Archive for October, 2008

Books

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Don’t have time to write a detailed post, but:

1.) Chris Crawford on Game Design: Not recommended, unless you’re a real game design wonk, and even then, only the first half of the book is really all that useful. The rest, a summary of Crawford’s experiences on the various games he’s developed, is old enough that it’s actually mostly obsolete. His writing style will also put off people who don’t take well to arrogance. Didn’t bother me all that much, but it actually does make some of his anecdotes less useful, because it’s really hard to determine whether it’s Crawford’s brain or his ego talking. I enjoyed the first half, but I *am* a game design wonk. So there.

2.) The Design of Everyday Things, by Robert Norman: Excellent, and highly recommended if you’re in any field of design, or have any influence on anything design-related. Hell, if you do anything with systems of any sort, or have users that interact with your work, it’s highly recommended reading. Many things that “feel” obvious are codified clearly in this book, and it gives you a more structured way to talk about what makes good design good, and bad design bad.

Next up, The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker.

Back Into It

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

The last few months at work have sucked. Full stop. That’s why I interviewed at Sega, that’s why I was looking elsewhere. I was bored, I was underutilized, and I wasn’t doing what I do well. I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t producing stuff, and I wasn’t challenged. So, when I was promoted, that burden shifted to me. If I’m bored now, it’s my fault. If I’m unchallenged and underutilized, I’m not doing enough.

There are two major components to my job, now:

  1. Help the designers continue to grow: This basically amounts to a combination of continuing education, and getting people to interact more. It means not being buried in your own project, but staying aware of everything that’s going on at the company. It’s reading, playing, and thinking about those things critically. It seems incredibly strange to me that you could have a game designer who isn’t a voracious consumer of information, who isn’t always up to date on the latest technology and design, but strangely, most people seem to just put their head down, work on whatever it is they’re working on, and only peek up to play a few games here and there. A lot of the designers also *only* game as a hobby. I’ll be exposing them to a variety of other things, from getting artists at the company to help them learn to draw, to getting as many of them as possible to participate in things like NaNoWriMo.
  2. Maintain a high standard of quality across all projects: While I’m pretty comfortable with the first part, just because I have a pretty useful and actionable philosophy when it comes to design, and what kinds of experience you should have to be a good designer, this was a little more challenging. My position now exists both in and out of the project hierarchy. On one hand, I’m working on a single project. On the other hand, I have to know what’s going on on all the projects, and ensure that from a design perspective, we’re actively addressing the major problems these games face. That means that essentially on one project, I’m a generic designer, on all projects I *also* work at a level higher than the leads. It’s quite strange, and I thought it would be really problematic.

Fortunately, it isn’t. Today’s the first day that some of the things I’d set in motion have come together, and they’re working out well so far. My worries about the hierarchy have proven to be largely irrelevant. People have accepted me in this role pretty quickly, and there don’t seem to be any problems with that. I can give input, and it’s taken well. More, it’s acted on when action is necessary. So far.

Did the first wave of one-on-ones with the individual designers, and again, things went well. I was a little worried that things would end up running short – that we wouldn’t have enough to discuss for the 15 minutes/per designer I’d scheduled. HA. 60 minutes of scheduled one-on-ones went to three-and-a-half hours. But all good discussions, lots of good information, and some things that I could do to actively have a positive impact really quickly.

One thing is a largely structural change to how designers interact with the CEO/Creative Director. It’s a pretty big deal – peoples’ relationship to him has been one of the most difficult aspects of how the company works, but for a couple months earlier in the year, the project I was on had it, IMO, licked. I’m hoping to bring that structure back, apply it to all the projects, and get all the designers on the same page, so that we develop a structure that keeps interference to a minimum, while still allowing the CD to have the proper, required input for the various projects.

It’s gonna be a bit of a political nightmare, and it’s going to require everyone to stick their necks out a little, but the potential upside is SO big that I think it’ll be trivial to get everyone on board. I know almost everyone’s already on board, anyway.

So, it’s good. The role feels right for me. It’s the kind of thing I can do well, have a strong impact at the company. I’m still hands-on, designing the details, implementing parts of those designs myself, but also working with people to solve the company’s bigger problems, for the first time with authority from above as well as below. Here’s to change.