Posted by: johnthelibertine | August 27, 2008

Inside the computer game studio

A video game developer

Zack Zed III, video game developer

The growth of serious virtual game sims has brought about a collision between the world of interactive entertainment software and many other sectors including, for example, training professionals, educators, 5 star generals, first responders and doctors.

It was recently stated at a Game Seriously Summit by somebody well-known that:

“if you let a videogame designer design a serious game it will be statistically invalid from a behavioral and cognitive science standpoint, but if you let an Instructional Designer design it will be a pile of doggy doo.”

A prominent UK academic, from the University of Great Yarmouth, recently highlighted this issue and said;

“This collision of minds and attitudes threatens to derail the growth of the seriously game market. The entertainment people don’t think that the learning guys understand what it takes to make a truly effective videogame. Training folks, educators, academics and public sector employees very often tend to stereotype the gaming guys as nerds with poor communication and social skills.”

The Sauce decided to step in and help here by organising what we called, ‘Share The Sauce!’ – getting game people to share their experiences with non-gaming people. Here is what we learned when we were allowed into the studios of a prominent PC and game console game developer based in Montreal which isn’t in the United States.

We met Zack Zed III, Chief Creatologist Officer at DeathPainCrash Worldz’s dark and dingy studio and asked him for his insights into the realities of entertainment games development that we can pass onto the boring people in the seriously games space to help them get over their tendency to stereotype and undervalue the cool gamer folks. This is what he had to say:

Development stages

“The typical game development cycle involves a period of checking out what other developers recently have done to inform our game design. We then go into an intensive period of design for several weeks where we draw loads of crazy characters, armored vehicles and worlds with biros and crayons. Once we know what game to copy and have the concept artwork we can then crank up our Game Design Generation software“.

“This is an invaluable tool that automatically authors a detailed game design document in as little as five minutes once we have set a few parameters such as genre, budget and sequel number. Obviously this needs acceptance from the Publisher but as they have probably determined all the design parameters in the first place they usually say yes and then change things later on…several times”.

Team

“The usual team consists of some nerds who dream of C++ sub routines all night, some smelly creative guys with tattoos and long beards that make 3D characters with big breasts, underwear, big guns and space ships, and the Suit Guys who tell everyone what to do and talk about deadlines and dollars all day long. We don’t pay too much attention to them. Usually they go away if we ignore them for long enough”.

Game design

“There are only three games you need to know to know anything about in order to be able to understand world-class game design; The Sims, Civilisation and Grand Theft Auto. I’d suggest that any budding seriously game designer who doesn’t have a game industry background play these games for at least an hour or so in order to grasp the basics of great cross-genre, educationally-valid gameplay mechanics”.

The typical day

“A typical game developer’s day is quite challenging. We need to play about a dozen different games a day to ensure that we are up to speed with current best practice as you need to know what you need to copy for your next sequel. We usually do this in the comfy room, basically a large colourful space kitted out with refrigerators, massive sound systems, high-def TV’s, game consoles, game magazines, large padded cushions and of course a pool table for when we need to chill out”.

The Crunch Period

“The ‘crunch period’ is quite a stressful period for us. That is when we push ‘Run’ on the Game Development Engine and watch carefully whilst it automatically creates our latest title. Obviously it won’t be totally bug-free and we will need to have a couple of people test if a few times before we FTP the finished files off to the publisher and start chasing our last five milestone payments”.

Advice for the boring non-game people

“The most important thing, I would suggest, in any serious game project whether it is aimed at fighter pilots, politicians, surgeons or fire fighters is to make it FUN”.

“A game must be fun even if that means making the physics, scenario or narrative unrealistic. You cannot let the mundane realities of real life make the experience boring. A serious game that, for example, allows military strategists to plan a successful atomic warfare campaign should make the user laugh and cry otherwise I would question its real effectiveness”.

Summary

The Sauce agrees 101% with these wise and knowledgable words. Serious Games designers take note!

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