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Game Design Issues

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Game Design Issues

On this page: {Basics} (sort of an over-view) {Intro} {Characters} {Story} {Mechanics} all the stuff we hate to do, but must; eg, writing, history, ...

Basics

(sort of an over-view) Mainly the broader your background (b/g for short), the better the games that you work on will be. To a certain extent, the old testament prophet Ecclesiastes sed it best: "There's nothing new under the sun". But, with a bit of creative writing, we can get all sorts of things. For example, Star Wars is based on the classic "hero's journey" as described by one of George Lukas' mentors, Joseph Campbell. In fact, there's an ep of Star Trek Voyager based on the medieval folk song of "Beowolf" - and well done as well! And the science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell (best known for things like "The Mote in God's Eye", "Oath of Fealty") based an sf book on Dante's "Inferno". So read and find out. (see the story section) Of course, you have to have interesting (or not) characters (see that section) as well as a story to bring them to life. One of the classics of modern times is "Office Space" - and one of the least interesting characters is the "Guy with the Stapler" (Stephen Root as "the squirrelly and unforgettable Milton Waddams, a man who is pushed around at work and has a fetish for Swingline staplers. -[
www.imdb.com]- Anyway, a good mix of contrasting types works well. And of course the tools that you'll neeed to do all of this with mainly doom3 or halflife2, etc (a game engine), animation master (or other character animation s/w; ie, Soft Ware), and then the character creation s/w - mainly Maya.

Intro


Going from Game Player to Designer

Dear Professor Pizoig, My son plays video game turnaments -- and his friends are video game fanatics like him. But, it's taken away from him wanting to learn. I can imagine. The Emerging Technlogies Program is full of PLAYERS, but when you talk to them about new game ideas, etc - they are pretty much just recapping what's already out there. Of course, its one thing to add new levels to an existing game - always nice for the companies, since that usually means at least some of the old "assets" can be used again. There's a few of us "hard core gamers"; ie, creating them, not just playing them) who work on new characters, plays, levels, effects, etc. btw, i'm usually the art/sound guy (i suggested having flames on a car, and as the speed increases, the flames actually start burning), and add some tweeking (a friend of mine had designed a "killer robot" and i added a bit of personality so that at one point it says, "I was designed to kill of course, but what i really enjoy is a good game of chess" - he (known through out the gallaxies as "The Evil Tony") later added a monicle and a few nice oddities. Remember: Variety is the spice of life. It's hard to break the habit of playing, but all of the best people in the program (eg, "The Evil Tony", "Brandon-1") are well sought after because they can create stuff out of thin air. Mostly, you get others that seem be pulling stuff out of TV sit coms, and stuff; which is fine, as long as you "tweek" the characters so that they don't just COPY what the original idea was. One secret is to do sort of "theatre of the absurd" things as well. And the key to that is to have a background in different areas. Mainly, i'd stress: History and English (as a language) and of course literature. When we look at stuff like "The Simpsons" its nice for a while, but essentially they are re-processing our own civilisation and giving it an absurd twist. But, the problem that it runs into is that it runs out of ideas. This is a problem with EVERY sit com series as well. One to look at is the very absurdist "Seinfeld" series, which in keeping with the Theatre of the Absrud ends almost exactly where it begins: Talking about the buttons on a suit jacket. That is, the ending, is no ending - we know that things for them will just continue to go on in their "meaningless" way; sort of like life from the absurdist/nilhilist POV (Point of View). But, the key is to take your b/g and knowledge of gaming knowing what's fun and could design other games and/or levels. I think the "standard" is still somethng like "Tomb Raider" where you have a strong character and story line and level designs. Also, "Brandon-1" in a game has set it in the future and in a vacation spot. This is sort of like the ideas that went into the original "Leisure Suit Larry" - take some shmoe and put him/her/neh into a fanciful setting. One thing is to be creative and original. The idea is that if you create ANYTHING, then it becomes your property, or as they say in the gaming world "an asset". The best example is the guy who made the quirky little squirel in "Ice Age" does that entire bit and then pixar/disney/who-ever puts it into their films. He still does the voice although he now has several people in his little cottage industry that makes new "side characters". This goes back to what they call "intellectual property" and must use some sort of permission (and if for profit, some sort of legal arrangement as well) in order to use the characters. There's a whole morbid mess of intellectual property rights, and such (see links of the main pioig page). As usual in the animation/game industry the MAIN CHARACTERS are usually created by the studio (eg, pixar, disney, Don Bluth, etc). But then the other *assets* are then brought in (and thus PAID for) by the studio from outside shops. That's what you see at the end of the films with all of those credits, etc.

Tools

The main tools are d3 - Doom3 (or the free "blender" which is similar and works 90% the same) - the prob is that there is SO MUCH stuff written using the doom3 engine that it's pretty much the industry standard. That might change as (maybe) more people start using LINUX/Unix rather than either PC or MAC - the two evil empires. In terms of ART STUFF, the real "in" thing to use is the MAC, but most PC people still think it's pretty dorky -- although to be honest since so many artsy types do stuff on it, it has a lot more features that all (conveniently enough) available for $$ purchase $$. Other engines include HalfLife2 and such, which have the advantage of being designed for on-line life; ie, V/L (Virtual Life) and such as it is right now V/R (Virtual Reality). I'm affraid the Star Trek HoloDeck is still a bit off. The othe main thing to learn and master is "Animation Master" or similar -- like i said, there are a lot of OPEN SOURCE (use that in the google ""'s) but, there are 2 or 3 that are widely used - mainly because they want the $$'s and open source (often times better, and obviously free) won't make them any money. In the video/podcast world there are two main programs Sony Vegas (for the PC) and "FCP" (Final Cut Pro) for the MAC. Cost: $300 or more. (I can get a copy of Sony Vegas for about $100 from the school - which i'll most likely do this fall - always a hassel to use the *limited* machines on campus, oh well. And of course MAYA (i think release 8 is the current one), about $500 ++ but, the industry standard for character design. They (AutoDesk.com, i think) were smart enough to come out with versions on the PC and MAC before anyone else could come out with a competing product. Which there are, but then, MAYA is pretty much it. They (unlike "idsoftware.com" - who made doom3) don't give very good support, but again there are a lot of on-line fan sites by serious gamers who put their "how to notes" out there.

Characters

Story

One of the all time classics (which hopefully will be brought back into print) is Jane Morrow's "Hamlet on the HoloDeck". There is also Ronald Tobias' classic "The Twenty Master Plots and how to build them". THis goes through all of the basic plots; eg, transformation, love story, mystery, journey of discovery, adventure story, etc -- there are 20 of them, and his book is superbly written with examples from common stories, films, etc. Of course, the genre in which you write your story will detail certain aspects as well. Combining genres with story plots increases the possibilites by 2x.

Beyond "The Story of the Game"

In general, unless you're really talented as a writer, then there will be people invovled in helping out, etc. A friend of mine, wrote a short adventure novel set in Ancient Egypt and she she ended up taking a writing class, as well as having it reviewed by professional writers. Of couse, in FILM or TV - there is so much stuff out there, that not even cool stories like her's are likely to get "picked up". But, that's where the idea of going beyond just games comes in. The same tools that can create a game, can be used to create films as well.

Mechanics

(all the stuff we hate to do, but must; eg, wiritng, history, .... If you've ever gotten tired of playing the 27th version of the invasion of Midway Island, read on. Get some history!