound&music, that backdrop of a good story, team structure, learning possibilities, % completion etc. I'd like to know what you personally have been drawn to and why.

There is a wealth of knowledge here that is drilled into designers to suit the needs of the industry this post doesn't need anymore of this info (its all over the site if you need it) I've gotten a few decent answers but I'd really like to hear more personal experiences of useful situations for designers to add to their own toolbox.

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Sorry Mratthew for taking this a little offtopic (I'm not a programmer, or at least not mainly), but I really have to answer to this.

[quote name='AltarofScience' timestamp='1348448586' post='4983066']
A designer who can either do art well or code well. Otherwise what good are they?
[/quote]

I can't really agree with that.
Yes, art and code are important for a game, but they're not everything. Content-wise, the most important things to add would be music and writing, followed by world-/leveldesign (two different things) and mechanics. Actually worlddesign and mechanics are also damn important, but yes I know, we've got more than enough of them.

But that's not what I'm aiming at. When you're asking what good they are, you're most likely referring to the guys who run around yelling "I've got the best idea ever, who wants to make it for me?" and then refer to themselves as gamedesigners because they've had some basic ideas in worlddesign and/or mechanics. But even though gamedesigners usually take care of the worlddesign, mechanics and sometimes also the writing, that's not what being a designer is about.
A good designer is neither good enough an artist to take the art-lead, nor is he good enough at coding to be lead-programmer. Instead he has intermediate skills in both of the fields as well as in any other field that even might play a part during the project. This basic understanding allows them the help out where needed, but way more importantly, it allows them to communicate with the whole team. Not just talking and exchanging images until the others somewhat get what you might have wanted to say, but actual, efficient communication. That is important, because designers are the people who coordinate the team and get everybody to work together instead of against each other.
The second task of a designer is evaluation and quality assurance. Not of (for example) the art itself of course, the artist is way more suited to do that. But what good are great art and great music if they just don't fit together and none of them goes with the mechanics at all? It's the designer's job to assure the quality not only of the individual elements, but of the whole project and to see as soon as possible if such conflicts should arise. And yes, he's also most likely to be the first one who notices someone seriously slacking of, but anyone on the project would have the right to give such a person a talk, should the situation arise.
And while I'm using large-scale-vocabulary all the time, the effects good designers have already take place in such small groups as four or five people, especially if those people should not know each other personally.

So, what good are they? Communication, Moderation and Evaluation, that's what good they are. (If they are designers that is, and not one of those vague-idea-guys)


Now that that's been said, I should mention that I'm studying design (not gamedesign, but interactiondesign). However, I would kindly ask you to not read that as me being biased (or at least not mainly), but as me knowing what I'm learning on my way to become a designer and what designers are actually good for.

bw,
Tobl

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[b]@AlterofScience[/b] I guess you'll never know. Not that I disagree on the whole but not exactly the pre-flight list I was looking for.

[b]@jbadams[/b] Big list of stuff you don't want and plenty of "be good at you're job" but I think you missed the question's mark. I'm trying to get a clear picture of what you like to see from designers to achieve this list of expectations you've shared. Clearly a lot of what you're asking is entirely reasonable but when someone is posting an offer what sort prep work do you prefer to see before they post? What's enough to get you hooked and coding that day? Certainly don't sweat the length, I appreciate the detail. This is a post that should matter to a lot of devs that come to this site IMO. (On that note, I probably should have named it better...;)

[b]@Tobl[/b] I agree, designers definitely need to know how to properly coordinate the talent to achieve the design whole and this skill is an incredible juggling job once the crew is in the thick of it but I'm going to try and steer us back on course a bit. You as a designer know you're design, but you don't know what the talent needs to appreciate the design and want to add to it (other then piles money and a brand new game genre that uses the latest in mind reading peripherals). The trick to creating a "perfect reveal" is an art I'm curious about here and I'd like to hear from programmers mostly because they speak with the machine directly and the project doesn't happen without that. Many programmers are a bit primadonna because of this (who can blame them?) and understanding their expectations (beyond the complaints) is very important to anyone fighting to see a game come to life. Even other programmers.

[b]@Servant of the Lord[/b] Great naming convention change, I couldn't agree more that everyone likes to work with someone that knows their job. But I'm really trying to dig up the first stage of all those expectations of a designer. I don't think people should waste time on good ideas unless they're willing to work to make something better out of it. But "the reveal" is the key ingredient in the freeware world (especially on these jaded forums). I'm glad you bothered to gather some skills and I'm glad you're proud of them but they don't do anyone here any good unless that person can get you're attention and that's my aim in this post.

To give a bit of background on this question, I'm a character animator. I can bring anything to life with a chunk of free time (this isn't my own horn, I do a technical process that anyone can learn and should, game animation is always brutal) but if I want anyone to do anything but stare and react at what I create I need a programmer. So I'm eager to figure out how to get programmers to ignore the dollar signs and explore ideas. I know programmers have plenty of their own design ideas and have all dealt with unreliable devs on dozens of free projects that have gone no where. But like all of us here, they too keep coming back for more (though I think the reputation growth helps too). So I'd like to figure out upfront what they need because otherwise that's the stage I'll be at forever (unless I stumble upon a steady stream of hefty passive income it seems).

So if you program, what is it that catches your eye on a project, sexy screenshots of zbrushed models that belong in the next Gears game, my latest 18 000 x 18 000 pixel photoshop masterpiece, a library of tombs detailing item by item spec info with multipage skill trees and archetypes to match each branch, the next LOTR but screen written by Joss Whedon, John William's latest sit down with Ben Burtt, etc. I'm curious what elements (aside from money and along side a design idea that is worth posting) matter to you when a designer is posting in the classifieds. Edited by Mratthew

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[quote name='Mratthew']
"be good at you're job"
[/quote]

Know the difference between your and you're. When you make mistakes involving contractions, you're painting yourself in a really negative light; It's not just a simple spelling error.

[quote]So if you program, what is it that catches your eye on a project, sexy screenshots of zbrushed models that belong in the next Gears game, my latest 18 000 x 18 000 pixel photoshop masterpiece, a library of tombs detailing item by item spec info with multipage skill trees and archetypes to match each branch, the next LOTR but screen written by Joss Whedon, John William's latest sit down with Ben Burtt, etc. I'm curious what elements (aside from money and along side a design idea that is worth posting) matter to you when a designer is posting in the classifieds.[/quote]

I wouldn't really care for any of those.

Given enough time, anyone can create a show piece that "belongs" in a AAA title. Similarly, some great "photoshop masterpiece" is not a very good indicator of your overall ability to produce art for an actual game. As for a library of tombs/specs/skill trees: It all looks great on paper, but when you actually test the first implementation, it seldom plays that well. In other words: it's not that important, because it's typically work that can only be done after the base engine is up and running.

Story is completely irrelevant, from my perspective; gameplay should be the primary concern in the beginning.

I think many programmers would look for a core gameplay idea, which is well defined, but also flexible, along with completed art assets; they don't have to be "production quality", but they should be good enough to make people think: "... Ok, I believe that he could polish this into something market worthy.".

You could also try making screenshots: You don't have the game, but you can paint a screenshot of what you have in mind for the final product. Or, even better: Make a 10 second animation that clearly shows the basics of gameplay.

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[quote name='Goran Milovanovic' timestamp='1348464004' post='4983106']
[quote name='Mratthew']
"be good at you're job"
[/quote]

Know the difference between your and you're. When you make mistakes involving contractions, you're painting yourself in a really negative light; It's not just a simple spelling error.
[/quote]
Ah, come on, it's not [i]that[/i] big of a deal. I mean, I could nit pick stuff too:
[quote name='Goran Milovanovic' timestamp='1348464004' post='4983106']
[...] negative light; It's not just a [...]

Or, even better: Make a 10 second [...]
[/quote]
Know when to capitalize something and when not to. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]

My point: pointing errors out is fine, but give people the benefit of the doubt. For some reason I have an easier time accidentally adding/missing an apostrophe when I'm typing than when I'm writing, or mixing up to/too and similar words. I know the difference, and I notice it when reading if someone's missed them, but I think I type faster than I think and I mix things up.


Anyway, back to the original topic. I haven't read everything in this thread, and I wouldn't be surprised if others have said this, but a few of things I look for are:[list]
[*][b]Commitment[/b]. I want people who are committed! A good sign of this is seeing work already done. This can be in the form of a nice logo/blog/website (simple, but professional looking), or it can be in the form of a demo/prototype.
[*][b]Down to earth[/b]. If someone says it's going to be the next WoW or Halo, I'm out. 'Cause it's not. People need to be realistic.
[*][b]Knowledgable[/b]. I'm not the smartest guy on the plannet, and I know lots of programmers who are way better than me, but I'm not too shabby, and I have absolutely no desire to drag un-knowledgable people through a project. This also extends to being able to learn new things well, because teams are always in a state of learning.
[/list]

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[quote][...] a core gameplay idea, which is well defined, but also flexible, along with completed art assets; they don't have to be "production quality", but they should be good enough to make people think: "... Ok, I believe that he could polish this into something market worthy.".
You could also try making screenshots: You don't have the game, but you can paint a screenshot of what you have in mind for the final product. Or, even better: Make a 10 second animation that clearly shows the basics of gameplay.[/quote]

Best part of a post I've read so far, a personal opinion of a physically achievable goal to set as priority for most any designer when posting.
Wait! You aren't job? I'll try to more thoroughly read before I post next time. I appreciate it. Be good at you are job, heh. Common the latest sit down between John and Ben Burtt would be pretty rad and it would have me on board for an indie game faster then most any game design idea, but maybe I'm shallow that way. Think of Wall-e! God that movie sounded good.

@Cornstalks That's the kind of folk I like to work with too.

I'm hoping to hear personal accounts of classified posts that stood out, indie devs that got your attention not just because of the ideas they presented but because their post painted a whole game worth making (in your opinion). I want to know the elements in those posts that made the difference. Maturity, professionalism, explore the box sort of aspects are pretty drilled around this forum (for good reason) but occasionally there must be designers that make you excited about games and I'd love to hear about it. The suggestions made by Goran are very applicable to my situation but there must be more out there. Maybe game or genre specific examples of "raising the classified posting bar" or plain old creativity in a classified post worthy of mention. Edited by Mratthew

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[quote]
What I require, if they want me to join them:
Solid examples of their non-idea skills. It needs to be good, but doesn't have to be professional.
Preferably multiple different categories of skills already present in the project (Art + Music, or Music + Map makers, etc...)
A solid concept, but it doesn't have to be completed down to the super fine details.
Overall goals and milestones need to be set, but the sub-goals and steps towards the milestones don't need to be figured out yet.
The project must have already been going for at least half a year (preferably a whole year or more), and have something tangible to show (lots of music if a composer, lots of art if an artist, lots of story if a writer) apart from the idea. (This is to show that they aren't recruiting and expecting others to do all the work, but that they themselves have been doing loads of work even before recruiting)
[/quote]

This is a reasonable list as well. I like the Milestones layout, it might not work in a market game but I'd be willing to show it off for a freeware project post.

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[quote name='Mratthew' timestamp='1348445024' post='4983055']
A question out to all the code-heads out there. I'd like to get a sense for what you as a programmer like to see out of designers other then cold hard cash to spend a few dozen/hundred hours on writing code. Obviously a good idea is a pretty useful thing but lets get beyond that. When you're reading the classifieds you're looking for something out of a team or individual to instill a sense of commitment and components to indicate a unified design idea but what are those components. In a priority list what matters to you? Art, documentation, pre-recorded audio, etc?
[/quote]

I can't speak for other programmers, particularly beginners (to whom this question might be more relevant).

Being a 'designer' is a very difficult sell to try and start a project yourself. Unless you have prior experience / track record, realistically you are probably going to need money to pay, or have other skills (do you have a good looking girlfriend, who is *really* committed to the project?).

If we take money out of the equation, other skills would be (as AlterOfScience says) things like producing artwork / programming, and *possibly* running a business (prior experience). I would have thought producing artwork is most likely to be the successful avenue, as that is what most programmers usually can't do themselves / aren't interested in doing. To be realistic, if you have any chance of being part of a non-paid project doing purely 'designing' (probably writing scripts or making levels), it's most likely to be joining an existing project rather than starting one yourself (and consequently working on someone else's ideas, that's what a designer does 99% of the time).

I would suggest to anyone who wants to get started in designing to either start making games themselves, with a game toolkit or mod tool of somekind that doesn't require programming, or to learn to produce artwork of some kind, either 3d or 2d, so they have some marketable 'skillz' to bring to the game. For indie games, artwork doesn't necessarily have to be AAA quality, you just have to be prepared to spend the time learning how to do it, and spending the hours and hours and hours on it.

In short, designer is a hard sell. Designer / artist (primarily) and to a lesser extent designer / programmer is a better bet.

[quote]Obviously a good idea is a pretty useful thing[/quote]
Not really. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/mellow.png[/img] The game world isn't short of ideas. It's short of people who have the skills / time / commitment to do stuff. But I'm sure this has been discussed ad infinitum.

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[quote name='Cornstalks' timestamp='1348464732' post='4983110']
Ah, come on, it's not [i]that[/i] big of a deal. I mean, I could nit pick stuff too:
[quote name='Goran Milovanovic' timestamp='1348464004' post='4983106']
[...] negative light; It's not just a [...]

Or, even better: Make a 10 second [...]
[/quote]
Know when to capitalize something and when not to. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]
[/quote]

There's a big difference between well defined language rules, and matters of style. [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]

[quote]My point: pointing errors out is fine, but give people the benefit of the doubt. For some reason I have an easier time accidentally adding/missing an apostrophe when I'm typing than when I'm writing, or mixing up to/too and similar words. I know the difference, and I notice it when reading if someone's missed them, but I think I type faster than I think and I mix things up.[/quote]

Yes, I should have said: "Show that you know the difference", as opposed to what I actually said, which implied that he didn't.

I don't really care much about trivial spelling errors, but when you misuse a contraction (more than once), and you don't catch it, I assume that you didn't really take the time to refine/review your post.

This indicates a general level of carelessness, which would probably express itself in other detail-oriented activities (like game development, for example).

Maybe this is taking it too far, but that would be my thought process, and I think it's one that many programmers share.

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[quote name='Mratthew' timestamp='1348445024' post='4983055']I'd like to get a sense for what you as a programmer like to see out of designers other then cold hard cash to spend a few dozen/hundred hours on writing code.[/quote]

The more important questions are:

1) Are there programmers who would spend a few hundred hours writing unpaid code for someone else's game (and not for himself)?
2) Would you be willing to spend a few hundred hours coding someone else's game for free?

Question 1 is to make sure that this is actually feasible: that it is not a waste of time trying to get someone to code your game for free. And the responses to Question 2 will allow you to zero in on what exactly is needed to get someone to code your game for free.

IMHO I don't think this will work. Are there really programmers who would code for hundreds of hours for free on other people's game project? (specific to games, open source software is very different)

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[b]Communication[/b]. Hands down.

I don't think I'd personally sign up on a project that wasn't already being run by the game's programming lead, just because I'd like to contribute in my available time, not take on a programming job in addition to my current programming job. Having the core coding momentum handled by someone else just appeals to me more. But that's just my stance.

Anyway. Clear communication gives me more confidence in a project than anything else. (Well, ok, a visible demo of the game in its current state would [i]really[/i] sell me, but that's usually not available to most recruiting posts.) Whoever is taking on project leadership and logistical tasks, whether they're programming the game or not, better be very organized and well-spoken. A group project of any size needs to be able to clearly express requirements, changes, ideas, plans, schedules, mistakes, drop-outs...everything. If you have a good facilitator at the "head" of the project, it immediately improves my confidence that the team will end up with something to show for their efforts.

As a sidebar: I'm of the mind that a game designer with no other contributable skill categories (code, assets) has no place on an indie project. We're talking hobbyist groups here, 99% of the time. Handfuls of people. 5 is already starting to strain the limits of a cohesive internet group (where task completion and milestone maintenance is concerned). A designer is great for AAA studios and other scenarios where there's plenty of room on staff for specialization to that degree. In the context of this forum and scene, you're going to need to show some other means of contribution if you're trying to attract team members. Game Designer needs to be a second hat on someone (or on most of the team, honestly). Good game design is important to a fun game, but that can emerge through iterative development and testing within the team.

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You say you're a character animator, so that's what I would want to see out of you if you're trying to recruit me. Not just concept art, or some show-off piece that might belong in Gears of War, but real, concrete assets that are game-ready, consistent with the theme of what you want to create, and ready to go. And plenty of them. Plus, I'd like to see you branching out into other areas as well, especially environment art, with several concrete examples of that presented in your recruitment post. A small project (hobbyist or indie) simply has little room for a one-trick pony. Everyone on an indie team has to wear multiple hats. There is just too much work to be done. If there are three guys, and two of them are programmers and the third says he only does character animation... well, in my experience, the character modeling and animation is much easier to find talent for than things like environment art, and maybe we could ditch that guy and find someone whose skills are more well-rounded. Everyone wants to be a character artist it seems (just get on DeviantArt and see for yourself) but relatively few want to do environment art. I've been on a couple of projects in my younger days, where environment art was one of the main sticking points. We always had plenty of wannabe character artists.

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I think it's pretty important to have a rudimentary grasp of a pertinent discipline, if only to understand the scope and gravity of the tasks at hand. I say this because it's all too easy for people unfamiliar with game programming/asset generation to grossly underestimate the time and skill required to finish a project of non-trivial complexity and to do a good job in the process.

I remember working as a programmer for a corporate bank on my placement year building inter-department software tools rather than being at the coal face of implementing corporate IT infrastructure. My boss had literally no idea about programming in any shape or form and constantly assumed I was slacking off work as his daily list of arbitrary features created a backlog of many weeks as each "simple" feature took a great deal of time to implement. I can't really blame him, to someone completely ignorant of the field, any whimsical feature was [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_matter_of_programming"]a small matter of programming[/url] to him. It was only when he asked an experienced dev from another team to check out my "cover story" (i.e. the truth) to see if I was trying to give him a run round the houses that the dev informed him that yes, the time I had taken and reasons I had been giving him for the backlog were entirely consistent with the rough workload needed to implement the features.

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From what I've seen after you have something that works lots of people of mid-low skill level are super excited about joining your project. After a community invests in your game you start to get people of higher skill level. Anything before that you're going to have to rely on people you already know.

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I'll be more serious for this post.

I have a very specific group of games I would be willing to spend time on. I don't care about shooters, platformers, and various other kinds of games. So I guess first I would have to really like the genre. If I had a choice between an RTS and an FPS I would never pick the FPS. Following on this idea it would have to have a novel spin. No making Warcraft 3 clones for instance. I doubt that other programmers share my specific preferences but I would suspect that the general idea applies all around.

Passion and perseverance are also important. I want to know that if we hit a snag 3 months in my last 3 months weren't wasted and that the project will continue on. How much effort you put into things before I get on board tells me how much I can expect from you afterwards.


I still stand by what I said before. I would prefer the project lead to have some sort of programming skill be it GUI or graphics or physics or something. Alternatively he needs to be a really good artist.

Again though, if I'm not leading the project I absolutely have to be on the same page as far as the mechanics of the game with the project lead.

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I don't have a lot of time to read this over in detail so I apologize if I'm saying something that is already stated. To me the biggest thing for a designer beyond the basic of a game that can be reasonably developed is sufficient detail. Programmers can determine how to implement the game rules but while we can design the details of game logic, that is a design detail, not an implementation detail.

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If you want a programmer to work on a game for you its most important that you sell the project as being something he would be interested in. Most programmers do little projects themselves in their free time so working on a project for free doesn't seem like a horrible idea to us. If the project you want us to work on is to create a tick tac toe game then we probably wont be interested. There are programmers who like different genre and you need to find one who is passionate about the genre of game you want to create.

Programmers work in their free time because they like to improve their skills and learn new technologies. It's unlikely that you'll get one to work for free if he already knows everything so be patient and understand that there will be some trial an error with the programmers if you don't pay them.

Aside from that you need to give a programmer a reason to work on your project and not his own. What do you bring to the table? If you're not an artist or can't make music or any of those other skills that have been mentioned in this post then you MUST be able to gather people to do all of those jobs. A programmer will be much more willing to work for you if you have a team assembled that can do music, art, animation etc... There are some programmers that also enjoy doing the art, i'm not one of them, if you can provide all the artistic side of the game and give me a genre that I enjoy I'd probably work on the project. Edited by bwight

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