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Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Michael Fitch.

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Presentation on theme: "Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Michael Fitch."— Presentation transcript:

1 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Michael Fitch

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

3 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Think up cool game ideas Make the games you want to play Become a game god… The Dream of the Designer

4 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer 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 The Reality of Design

5 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer 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 So, what’s in a pitfall?

6 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer 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 A few debts to acknowledge: The stupid bits are all mine…

7 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Failing to Define Design

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

9 Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design 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? Design is team and project specific

10 Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design 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 Establish approval paths

11 Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design 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 Manage team input

12 Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design Set concrete goals Prototype design process, if necessary Periodically check your assumptions against reality Make sure the team gets fed Schedule Design Tasks

13 Pitfalls: Failing to Define Design Ad hoc design is a recipe for disaster.

14 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Too Many Cooks

15 Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks 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! Ideas are great fun

16 Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks 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? Ideas are hard to resist

17 Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks 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 Capture the magic

18 Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks 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 Don’t be that guy!

19 Pitfalls: Too Many Cooks Design is more about eliminating ideas than coming up with them.

20 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Believing the Hype

21 Pitfalls: Believing the Hype 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 Design takes marketing

22 Pitfalls: Believing the Hype 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? Theory comes before practice

23 Pitfalls: Believing the Hype 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 Build a solid sand castle

24 Pitfalls: Believing the Hype 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 Make a contingency plan

25 Pitfalls: Believing the Hype You have to create the hype, but you can’t let it blind you.

26 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer The Devil’s in the Documents

27 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents 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? Designer → Writer

28 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents 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 Target your audience

29 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents 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 Establish a standard

30 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents 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 Work for the team

31 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents 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 No document survives an encounter with production

32 Pitfalls: The Devil’s in the Documents The only useful document is the one that gets read.

33 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Bright, Shiny Objects

34 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects Most of us are here because we’re gamers Competitive research The “wow” reaction The transplant theory, or when Developers play games “This is cool” becomes “We need to do this”

35 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects Everything is connected –Actions are defined by context Feedback is a loop The gun example –Balance – AI –Effects – Level Design –Physics – UI – Story A single feature cannot be lifted

36 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects 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 Timing is everything

37 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects 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? Moving the goalposts

38 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects Know a convention when you see one Insist on a zero-sum approach Set a high standard Protect the core Use those approval gates! Keep your eyes on the prize

39 Pitfalls: Bright, Shiny Objects Games are not the sum of their features.

40 Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer Conclusion

41 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

42 Pitfalls: That’s all, folks. Thank you for coming!

43 Contact


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