The talk of the ‘game designer’ is still confusing to me. Back then, I thought of them as ‘brilliant gamers’ who were doing ‘not fun stuff’ by programming these games. In a similar way, what is a writer? The writer is a reader. The writer HAS to be a reader first and foremost. All the talk of ‘game designer’ gets me uncomfortable because it is as if the ‘game designer’ is saying he is not a gamer, he is an angel called ‘game designer’ and floats in some magical ether. To me, a ‘game designer’ is an overtly passionate gamer who wants to better the gaming experience. An example is Cliff Blezinski who loves 2d platformers (he really does as he has the top score in Super Mario Brothers in the first Nintendo Power magazine). As a gamer, he despised the bottomless pits of 2d platformers so he made a game without them: Jazz Jackrabbit. Another example is Sid Mier playing a game, saying that is not that good and he could make a better one, and so he did. They’re not passionate about DESIGNING, they’re passionate about GAMING. I don’t care what game designers wish to call themselves or what theories they want to chatter, the end result is about gaming. Passionate gamers don’t care about things that aren’t about gaming.
I think you already know what to think about those first two speakers but want me to reinforce your gut instincts. Those speakers sounded more passionate about something else other than gaming. This is why they did not sound credible to you.
I’m curious what Richard Garriot said. He is always fun to listen to. Of course, to me, he is ‘Lord British’.
You mention the three Ultima games and forgot the last one: Ultima 4, Ultima Online, and you forgot the last one. I bet it is Ultima 7.
Ultima 4 was about the gamer making virtuous choices (not lying, not killing innocents, letting monsters run away if they want, etc.). Ultima Online established the MMORPG genre. And Ultima 7 is known for its extremely interactive game world (where everything can be used).
These three Ultimas share something in common: all three leave the game’s content in control of the players. I’d imagine game developers to HATE THIS. Giving players more control means more work for the developers. This development also is not ‘creative’ but ‘process’.
The definition of a game is that the gamer makes decisions (or else there is no game being played). When the player is doing something that is not a decision, it is considered a ‘process’. Innovations in gaming gradually keep removing the ‘processes’ because they are boring and monotonous. The reason why you struggle with the interface in old games is because the difference in modern and old interfaces is that of process. The process of clicking on an icon with a mouse is infinitely easier than tying in the executable command in DOS.
Ultima 4, 7 and Online made an impact because they were more about decisions than about the process. Ironically, the development side must have been hell because more time is spent on the process. Development is a game just like any other. Developers like to ‘play’ and ‘make decisions’ where, most of the time, the game requires process work to be really good. Classic Metroid doesn’t require many decisions from the developer, but it requires a ton of process. But Metroid: Other M requires many decisions from the developer but very little process. I believe so many games today feel like a ‘process’ to the player because developers want to make decisions… because that is what they think developers do. Before people began thinking in terms of ‘game developer, they just thought of the game and what needed to get it done. Andrew Braybrook made the amazing Paradroid which requires MANY decisions from the player. But it was the game he hated making the most because of all the processes he had to undergo in order to make Paradroid to work.
You said Garriot said:
But most game designers nowadays are people who like games, but can’t draw and can’t program. Well most of them aren’t good game designers either, but a game company can’t discern the good from the bad before they hire a game designer.
Let me put this in perspective. Let us shatter the novelist into three parts. First, we have the ‘writer’ who only puts words on the paper. Second, we have the ‘researcher’ whose job is to establish or make sure everything fits the novel’s mythos (a World War 2 details fit the historical dimension). And third, we have the ‘storyteller’ who is unable to write, unable to research, but talks a bunch about ‘theories’ about how good stories are made.
Novels are not written this way because the writer and researcher would murder the storyteller.
Game designers, like story tellers, are something everyone believes they can do and are ‘great at’. What keeps story tellers in check is that they have to write and research on their own (and not even this is enough). If someone doesn’t have the discipline to sit down and write out the story, then you’re not a novelist. In the same way, you’re not an Olympic athlete if you can’t bother to show up on time for the event.
The check on game designers has been the programming and art. Richard Garriot became a game designer by learning to program. Shigeru Miyamoto did not just stand up and declare himself a ‘designer’. He knew how to make art, and it was through that path that he became a designer. “Doesn’t that mean all designers are artists or programmers?” It’s a test of passion. If you’re passionate enough, the roadblocks of programming and art will not stop you.
A good designer was measured if they had the discipline to actually learn the crafts of programming and art to make the game (just as a good storyteller is measured if they have the discipline to actually write the novel). This doesn’t mean they are ‘good’ (the market determines that), but it does act as a filter that removes 99% of the people who don’t belong in game making.
Good game design decisions makes the programmers and artists do more work. Bad game design decisions make the programmers and artists do less work. Ultima 4, 7, and Online created much work for the programmers and and artists. This is my guess as to why they didn’t want to work on the game.