Monday’s class was a big moment of truth for me (and my students). The first major multi-week project was due, and it was the first real test of their ability not only to design amazing levels, but also to present their work and prove their skills as communicators and team players as well.
I can’t go into any details for confidentiality reasons, but suffice it to say, both groups knocked it out of the park on their pitch presentations AND their design documents. I’m not only excited as a teacher (hopefully, this means they’re actually learning something in my class), but as a gamer – I really can’t wait to play the finished products.
I’m glad we’ve spent as much time on design documents as we have – not only does it appear to have aided the groups in getting all of their information together in a clean, clear, comprehensive format, it’s going to help them in the long run. I was running around the Gamasutra job board the other day, gathering material for an upcoming exercise, and it quickly became apparent that great design docs are still an asset to any budding designer’s portfolio.
Just check out this little blurb in the description for a Level Designer job at Irrational:
“Please remember to include: video, screenshots or save games for levels that you created in the past. Game design documents, writing samples and/or game analysis should be submitted as appropriate.”
Unlike a position in programming, or even the art department, jobs in design blend skillsets that are simply harder to nail down in terms of specifics. Just check out the “Required experience and skills” section:
“This position requires a high degree of creativity. You will be required to work with the team to form a “vision” of your levels and use that vision to inform your design decisions.
An important part of the role is communicating that vision clearly and concisely to the rest of the team and ensuring that they have a clear and specific mandate for their work. You must also provide a receptive ear so that other team members can provide input on the game design.
Above all we are looking for somebody with enthusiasm, passion and the desire to create levels that are going to amaze gamers.”
Design can be a muddy thing. Sometimes it’s even difficult to define, precisely, and the lack of bullet points in the “requirements” section speaks volumes to that.
My goal for this class is to send students on their way through the program with well-practiced, portable skills, an extensive creative vocabulary, and yes, design documents and finished levels that they can show off in interviews.
Speaking of jobs…
Most of the class after the presentations was spent on describing the various positions and roles that exist at development studios (and at major publishers). It’s funny, going through the roster, just how modular game design is: we’ve got the designers masterminding the game, artists visualizing and producing assets, programmers bringing everything into fruition, QA fixing all the bugs, and producers managing the whole team of disparate personalities and skills. I’ve always been fascinated by team dynamics, and much more interested in the “behind the scenes” stories about developers, which are almost always more entertaining than the stories in most actual games.
This point leads me to put on my blogger/game journalist hat for a moment:
It sucks that PR controls the narrative about the making of games so tightly in the games press. I’d love to hear about the “happy accidents”, the personality conflicts and “saving grace” kinds of moments that go into the making of my favorite games, and I think a lot of other gamers would too. The best we have are post-mortems, which are wonderful, as a rule, but few and far between. I’d love, as a reader and as a writer, to be able to access developers for full on “behind the games” features.
Alas, the best we have are the twitter feeds of outspoken developers like David Jaffe.
Next week, I’ll be lugging several consoles to class for our second major project: analyzing game mechanics across genres. I’m still trying to nail down the best titles for the assignment, but for now, I’m thinking a sampling of Civilization IV, Super Scribblenauts, BioShock, Boom Blox, God of War II and yes, LittleBigPlanet will do nicely for our purposes.