Chuck Skoda shared a link today from Austin Kleon featuring some very interesting things that he has learned in his time as being an artist. The article is written in the point of view of himself talking to his past self which is very similar to my 12 Tips to Starting Game Designers. He raises some very interesting things which I feel can be directly applied to game and level design. For purposes of conversation I will assume that you have already read the article and if you haven’t you may do so here.
The web article has also been turned into a book which you can purchase from Amazon (with me getting a few pennies for referring it to you) below:
Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back…. Back? Awesome.
(Optimistic Indie Dev Meme pictures are not made by me and are from the TIGSource forums here)
1. Steal Like An Artist Game Designer
Its a well known fact that games are becoming more and more similar and it seems that once a game does something that is successful you’ll soon see it in a lot of different games (Halo’s control scheme is the first thing to come to mind, however there are many others). This is in both a good and a bad thing.
People are inspired by the things that are around them and the problem with our industry is that fact that most people have the same things that inspire them. To break this cycle it’s important to have something new to bring to the table which is one of the reasons I still do film editing when I get the chance and go to musicals to broaden my horizons as much as I can because it is the overall goal for a game designer to have a broad understanding of as many things as they possibly can so they have the largest toolbox in which to steal from when they need it.
Lunaris has taken inspiration from a wide variety of many different platformers (Sonic, Mario, Donkey Kong, Don’t Look Back, Super Meat Boy, and my sophomore game Tim-E for starters) but I have worked hard on creating an experience that is familiar so anyone can pick it up and play but has enough depth with multiplayer so that players keep coming back for more, and I think we’re starting to succeed.
2. Don’t wait before starting things
There have been so many times in which someone has told me they wanted to start doing level design but didn’t want to start till they knew what they are doing. Now I’ve been working with Unreal for years now and I can tell you for a fact that I don’t know everything there is to know about it. I once heard that it takes 2000 hours working on something before you become an expert with it. Since technology is moving so quickly I seriously doubt many people will ever be able to spend 2000 hours working on one editor. The hardest part of doing a project is starting it (the second hardest is completing it, but that’s for another post) The great thing about attending a college is that you have a force to make you put forth the effort to get started, but if you have any self-motivation and are thinking they may want to try doing level design: Make something. Anything. Make mistakes, it’s all a part of the process.
3. Write the book you want to read
This blog isn’t written for the sole purpose for me to admire my own writing (though, I do look back at it for links to things that I like…). I write because I know I would have loved to have been able to see the stuff that I’m writing now when I was starting out and I try to share whatever I can so that I can help anyone that was/is in my place. Granted, my lifestyle makes it quite hard to make the time to write but its something that I enjoy doing and I actually have been doing this even more literally now that I’ve started writing books that I really wish I had when I started working with Unreal.
4. Use Your Hands
One of the largest complaints that I get as a TA is in the fact that students don’t enjoy making physical prototypes of things and would much rather go into Photoshop/3dsMax/Unity and pump something out. Their arguments can seem valid, but there is something to be said in the value of getting your hands dirty.
Just to get this out in the open, I use my tablet PC in order to get my initial ideas down which has a lot of the advantages of a whiteboard/paper without fear of loosing it so I’m not entirely using a paper system, but I often will make printouts when needed.
Not only is pre-production one of the most critical times in the development process, but it also is the best times to focus on the nugget of awesome in your project and learning how to exploit it in any way possible. Thinking in terms of time and resources as money it is a lot less costly to paper prototype your menu system and finding a fundamental flaw in it by using flash cards before spending 3 weeks (which it will in a large enough code base) getting it up in your engine and having to rewrite major parts which would have been discovered by playtesting the little pieces of paper. On a similar note; I’ve talked about the advantages of One Page Design Docs before, as long GDDs are a reality of the game industry as it exists now. I know when I’m placing my thoughts down it is much easier to come up with new things by just jotting things down rather than having to type it out which in turn makes the GDD much easier to get things placed in.
5. Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important
I can’t agree with this any more. DigiPen at the moment only has 2 classes involving 3d Level Design and while beneficial and helped me to settle into the Unreal Engine (I previously only used Hammer) I feel it only scratched the surface of what I wanted to do with level design. In my spare time, I work on levels for Unreal Demolition and while at GDC most companies I talked to seemed to become very interested in me when I talked about the mod experience that I’ve had. Doing things outside of school shows that you have a passion for it, and if you’re passionate about something you’re going to produce the best things that you can, which is all you can hope to accomplish.
6. The Secret: do good work and put it where people can see it.
Not much else to say about this part. I’ve tried to make everything that I do as transparent as I possibly can talking about why I make the decisions that I do and I show both what I’ve succeeded in as well as what I feel I could have worked on so I can grow and mature as a designer.
7. Geography is no longer our master
We live in such an exciting time right now. With the rapid expansion of the modding community and sites such as ModDB and World of Level Design it has never been easier to get our work known and/or create bonds with people that are doing the exact same thing that we love doing. Also with the ability of people to go to conventions such as GDC and E3 the Game Industry as a whole has become even closer and more connected than it ever has before, and that is an awesome thing.
8. Be Nice (The World is a Small Town)
First of all, most of the people that I have met in the game industry are fantastic people and are wonderful to get to know. However, with the industry itself being as small as it is it is more important that ever to never burn any bridges. Everyone seems to know everybody or at least has a connection to someone. If you happen to treat or talk of someone poorly, people just seem to find out. Focus on the positives and give people props when they deserve them, because people are awesome. True story.
9. Be Boring (It’s the only way to get anything done)
Not exactly the thing to be talking about at 5:00 in the morning as you’re writing the paper. This is one thing…. I have not worked on, but I have a feeling that once I graduate DigiPen (or the summer at least) it will be much easier to take this advice more seriously; but I have a feeling that if I have another stoke of genius or a deadline that needs to be filled I’ll be up as long as it takes to get the project completed.
10. Creativity is subtraction
Players don’t need to be told every little thing when they are exploring an area and it is often better if they aren’t. The world of Rapture is wonderful in terms of the story that it tells of the Fallen City and gives us glimpses at what it was like in its “glory days” but it’s the voids that we have to fill in that gives it the depth that makes it one of the best characters that we have seen in a game (though I know some may argue about Bioshock 2). This isn’t to be said that the designer shouldn’t think of it; it is actually quite the opposite. To provide narrative without blatantly telling it to the player is one of the things that I strive to work on because it is a designer’s job to teach players and the best tutorial is the one the player doesn’t realize they are going through.
In other news, Lunaris has it’s own site now and I’ll be working on it over the course of this week adding new video and levels to be playtested while making revisions to the site.
I’ve also been working behind the scenes on Unreal Demoltion trying to get multiplayer servers to work correctly. All in all things are going fantastically, and I’m really excited to see how things are going to be coming along. Till next time!