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Inside-Development Questions. And answers.

Posted by Chris Avellone , 13 January 2012 · 2331 views

Some questions on game development from Viviane Plouzeau.

1/Leaving behind private schools or public studies (well I don't really know how studies work in the U.S), what are the best qualifications for a game designer? What is more likely to get their application considered by a potential employer, for exemple?

Mod work and actual design work is more important than your education. If you designed an exceptional interface mod for WoW, built a great dungeon for NWN1 or 2, designed a popular mod (level or game mechanic) for Fallout in the GECK, etc. that means more to us than a degree. As an example, we hired Jorge Salgado (Oscuro) based on his mod for Oblivion, and he had already demonstrated he was a perfect fit for populating open world spaces and making it fun for players (the 100,000+ downloads of his mod were proof of that). If you go to school for actual design, I'd suggest choosing a curriculum that allows you to work on teams with the goal of a finished product at the end (maybe not polished, but finished enough to play).

2/I understand game designers get to create the « feel » of the game, but...

a.How much do game designers interact with graphic designers?

b. ... And with sound designers?

A. Quite a bit. Generally, every designer is paired with an artist or several artists, especially level designers. When possible, they're grouped in the same office or in the same pod, and they work together to lay out the levels with the designer providing the graybox layouts and fun factor and the artists doing the final passes to make it more beautiful.

B. With sound designers, there's more toward the end of the project, although that's getting corrected and getting them involved from square one (first, we had to get an internal audio department, which we succeeded at). One of my favorite games is System Shock 2, and the sound design there is interwoven with the gameplay, and that's ideally what you're looking for and what designers should always be thinking of. In Fallout: New Vegas: Dead Money, for example, we used audio as compass markers to draw the player to the three key locations in the opening area (police siren, Auto-Doc sawing noise, and radio music). It's simple for audio to do this, they only need more time with the level designers - and the benefits for level design and the player are obvious.

Obviously, with narrative designers, you deal with audio quite a bit, although that tends to be casting agencies and tracking the actual lines being spoken in the game world.

3/What are the main work constraints? Not only when creating a specific game, in general?

Resources and time. You have to budget yourself, recognize how long it takes not only to do a task, but test, iterate, and de-bug a task you've done. Often, the first pass is only halfway where you need to be, so you and production (the managers) should be aware of this when scoping weapon design, number of levels, real estate of levels, and so on. Also, while putting in a lot of extra hours is something designers love to do when working on game mechanics and levels (and I've certainly been guilty of this), they also need to be aware of how much that work can bleed into audio, testing, localization, and other departments - work with an awareness of not only your own scope, but how much time and resources others have at their disposal. If you work 80 hours a week, be aware that's putting a lot more on everyone else's plates as well.

4/If I'm right, Obsidian Entertainment is a «studio-for-hire». How does that type of structure work with game editors? Are there many studios out there that choose this way of working?

You're correct, we're often asked by publishers to develop titles, and are paid on a milestone-by-milestone basis. In the past, we would use other game editors (Knights of the Old Republic 2 used Knight 1's editor, for example, Alpha Protocol used Unreal), and we modify those editors as needed to make the product. Right now, we are using our own tools and engine, Onyx, we developed for Dungeon Siege 3 and using that in all our future projects (South Park and another undisclosed project).

In the best case scenario, having your own internal engine makes things easier for everyone - including getting contracts signed. Publishers often appreciate not having to do the hassle of licensing someone else's engine if the studio they're working with already has something tailored to the game and the internal studio pipelines (as an example, our current conversation editor incorporates everything our narrative designers wanted to have, and it makes writing dialogue much, much easier for everyone involved, from the designers, to audio, to localization).

5/Now this is mostly for my curiosity, but do you get to work with the localization teams when a game is translated?

Yes, we have to do a lot of advance planning and assistance with localization. Because RPGs are text-heavy/voice-heavy, the localization requirements are much higher than other games, and the iteration on it can get expensive, so you have to pre-plan as much as possible. Being able to track every single line across multiple languages and multiple sound files is something that requires a lot of detail-oriented eyes on - even a single line or character out of place can cause issues in tracking. Bethesda was well-aware of this, for example, and they had well-planned "text lock" phases where they would hammer away at every bit of text used in the game before it got to the studio and translators, and it worked out quite well. Once the text is done, designers often generally have to answer context questions for translators, which are sent to the designers in an Excel sheet with specific questions ("What does 'rat-bastard' mean in this instance?" Designer answer: "It's referring to a literal rat bastard who was born out of wedlock and then polymorphed into his current form.").

Lastly - shameless plug, I'll be at the University of San Diego on Monday, Jan 16 (2012) giving a "Scream of Consciousness" design talk that summarizes everything (well, almost) I've learned about game development over 20 years. It's at 6pm, Rm 1202 in the Computer Science and Engineering Building (EBU-3B).

Feel free to swing by if you want to ask me face-to-face questions!

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