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Friday, October 08, 2004




Wouldn't that lead to design-by-commitee?

David Deeble

"At least we can be grateful game design has come along since the early days at id software" - From what I gather id didn't have a design document at all :)

I read a book called Game Design Perspectives a while back. It offered a real by the numbers approach to game design, most prominently in the design document chapter where, as Tadhg said, it was simply a list of vague ideas for a team to implement. The book was aimed at Intermediate to Advanced.
There seem to be many books explaining the art of design in a dry fashion without any innovative ideas. Most of the books I've come across have taken a very standard approach to the 'design document' chapter.
Looks like you have a market there for the Y-model idea :D
There's a Game Design course running at the local University here - Would be interesting to see what techniques students are being taught.


I'd say Doom is actually an extremely good example of game design. id wrote a dumb but workable story (one guy vs. all the aliens ever, starts on the moons of Mars, winds up in hell) then made a game which fits the story, all in the space of about two years, with a team of I think about ten people. As tad says, things haven't really developed from there: people have got more AMBITIOUS, but it's rare for that ambition to pay off with a game that's any tighter or better designed than Doom was. It just gets you a more expensive game which takes longer to make.

Scott Miller

Doom doesn't really have a story, it's more of a premise. Even the new Doom hardly has what I'd say is a story: There's no character arc, development or motivation (other than to save his butt), no plot turns, and no real story except for exposition. The player is merely on a fact finding mission -- that's not a story.

This isn't a knock against Doom, it's just that this series hasn't needed to focus on story to be successful, as the games rely on other important factors, such as tech innovation and solid, polished design.

By comparison, Half-Life (and I bet HL2) demonstrates far superior story development, and it came out six years earlier.


"Wouldn't that lead to design-by-committee?"

Depends entirely on the hierarchy of the team itself, really. Anyone/everyone can edit a wiki page, just like anyone can shout something out at a team meeting. Wiki software keeps track of who edits what, and saves all previous versions of a page. It's up to management to institute restrictions on who can change what. I'm assuming in most cases that definitive "ownership" of the document would reside with the project's creative lead / director / auteur / whatever.

"By comparison, Half-Life demonstrates far superior story development"

Actually HL's story really wasn't all that awesomely unique or developed, it was just presented in a different (then-novel) way: in-engine and without taking any control away from the player. There's only one tiny part of the game where the player isn't able to move and act freely, so the designers are storytelling *with* the player rather than *at* the player. Funny how people have copied just about everything HL has done EXCEPT that.


Yes, the "story" bits in Doom3 are tiresome to say the least, far too reminiscent of Half Life, but also the game is let down by quite poor level design. Once you get past the initial shock, it's all rather dull really.

Unlike Doom and Doom2 which had brilliant focussed levels and used a series of simple systems to generate endless twists and turns. The original Doom only had something like 6 monster types through a whole 30 levels of the game (plus 2/3 bosses?), 2d levels, only a few weapons, and a basic find-the-keys system. And yet it was (and is) brilliant.

The problem as Adam says (it's Tadhg btw, not tad ;)) is that the ambition has raised massively, but the consequent necessary changes for how things get done has had a lot more difficulty in changing with it.

I think many studios still work from the idea of trying to find the game through the technology first, rather than designing out in detail what they want to achieve (this includes all the level designs etc) on paper, and then seeing what technology they'll need to fit that. This is no doubt a symptom of three things:

1. It can mean that you have several employees who have nothing to do while a designer appears to faff around with a never-ending document. So the natural instinct is to put them to "work".

2. Because the studio culture is inherently distrusting of the idea of document-led design because it sounds very Hollywood (in my experience there is an almost xenophobic reaction on the part of many developers, especially programmers, to entertaining that sort of ifdea :))

3. Outside pressure. Like bank statements and publishers and so on.

The problem with taking 6/7 years from the technology-led point of view is that that is long enough for the technology to catch up and pass you by. Legend has it that the developers behind Galleon decided to re-do all of their art and engine from scratch because they'd discovered that the world had actually moved on while they were tinkering.


"Depends entirely on the hierarchy of the team itself, really. Anyone/everyone can edit a wiki page, just like anyone can shout something out at a team meeting. Wiki software keeps track of who edits what, and saves all previous versions of a page. It's up to management to institute restrictions on who can change what. I'm assuming in most cases that definitive "ownership" of the document would reside with the project's creative lead / director / auteur / whatever."

I'd be afraid of that, to be honest, because I think it would devolve into lots of loose resources where nothing really interconnects, thus leaving your creative lead trying to muddle through a vast library of suggestions and establish some sort of sanity to it.

Perhaps your suggestion would work in the second stage of a project, i.e. once the design is actually done and it's time instead to undertake the production. There are always a million and one things to organise on a project once its in production, from animation concerns through to engine difficulties. But you can only hope to have that work in some co-ordinated fashion (especially in a large team) if everyone is reading from the same prayerbook.


"I'd be afraid of that, to be honest, because I think it would devolve into lots of loose resources where nothing really interconnects, thus leaving your creative lead trying to muddle through a vast library of suggestions and establish some sort of sanity to it."

On a typically big and poorly organized team, I could easily imagine that happening. Really I just wanted to suggest the format, being as it is living and interconnected and easy to edit, as an alternative to the traditional design document, i.e. a 200 page MS Word document that some sap spends half a year writing then everybody promptly forgets about for the next 18 months. The last big project I was on people had a pathological fear of writing anything down, though I've also seen it go in the opposite direction with too much, written down too early, sacrificing flexibility entirely.

"Legend has it that the developers behind Galleon decided to re-do all of their art and engine from scratch because they'd discovered that the world had actually moved on while they were tinkering."

Heh. Which has happened with 3DR twice now, and might well happen a third time. Fifth if you count their mysterious unannounced project.

Gavan Woolery

While I believe that question "Who is still an independent game designer?" is an interesting one, I have another for the crowd. Who here believes it is still viable to develop a game with a one man team? Many people believe that this is impossible because they make comparisons to games that have hundreds of artists and programmers putting sugar coating on it. We must realize that all of this production value does not necessarily constitute to a fun game. Back in the 80's and 90's people developed games with one man teams all the time, games that I still consider to be fun, and games that I believe with todays technology could be made ten times faster. I am not saying games made by one man teams have to be simple to be feasible for production in modern times. Personally, I am creating a MMORPG that (objectively speaking) rivals anything out or coming out to date, even Everquest 2. It certainly does not rival these games graphically, but it has some concepts built into the engine that provide far more original gameplay than the clones out on the market now. And fun, original material is what matters right? I have played many gorgeous looking games that have lost my interest in seconds. So, to the original question, how many"lone-wolf" programmers are still out there working on original games?


I know of a couple: the guy behind Starshatter (I think) did all the production for that game by himself. There was also this IGF entrant at the last GDC (Starshatter was also there), some kind of party puzzle game where you play rats with gas masks or something. It was running on the XBox and had incredible production values, and I was amazed to discover that all of it was done by one guy around my age (look up Gastronaut Studios). It's also quite possible that Kingdom of Loathing, a lo-fi "MM"ORPG was done by a lone wolf. Kenta Cho is famous for his indie abstract shmups, of course.

I think it's pretty obvious that any one person can create their own game (many people are doing it): perhaps you meant "commercially viable game"?

Interested in finding out more about your MMORPG.

Gavan Woolery

I realize that people are creating games on their own, I was just wondering how many (and who among them) were accomplishing this (which you did a fairly good job of answering). Anyway, regarding my MMORPG...I regret that I cannot release too many details at this time (for security reasons alone, I do not want anybody copying my ideas this early in development) about the game, but I will tell you what I can. A one-man MMORPG production is ambitious by any standard, so first let me reveal why my effort *could* be a success. First of all, I am not the average developer...I am more of a "swiss army knife" developer. I am not trying to brag about myself, so I will try to be honest. I can do it all, but none of it particularly well. My graphical design ability is adequate for production value, as is my programming ability, but neither are stellar. The same goes for my audio production, web page design, and marketing abilities. I would estimate that I could recreate a game of Diablo II's calibur with the appropriate investment of effort (minus a little of the graphical detail, perhaps). Enough about me...the MMORPG I am working on will go into beta in one to two years. It does have a name (which cannot be released yet unfortunately), it is *almost* completely designed at this point (I have 3 notebooks full of sketches, diagrams, and rough code at this point), and the engine is one quarter complete. I am itching to reveal what makes this game unique (but yet again, I cannot for security reasons). I will leave it at this though: it is attempting (at least) three very ambitious features that have never before been seen in an MMORPG. Here are some things that I can reveal...A little over 16,000 (2^14) players can reside in the world. Quests are self generated, unique, and never get old, repetitious, or boring. Like so many other MMORPGs, this one is resides in a fantasy world...I would be original here but I think that I have good designs for a fantasy world and these types of worlds have the most widespread audience (along with sci-fi). My game will not be graphically impressive (for development speed reasons), but the graphics will be appealing (I still think ultima 7 has beautiful, although outdated graphics, for example). Everything will be "fake 3d" (prerenderd 2D graphics) except for organisms (which are polygonal), although the entire world will have 3d movement (there is a Z axis, but the view cannot be rotated; it remains isometric). Basically, the graphics will be similar to Ultima Online. To confirm that my ideas are unique and worthy, those I have entrusted with the full information regarding my game highly anticipate playing it and expect it to be very successful (at least for a one person production). Fees will be $5/month, or at a reduced price of $50/year, and the game will be free to download...so playing it for a year will be equivalent to buying one game that year -- I expect this to attract more of the "poor" gaming audience. If I am able to complete all that I envision, I expect my game to outdo everquest I and II in audience size (although not necessarily gross income). This is a bold statement I know, especially given my development team size, but I am that confident of my ideas and I have to try very hard not to be cocky about them ;). Sorry for writing a novel advertising the game, I was just trying to reveal what info I could. Once the engine is in a more solid development phase, I will post detailed information about the game on my website which I am sure will excite all of you ;).


lone wolf game designers - one other comes to mind, the guy who wrote all those crazy little topical games a few years back, like the spoof Space Invaders where you play Bill Clinton firing cigars at Monica Lewinsky...IIRC, he started to work on a super-mega-project about Jesus and then got stuck on that for several years. Haven't looked him up, lately.

Scott - sure, I'd agree with that characterisation of Doom's story / premise - I guess my point is that a lot of modern games try to shoot for something better than that, and waste a lot of resources in the attempt, and don't really come out with anything better. Half-Life is a rare example to the contrary, although I agree with tadhg's point that it's not actually a very deep story if you just examine it on its own merits. It's the way it's told that's so compelling. I think the prize for best story in a traditional sense in a computer game has to go to The Dig, although the lack of humour and the very straight way it was told (the game felt awfully like a novel with puzzle interludes) took away from the impact.


oop, and one more factual point regarding Doom - Doom 1 had grunt, sargeant, imp, pinky, spectre, baron, lost soul, cacodemon, cyberdemon and spiderdemon - ten enemies including bosses, eight not including bosses. Episode 1 used only the first six. Doom 2 added chaingunner, revenant, archvile, mancubus, lost-soul-spawny-thingy (i forgot what it's called officially) for another five - fifteen in total. Sixteen if you count John Romero's head on a stick.


oops, forgot the arachnotron. add one to the Doom2 counts.


oops, forgot the arachnotron and hell knight. add two to the Doom2 counts. (hangs head in shame) (scott, please delete the previous post)


Gavan: When you need beta testers, give me a holler. I'm looking forward to seeing what you've come up with.

Re: stories in games, I've found Tribes: Vengeance to have a surprisingly good story (albeit with bad virtual acting and often cheesy dialogue). Channels the spirit of Frank Herbert's Dune rather well.


"Like so many other MMORPGs, this one is resides in a fantasy world."

See, that's your mistake right there.
Do something different with it.

Gavan Woolery

To Walter: the beta should open in a year to a year and a half from now (sooner if I am very productive). I will let you know when it opens. Unfortunately, since I am running an independent company without any real capital to speak of, there will be a small fee (around $10) to sign up for the beta to cover bandwidth and server costs. However, the beta will be playable when it opens (although likely prone to some minor bugs or issues) and the $10 should be worth the price of admission for a couple month's worth of play.
To Tadhg:
I believe that you are absolutely right in a sense. There is definitely a glut of fantasy MMORPGS, and we need to see other approaches to MMORPGS. I do in fact plan on eventually attacking this, should my first effort be a success (I would consider even 2000 subscribers a success (approx grossing $100k/year)). However, the ideas that I am working with that allow the game I am planning to be unique depend on a fantasy atmosphere. If you think about it, most of the games we see reside in one of three genres: fantasy, modern fiction, and science fiction. I would estimate that at least 95 percent of the games fall into one of these "over used" generes. However, there are those among them that are well designed and fun to play. And when it comes to a game, gameplay is essential. A game can in fact have a crappy, over-used storyline and still be fun (such as half-life's one man takes on an alien army plot). THIS IS NOT TO SAY that storylines are not important to games -- a good storyline can make a fun game something that rivals the best book you've ever read or movie you've ever seen.
Trust me Tadhg, when I unvail my designs, you won't care that it is "just another" fantasy RPG ;)


"And when it comes to a game, gameplay is essential."

I agree, and I understand the broad stroke of what you're saying. But here's the thing. When it comes to long-term popularity, gameplay is essential. However, when it comes to short-term interest (i.e. getting people to actually buy in in the first place), imagination is essential.

95% of games may inhabit the same basic genres, but 95% of games also fail at the box office. Is there a correlation? I think so. The thing that tends to make customers uninterested in games is when they appear cliche'd. They want something good to play, but they also want something entertaining and imaginative to play. Too many developers focus on one but think that the other one is just a matter of sticking to genre. It isn't.

In your case, you're going to have a game that has no serious financial support, and this therefore relying on word of mouth. While I don't doubt that you may pull together some players by doing lots of self-promotion that way, it's unlikely that you'll get 2,000 per month on a constant basis. Most MMOR players barely last 4 months these days, and that means you have to really have 3,000 or so constantly cycling players to really get your baseline of 2,000.

The only way you'll do that is if your game seems interesting and imaginative. If it seems to offer the sort of world that people will think "oh, that's new". It can be a different kind of fantasy, it could be something completely different. But if you intend to just trot out the usual band of elves, dwarves, dragons and orcs, then it'll very much be a case of "Get in line". You may have the best gameplay in the world, but if your game looks like everyone else's, then it'll go nowhere.


It's very good to hear you say that Tadhg, you sound a lot more reasonable about things now than you did a while back. Good advice too. (Sorry I've been chiming in on so many of your posts lately)

Gavan, I'm sure your intentions are good, but you will probably want to reconsider your decision to give in and just do a "conventional fantasy setting" (which I'm assuming here is the usual code for elves, dwarves and dragons). I've heard the argument that such a setting is already familiar to people, so you don't have to sell them on it, but the corollary is that people are also already bored to hell with it! It is teflon to the minds of consumers and they will forget it instantly. Distinguishing yourself is far, far more important than familiarity in this case, particularly if you're asking people to invest so much of their own time, money and imagination in this universe.

It's also very worrying that you feel you have to do something boring first, so that you can later have the resources to do something more original and dear to you. Trust me, this NEVER works out. Independent developers start off idealistic, quickly become desperate, figure they'll just do a quick movie license for some stopgap cash, and the reputation and capital hit they take from the inevitable rushed, unimpressive game starts a downward spiral from which they will never recover. 10 years later they are indentured servants to some publisher who sticks them with the crappiest projects and lays off 80% of their staff on a whim. Compromise does NOT guarantee that you will be rewarded in this industry, that is the single most important thing I can impart to you.

If you're still in the starting stages, remember that the primary advantage of small companies and individuals over the big boys is AGILITY. That means you can make something different, something the majors can't by virtue of being huge and boring and evil. It's risky but it's your only hope. Create something that really captures people's imaginations, make it stand out with how interesting or offbeat or just plain excellent it is. Do that BEFORE you decide things like how much money you want to charge people per month. Be smart about design - don't copy the EQ formula, and figure out how to deliver on those decidedly non-trivial things like "Quests are self generated, unique, and never get old, repetitious, or boring". Ask yourself if you're doing certain things just because they're hot trends - is an MMO even the best style of game for what you want to do? They take unbelievable resources and time to make. You may want to make some smaller games first, to prove to yourself that you can plan and follow through on an idea. It takes major publishers years to create a successful MMO, and even then they always end up rushed and buggy and with major features cut.

Sorry if any of that sounds discouraging, but you'll be getting a reality check on these matters sooner or later.


I do?
Thanks, I guess.

Gavan Woolery

Your guy's judgement (Tadhg and JP) is absolutely correct given what you know about my game. At its face value my game appears just like another EQ clone because the only crucial information I have given thus far is that it is in a fantasy setting. And TRUST me, there is nothing more that I HATE than the vast amount of unoriginality that plagues the gaming market. I will in fact be using my "agility" that is innate to independent developers. I am not bluffing when I say that I will be taking the riskiest design concept into play, one that (if I do succeed in completing my vision) will quite likely set a new standard in MMOGs. This concept will be unvailed in about two months if development continues smoothly (I guarentee, if it were not very original I would not be so worried about the security of this information). Truly, the only thing I can say in my defense at this point is wait until I reveal more details about the game, then throw a judgement as to whether or not it is unoriginal ;).
To JP:
First of all, I am not attempting to make something that "bores" me first just to guarentee financial success (in fact, I do not care how financially successful I am, I just want to design a game that changes the way people, publishers, hell -- everybody thinks). In fact, I was planning on making a simpler game in an original setting because I realized my project was so ambitious. Then I realized that I would be giving up that which is truly dear to me: the game design that has been in my head for over 13 years (I kid you not), the game design that is a culimination of the improvements I thought could have been made in other games that I previously played, the game that is so original in its design that maybe it can teach the "big guns" to stop pumping out unoriginal trash. My words may sound harsh, but I AGREE completely with you guys, and it is very encouraging to see that so many people have the same view on the game industry that I do. Yes, my game is fantasy -- but the unoriginality stops there. There are even many aspects to the design of my fantasy world that have never been seen before. I guarentee I would not bother making an EQ clone -- if I my colleagues and I did not think that I was producing something original, I would have stopped months ago.

As for the incredible amount of resources it takes to make an MMORPG...
I would not attempt to make one like everquest. Such an effort would take an entire team to be completed in any reasonable amount of time. The thing I love about my design concepts is that they show companies like sony how they are wasting their money with huge design teams like this. To make an analogy, how many authors write a book? Usually just one, in some cases there is co-authoring, but this is rare. Why? Because a good story is a vision in one person's head, something unique, and not likely shared by any given group of people (designers). How do I plan to cut much of the workload? I will tell you...First of all, the worlds are self generated (but not repetious or boring, how this is accomplished cannot be revealed yet again for security reasons). Secondly, the plot is self generated in the same manner as the former. This eliminates the need for map designers and plot designers, and the plot is always fresh and unique to different characters in the game (unlike in EQ where thousands of people run around doing the same pre-designed quests as eachother). Thirdly, I *may* outsource the graphical development for characters, which pretty much leaves me to develop a terrain engine, a sound engine, an input engine, and a server engine (the last of which is almost completed as I speak, with the others in progress!). I am a reasonable man, and I would not attempt something out of my reach.
The amount I have decided to charge each month is a careful calculation of the bandwidth and server costs, in addition to how much profit I would like to make (once again, I am not doing this for money, but if I could support myself in my efforts it will legitimize my future career).
Keep giving me criticism guys, it is good to show that everybody is thinking ;).




It *sounds* like some sort of multiplayer Nethack/Diablo, or something similar, but I don't doubt that I'm probably quite wide off the mark. I for one look forward to more information.

Gavan Woolery

Nethack and Diablo I both consider to be good games in their own right (based sheerly on gameplay), and you are getting closer to what I envision, but still very, very far away ;)...details to come soon.




i want to make my own game somthing like nitto a racing game if u guys good just send me somthing so i can get started i can make u guys like millions of dollers cuz ill put u guys as designer

olaniyi satimehin

what would i really need to start developing 3d games?


Climax is indi and produces all its own original games, it has 500 people in 6 studios across the world and yet its not mentioned here, why ? http://www.climaxgroup.com


I think you need games that you can design a house and dress up dolls.


I'm beginning to get sick of Movie games, talk about expliotation. Batman, Hulk, Spider-man, Fantastic four when will it end. No offense the gaming industry has gone corrupt and gready. Looking for the quick buck rather than wait for the perfect game that will keep us happy for months on end rather than a few wasted hours on a game that had the potential but lacked the effort. And for all those ppl who are gonna moan "Then why buy the sticking game?". The one and only game that i bought was Spider-man 2 and that was only because of the GTA style system of the game but overall an average attempt.

Please game designers here our cry or I'm coming for your job.


On a practical note Scott, how do you maintain the vision for such a large project as Duke4?
How do you maintain the communication between the teams?
Do you as a designer start to lose faith in your own idea and vision the longer the project drags on?
Do you invite opinion and suggestions for the game from all concerned or do you insist on remaining faithful to your own ideas?

I only ask since in my experience the best software is developed around a strong vision that isn't allowed to entertain "feature creep" in any way shape or form.
Furthermore, the best software is the product of effective, firm and professional management of time and resources.

At Acclaim I saw school boys and girls "messing around" with the development of multi-million pound software developments.
Little wonder they hit the wall.

World Weary

Several things to note:
1.the publishers hold all the cards, how to solve it? 2.The fund. Eric's suggestion about gaming bank is a good one, but unfortunately it is impossible.
3.The motive. Make your own game or make millions of money like jesse?


Look, it goes like this:

1) The current gamer generationis retarded. Remember, these people grow on fast food. They live a fast live. They will have fast jobs. And they want fast games. Forget all about strategy, tactics, any intelligence or originality whatsoever in them.

2) The game industry, just like the Internet and everything else which, for a brief and glorious moment in our lives was once free and noble, is currently controlled by, and subject to the will of greedy mega-corporations. They have an interest in keeping point 1) as it is, because it's easier and cheaper to accomodate that public with any buggy and untested piece of clone crap 3d-shooting game they come up with.

My advice, if you want original and intelligent games is either make them yourself or just suicide, because you're in the wrong world context right now.

And here endeth the lesson.

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