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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.


A designer who can either do art well or code well. Otherwise what good are they?


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

@jbadams 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...;)

@Tobl 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.

@Servant of the Lord 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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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.

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.


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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