Things That Aren’t Design

On FoH’s and the thread about GMG I’m sort of fighting over the concept of game design. My opinion comes from here. In particular I’m fighting that quite widespread commonplace that a “game designer” is someone who makes a zone, drops NPCs and spawns points, and creates loot lists.

You would think that it should be obvious to consider “game design” a whole lot more than that. But then you can see a veteran like Lum that also consolidates that commonplace as a proven reality:

Purchase Neverwinter Nights (1 or 2, doesn’t matter, though NWN2’s toolset is closer to what you’ll see in MMO studios) and make a module. Bioware REQUIRES you to make a NWN module to even get your foot in the door on worldbuilding. The experience in general will teach you much about design and implementation, give you a set for what working with tools is like (most of which aren’t nearly as polished as the NWN suite) and will give you something concrete to show in your job interview. Having something concrete puts you ahead of 99% of the people trying to break into the industry.

If you want to be a designer and think deep thoughts, forget it and find something more useful to do.

He is obviously right, but the point is that it’s all part of a wrong culture of “game design”, as I wrote.

If you want to become a WRITER then, sure, go pick up NWN2 because it’s a great tool to demonstrate that. But writing is still a very, very, very tiny fragment of “game design”. And if you prove your talent as a writer this doesn’t make you a good designer on other aspects, in the same way being a good designer on other aspects doesn’t implies or requires that you are also a good writer.

On this site, even if I cannot be considered a game designer, I’ve written often, legitimately, about game design. But without ever giving ideas for a zone, or suggesting stories for quests or something similar. Why? How can it be possible? It’s possible because game design is a lot more than that and the strict story text is not what interests me.

In fact the writing aspect can be considered peripheral to game design.

Today I was cleaning some of the links and I found a pertinent article from Brian Hook, whose experience in the gaming industry is unquestionable and who has something to say:

Things That Aren’t Design

What this means is that a lot of things that are the purview of a designer are not, in fact, designer tasks.

* Level construction: Until a few years ago, traditionally a “level designer” was responsible for all aspects of a level’s look and play. However, playability and appearance are orthogonal, and so you had a lot of levels that were awesome to behold but boring to play, and levels that were fun as hell but bland. As such, I don’t really believe in the concept of a “level designer” anymore, I believe there should be a game designer, who maps the flow of a level, and an artist responsible for building the level and making it aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully this is how most companies are doing it today.

* Writing: At what point did someone decide that game designers were also authors? Writing should be left up to individuals that are proven to have writing ability — this may be a designer, but more often than not I’d argue this should be an actual writer. Go figure.

* Scripting: Being able to write scripts is a handy ability, but it’s not a first order design skill. Should a designer be expected to write code or make textures? Of course not, yet somehow designers are asked to wire together levels and write complicated AI scripts. As with level design, a designer should be able to define behaviour and hand off the coding to someone like, I dunno, a coder.

So what’s left for the NWN modder?

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