David Perry's Design Memory Dump

David Perry

Game Developers Conference, 1999

After 16 years of game designing I get asked the same design questions over and over and over.... Instead of hearing concepts and ideas one by one, article by article, this lecture is a fast a furious design memory dump covering tons of issues attempting to give direction, demonstrate forward thinking and use history to help predict the future.

This session covers a very wide range of topics that all relate to making your game stand out and getting it the attention it deserves. Some ideas are controversial and some are common sense. Now that my games have sold about half a billion dollars at retail, I am starting to feel pretty confident I won't lead you too far astray.

Start of speech

Hi everyone.

I was asked to come here today to talk about some of the design issues that we all know about, but because we are always too damn busy, meeting deadlines, attending conferences like this.â?¦ we rarely get the time to make SURE our games contain these necessary elements! After all, itâ??s elements like these that gamers will love you for.

So I said "Sure Iâ??ll do it!", and then I tried to buy some books on "VIDEO GAME DESIGN" as referenceâ?¦ I looked all over for new â??up-to-dateâ?? books on the subjectâ?¦ To my amazement there are none. I even contacted publishers of old books and they are out of print!

So I am going to attempt to cover many different facets that I think are important.

My speech is intended for open-minded designers, programmers, artists, animators, musicians and producers.

I promise not to waffle on and on about one topic, and I plan to cover as many areas as I can fit into the time that I have been given here.

There are no spreadsheets, no game playing, no demos, no reminiscing, no sales pitches, itâ??s real information all the way.

Just to warn you, some of this stuff SHOULD seem bloody obvious to you, IF IT DOESNâ??T, then you REALLY need to worryâ?¦

What I am hoping for is that YOU will find something in my talk that will at least make YOU pause for thought.

I have started a website called HTTP://WWW.DPERRY.COM - Itâ??s dedicated to covering questions that I get every day from students around the world that want to get into this businessâ?¦ they have asked if I will post this speech during the showâ?¦. The answer is yes.

I have loved typing this speech up, itâ??s made me realize that although I have all this advice [hold up papers] - in my normal day, I am so damn busy dealing with issues, I donâ??t analyze what I am working on as closely as I could do. There are many things on my list here that I have failed terribly to accomplish myself. So I hope that I can inspire some of you, and inspire myself to take this list and sit down with whatever game you are currently working on, or planning to work on, then just see how many points youâ??ve actually got covered.

For a previous Game Developers Conference I made the same sort of list for developing video game characters and then licensing them. After that speech I went back to my office and actually followed my own list line by lineâ?¦ Within three months I had a licensing contract in my hand for $500,000. So this system has worked for me before!

WARNING: Before I get going I just want to make it clear to the programmers that read this, that they might think that I am taking a pop at them. I am! I have programmed dozens of games, worked with dozens of programmers. Somebody needs to push you guys, and I am helping empower the designer to make you do your best work.

OK, First I am going to start with a few major topicsâ?¦

DESIGN ITSELF

At Shiny I always look for a HOOK. I wonâ??t kick off a new game anymore without a HOOK. I describe the hook as being the best feature of the game, described in up to just one paragraph. Now this is not some corporate thing, donâ??t mix it up with a vision statement. This has to be specific to this game, and has to be the hook in the gameplay that will make THIS game both different and fun.

Let me give you some examples:

With our MDK game it was: "MDK will allow you to shoot your enemy in the eye from a mile away." â?? That lead to us designing a game using â??sniper modeâ?? with lots of long range gameplay. (Blinding things.) In our new game Messiah itâ??s "You can possess the body and soul of any person or animal in the game, and then use that personâ??s body as armor or camouflage." â?? Like using their body to walk through fire, or pretending to be someone else.

When you have a cool hook, the design of the game will flow from that new concept. It should generate more ideas than you know what to do with.

The rule of thumb is simpleâ?¦ Have a meeting, suggest the hook, it the room lights up with ideas flying all over the placeâ?¦ You are golden. If itâ??s all quiet and you can hear a pin dropâ?¦ THIS IS THE BEST WARNING SIGN EVER! - I will discuss this later, "Heeding Warning Signs."

While I am at it, the hook can make you look creativeâ?¦ I define â??creativeâ?? as just coming up with game ideas that you personally have never seen before. Donâ??t ever believe that because you donâ??t have the word â??designerâ?? in your job title that you should not be the source of some of the best game ideas. Over the years I have seen them come from artists, musicians, testers, friends, even sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the freeway. So always keep your mind open.

Other tricks to being creative is to try to think in non-common ways, mix concepts, statements, places, things to do. Write them down, mix them up and let them lead you in tangents. You will either come up with cool game ideas or the next Pulp Fictionâ?¦ So try not to follow the path most trodden.

A trick we use at Shiny is to write down the name of a level like "Junkyard" on white cards. Then everyone at a meeting has to present a drawing and idea of what the â??Junkyardâ?? can be. Some will be serious, some will be silly, some will be boring and the programmers ones will be badly drawn. But the mix of concepts often generates a spark that leads to instant conversation. Give it a try sometime.

HARDWARE can help DESIGN

I still feel the biggest problem with games is how we connect to them. User interfaces still have a long way to goâ?¦ So do joypads and keyboard play. Suffice it to say, that making your game easy to play seems completely obvious, yet so many games still require every damn key on the keyboard.

I do the same bloody thing!.. I KNOW I need to simplify the game, I watch kids play it and have to keep leaning over their shoulder saying "No not that key, press This with That, NO you have to hold that then release, not just tap". My father has watched me play games for 18 years and finally, for the first time ever asked if he could play FIFA Soccer. So I handed him the joypadâ?¦ He pressed random keys, but he could feel NO real link to the game, so he set the joypad down and left.

So my first challenge is to the hardware companies, not to be so crap as to market vibrating analog joysticks as innovative new control devices for the next generation consoles. They need to POUR research dollars into THIS area, not just polygon counts.

Personally I would like things like real force feedback stronger than my arm muscles, torque-ing plastic for smooth turns, touch sensitive analog buttons, grip strength tests, finger pointing, microphones built in, proximity sensors, moving balance, re-writable media, the list is endless.

That said, we get what we get for lots of logical reasons (mostly financial)â?¦ So I also suggest that you let the design of the hardware AS IT ARRIVES help innovate your game designs.

The next wave I personally will be focusing on is speech recognition. We have to be careful because itâ??s not like speech recognition for typing documents, it also has to be processed in real-time without hurting the game speedâ?¦ The problem is that if your algorithm accidentally misunderstands "go back" as "Attack" youâ??re screwed!

One trick we are working on is teaching you simple magical words to cast spells, and those words sound NOTHING alike. Saying these very different sounding words triggers instant responses from within the game. This is turning into a cool feature that actually helps you think differently when designing.

GETTING YOUR IDEAS HEARD

This leads me to some letters I have had at my websiteâ?¦ They say "My boss made me a designerâ?¦ What is the best way for me to DEMAND that my team uses my ideas?"

The truth of the fact is that I donâ??t believe that you can ever be appointed as the designer or leader of a game.

I believe that the designer becomes the designer over time when continues to prove, that he is the source of the best ideas. He is the guy that knows exactly what is going on in every part of the game, and he has the most clear vision of what the game should be when problems arise. These guys are EXTREMELY rare, so unless you are built like Mike Tyson, donâ??t DEMAND that others use your ideas!

PUBLIC FOCUS or PLAY TESTING

Probably the most UNDER used facility available today is focus testing. Many games have focus testing but itâ??s mostly marketing and publishing staff that attend it. And thatâ??s not lots of help to the designer.

A Question for you all here. How many people here, that work on a development team, have PERSONALLY taken design notes at a focus test for their game?

The trick is to do it often, you need to learn how to ask the right questions, make changes and re-test to see if you did actually fix a problem.

Often programmers will argue how long things will take to fix, or they will exaggerate how gigantic a task is. Just get them standing behind a very frustrated kid.

When I was programming Aladdin, this was the event that made me fix the things that I had been expertly avoiding. Trust me, getting your lead programmer into a focus play-test saves you the designer SOOO much discussion and persuasion.

As a side note, when you hear the same thing over and over from gamers at a test. LISTEN. It is so amazing the way we filter the things we want to hear. We ignored comments we got last year and next thing we were reading them in our reviews. DOH!

DESIGN ISSUES

These seem so bloody simple, but as I go through them, I bet you can think of current games that lack several of these points.

Game characters should seem intelligent. They should step over things, duck under things, notice each other, communicate, nod, wave, step around, squeeze through... All the body movements in real life that we do without thinking about it.

  • There are human studies that cover every culture and spot the natural instincts that all humans have. Nodding is normal, walking into walls is abnormal. Yet games donâ??t nod, but characters do walk into walls. There is lots of room for improvement here.
  • Another example is walking into a beamâ?¦ In real life YOU would duck under it. In games today you bang your face into it and keep banging your face into it!
  • My point is that characters should use their EYES and not normal collision boxes to find obstacles. If two characters walk/bump into each other before realizing that there is someone else there, they deflect off each other and just look very stupid. Think of a street scene from overhead, people simply look ahead and avoid each otherâ?¦ Trust me, itâ??s easy for a programmer to fix, but rarely will they do this work without being asked.
  • There are simple ways to solve thisâ?¦ If your programmer complains then send him to: http://www.red.com/cwr/steer This is a site maintained by Craig Reynolds from Sony. He shows exactly how to avoid stuff and make characters look 'smart'.
  • So here is another tipâ?¦ If you want something from your programmer and he is one of those "CANâ??T DO" kind of guys (GOD I hate working when them!), then you the designer, do your homework BEFORE you present your problem. Find the solution, search the Internet far and wide or ask other programmers. Then present the solution you discovered or demonstrate the concept from another game nicely to the programmer. "I was thinkingâ?¦ You see the way this game does thisâ?¦ Can we do that in our game?" Often their ego wonâ??t let them say NO to something that is clearly being done by others. After all, then he would be meeting defeat!
  • Back to the real life stuffâ?¦ Another example would be if you need to reach a power-up but your guys are in the way. Instead of walking around them or banging into them, your character would say "Excuse me", they would turn sideways to let you squeeze through.
  • Itâ??s 1999, itâ??s time for this level of detail to become normal, the code is out there on the net, donâ??t let your programmer hold you back until EVERYONE ELSE does it before you. (Themâ??s fighting words!)

Communication Failure

Ask a team how many different enemies are going to be in the first level when the game ships, or ask the artists how many bytes of memory each frame of animation takes, or how many texture pages they should plan for the AGP version. Too often you will get blank staresâ?¦ This is dangerous as it shows massive weakness in the teams communication. Programmers know all this stuff, but rarely sit the artists and designers down and teach them. How will an artist ever respect "Cache Hits" if you donâ??t take the time to explain it to them.

  • For some strange reason programmers prefer to wait and complain when all the memory has gone or the cache is being hammered.
  • My point is that Information is power. If the artist finds out later that he actually had twice the Video RAM than he used, he will be pissed that he was not toldâ?¦. But he wonâ??t askâ?¦ See my point.
  • If you are a programmer and you have not taken the time to teach, then do it now! Also make the game while it is running give quality statistics and feedback to the artists.
  • After all programmersâ?¦. if after being completely informed, if the artists continue to run you out of memory, only now you are legally allowed to abuse them.

Gamers LOVE to feel clever

If they solve a puzzle one of 10 possible waysâ?¦ They donâ??t need to know that there were 10 ways to do it, they just think they are pretty damn smart! This really means that your design needs bags of â??flexibilityâ??.

This instantly gets the game away from being on a rail and also adds greatly to its replayability.

So give your gamers choices, let them try out their random ideas that spring into their minds, let them evolve these into strategies.

If they succeed, then let them feel clever that their strategy worked.

My tip? - Stand in each room look around, ask youself, What will the funky public try to do in here that is not obvious? What can I add in here to tease them? What can I add to give them something to fool around with? Now MOST IMPORTANTLY make sure that the game will react when they take your bait, make sure that you the designer is always one thought ahead of them.

PROGRESSION

Every time you play the game you should feel at least some progression. The gamer really needs to feel like he is advancing and getting farther or increasing his skills. Getting stuck is just not fun, nor is reaching a bit in the game where the difficulty curve just goes exponential.

Our job as designers is to at least entertain them while they are solving the problem. If a gamer is unable to solve the puzzle you have presented him with, then sense his frustration from WITHIN the software. Trust me, the code can see that he has been running around for a while and has achieved nothing, he dies over and over and is frustratingly tapping the replay button. If you can SENSE this, then DO and help the poor guy out. Donâ??t force help, but offer it. Frustration in video games is like a disease, you can nurture it or cure it.

One way you can spot it for example is when a gamer is pounding a key to try to restart a new game after dying, yet most games load the next FMV sequence BEFORE checking to see that you donâ??t want to watch it. So if a gamer is still tapping hardâ?¦ SKIP ON!

Sense impacts on walls, standing still periods, repetitive attempts to open the same locked door. Present all these situations and say to the programmer what you want the game to respond with. Itâ??s simple stuff, but amazingly effective.

DON'T RELY ON MANUALS

Donâ??t rely on gamers reading your manual and donâ??t depend on keyboard overlays.

The game controls should be simple to start with, and then be taught to gamer as the gameplay complexity steadily increases. This stops them playing really badly at first (they might not even know they can fire!), then when the shit hits the fan, and they suddenly need to know a key, they have to gaze away from the screen at a keyboard overlay. Gazing away in the midst of life-threatning action is just not something we want to help or force them do.

On top of that, many games make the player press PAUSE to find out what keys do what. Again, this is BAD as it forces them to step out of the world that you have worked so hard to get them into.

There is no easy solution, but at Shiny in our Messiah game we are experimenting with one key does all, changing itâ??s function depending on your current situation. For example you donâ??t need a special â??Open doorâ?? key when there is no door around or you donâ??t need a â??Pick up an objectâ?? key when you are actually in the process of opening the door. So multiple things can be triggered by pressing just one key. So as not to confuse the player, a changing icon on screen shows what the key will do if pressed this instant.

Remember that WE make up the rules, so we can control the controls.

To be honest, often we give the player every key because we donâ??t know what the designer will require of them. So itâ??s easy just to keep assigning a new key for every function that springs to mind.

So if you are approaching the end of a project. Really look hard at your key usage. I guarantee you can find a way to simplify it. Believe me, the gamer will thank you for spending that time!

CHEAP SHOTS

Getting shot in the back by surprise or suddenly falling down an "invisible trap door of death" without the ability to respond is just not fun. (Unless of course you are the one operating the trap door or you are the one doing the ambush!) Expert gamers need to believe that its possible with enough practice to master your game. Random impossible to avoid death instantly frustrates these people.

Because the designer that puts them in knows where they are and easily steps over the minefield, they forget how un-fun it is to a fresh new gamer to struggle through the endless executions.

Random deaths as I call them make the gamer feel like a loser. He should be blaming himself for his mistakes, not the designer.

Blind jumps suck. In platform action style gamesâ?¦One of the most common kinds of bad level design is when the player is left jumping into open space hoping there is a floor down there somewhere to catch him.

It also happens in 3rd person games when the camera canâ??t quite capture you and the enemies that are about to shoot your head off properly at the same time.

In both cases, suddenly the gamer will feel instantly feel frustrated that they have such a small cone of vision.

So, until monitors greatly grow in size and we are playing in super-high resolutions, at least offer them a decent look around function.

Advanced camera work is now also an essential part of game design, it would not do you the designer any harm learning techniques from the movie world. Miyamoto does a wonderful job at controlling moods and making sure you get to see the stuff you NEED to see when playing his games. Donâ??t just expect the programmer to handle this for you.

PICKUPS and OBJECTS

Pickups and objects should be easy to recognize.

When you hear people in design meetings saying "We can make the objects different colors", fight it, fight it, fight it!!!

This is a pet peeve, Itâ??s 1999 we CAN afford real object icons, we can even animate them. Trust me, gamers want to see and hear a really meaty flame-thrower, not a spinning red ball anymore.

While I am on this pointâ?¦ Try to convey things in images as much as you can. Analog displays look and feel much better than just a bunch of numbers.

When you do something good, the game should not ignore it. It should always respond by patting you on the head via audio or graphical effect or both! The trick is to spot the small stuff that the gamer is achieving.

Just saying "Goal" when they score a goal sucks if the guy ran from one end of the pitch to the other single-handedly. He deserves more recognition, so give him more.

If he scores three in a rowâ?¦ Say "WOW, three in a rowâ?¦" Itâ??s simple, but VERY VERY effective.

When the pressure is on, make sure the game gives you the feedback. Tetris does this well when the music speeds up when you are getting close to the top of the screen. It really does work at getting the adrenaline pumping.

Now donâ??t be lazy and sayâ?¦ Because a Boss is on screen, then you play the fast music, thatâ??s a given! I mean consider the actual situation happening right this second. Is the player about to run out of ammo, did 5 aliens just walk into the room. Did he just kill four of the 5 aliens, but one is still hiding. The music needs to reflect that!

You can really play with a gamers emotions if you take the time to try â?? This will be the theme of my speech!

As long as it does not break the gameplay, it is fun to add some graphical freshness to the game for replayability. People love to say "I have never seen it do THAT before". Multiple random idle animations are a good example, so are moving objects like traffic or people eating sandwiches or using ATMâ??s, or shadows moving in buildings, birds flying by, dogs barking, litter appearing, things like that.) This stuff does not JUST keep the game fresh, it also makes the world seem more real and less sterile. So take a close look at what you are working on and ask yourselfâ?¦ "What subtle incidental things could be happening in this area."

Animation should never ping-pong. It makes the character look fake and the animation cheap. Cycles should be random with random extensions. This makes the character so much more 'real'.

Characters should never stand still. Freezing on a frame of animation makes a character look totally fake, it also gives you a great look at every glitch and error on them.

Keeping a character moving can cover up how few polygons it uses, it also is more natural for the human eye.

Remember for motion that people are not just a bunch of joints like a mannequin. Donâ??t just rely on motion capture to make things look real. Deformation of skin and tissue, facial expressions and lip synching are all going to be crucial in the games of the future.

In our R&D we found out something interestingâ?¦ You know the way most facial animation is a jaw moving up and down like Monty Python, then some moves the lips, and the best move the mouth, lips and face.

If you have a REAL lip reader animate a mouth, he moves muscles in the throat as well as the face as well as the lips as well as the tongue. Thatâ??s what a lip reader looks for!

So donâ??t force a gamer to watch a badly animated computer head anymoreâ?¦ Itâ??s unnatural and makes the game seem fake. There are plenty of new effects companies that can help you address this issue. - Most good facial tracking covers about 20 points on the face, we are experimenting with 200 at the moment. Basically thinking into the future, the 3D hardware we will be working with will be completely photo-realistic. We just wonâ??t get away with todayâ??s illusions.

The gamer should have some ability to personalize or modify their character through experience. Much like the classic RPG or resource management game. As the player advances through the game they gain the opportunity to have their attributes enhanced. Now that is not limited to a person...it could be a ship, vehicle or an army. This leads to them caring about all the work they did previously. If a character appears and dies, like in a movie, you donâ??t care. But if you grow to love that character, it becomes a valuable emotional issue.

Game designers need to worry about the emotions of the gamer, it is a powerful part of any movie or book reading, so why not games.

LEVEL EDITING

Nowadays, for replayability, the ability to create/edit your own levels is a must.

This can also generate a swell of enthusiasm from very passionate gamersâ?¦. A VERY positive thing.

If you have the infrastructure to handle it, then let them loose with your programming macros too.

Be aware that you will get support questions for about the next 3 years, so donâ??t take this on if you are not going to be able to back it up. One trick is to focus your support on net-based communication so that they can help each other and you just kinda oversee them.

If a piece of hardware is not shipping with EVERY machine, be very cautious. Donâ??t bet your game on it. (N64DD for Nintendo 64 is a great example.)

Remember games are entertainment. So use all forms of entertainment to entertain the gamer. (Humor is a great example).

If I had only one message from this speech, it would beâ?¦ Try to entertain the gamer with a bit of humorâ?¦ That does not mean â??out of placeâ?? humor, it can be â??darkâ?? humor for example. It just makes the whole experience of your game even more satisfying. But donâ??t over do it and be sure to focus test the game.

When we made Earthworm Jim, we had Tex Avery laserdiscs running all day long month after month. It was a great inspiration

I am allergic to Cartoons now, but it was a great inspiration.

GAME CURVES

Games have kinds of curves.

The Learning Curve teaches you about the world and the way in which you interact with it. (Command and Conquer did this well)

The Skill Curve teaches you the perfect use of weapons/systems and good timing. (Doom did this well)

The Difficulty Curve sets the level of gaming ability you will need climb the skill curve by using the learning curve.

It sucks when people ignore all three and then at the end of a game thinkâ?¦ Damn, Itâ??s two hard, lets just give you another life.

So plan your curves when making your initial designâ?¦

The controls should be perfect. They should be so perfectly tuned that they feel â??naturalâ??. This means when sticky or surprise situations happen to you, your response will seem natural and the controls will be predictable.

Programmers often ignore this fact.. If a huge explosion happens, the framerate drops, so does the control rate. Suddenly you find your character doing an impressive Tortoise impression.

A good excuse does not bring back the feeling. Imagine if car manufactures could get away with the slop that many game programmers get away with. "Sorry you lost your steering, we did not get time to optimize the code in the onboard computer."

The easy solution is to keep processing movement at 60Hz even if the screen update does not occur, this keeps the play consistent and the player will be where he expects to be on the next screen refresh.

Another solution is to make the game scaleable so it simplifies things in favor of framerate and control. (For example, an explosion might normally contain 300 fireballs but if you need two explosions at once, just generate 150 in each of them.)

So SCALE the EFFECT, not the FRAMERATE.

Surprises

Surprise the player every now and again. Make them feel clever, make them feel like they found something that probably nobody else did. Sometimes it is fun to make them think they found a bug, like a secret way to get to somewhere, or a way to keep replenishing their energy, but then show them that you the designer have been watching over their shoulder the whole time.

Add fresh elements on a regular basis so that the game remains interesting until the end. This really means donâ??t blow your wad right awayâ?¦ Keep special animations and effects for later in the level or later in the game. Let people earn this extra stuff.

It feels great to think you have a great weapon and have pretty much mastered the game only to find an entirely new way of dealing with the enemies or a vehicle you didnâ??t know that you could have been using.

Ideas like this can generate a lot of replayability. Pinball games use this technique.

Think of it like a movie trailer, donâ??t put all the cool stuff in your demos and in your manual, leave plenty of surprises for when they actually sit down to play. Reviewers love this!

There needs to be a really good balance of risk/reward. Donâ??t cheapen your rewards by giving them random value.

A great example is pickups. If I get ammo all over the place, if itâ??s everywhere, if I have to jump over it to avoid the damn stuff, then donâ??t place ammo later in a really difficult spot that it takes two lives to get to later on.

You need to teach the gamer a value systemâ?¦ When I see a special object like a health packâ?¦ A well designed game makes me feel really happy to have found it. (Because the designer knew that I would be needing it around now!)

To accomplish that requires a lot of difficulty testing and moving stuff around, so make sure you leave a month at the end of your game to do this.

Also donâ??t add something just to pick upâ?¦ If I donâ??t reap an reward, donâ??t fool me into risking lives to collect it. Itâ??s a guaranteed disappointment later on.

The game should seem totally fair. If a player dies, they should be angry with themselves and feel that the challenge you have set is totally 100% feasible and they know they will get it next time.

Sometimes just spurring them along is easy just by the game actually sayingâ?¦ "Wowâ?¦ You were SOOO close!".

If the gamer blames himself and not the game for his death, then he will more readily try again. That "one more try" feeling is one of the best emotions to capture in a gamerâ?¦

Funnily enough this is where online deathmatch games and Tetris are actually very similar.

DANGER

Danger is a great way to create an adrenaline rush. The old arcade machine Commando did this really well with one very simple principle. If you stand still, you will get a grenade lobbed on your head. This meant that the gamer ends up rushing around under constant pressure.

Itâ??s a great tip when you want to step up the pace, then when you want, you can slow down the pace and know that the player is taking a well earned rest. After that, heâ??s a sucker for a surprise now.

Make sure that you play around with the gamerâ?¦ After all, you are the one that knows exactly what he is experiencing!

When facing a giant boss, learning the pattern should not be the only way to kill it. Let the player be a threat by being innovative in his gameplay. The days of jump-jump-duck-shoot are numbered. You need to let the gamer find more clever ways of killing your nemesis.

We were working on a giant boss recently that when he tried to hit you, you could crouch beside a big spring, his fist would hit the spring, bounce back, and punch himself in the face. That is a nice surprise for the gamer that gets caught there by accident.

The simple way to approach it is to give the gamer about 5 different ways to hurt something. Depending on where he is, what he is carrying and how he reacts should let them to come up with their own attack strategies.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Keep game menus less complicated. Most people just want to get into the game. The best way to do this is to keep menus really simple and let you dig deep only if you really want to.

Also donâ??t assume the gamer is technical by asking, do you have a T1 or a T3, DMA Ports, Direct 3D V6.1 with SLI Voodoo 2 with Glide 3â?¦ You should assume they can only determine if this is a FAST COMPUTER or SLOW COMPUTER.. Then automatically change the defaults for them.

Try to sense all you can and hide modifications in sub menus. Call these sub menus ADVANCED Computer Settings.

Trust me, this will save you a TON of customer support calls!

Remember that your games sell all over the world to all age groups and you gotta make this stuff simple. Often the translations are done by agencies who donâ??t translate well.

Itâ??s sad to think that a gamer will struggle with installation and arrive into your game world already frustrated.

Companies like Sony will hate you, but if you make a game that you know is going to be gray imported, then stick foreign text in early. A great example is Ridge Racer 4 on the Playstation. Gamers that buy the Japanese version because they didnâ??t want to wait, have no problems playing it as all the crucial menus also appear in English.

Iâ??m not saying I support Gray importingâ?¦ But lets say I enjoyed Ridge Racer 4 nice and early!

Yet I waited for the English version of Metal Gear Solid to be made.

Breaks in any form - break gameplay. Imagine a movie that kept stopping to load the next scene and asked if you wanted to save your position and required key presses. Itâ??s flow would be lost each time you are brought back to reality. Thatâ??s really annoying.

A standard trick is to display a few status screens loading parts of the next level behind each screen. This will keep the gamers brain busy as you get your loading out of the way.

At Shiny we try to predict loading and load everything in real-time by streaming from your hard drive. We also stream video textures and new sounds at the same time. Basically we try to use the hard drive as much as we use the video or sound card.

So if there is any way to remove loading bars in your game, do your best!

Developers should understand the lifestyle of the gamers. Gamers need to be able to pause at any time, or to save their position when their wife shouts "Dinner's ready" for them. Some people are disabled, or drunk, some have slow reflexes, bad eye-sight, a bad monitor, a sticky keyboard, tennis elbow or a dog in their lap, or all of the above. These are some of the people that want to enjoy your game also. The difficulty curve is important to them, key configuration, easy saving etcâ?¦

Same goes for a quick continue feature, they will thank you for it.

The average world public loves vanilla ice cream and hamburgers. They could eat bizarre food like fried emu or frozen cobra blood, but they just donâ??t want that.

The observation is that Bizarre and weird does not sell half as well as something that is just plain fun and high quality.

And that is my pointâ?¦ The general public like qualityâ?¦ They like a good hamburger or nice ice cream.

I believe Donkey Kong Country on Nintendo 64 sold so many millions of copies for that reasonâ?¦ The gameplay was still pretty standard, but the whole thing felt like quality. The kid on the street could easily see the difference between it and other games of itâ??s genre.

So never underestimate polish and quality.

Sports games should not assume intimate knowledge of the rules of the sport. It should teach as it plays and as it sees you making mistakes.

Many gamers, especially overseas are interested in learning new sports to their country like Baseball, but the games generally assume a very high level of knowledge.

Simple solution.. Offer a learner mode!

Donâ??t waste the talent of your best artists on FMV (rendering video). The gamer will thank you more for a great looking game, than a great looking intro.

Game development budgets need to take music more seriously. The ambiance a real orchestra or well licensed music can make is amazing.

Many teams spend 1-2 million dollars on a big game and then complain if the music will cost 1/20th of that.

I donâ??t know about you, but I think that the background music is a lot more than 1/20th of the experience!

As the saying goes, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link". I am a great believer in making more for the game than is needed and then cherry-picking the best bits. The highest review I have had is 98% for a game that the publisher forced me to ship on a machine with 25% less memory than I had built the game for.

It annoyed the hell out of me chucking all that hard work away, but then when the reviews came it, I realized I had produced a more consistent level of experience by whipping out the weak parts.

So donâ??t treat "over-design" as a swearword.

Often game designers and artists do not realize that what the programmer provides is often only about 30% of what he could produce when pushed.

Sorry programmers, but you know itâ??s true!!!

After all, how can you expect to get the best out of him if you have no idea of what he is doing?- Experience over time, programming classes, things like that should be considered if you want to be able to talk on their terms and know when they are bullshitting you.

One trick to deal with programmers is to break tasks down. Make each part sound totally trivial. Feed them to him one by one. If careful, you can walk him down the path to your goal.

On the other side - Programmers need to learn about animation, timing, anatomy, lightingâ?¦ This seems an alien concept, but look at the people that they work withâ?¦ Most of them are artists.

The artist/animator works their ass of, gives the programmer the art and then the programmer compresses it in some terrible fashion, or he adds it to the game with bad timing.

The art is damaged by the fact that the programmer does not have an eye for what would have make it look good.

When I worked on Disneyâ??s Aladdin, I took a great interest in animation. The animators liked me because I cared about how their animation looked on screen.

Let me be clear, I knew NOTHING about animation, but I took the time to find out.

Gamers love to use their new hardware. When they buy some new joystick they look for the games that let them use this new joystick.

If you support the latest and greatest peripherals, you will get bags of support from the manufactures and become an impulse buy for the owners of that hardware.

This results in lots of free advertising and mentions of your game at retail for just a few days work. Something to consider if you join up with the right companies.

Retail Buyers donâ??t take note where they keep hearing about your game, but if each peripheral manufacturer hypes it up, then they will be more interested in your product.

With Interplayâ??s help we bundled our game MDK with the Apple IMAC and the Microsoft Force Feedback joystick when they were launched, those are the sort of deals you want to look out for.

Competitive scoring systems should reveal every nuance of the player's ability. A good example here is flying through a ring. The obvious reward would be to give a number of points for flying through.

This is not fair to the gamers that have played your game 100 times until they are masters. You need to spot how central they went through, the speed, the angle, how crazy they are.

The scoring system will get tons more respect if it REALLY spots who is best. It should reveal a steady improvement nurturing replayability.

Gamers like to know their goalsâ?¦ Hidden puzzles are not as fun as puzzles where you can see the goal, but the gameplay is ACHIEVING the goal. Gamers love a challenge. It becomes a challenge when they see what they need to accomplish, then all they have to do is to complete the tasks.

Like seeing a damsel hanging out the window at the top of a castleâ?¦ You know what needs to be done.

That leads to more focused gameplay than her just being in a random room and you have to search them all to get to her.

INTELLEGENCE

Many games pitch their incredible AI technology. If a guy walks into a room looking for someone and then bounces off every wall before deciding there is nobody there, then itâ??s not what I class as AI. In real life you would poke your head in the door, look around and then move on to the next room. Try to innovate in this area. Donâ??t leave it up to the programmer to code a brain simulator. Tell him what you expect it to do, then you will have it much faster.

Simple planning can save months of coding.

Donâ??t forget about character design. Finally the toy industry totally respects us. Finally the movie industry is taking us seriously. Yet many teams donâ??t even have a professional character designer, they just leave it up to artists. Truly innovative character design is a skill and you need to interview and hire for that skill if you want to accomplish anything more than standard characters. Your staff need to understand how toys are made, the problems with molding and spraying if they want their creations to translate well.

Make sure you have a guy that can build and manage character model sheets, bibles, bios, turn arounds, line looks etcâ?¦.

If your character hits, it will make more money than your game ever can.

Donâ??t forget the rest of the world! Remember that foreign countries donâ??t have the same level of computing power or the same reach into the Internet due to expensive phonecalls. I have heard people on my travels saying "I am thinking of upgrading my PC, I am going to buy a CD ROM drive." Also, having a good mix of staff from around the world on your team can help make sure that your game will work overseas!

A note to the programmers here, NOTHING motivates an artist or designer more than seeing what they spent all day working on actually in the game. When they come up to you and say "I did that animation you wanted", drop everything you are doing and get it on screen now! If they did a good job, tell them. If it did not work, now they are off fixing it. When I was programming our games, I actually had some of the artists run back to their desk as I challenged them to finish their art before I had the code ready. Then I would do the laborious programming tasks when they were not around or when they were busy.

Yes it interrupts the programmer, but it doubles the artists output and boosts morale amazingly.

Make the programmer look good. If you give the programmer everything he needs to accomplish a task, he will pop it in. You will annoy him quickly if you forget bits or donâ??t have the essential parts to get the task done. If you make it easy for him, you will see that over time, he will look forward to you coming back with more because from the rapid progress of working with you, you are making him look good to everyone else.

Donâ??t rely on marketing to sell your game. Itâ??s just their job to get the name out there. Often teams blame marketing because their game did not sell. The real truth is that gamers did not tell other gamers to buy your game. Word of mouth is incredibly more powerful than a marketing campaign. That requires a really good game worth talking about.

So my tip is to put stuff in your game that will generate conversation. It can be controversial, funny or surprising.

MARKETING

While I am on the subject of marketingâ?¦ The marketing staff rarely play your game in-depth and know all the materials that are available to put together campaigns. Itâ??s really up to you to generate materials that are useful. I often see marketing staff when talking to their teams seeing a cool piece of art above an artists head and then saying wowâ?¦ Iâ??ve not seen this beforeâ?¦ This would look great on the box. Imagine if that paper was not on the wall. Communnication is everything.

Some people take pops at me because I am in the press a lot. The fact is that the press have large magazines to fill up. Like everyone, they are under insane deadlines and they will accept help if they can get their hands on. You can help them by writing articles, strategy guides, diaries, making cool images, etc. You would be amazed how many different magazines there are around the world, by putting in this extra effort during the designing of your game, you can easily accomplish a remarkable amount of press. (For our MDK game alone, we got about 65 covers!)

So when you are designing, keep all the materials that got you to the finished product.

CLOSE

Well as I said at the start, I hope that YOU found something in my talk that at least made YOU pause for thoughtâ?¦

If you are a full time designer and you want to take one message home that will enrich the gamers experience no matter what game you are makingâ?¦ Know what the player knows!â?¦ If you are hiding behind a box in an elevator and some police that were looking for you step inâ?¦ Then you hear them say to each other "He must be hiding around here somewhere", "Heâ??s gotta be close by!"â?¦ The player is doing nothing but listening and feeling smartâ?¦ Trust me, they get a lot more enjoyment out of THAT elevator ride than just going to the next floor.

Really tinkering with the players emotions and feelings is one of our big challenges in 1999â?¦

I had written this speech long before attending the Playstation 2 announcement in Tokyo, so it pleased me greatly to hear about the amazing technology that they are going to supply, hoping to help us make more emotional experiences for gamers, they even call it the "EmotionEngine"â?¦ So now is the time to get this stuff rightâ?¦ As the youths that grew up playing Pacman and Space Invaders are now having children and starting families. This means that over the next several years, we can expect a much better acceptance of video games into the home, from parents that understand that it truly is one of the greatest forms of entertainment available.

Thanks very much!


Comments

To the very first poster, do you seriously think this guy "created" Earthworm Jim?! He's a PROGRAMMER. A creative artist with a whacked out sense of humor created Jim.

Posted by: Marko Nono at April 21, 2006 11:32 AM

(Oh man, I love comment systems where I can't put in paragraph breaks.)

So basically, your advice is "do the programmer's jobs for them, do the marketer's jobs for them, and get the artist's work onscreen asap, don't sneak anything up on the player and use pretty icons?"

I had a game designer once who went online and dug up code to support his ideas instead of actually doing game design. He would insist that code he found online made something possible, because X other game does it and he wasn't sophisticated enough to understand why that meant it wasn't realistic in our engine, even though the first thing we told him when we hired him was "we're not going to be able to do X, because that's not how the enginge works."

Designers who get stuck trying to force a programming team to implement some feature instead of looking for other ways to use an existing engine reduce development speed to a crawl over game features that are rarely worth the effort.

He couldn't get it through his head that we weren't going to gut and replace our engine to make rocket launchers blow holes in the wall. Nevermind that it ruined the other designers' levels, because he saw it work on Red Faction, and he was going to dig his heels in and wail until everyone coalesced around him. Why, he even found the phrase "portal engine," and since he wanted a nonsense feature, every bit of work the programmers did had to be started over.

Needless to say, we fired him.

Kids, watch out for from whom you take advice. Earthworm Jim is a brilliant game; one of my favorites ever. You'll notice, though, that almost none of this advice actually has to do with game design, and the stuff that does is obvious stuff like "don't make them jump blind off of cliffs" (even though arguably the best part of Prince of Persia 2 - the old one - is you doing exactly that.)

From someone whose games failed because the marketing was awful, despite that the games were awesome, to give advice that they have to go do the marketing themselves? I'm sure he believes the reason the marketing failed was because he, the game designer, didn't work hard enough at it.

Having worked with this class of primadonna, I'll tell you that it isn't. The real problem is that when a marketer is told to put up with a game designer trying to do their job, because they can't get it through their heads to do their own job and not someone else's, the marketer gets angry and stops putting in effort.

In the real world, if your marketing team isn't producing, don't try to do their jobs. Replace them. Games are long, difficult endeavours that take dozens of competant people, and any one failure can sink the whole thing.

That isn't an excuse to let one person with a complex go running around trying to take everyone's duties away from them. That'll ruin a team in a flat second. Shiny had some of the most talented people on earth and some of the best licenses on earth, and when they were bought out, it was for a pittance.

Monsieur Perry, I believe you can guess what my opinion is of why.

Posted by: StoneCypher at February 21, 2006 8:55 AM

Daivd,

Thanks for your website- a ton of good information.

Posted by: Johnny Prewitt at August 11, 2005 11:19 AM

That was a GREAT artical, It should help me a lot in my journey to become a game or character designer.

Posted by: rowan carmichael at July 24, 2005 3:31 PM

Well I dont no if this will go to you David but its for you anyways...As a kid I was a great fan of your greatest creation (Jim) ans still am! Is it possible for you to tell me how you found such a idea and how you created such a messed up storie...lol! To make a long storie short, Are we going to see upcoming earthworm Jim games on consoles like the PS3 or have burn out the character already and feel like doing other things?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read this and thanks for all thease games I can play on my PC using emulation! Buy.

Posted by: Moktar at July 7, 2005 5:08 PM

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David Perry's Game Industry Map Game Design Book