Group Play

Group Play
The Game Design Game

Brenda Brathwaite | 26 Feb 2008 12:45
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Patricia Pizer, a senior designer at Disney Interactive Studios, prefers to design in a team of two. "Designing at its absolute peak is a one-on-one process. When I look back at my best days as a designer, the bulk are myself and one other designer." In saying that, however, Patricia remembers one incident where the process of design was trumped by a surreal moment of play. "I must also include the day the [42 Entertainment] team went out to field test the Tombstone Hold'em rules. On the way out to the cemetery, I asked my car-mates, 'What do you consider too outrageous to do in a cemetery?' Categorically, lying down on someone's grave won hands down. Within two hours, I had photos of every one of them lying on graves. That's good game design!"

Design, like play, always feels most natural and fun when you're with others. Just as a move in a game influences the next, so too does the designers' back-and-forth interaction influence the outcome of game design. While it can be played solo or co-op, it can be competitive as all hell, too. I've worked on pitches that were literally make or break for landing IPs or funding, and all the while I was acutely aware that I wasn't the only one furiously figuring out a concept, a pitch and a prototype design. It's head to head, team vs. team, not unlike the massive guild-vs.-guild battles in MMOGs, and often there's millions of dollars at stake.

Unfortunately, we have PvP matches, too. The stories are legend, and all game developers have them. Instead of pulling together to make a game, the team pulls itself apart, and the game design game becomes one of politics and manipulation, pitting one group, one person, against another. The .plan flame wars of the 1990s have recently become open, painful letters for all to see.

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For some designers the battle isn't in the public eye, but no less chilling, lasting and personal. I've known more than one designer who sat in his office aware that the whole future of the company rested on his shoulders. While every bad game has the potential to shut down a company or a studio, usually it's not quite so apparent and direct as this: If the publisher gives the project the green light, the company lives. Otherwise, they're all out of jobs, and it's Game Over circa 1981. Back then, we had real consequences. If your team fails in Wizardry, your whole group gets lost in the dungeon, period, until someone comes down and gets your sorry, dead ass. The recruiters are at least more expeditious about it.

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