Update: Richard Garriott: "Most Game Designers Really Just Suck"

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So the man responsible for the mutant MMO abortion that was Tabula Rasa is criticising game designers. This somehow smacks of a 42stone man lecturing children on portion control.

90% of everything is crap, there are no more bad game designers than authors or directors. Quality is uncommon, that's why we use "Average" as a synonym for "Mediocre".

It's about time someone took the designers of Ultima VIII and IX to task, so good interview.

Sarcasm aside, those are in fact good examples of what he's addressing, i.e. the fact that game design is very difficult to do completely right, given all of the components that have to work individually and then work together to produce an outstanding experience.

Daystar Clarion:

Daemascus:
Yes, because how can a game be good without your divine blessing.

I know right?

He basicly invented computerized RPGs. And hes kinda right, there are alot of shit game designers out there.

*cough*TabulaRasa*cough*

All talk and no trousers, what has he done recently?

He didn't have creative control over Tabula Rasa. The last game he did have full control over was Ultima 7 Part 2. While he is a bit crazy and has a fairly monumental ego. He knows his shit. So while he may piss off most of the industry with his comments. He will follow through to prove them.

Dryk:
He makes a good point, pity he had to be so egotistical about it. Proper design takes a knack that most people just don't have, and we see horribly designed games all the time.

We also see a lot of programmers and artists shoehorned into the design job, we really need to see dedicated designers with real vision in the industry.

ThriKreen:

Actually I think he's saying the opposite - it's the specialization that's the problem, and having a wider berth of skill would do people better in the long run.

Indeed, there is a very big gap in gaming, and that is a coherent vision.
Mostly because each job in developing the assets for a game takes so much effort to begin with that the project team as a whole has to cop out and homogenize everything else so it fits into a logical mold.

Mr.K.:
Well he officially earned his Old Man card right there.
"Did you haveto crawl to school 50 miles every day through a blizzard wearing nothing but a loin cloth?! Well then you suck!", said every grandpa who ever lived.

He has a point on most just repeating an old formula but he also hasn't brought anything of value for about 15 years now, not to mention where Peter Molyneux and Will Right ended up...
Got to have something to prop that high stool of yours up before you call everyone a schmuck.

I concur. Like your one to talk Lord British. (Points at Ultima 9) "What's a paladin?" Yeah,frak you too,dude.

That so many designers fail at deciding whether they want an open form game (think Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Minecraft) or one where no player choice locks you out of any content (think Zelda, Metroid, pretty much anything first-party Nintendo) and mince bits from both leading to unwinnable (restart) states is proof that many out there do plainly suck. If your game lies between those two endpoints, and you can't provide a strong, clear, logical motive as to why your game should defy those two categories, then you're not thinking from a player perspective at all.

A game is meant to be enjoyable. If I can lock myself into a failure state hours in, then the game must be enjoyable on replay up to that point: it must be drastically different (such as in roguelikes), or drastically differ based on different choices I make (such as in RPGs).

Count me as one who thinks the man is absolutely right. You see it all the time in MMO games, where community leaders or skilled former players fall into actual design roles... and fail miserably. The same is seemingly quite true for the rest of the industry, and we have a LOT of mediocre or poorly designed games to show for it.

One issue: the appeal of extroversion crushing the thoughtfulness of introversion. I'm betting the majority of really good game ideas come from one guy or gal sitting by him/herself and spontaneously generating something amazing. Yet "game design", as something of a lead role, tends to land on people who have enough confidence and bluster to convince (or bully everyone) to go along for the ride.

I think the "business" is more to blame than anything, though. Good ideas aren't going anywhere if they can't incorporate enough features with apparent mass appeal - and the obvious solution, at this point, seems to be foregoing the good idea in the first place as publishers rebundle the same nonsense again and again. Of course, it doesn't help that game design is clearly a talent and not a skill. You can harvest and empower good designers, but you can't really train them.

Daystar Clarion:
He's such an amazing game designer, in fact he's so good that I don't actually recall ever playing one of his games.

That's talent right there.

Exactly. No hard feelings Richard Garriott but to make those kind of claims you have to actually make a game that people play. This is starting to reach the ego levels of that guy who made Braid, actually this is even worse. At least I played Braid. I didn't like it but I still played it.

Dryk:
He makes a good point, pity he had to be so egotistical about it. Proper design takes a knack that most people just don't have, and we see horribly designed games all the time.

That's what I took away from the article. Games these days are designed with such blandness, it's sickening. I doubt I'd find Garriott's games to be masterworks of genius, but I'm sure because of the age he came from his games are on average better than everyone else.

I remember Yahtzee playing Epic Mickey, and pointing out how the special trophies were always on the higher path, no exceptions. That kind of lazy, bland design is exactly the reason why I'd never have the balls to do design myself: it's an art and I'm not artistic. I think a lot of other people in the industry don't think about such personal limitations and just push forward with a game that offers nothing but a curving road with cutscenes for their levels. Garriott is right to call them out, but tooting his own horn like that was really stupid.

Daystar Clarion:
He's such an amazing game designer, in fact he's so good that I don't actually recall ever playing one of his games.

That's talent right there.

I haven't either, but I give my respect to one of the pioneers of the industry. He practically made the western RPG.

Speaking of somebody who has:

    1. Had to endure a never-ending procession of clone games.
    2. Tried independent game design.
I'm inclined to agree with Richard Gariott's push that a lot of designers are lazy and/or unqualified (thus they just copy what works and tweak it) and also that game design is perhaps the most difficult task of them all.

Learning to program is a hurdle, sure, but ultimately you're just learning to speak a language. Yes, computers are pretty stubborn to explain to considering they're just calculators who require absolutely every detail explained to them about what you want to do. It's painstaking work, but it's ultimately easy because you're always the big smart human talking down to the dumb computer, and the difference between a good programmer and a great one oft comes down to if you can get it right the first time in the most efficient manner.

The art and sound assets are also relatively easy jobs in that you're basically just drawing pictures, sometimes modeling those pictures in 3D, and playing with sound samples. There is a challenge of getting the right feel for the game, but ultimately you're allowed to creatively express yourself on something that is in the here and now, and that's not too tricky. Consequently, your work doesn't need to be perfect, you just need the talent that it is pleasing to look at or hear and your job is done. Again, painstaking at times, but easy.

Not to belittle anything that's not being a game designer overmuch, because if you are dealing with terrible programmers or content producers, it's going to be a problem. However, the drive I'm making here is that those tasks involve communication, and the real challenge is figuring out exactly what it is you want to communicate in the first place.

That's the game designer's job; what a game designer does is try to figure out something of significance to say! This is the difference between a brilliant speech writer and the winner of yesterday's 6th grade spelling bee: they both know how to use language, but only the former found something epic to do with it. Having a great idea is just the start of it, a game designer needs to be able to flesh out that idea in nearly every conceivable detail so that the people who are creating the physical artifacts of those details know what to do. It's a hard job, because you're not a big smart human talking down to a computer, you're an insignificant little human trying to make some semblance of sense out of the unfathomably large universe so as to have some idea of a viable intellectual artifact to create.

If we're talking about the difference between a messed up mishmash of pretty-looking words and a brilliant world-shattering play, the game designers' job is also the most important job of all as they're the people responsible for coordinating the actors on the stage in such a way that they're not going to make a fool of themselves, something that can happen no matter how talented (in art, sound, or programming) they are.

Consequently, it's pretty fucked up that so many outfits in the game industry generally do not put the most talented folk in the position of game designer. If they're just offloading people who aren't good enough to do anything else for the job, as Garriot says, it's little wonder so many games crash and burn. They need true visionaries, and those are unfortunately in short supply and often prone to failure by nature of vision requiring some level of trial and error to realize.

As with all the things, most people suck at it.
How is this news?

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Lord British is such a humble and level-headed human being.

Also, the sky is green, the water is neon pink, and we are working for our giraffe overlords.

To be fair. Garriot never claimed to be either humble or level-headed, but how many geniuses are? Tell me that Nikola Tesla was a level-headed and reasonable fellow and I'll laugh at you in front of your entire family during a funeral. Level-headedness and humility are not factors that generally come with successful artists.

Daystar Clarion:
He's such an amazing game designer, in fact he's so good that I don't actually recall ever playing one of his games.

That's talent right there.

Hm, I'm not sure what your point here is. That you never actually played one of the pioneering game series' that created a genre which now hosts the largest masses of players in the entire world maybe? Not sure if that's something to be bragging about there mate.

For the record: Garriott is a wonky-as-fuck designer but his point, which I admit he doesn't clearly enunciate, is that most designers just dick around and try to make copies of more popular games. That 'Medal of Honor' slight he put out there clues you in on that. Garriott may not make as many games now, but he created the RPG as we know it in video game media which pretty much earns him a pass to say whatever the hell he wants about game designers. Secondly, he actually has tried to push the envelope of game design into something different but was, ironically, actually too ahead of his time.

Tabula Rasa is a great example. and FPSMMORPG back in 2008, it was a flop. That leads to me to: Anyone here play and enjoy Planetside 2? Firefall? Yeah, ya'll probably forgot that Garriott had that exact same idea about five years before anyone else and we went: OH GOD IT'S NOT LIKE WOW RUN FOR THE HILLS!

I don't necessary like Garriott, but I respect the shit out of him.

Daystar Clarion:
He's such an amazing game designer, in fact he's so good that I don't actually recall ever playing one of his games.

That's talent right there.

No that's youth on your part, what gamer of the 80s and 90s didn't play Ultima?

TallanKhan:
So the man responsible for the mutant MMO abortion that was Tabula Rasa is criticising game designers. This somehow smacks of a 42stone man lecturing children on portion control.

Did you play it?

Have you played Firefall? Planetside 2?

Yeah. Garriott's Tabula Rasa might not have been as polished or successful, but he had the idea that is now becoming a commercial success five years before anyone even thought it was a possibility.

Signa:

Dryk:
He makes a good point, pity he had to be so egotistical about it. Proper design takes a knack that most people just don't have, and we see horribly designed games all the time.

That's what I took away from the article. Games these days are designed with such blandness, it's sickening. I doubt I'd find Garriott's games to be masterworks of genius, but I'm sure because of the age he came from his games are on average better than everyone else.

I remember Yahtzee playing Epic Mickey, and pointing out how the special trophies were always on the higher path, no exceptions. That kind of lazy, bland design is exactly the reason why I'd never have the balls to do design myself: it's an art and I'm not artistic. I think a lot of other people in the industry don't think about such personal limitations and just push forward with a game that offers nothing but a curving road with cutscenes for their levels. Garriott is right to call them out, but tooting his own horn like that was really stupid.

He invented the genre that birthed everything from World of Warcraft to Bioshock. He's allowed to toot his own horn mate, seriously. That's like telling Picasso that he's not allowed tell off painters for being slapdash.

EDIT: The 'video game incarnation' of the genre. Sorry, I realize he did not invent RPG's.

Lord British, sir, those are mighty ironic words coming from the same man who flushed his own revolutionary RPG down the crapper and decimated it's core canon in ways that not even modern game have yet to truly match.

lordmardok:

TallanKhan:
So the man responsible for the mutant MMO abortion that was Tabula Rasa is criticising game designers. This somehow smacks of a 42stone man lecturing children on portion control.

Did you play it?

Have you played Firefall? Planetside 2?

Yeah. Garriott's Tabula Rasa might not have been as polished or successful, but he had the idea that is now becoming a commercial success five years before anyone even thought it was a possibility.

Yes I did indeed play Tabula Rasa, and it was one of the most dissapointing games i have ever played. As for him having an idea that is now a commercial success i would make two points, first of all that his MMORPGs still weren't a commercial success in any meaningful sense. Secondly a game doesnt have to be good or well designed to be a commercial sucess.

TallanKhan:
Yes I did indeed play Tabula Rasa, and it was one of the most dissapointing games i have ever played. As for him having an idea that is now a commercial success i would make two points, first of all that his MMORPGs still weren't a commercial success in any meaningful sense. Secondly a game doesnt have to be good or well designed to be a commercial sucess.

You make a fair point, I'll give you that. However you do leave out a particular bit of information that pertains to this:

Yes, a game doesn't have to be good to be a commercial success, but an ORIGINAL game does. If you have a game that already has a running franchise, such as Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Resident Evil, etc... or one that's based on a popular license, such as Aliens: Colonial Marines, then you are correct.

However if you have a game that's original then, even if it's incredibly good which you are right in that Tabula Rasa was not, there is still no guarantee of commercial success. Look at Tim Schaffers Psychonauts or one of the latest MMO flops, The Secret World for proof.

Tabula Rasa went the way of most original ideas, into the historical trashbin, but that doesn't mean it was a bad idea since, now, everyone appears to be using it as a basis. Something that, I might remind you, also happened with modern Western-style RPG's, the other franchise Garriott is known for. And if you haven't played any of the Ultima series, which isn't that surprising in this day and age, I'll enlighten you on something:

Ever wonder why games like The Elder Scrolls, Gothic, or even World of Warcraft seem to function off of the exact same system of quests and rewards with the 'wandering around the world' thing tying it all together? That entire framework was ripped wholesale from Ultima. I can probably guarantee you that every Western RPG you've ever enjoyed had half of it's design doc copied off of Mr. Garriott's homework sheet.

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