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Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer. Michael Fitch. Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer. So, who is this guy?. Creative Manager at THQ Previously at Red Storm Entertainment Before that, at Atomic Games A long time ago… a dreamer. Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer.

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pitfalls of the working lead designer
Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

So, who is this guy?

  • Creative Manager at THQ
  • Previously at Red Storm Entertainment
  • Before that, at Atomic Games
  • A long time ago… a dreamer
pitfalls of the working lead designer3
Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

The Dream of the Designer

  • Think up cool game ideas
  • Make the games you want to play
  • Become a game god…
pitfalls of the working lead designer4
Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

The Reality of Design

  • Ideas are easy, design is work
    • Coordinating all the pieces
    • Respecting the budgets
    • Solving problems two years before they happen
  • Designers always work for someone
    • Producer, studio, publisher, audience
  • Results are what matter
pitfalls of the working lead designer5
Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

So, what’s in a pitfall?

  • Structural problems
    • It happens to everyone, sooner or later
  • Issues of design process
    • This is not about content
  • Knowledge is half the battle
    • It’s also only half the battle
pitfalls of the working lead designer6
Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

A few debts to acknowledge:

  • The fine folks at Red Storm
  • Keith Zabaloui
  • Everyone who takes the time to publish their own lessons on the web, in books, at events like GDC

The stupid bits are all mine…

pitfalls failing to define design
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Design is difficult to define

  • Design is a creative process
  • A lead designer wears many hats
    • Storyteller – Marketer
    • Visionary – Historian
    • Psychologist – Mediator
    • Cheerleader – Psychic
pitfalls failing to define design9
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Design is team and project specific

  • There are no industry-wide standards
  • Every team is different
  • Designers have to be flexible
  • Deliverables can be difficult to sort out
  • Every game has its unique issues

So, what can you do?

pitfalls failing to define design10
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Establish approval paths

  • Consensus is great, but someone needs to have the final say
    • Not always the lead designer
  • Approval is a gate
    • Backing up will result in severe tire damage
  • The shorter the loop, the better
pitfalls failing to define design11
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Manage team input

  • Make design a visible process
    • Tell the team why, not just how
  • Create specific times and deadlines for feedback
    • And pay attention to what you get
  • Provide closure for the team
pitfalls failing to define design12
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Schedule Design Tasks

  • Set concrete goals
  • Prototype design process, if necessary
  • Periodically check your assumptions against reality
  • Make sure the team gets fed
pitfalls failing to define design13
Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design

Ad hoc design is a recipe for disaster.

pitfalls too many cooks
Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks

Ideas are great fun

  • This is a problem
    • There are always already too many
  • Beware the two-man effect
    • A is a great idea!
    • It is! And so is B!
    • Yes, exactly! A and B and C are great!
    • We need A, B, C, and D in our game!
pitfalls too many cooks16
Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks

Ideas are hard to resist

  • Saying “no” makes you the bad guy
  • Sometimes, you are the one you need to say “no” to
  • There are some people who won’t take “no” for an answer

So, what can you do?

pitfalls too many cooks17
Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks

Capture the magic

  • Don’t start with “no”
    • Get the full picture
    • Collaborate; run with the idea
    • Clarify the goal
    • Find the motivation
  • Give them what they want, not what they ask for
pitfalls too many cooks18
Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks

Don’t be that guy!

  • Make your approval gates reliable
  • When you get the urge, get a gut check
  • Separate enthusiasm from workability
  • You are not an exception to your own rules
pitfalls too many cooks19
Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks

Design is more about eliminating ideas than coming up with them.

pitfalls believing the hype
Pitfalls: Believing the Hype

Design takes marketing

  • Bullet points on the back of the box
    • First, you sell the people with the money
    • Then, you sell the people with the skills
  • Why it’s the designers that do the pitch
    • Plotting the path
    • The leap of faith
pitfalls believing the hype22
Pitfalls: Believing the Hype

Theory comes before practice

  • It takes months of work to shape the game
    • That’s a huge investment, and a huge risk
  • Each feature locks you in more tightly
    • There is always a limit to the budget
  • What happens if the theory is wrong?
    • There are no “takebacks” in marketing
    • There are no changes without costs

So, what can you do?

pitfalls believing the hype23
Pitfalls: Believing the Hype

Build a solid sand castle

  • Prototype, prototype, prototype
    • Be prepared to throw out your work
  • Assess your status with a critical eye
    • If you’re too close, get an outside opinion
  • Move from the center to the fringe
    • There’s the core of the game, then there’s everything else
pitfalls believing the hype24
Pitfalls: Believing the Hype

Make a contingency plan

  • Build scale into the project
    • Plan for adjustments; they always happen
  • Know what can be cut before you’re asked
    • Features and content
  • Everything has a priority
    • Last in, first out
pitfalls believing the hype25
Pitfalls: Believing the Hype

You have to create the hype, but you can’t let it blind you.

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Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer

The Devil’s in the Documents

pitfalls the devil s in the documents
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

Designer → Writer

  • Sooner or later, everything will be documented
  • Level of detail is a Catch-22
  • You get what you ask for, not what you want
  • Living documents require constant attention

So, what can you do?

pitfalls the devil s in the documents28
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

Target your audience

  • Keep documents short and clear
    • Only as much as is needed
  • Adjust the language appropriately
    • Marketing vs. Management vs. Test
  • Avoid the monolith
    • The era of big bibles is over
pitfalls the devil s in the documents29
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

Establish a standard

  • Templates save time
    • Consistent formats are easier to scan
  • Use version control
  • Put everything in plain sight
    • Intranet, Wiki, network drives, etc.
  • Work from the high level down
    • Vision, approach, implementation, asset
pitfalls the devil s in the documents30
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

Work for the team

  • Don’t assume that you know what works
    • Use drafts to revise presentation as well as content
    • Change your formats if needed
    • Sometimes visual is faster than text
  • Foreground goals and rationale
    • Someone may know a better path to the prize
    • Context clarifies key concerns
  • Give the team what they need now
    • You can only be so far ahead of the curve
pitfalls the devil s in the documents31
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

No document survives an encounter with production

  • Revise, revise, revise
    • Highlight changes in the documents
    • Keep what’s new front and center
    • Push old information to the back
  • Add specifics, but keep the logic
    • Answering one question vs. establishing a method
  • Avoid document fatigue
pitfalls the devil s in the documents32
Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents

The only useful document is the one that gets read.

pitfalls bright shiny objects
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

Developers play games

  • Most of us are here because we’re gamers
  • Competitive research
  • The “wow” reaction
  • The transplant theory, or when

“This is cool”

becomes

“We need to do this”

pitfalls bright shiny objects35
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

A single feature cannot be lifted

  • Everything is connected
    • Actions are defined by context
  • Feedback is a loop
  • The gun example
    • Balance – AI
    • Effects – Level Design
    • Physics – UI

– Story

pitfalls bright shiny objects36
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

Timing is everything

  • You and everyone else on the planet
  • From you to the customer
  • You always remember your first time
  • Leader of the pack
  • Trends vs. watersheds
pitfalls bright shiny objects37
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

Moving the goalposts

  • Every change costs more than you think
  • Tuning touches all systems
  • Something has to give
  • Back to the stone age
  • Is it worth it?

So, what can you do?

pitfalls bright shiny objects38
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

Keep your eyes on the prize

  • Know a convention when you see one
  • Insist on a zero-sum approach
  • Set a high standard
  • Protect the core
  • Use those approval gates!
pitfalls bright shiny objects39
Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects

Games are not the sum of their features.

pitfalls conclusion
Pitfalls: Conclusion
  • The focus of design is production
  • Best practices trump best theories
  • Every team and project is different
  • Know the red flags when you see them
  • Have solutions before you need them
  • It’s not about you; it’s about the game
pitfalls that s all folks
Pitfalls: That’s all, folks.

Thank you for coming!

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Contact

http://www.micrysweb.com

Michael@micrysweb.com