You're Wrong

You're Wrong
Making Fun Ain't Always Fun

Wendy Despain | 10 Aug 2010 08:31
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You know when you're playing a videogame and you get to a section that you just can't figure out? You get stuck in some ridiculous place and just keep dying over and over and over again until you throw your controller at the wall and stomp out? Yeah, that's a feeling to which most gamers can relate.

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Well, that's what it feels like to make videogames. You have a general idea of where you're supposed to be headed with this project, but you don't know exactly how to get there. You try a few different things, hoping this time it will work. Hoping this time it will meet specs. This time it will integrate seamlessly with the other systems. This time it will be fun. No? Back to the drawing board.

Game developers are those people who are so stubborn they won't quit until they've beaten the challenge into submission and stomped on its grave. Just when one impossible feat has been successfully performed, it's time to move on to the next one.

This is the only way to get the job done. A videogame is made up of a hundred million tiny little things. Each one of those things has to be planned, created, synched up, tested, fixed, and tested again (and fixed, and tested, and fixed ... ).

Freelance game designer and professor of game design Ian Schreiber says, "I tell my students a lot of things, mostly horror stories of the dark side of the industry that they might not have been aware of. The EA_spouse letter is required reading. I show them salary comparisons so they understand that they're working longer hours for less pay than they would if they used the same exact skills in some other industry (advertising, or enterprise software, or whatever). One time, one of my students approached me after class and [asked] 'So ... what's the good news?'

'You get to make games, and you get to work with other awesome people who also want to make games. But that's it. That has to be enough for you. And if it is, then it's the greatest job in the world. And if it isn't, then listen to your Uncle Frank who told you to go into marketing, because you'll be a lot happier there.'"

Why do people put themselves through this kind of agony? Remember that gamer moment when you're smashing the controller and walking out. What happens after that? You cool down a bit, come back to the game, fail a few more times and then, BAM! Everything works perfectly and you sail past the difficult spot into the next section of the game. That euphoria, that triumph, that king-of-the-hill moment - that's why we do this for a living.

Those last ten minutes of that 3.5-hour meeting? What a high. We got it. Everything clicked into place. We had chills run down our backs as we collectively realized that the proposed solution could truly work. There were fists in the air, offers to buy the genius (not me) a congratulatory dinner, and a scuffle to get it down on paper while it was fresh. Those are the moments that keep us going. That's the drug we're constantly seeking. It's the thrill of problem solving.

Game design consultant and theorist St├ęphane Bura says, "I make videogames because it's a unique artistic medium, with unique challenges. You don't make an object, you create the seed of an experience, for someone else to plant, nurture and enjoy."

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