A Game Designer Who Hates Art Classes?

A game designer hopeful wrote us to get some guidance on coursework. We thought it’d be helpful to everyone to share the response.

It’s good that you’re so focused on your goal of game art/design.

However, I’m surprised you don’t enjoy classes like sculpture and photography. Most game artists would gladly swap places with you right now to enjoy the creative freedom and opportunity to learn. Seriously. For them, those two subjects would be the definition of fun. (They are for me!) They also call upon many of the same skills you’d need as a game artist – an eye for composition, form, line, juxtaposition. If you lack those skills, or don’t enjoy using them, perhaps you should re-evaluate your career goals using a book like “What Color Is Your Parachute”. I don’t mean that as a knock – it’s just very surprising to hear of a would-be game artist who doesn’t enjoy art classes.

Even though it’s not digital art, these studio art classes are important to your development and ability to work in the industry. (Sculpture translates directly into 3D modeling, and photography helps with a lot of aspects of design and art.) The best game artists live and breathe art. They are constantly doodling and creating in both digital and traditional forms. Most of them have at least some classical training like the training you’re dreading now. Artists who only have digital skills almost always cannot do the same quality of work. You’d think it wouldn’t be obvious, but you can really tell the difference in the quality.

In short, you need to broaden your definition of art and design. Enjoy these classes, and if you find them odious, you should really find out why.

On 6/20, C, D <> wrote:

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

I am bored because I have to take sculpture, photography and what does that have to do with gaming.  I don’t like doing that kind of stuff.  Why can’t they teach me what it is that I need to learn.  I guess school or college is not for me but I need them to help me obtain my goal.  So how can I get pass all this in order to more ahead.  My parents are riding my back and the more they ride me the more discouraged I get.  I love drawing my own cartoon characters, and the ideas in my head, but there are no trade school in my area.

Can you give me some advise on how to get past this so I can accomplish my goal.  I would appreciate all the help I can get.

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Tuesday, June 19 5:14 PM
Subject: Re: Gaming (UNCLASSIFIED)


I’m not sure why you’re bored. I would hope that the courses would be a bit exciting. What kind of courses are problematic for you? Are you bored because the courses don’t seem related to game work?

On 6/18,  < > > wrote:

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE


My name is D, and I am a sophomore in college.  I am very interested in game design/art.  I find it very frustrating to maintain what I learn in school.  I find the classes they are offering to me very tedious and boring.  I need to know how I can maintain my studies the rest of my college years.  We don’t have a tech school by me to attend so that means I have to go to college.  I will get my B.F.A. so any advise on how to stay alert with the classes. Thanks.

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE


Do You Watch Your Friends Play Games?

Not everybody enjoys watching others play videogames, just like not everybody enjoys others play sports. There’s something about games that demands that hands-on experience.

Of course, a big part of it depends on the style and personality of the person you’re watching. If you’re a stealth gamer, you probably wouldn’t enjoy watching a brawler barrel through levels, for example.

But assuming you’re watching someone who plays like you do, or perhaps faster than you do (!), do you enjoy watching them play? Or are you itching for them to get an urgent call from their significant other?

I don’t love watching gameplay video, but I’m watching theRadBrad on Youtube right now. He’s got a pretty good style, he moves quickly, and he’s got a friendly, funny energy to him.


How Do You Meet Game Writers and Designers?

meet-game-writers-designersI got an interesting question recently on Quora and thought it might be useful to repost the Q&A here:

How do I meet game developers?

(I titled this post targeting game writers and game designers because that’s a little more relevant to this blog.)

Here’s my answer:

That’s not hard.

1) Find a local meetup for game developers and attend. Be courteous and research your questions before you ask them. Never ask anything that you could’ve read on Wikipedia. (Not so easy if you’re in a remote area.)
2) Go to the Game Dev Conference in California: GDC 2016.
3) Arrange a tour or informational interview with a local game studio for your school or interest group. (Not so easy if you don’t live near a studio)
4) Find the game developer group at your local university and join or support as best you can.

And of course be wary of the wannabes. There are a lot of “developers” who are just gamers with vaporware dreams.

See the Quora thread and feel free to weigh in.


Bioshock Co-Founder Calls It Quits

bioshock founder quitsSurprisingly, Irrational Games’ co-founder Ken Levine recently announced that he’s shutting down that studio. This means that future Bioshock games will almost certainly have much less of his handiwork. He did also say that he will start a new studio under publisher Take-Two that will focus on smaller, digital-distribution games. The new studio will only include about fifteen hand-picked heroes from Irrational.

With an announcement like this coming so hard on the heels of a well-received game like Bioshock Infinite, you immediately start to analyze the announcement and speculate about what happened behind the scenes. Levine’s rationale is put thusly:

To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.

Fair enough. Certainly you could guess that part of the problem was an unwieldy team rent apart by politics and backbiting.

For some really interesting analysis, go to the Gamasutra article comments to see what actual game developers are saying. Here are some of the more plangent thoughts and memes, paraphrased for your pleasure:

  • It’s serious trouble for the industry when a developer that released a top title a few months ago cannot sustain itself. You don’t implode your team without a good reason.
  • Take-Two may have decided to shut Irrational down after Levine picked the top 15 people and announced his intention to move on. But why didn’t he just form a small “special project” team of 15 within Irrational?
  • Bioshock was a critical success, but not a blockbuster and possibly ran a loss.*
  • Maybe it wasn’t Levine who shut down Irrational, but rather Take-Two, whose stock jumped at the news of the shuttering. Maybe Levine simply saved what he could from the smoking ruins.

None of these are particularly savory, but all of them sound quite plausible. I’d like to point to our article on why becoming a game designer isn’t all we’d hope it would be. Best of luck to all the Irrational staff who are reacting to this dramatic change.

* According to Wikipedia, BioShock Infinite was the top-selling console game for March 2013 and shipped 4 million copies by late July 2013. However, it wasn’t one of the top 10 selling games of 2013 and it placed #16 in the UK, where it sold particularly well.


An Indie Game Afternoon

Indie Game Madness at Fantastic Fest

Spent a chunk of the afternoon at the “Fantastic Arcade,” something I had no idea existed until a few weeks ago.

I was pretty impressed with the polish on most of these games, which are ripe and ready for DLC publication. Some of them are doubtlessly soon to hit Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Here are some snaps of the most notable indie games my friends and I saw, but it was impossible to see them all in the time we had.

If you’re a developer on one of these games and want me to pull any of these images for any reason, or if you’d like a full review, just say the word.

Papo Y Yo

This charming game was a little rough around the edges, but has some promise. This shot shows one of the best sequences, where you (the little boy) lift a cardboard house, only to see a full-sized house on the opposite side of the gorge rip out of its foundations and hover in the air, mirroring the movements of the cardboard one. The protagonist also works with a little robot, reminding me of Ico gameplay, which the producer acknowledged as an influence.


Coincidentally, this game, another Ico-influenced experience as far as I can tell, was right across the aisle. I think our new pal Lauren said it’s from the same devs as the indie game Flower. Gorgeous minimalist art design.


My friend Daniel was especially impressed (as was I) with the innovation of this title. You play as a graffiti character, and when you pass between, say, sidewalk and wall, the perspective shifts and suddenly you’re looking at a new set of Mario-esque challenges and rewards on that new plane.


Reminiscent of a top-notch Flash game, Closure’s gameplay seems to focus (ha ha) on the challenge of arranging floodlights so they properly light your path ahead. The moody grayscale environments and character design add to the flavah.


Like Sideway, this is another Paper Mario-esque game that puts rotating/alternating 2D gameplay in a 3D context. Very popular with attendees, featuring attractive yet chunky 8-bit style graphics.


Are Games and Workout Machines Crossing Over?

Will Your Next Game Console Make You Sweat?

A recent article about exercise equipment with gaming features caught my eye recently: Nexersys, a new Austin-based workout machine maker, is pointing out that videogames and exercise equipment are reaching convergence. It’s worth taking a look at this crossover phenomenon.

Fitness is a huge industry, and entertainment is already trickling into the gym. People want flat-screens on their treadmills to take their minds off their workouts. Other gym equipment taps into natural competitive instincts with simple videogames.

At the same time, gaming has always been a hotbed for accessories that extend the fantasy, from lightguns to plastic guitars to the Wii Fit. Maybe a device like Nexersys’ iPower — a striking simulator with seven punching pads and an LCD monitor that provides training and feedback — is the next stage in the crossover.

Action Games Are Getting More Active

Have you been jumping up and down in front of your TV lately? A lot of folks have been, now that Sony and Microsoft have tossed their motion-sensing input systems into the market.

One caveat in the “gaming workout” or “exercise gaming” sector is the form factor. It’s hard to control safety and ergonomics when gamers can be playing in all kinds of environments. Nintendo certainly experienced some amusing embarrassment in this regard when reports of Wiimote-flinging destruction caused them to issue safety wriststraps.

Traditionally, these kinds of games have been a better fit for the arcades, simply because the equipment for sensing a game player’s movements wasn’t available on a computer or game console. Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis, House of the Dead, all arcade draws. The arcade was the home of novelty input devices. Now, as arcades are fading into oblivion, that barrier has been shattered.

A Better Experience?

Although there’s a masochistic pride in mastering the universe with two tiny plastic joysticks, I believe most gamers would rather dominate with lifelike actions than with a controller. Some would argue that motion sensors and “exercise gaming” are the next stage in a button-mashing, casual-gaming flaming descent into the Great Sellout. However, these new methods of gaming are new and — in the case of the Wii, Kinect, and Move — tantalizingly well-distributed. If the market is big enough, these games can be as hardcore and diverse as any we’ve experience with a controller or keyboard. Motion-sensing gameplay has the potential to introduce all kinds of new ideas and gameplay.

At some point, though, the pleasure in realism starts to break down. Few gamers want to run 26 miles at Murchison High to get the track and field high score in their Olympics game. And should games require players to crawl on their hands and knees to sneak up on foes in the next Metal Gear game? Would you ask your mother to crawl around to play a game? Would you want your Nexersys machine to punch back? It’ll be interesting to see how game designers handle this problem as the games mature.

Will Nexersys and other workout hardware makers like Bowflex and Nordic Track horn in on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo? I wouldn’t put money on that particular angle. But if Tony Hawk can make his own custom skateboarding controller, why can’t these muscular brands get in on the action?

Who knows. Maybe the next time we hear about “gaming” and “exercise” in the same breath, the story won’t be about childhood obesity but instead life-transforming fitness.


One of the Best MMORPG Info Sites

mmorpgFinding the Best MMORPG

Are you too time-constrained to figure out the best MMORPG for your gaming happiness? The Game Writer Central crew is sending a shout-out to WhatMMORPG.com, a very useful and noteworthy resource. Even figuring out the basics of MMORPG play can be a huge timesink. Who wants to wade through all the marketing fluff — or worse yet, subscribe and invest gameplay time in an MMORPG that turns you off?

That’s where WhatMMORPG shines. Just click on the genre you like, and you’ll see all the basics presented in a simple chart. Date of inception, cost, grinding level (!!!), uniqueness, usability, PVP, crafting, and customizing, all laid out easy-peasy.

Grinding level, talk about a timesaver. This is a valuable service, my gamerz.


Game Cover Showdown: Motorstorm

Videogame Cover Art One-on-One

The MotorStorm team at Evolution Studios just posted their cover art for the new MotorStorm Apocalypse. They’ve got two covers, one for the EU and one for the U.S. Same game, two covers.

Why do marketing teams do this? Well, for one, there are different requirements for the labeling and legalese. But also it’s well-known that certain approaches do better in different regions. Sadly, in my opinion, the demographic studies seem to indicate that, when selling an over-the-top racing game in the U.S., your goal should be to look like a generic traffic jam with a generous dollop of asphalt crumbles, flames, and (especially) motion blur. The EU version is more cohesive, dramatic, and most importantly, sharp.

Here’s the art – take a look and decide for yourself. EU on top.

game cover-eu

game cover-us


Can You Be-Gleeve It?

The Gleeve: Frog’s New Power Glove

So Frog Design has a new unstructured-play concept called the Gleeve. Cool concept that lends itself to horrible blog puns and nightmares of Nintendo’s abortive power glove.

I think it has potential, although the description does seem a little light on details. I’m not about to criticize a simple introductory post for lack of structure, but I do want to plant a suggestion in the Froggies’ heads — a little structure can be a good thing.

It might be premature to proclaim the complete death of imagination. I’m sure there are kids right now, sitting in an empty lot or on a baseball diamond, making up their own games as I type with nothing but enthusiasm and body language. However, attention spans are short and a blank canvas can be as intimidating as prison bars.

If I were in the Frog’s shoes, I’d package that product with a few addictive, premade games that have prominent tunable characteristics or several radically different rulesets that invite experimentation.

Or better yet, I’d hire a game writer/game designer to make those games. :)

I also found this diagram in the Fast Company announcement quite thought-provoking, although I don’t know if I’d rank the Sims as more open than a mod. Click to see the full size image.


LOTR Conquest: Tolkien-Flavored Cheese

Rapidfire Review: Lord of the Rings Conquest

Some quick game designer’s observations about this PS3 game. This thing is hilarious. Yes, unintentionally hilarious, but I give Pandemic points for making the formula easily digestible.

Admittedly, I’m kind of fond of Pandemic because they’re kind of scrappy and they did a solid job with Star Wars Battlefront and Army Men RTS, the latter of which was published by 3DO, one of my previous employers.

He Has Infiltrated Their Lines with Scout Invisibility! Yes!!!

If you yell this with a British accent and buckets of false enthusiasm, you will approach the humor quotient of the demo. Or you can simply watch this video:

That’s pretty choice. Maybe you don’t remember masked, invisible scouts chucking satchel bombs when you read Tolkien, but you probably weren’t reading closely enough. They were all over in The Silmarillion. No, seriously!

Similarly, the wizard class can heal and cast chain lightning, fire wall, and earthquake at the press of a button. A bit of a contrast with Gandalf, whose strongest magicks were providing therapy to Theoden to get him out from under Wormtongue’s control, and +5 chaperoning of stupid Hobbits.

But of course, providing gravitas and guidance is not really what the kids want to do when they’re fantasizing. So Pandemic has taken a few rather generous liberties with the source material.


All would be forgiven if Conquest provided a luxurious gameplay experience, but sadly that’s not the case. Conquest is a lowbrow experience built for simple orc-bashing fun and the exploitation of a license, and it really shows in the brain-dead camera, the simplistic combos, the lack of a “lock-on” control, and the unresponsive controls.

When I say “unresponsive controls,” I’m using a bit of shorthand, actually. Many reviewers use this phrase to describe the disease that afflicts many games, including Conquest. It’s not really the controls that are frustrating; it’s animation cycles and the granularity of the input that the game can accept. This is a topic that has to wait for another day, but let’s just say that sometimes it feels like an eternity to get your character to do what you want him to do.

Conquest does deliver a 16-player online experience which is reminiscent of Battlefront and another 3DO game, the long-forgotten Legends of Might and Magic. Online is good.


I also got a good chuckle out of the end of the demo, which allows you to play as the hero Isildur in a crowded battlefield dominated by none other than Sauron himself. Talk about giving up the goods – Pandemic threw subtlety to the winds and trotted out the Dark Lord in the demo. Ol’ Sourpuss draws a beeline for Isildur at every opportunity and bounces him around like a superball, often incurring the wrath of the craptacular camera code (you can’t see Isildur after he gets whacked) and the clumsy object boundaries (Isildur gets popped up on top of environmental objects).

Not a problem — a few dozen good pokes with a standard-issue sword or arrow puts him in the grave. If only Frodo had known!