I am always at my desk. As a matter of fact, I have to think really hard to imagine a time in the past three years when I haven’t been sitting at my desk chipping away at the outer shell of “game development.” For a very long time I’ve sat at this desk and worked my ass off because Nicholas and I had no idea what we were doing, and I had to learn my part as quickly and carefully as possible. When we began, we demarcated artwork and coding between ourselves, while sharing the responsibility of underlying game design for each of our projects. I would work on art, visuals, and sound, while Nicholas chugged away on all the programming, and we had meetings constantly over the course of weeks, months, and eventually two solid years to discuss, brainstorm, and flesh out game design elements of our projects.
Without getting into too much detail on any one piece of that puzzle, one of the most stable resources I found very early on in this process has been podcasts and interviews of veteran independent game developers. Absolutely invaluable, I cannot stress this enough. Every moment of every day that I was working on 3D models, textures or 2D sprites, I would simultaneously be absorbing the wisdom and bad jokes of those who’ve indirectly paved our way. Ours is a vast jungle of humanity and possibility, and those in front have a hell of a lot to teach those of us behind.
I freely admit that my sheer and sincere passion to succeed in this industry, with our own published works, most likely colors the tint on my glasses. In other words, I’m very biased toward the material I’m about to share with you, but honestly I don’t care very much because they have been one of the few constant hums during some very dark and silent times for me. Sitting at this desk can get very lonely. These pieces do have some incredible insights packed in them, and sometimes you just need to scrape away some dust to get there, or be listening for the right phrases to become amped and inspired, but I assure you they are there.
Anyway, without further ado (and because I need to get back to work) here are some of my top links to inspirational-or-otherwise-helpful material, in no particular order:
- State of Play - Ed McMillen Full Interview: This is nearly 2 hours of Ed McMillen basically ripping his skin off and showing you his guts underneath. He talks about his development process from conception through implementation, and juxtaposes “success” from “work,” specifically when it comes to younger game developers ignoring the decade of unsuccessful work that is usually required before the “runaway success.” He covers a lot of ground in 2 hours and it’s very, very thoughtful.
- How to Design Deep Games - Jonathan Blow: A 1-hour plunge into Jonathan Blow’s erratic-but-organized design process as he guides you through some of the more abstract steps of designing games with “love,” including how to think about ideas, which is exceptionally important but oft-neglected. I know a fair amount of people who dislike Blow for his almost overbearing, seemingly pseudo-intellectual personality, but I’ve come to naturally fall into the same rhythm myself as he is in, and so far it seems to work extraordinarily well. To me, Blow is an artistic game developer, and artists are notoriously difficult to wrestle out of their own egos at times, so it’s par for the course. Don’t miss this lecture.
Idle Thumbs Podcast - Multiple Episodes: This is a series of podcasts by Gone Home developer Steve Gaynor (of The Fullbright Company) which specifically documents how successful developers have controlled tone in their games, and everything that comes with that. Here are three of my favorites:
Episode 2 - Neil Druckman: Creative Director of The Last of Us discusses the utter importance of level design and how he had to master it in order to begin landing more important roles at Naughty Dog a decade before the Last of Us masterpiece.
Episode 4 - Clint Hocking: Director of Far Cry 2 talks about his fight with proving that the sheer breadth of Far Cry, with the right technical artistry, would be engaging enough to sell with an extraordinary budget.
- Episode 13 - Jake Solomon: Creative Director of X-COM: Enemy Unknown takes us through ten years of apprenticing under Sid Meier, and the deep fundamental wisdom he inherited by making the mistakes he made while under his tutelage. This is one of my all-time favorites because it deals with such a classic master of game design.
How to Be a Great Game Master - with Guy Sclanders: This is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast series developed and explained by veteran D&D Dungeon Master Guy Sclanders. It doesn’t have anything to do directly with video game development, but having been playing D&D myself for twenty years and video games for thirty, the two have a hell of a lot in common. Enough, in fact, that you will learn an awful lot about “game feel” through proper examination and interaction with the D&D framework. Guy goes through how to read your players, develop predictions based on their play styles, and translate all of that into an enjoyable gaming experience. It's basically “how to get inside the head of the player.” All things that are invaluable and immediately transferable to our digital development.
That’s all for this week. Have a great rest of the week, good luck and good skill in your development, and KEEP PLAYING!