Questions for Experienced Developers

Jun 27, 2009

5 question areas that I hope all experienced developers are considering

1. It was difficult for you to get to where you are today, right? What can you do to help others get into it?

When get older we’d all like to have better videogames to play. Sooner is better than later to give kids or peers the head start and foundations help that you wish you had.

How it helps you: Some of the people won’t stick with it. Some of the people will not do much with it. Inevitably, someone from the people that you help will outpace you, since their young and nimble brains are more on top of what videogames have become instead of what they were 20 years ago. Meaning: your new boss will be nicer to you.

2. If you could make any videogame, what sort of game would it be, and what would it be like? If you are not currently on track to make it, what changes can you make to help put yourself on track to do so?

It’s in everyone’s interest that there are as many “dream projects” made real out there as possible, the best of which will almost certainly offer more to the collective culture than the clones output from corporate games factories.

How it helps you: You’ve only got one life to live. In ancient Egypt, there wasn’t much flexibility in who got to decide what the Great Pyramids and Sphinx should look like, vs who had to drag 2.3 million 2.8-ton limestone bricks to build them. The world has (mostly) changed, and what opportunities there are for upward mobility goes to those that are constantly preparing and looking out for them. Remember that no one really knows what they’re doing the first time they’re calling the shots, so everyone doing so had to get that out of their system at some point (ideally on a free side project first).

3. Excluding digitized versions of solitaire, chess, checkers, and tiny web game diversions, most people still don’t see the point of videogames. Why? What can you do to either help a new audience discover the benefits of videogames, or help videogame developers discover a new audience?

A bookstore filled with works written mostly by male software engineers wouldn’t speak effectively to many aspects of the overall human experience on earth; why should we tolerate that from videogame stores?

How it helps you: Unless your favorite game is either Space Wars or Pong, the only reason you got into videogames is because someone else dreamed up something that appealed to you. I strongly believe that videogames can play a healthy and positive role in human development (see: Consequences of What We Make). As I see it, the more people and perspectives that we can get involved in playing and making these things, the better world you’ll be leaving for your grand kids.

4. Videogames still have outspoken opponents – people concerned that videogames are bad for attention span, a waste of children’s time, advocating violent reaction to conflict, or any number of other worries. Which of their concerns are the most on-target, for what types of games, and how can we be more conscientious of meeting their concerns? Can we turn their criticism into creativity?

Someone concerned that today’s films or blogs are all junk can do the most good by making one that isn’t; our work only touches thoughts, so unlike the cigarette or liquor industries we can have the potential to remove destructive elements without giving up the essence of our product’s appeal.

How it helps you: You’re more likely to still be enjoying novel experiences as you age, instead of still killing more zombies in World War II settings. We all win when more of the people critical of today’s videogames harness that river of complaints and use it make a superior product, but if they’re too hopelessly disillusioned to get involved, nothing stops the rest of us from trying. Moreover, whatever experiential learning opportunities playing videogames may provide, there are surely diminishing returns when the fundamental activity of every game played is the same over and over again.

5. What arbitrary principles and ideals do critics (or publishers, producers, even players) emphasize that could be misguided in certain contexts?

Some of the videogames that I’m most happy to have played broke from one or more of these seemingly reasonable ideals:

  • longer games are better
  • replayability is desirable for every type of game
  • continues should be limited
  • later levels should be locked until earlier levels are finished
  • realism is fun
  • more characters makes a better fighting game
  • good games take years to make
  • aiming should be fluid and easy to control
  • different armies must have similar units available to be fairly matched
  • controls must be simple to learn
  • photorealism is the goal of graphics
  • spatial relationships ought to be consistent to simulate physical reality
  • players will want to respaw immediately after death
  • repetition is bad (hint: adults won’t tolerate it, but children love it)
  • the player must be able to lose
  • smooth animations are important to a player’s experience
  • players are unwilling to read, games need points and high scores
  • no HUD is the best HUD (Heads-Up Display, referring to interface elements like health
  • bars or ammo numbers)
  • a videogame should be won by anyone that spends enough time playing it
  • in a good game the player should be able to do anything they want
  • people are unwilling to pay above the standard price for a game
  • every area should be packed with enemies and items
  • players are too lazy to take notes or solve problems on real paper

How it helps you: Everyone else is assuming that what’s true in many cases is true in all cases, and it’s creating blind spots right under our noses of things we’d love to have, that are well within our development capacity, that no one else is making. Shadow of the Colossus, Guitar Hero, Mechwarrior 2, Braid, The Sims, Portal, Myst, Left 4 Dead, and Goldeneye 007 all broke from some of the (then) assumed ideas about how games should be made, played, or sold.

(Originally posted Vol. 3 Sec. 3)

Este artículo está disponible en español. Traducción por cortesía de Andrés de Pedro.

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