Game Design

Game Design

A game starts with an idea. You want to communicate something, you want to make a person an experience, you want a person to feel something, or maybe you just want to create something fun or interesting. Fill in the blanks, throw in some game mechanics and art, mix it all with months of work, and you have yourself a game. There is really no magic there. It’s just a lot of patience, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of passion.

Of course, the description I gave is an oversimplification, and the most interesting part lies in the details, in the specifics of each game, and in the characters of the people who are making the game. Personally, I’ve been making games since I was 13 years old. It started as an innocent hobby: drawing lines and circles in QBasic. You add some animation, some interactivity, and you’ve got yourself a game. Again, no magic. Since then I’ve been slowly improving my skills. I’ve made many games, all of them incomplete; all of them abandoned half-way. Anytime I felt like I learned enough, or I wanted to move on to something more fun, I would drop the current project and start anew.

It takes 10,000 hours to become really good at anything. If you only spend one hour a day on something, it will take you approximately 27 years to become really good at it. It’s a lot of repetition, and a lot of trying to achieve higher and more interesting goals. You keep starting over and over with a clean slate, hoping to nail it down perfectly this time around, but each time it’s like making an ice sculpture in a desert. Everything starts to melt, you lose details and focus, and eventually you decide to scrap it and start anew. There is really no getting around it, everyone has to go through it. But one day…

One day you wake up, and you say, “This is it! I’m going to make a good game, and I’m going to stick with it until I finish it. I’m not abandoning this one.” And you try your absolute best to finish it, and then you fail. You fail because your statue has completely melted, you are sweating, and meanwhile you keep thinking about this other awesome idea that you have, that would make a totally great game. So you move on. And on. And on. And every so often you try to commit, but you don’t. Until one day…

One day you do. And you finish your game, and by anyone’s judgment this could be called a finished game. A Real Game. And on that day you feel like a true game programmer, a true game designer, a true artist. You’ve seen a project from inception to finish. You’ve seen all the stages. You’ve verified that there is no magic.

Now, if you’ve started this process early, you have probably done most of these games yourself. Towards the end, where you meet other people who are close to your level (most likely in college), you start to cooperate with them. Yet, you look at the AAA games, and you think, “Why are our games nowhere as good? The graphics aren’t close, the art isn’t as good, the game isn’t as polished. Everything is just off. Surely the big companies have a secret that they guard well, that allows them to make the kind of games they do.” So you get an internship at such a company, and you look at what they do, and you notice…

You notice they are not doing anything differently! Nothing at all! They just have more experienced people: people who can anticipate problems, people who know how to correct certain problems, people who’ve done this kind of stuff for years. But, fundamentally, what they are doing is completely normal. No magic! So you learn from them, and you learn on your own, and you continue to do what you’ve always done: make games. Slowly you start making games that people like, that people think are polished, that people genuinely enjoy, and then one day…

One day you make it big. Everybody plays your game, and everyone learns your name. People think you just magically appeared out of nowhere with this magical talent. And most people will never see those other half-finished games you’ve made, which is probably for the best. Most people will assume you have some special talent that allows you to make games. They’ll ask, “How did you do it? What’s the secret?” And you…

You can look at them and smile.