Friday, March 13, 2009

Secrecy

Amongst amateur game designers, there is a widely-spread deep-seated paranoia that someone somewhere is trolling the internet looking for the next big game concept and is perfectly happy to steal their idea. I will admit that I've often struggled with this fear myself. After all, when you put a lot of time and effort into something, even if it's something completely intangible like an idea, there's a strong desire to protect it. So while it may be naive and a little self-absorbed to think that your ideas are worth stealing, it is still a pretty natural and valid response.

However, there are two very strong cases for sharing your work in an open manner. First, game design, more than any other form of entertainment, is audience-driven. The people who play it have an important, active role to play in the scheme of things. While a film or book can be interpreted differently by everyone, the work is still the same for everyone who experiences it. You will see the same scenes or read the same words as I do; whether or not we see them in the same light or read them in the same context doesn't change the media.

A video game, on the other hand, will always produce a different experience based on whoever is playing. So unlike other forms of entertainment, the experience taken from a video game is defined by those who play it, not just by those who create it. A game designer makes the game to a point, but once he's finished, the gamer takes over and 'finishes the job', so to speak. In that respect, all game design really is 'made for other people'.

Thus, in my opinion, trying to work on a game design from an isolated, sound-proof broom closet will inevitably lead to the kind of game that only the designer would ever want to play. In the coming posts, I will inevitably be sharing my ideas. What I consider a good idea may in fact turn out to be a horrible idea. I like to think that I would know the difference, but I've often been surprised when I work on something, show it to a few friends, and get completely negative feedback.

To think that an amateur or student game designer can tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea is foolhardy; natural talent only goes so far. Thus, by sharing my ideas with the world, the world can then look me square in the eyes and tell me I'm an idiot. Or, more eloquently, If you don't know when you're making mistakes, how can you ever hope to learn from them?

The second reason not to hide your ideas away is that game development is inescapably a team-driven effort. Most games today aren't produced by a single person, but instead a large group of creative individuals each with their own idea of what's entertaining.

Of course, you could make the game all by yourself and hope nobody comes up with the same idea in the 20 years it takes you to make it. Assuming you live that long, since you'll be living in poverty; producing anything amazing is going to come with huge personal costs. For example, Braid cost Jonathan Blow $180,000 of his own money and took three years to produce. I don't think most of us have that kind of cash lying around or that much free time. Braid also wasn't made entirely by one person; David Hellman produced the art and all of the music is licensed.

The only realistic option for most of us is to study hard, dream big, and work with like-minded individuals (either at a job or through social networking) to get something done. You absolutely cannot go it alone anymore.

I consider the widening of the target audience and the greater odds that your game will actually be produced to be worth the slim chance that someone who reads your idea will have the opportunity to act on it and steal it away. As I've said, game design is largely concerned with making something for other people, and getting a better idea of what those people want to experience can, in turn, help to make better games. Or at least games that can reach a wider audience. If you're not concerned with that, that's perfectly fine; just don't get upset when all of that fortune and glory you feel your game design should be earning never materializes.

As I write in this space, I will try to be as completely open and forthcoming as possible, though I am sure that I will have a great difficulty exposing my fledgling ideas. In that regard, this post was written to address my own fears and concerns as much as those of other amateur game designers. I am sure I will look back on it whenever I get that sneaking suspicion that somebody is about to snatch up my life's work, and remind myself that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Life is far too short to hide your passion in a bubble.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Design Challenges: Winning Entries

Here are my winning entries and honorable mentions for the Gamecareerguide.com Game Design Challenges, listed by date. As I receive more, I will continue to update this post and make announcements. Additional materials and notes from each entry can be provided upon request. Articles written for non-winning entries or to provide additional info are listed as "Blog Article".

Unofficial community-run challenges appear at the bottom of this post.

Challenge: Make Monopoly Fun (9/17/08)
Create three rules for the board game Monopoly, that make it more fun for all players.
Winning Entry (Second Place): Monopoly: Fame and Fortune Edition

Challenge: Create an Achivement (11/5/08)
Invent an achievement.
Winning Entry (First Place): Grand Theft Auto IV: Playing it Straight

Challenge: Reboot the Series (7/22/09)
Reboot, reimagine, redesign your favorite game series.
Honorable Mention: The Last Strider

Challenge: The Letter (8/12/09)
Design a game which opens with the main character receiving a very significant letter.
Honorable Mention: Chain

Challenge: Be the Hero (9/2/09)
Take a side character from a game and promote them to a hero.
Winning Entry (Third Place): Space Invaders: The Second Wave

Challenge: Photographic Interpretation (10/21/09)
Create a game design based on the sample photo.
Winning Entry (First Place): Burning Man

Challenge: Sidekick (11/12/09)
Invent a Sidekick.
Unselected Entry: Metroid: Evolution
(Blog Article)

Challenge: A New Vision (2/03/10)
Re-envision a game that was ahead of its time.
Winning Entry (Second Place): Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
(Blog Article)

Challenge: Romance (2/23/10)
Create a romance game for Western audiences.
Honorable Mention: Someone for Everyone

Challenge: Rickroll (3/25/10)
Rickroll your way to a great game.
Winning Entry (Third Place): Rick Role

Results:
First Place: 2
Second Place: 2
Third Place: 2
Honorable Mention: 3
Unselected Entries: 1


Unofficial Challenges:

Challenge: Be the NPC (9/26/10)
Make a game where the player takes on the role of a common video game NPC.
Winning Entry (First place): Adventure Insurance
(Blog Article)

Introduction

Congratulations; you've stumbled into yet another completely useless corner of the internet. And it gets worse; this particular corner happens to be one of those damn blogs where self-important people ramble on senselessly, pretending the rest of the world is listening attentively.

Well, as long as you're here, you might as well take a look around. Based on the pixel-art joystick, it's probably safe to assume this blog is going to be about video games. That's good news, right? I mean, considering what's out there on the internet these days, you're lucky it's not more kitten pictures...

... or porn...

... or kitten porn.

Upon closer inspection, this blog appears to be about game design. That must mean the author is one of those basement-dwelling ultra-nerds, not content to play video games but rather obsess over them as a form of "creative expression". Look, it even has a witty title! Level 1 Game Designer. I bet he starts calling it "L1GD" before the end of the month like it's some kind of trendy internet hot spot all the kids want to abbreviate.

Perhaps you're not so lucky after all. These amateur game designers can be a pretty horrible lot, talking about about how awesome their game is and how awesome they are for coming up with the idea, and if only someone would give them a million dollars they could prove it's the Best. Game. Ever. In fact, amateur game design blogs are such a common sight these days, you could safely put money on it. Twenty bucks says there's a notebook full of scribbly notes and stick-figures having sword fights.

If I were a betting man, I'd bet against me too.

After all, this is the new millennium; video games are part of an enormous, profit-driven industry, not the kind of place a single guy working alone can hope to make any impact or produce anything worthy of attention. The days of the renegade coder putting together a shareware game are well behind us, replaced by big-budget productions and create-by-corporate-consensus design. A good idea by itself never was never worth much, but in the game development industry, you can't even get a penny for your thoughts.

On top of that, the game industry is notoriously difficult to get into. Most of the game development studios require a potential employee to have a few years of on-the-job experience under their belt, but it's difficult to earn that experience if you can't get a job without it in the first place. Quite a catch-22, that is.

Well, if you're at all familiar with gamer lingo, you probably picked up on that not-so-subtle level 1 / earn experience bit. Clever, eh? It only took six paragraphs to get to the point, the reason behind this little patch of cyberspace. I have, for almost all of my life, had a casual interest in game design. I have pages of crudely-crafted level designs from my youth, drawn in the finest shades Crayola can provide. I have spiral-ring notebooks and D-ring binders filled with pages of ideas.

Unfortunately, I'm a terrible self-educator and am treading water financially; there's no fancy game design schools in my near future. While I would eventually like to turn it into a career, at the moment I am just happy to treat it as a hobby.

So now we come to it, what this corner of the internet really is; a space for me to toss ideas around and maybe share them with any poor souls who accidentally wander in. I have no grand hope that some angel-developer will come across this space and 'recognize my genius', because that's not the way the real world works. The way I look at it, we have painters, sculptors and poets who have never made a dime off their endeavors, but keep painting, sculpting and writing because it brings them joy. I don't see why game design has to be any different.

So that's that. If you have even a passing interest in game design, gaming in general, or just enjoy reading the opinions of others (and really, who doesn't?!), you may find something worth reading. I'll keep updating as long as I have something to write about, which, given the length of this introduction post, will probably be a while. I hope you'll stick around and maybe share a few thoughts of your own.

Ugh. When you look away all you can see is an inversion of that hideous blue gradient. Really wasn't worth the click, was it?