Archive | June, 2007

“Clean Slate” vs. “Reactive” Creativity

30 Jun

A couple of weeks ago I started out writing about my habit of getting obsessed with games I’d never think about making, which last week led to some thoughts on different kinds of creativity and how my kind of creativity starts with frustration about…something, anything, but mostly about games styles that I think could be improved so easily if developers weren’t so committed to convention. (You know what I’m talking about — games that seem driven by “Do what we’ve always done because it works…and we can always add prettier pictures!” That kind of thinking just frustrates the heck out of me.) And that led to the realization that frustration gets me thinking, which (paradoxically) keeps me playing and (ultimately) gets me reacting. Next thing I know, I’m waking up at 4 in the morning, scribbling furiously on a notepad and before you know it, there’s a game I have to make.

Those 4 a.m. creative bursts (which often drive teams crazy — “Oh, no, Warren didn’t sleep last night… we’re all in trouble!”)… these reactions to frustration, stand in stark contrast with what I’ve started thinking of as “clean slate” creativity. And, while some of the folks who emailed me or posted comments here pointed out that everything is a reaction to something (nothing new under the sun…), I do think there’s a difference between my approach and that of other folks. I say that because I’ve been lucky enough to work with plenty of “clean slate” guys — Allen Varney…Greg Costikyan…David “Zeb” Cook in tabletop games… Richard Garriott, Chris Roberts and Doug Church in electronic games… (And anyone want to quibble with me throwing Will Wright’s name into the “clean slate” bucket? We haven’t worked together, but I think he’s a safe addition to the group!)

These guys routinely come to the table with a vision of something entirely new, a game unlike anything anyone’s ever seen. Half the time they sound nuts when they describe what they want to do, even to me. The other half of the time, I can’t wait to play their games and immediately start looking for ways I can help to enable and empower them — when you run up against something Totally New, you kind of have to help realize the idea, don’t you?

In contrast, while I have plenty of ideas, I don’t often find myself with all-new ideas like that — as I said, I’m more a reactive kind of guy. I play a game or read a book or watch a movie; I get frustrated at how lame it is or how conventional or how easily it could be improved. I see ways to add an element here or bring in an element from another kind of game. My pitch slides always (ALWAYS) include a couple of slides along the lines of “Take the best of games like X, throw in a bit of what makes Deus Ex or Ultima great and you’ve got Warren’s New Game Idea.”

In other words, I look for ways to take things that frustrate me and fix them.

Sometimes, my frustration is with a game’s fiction, sometimes it’s with gameplay, sometimes it’s with an underutilized feature, sometimes it’s with an entire genre I think needs a kick in the rear. But, like the princess who can’t sleep because of the pea under her mattress, I can’t rest when I see something dumb in a game.

For example, as much as I love fantasy, and loved the world of Ultima, I couldn’t shake the feeling back in 1989 that fantasy was limiting us–commercially and creatively–and a more realistic, historical approach would help us tell cooler stories while reaching a larger, more diverse audience. “Why the heck don’t you use that great Ultima VI engine for something more broadly appealing, Richard?” I thought. The result was Martian Dreams — an Ultima-style historical science fiction adventure set in the Victorian era. (Okay, so I was wrong about reaching a larger audience with a non-fantasy Ultima title, but the spark that started the project was definitely frustration, not a desire to create a clean slate design…)

A couple of years later, Ultima VII came out — a perfectly fine game but one that didn’t seem “epic enough” to me (though, in retrospect, that’s clearly absurd!). From a technical and graphics perspective it was groundbreaking, but the player experience seemed old ate. The story and playstyle could have been better. Out of that frustration came Serpent Isle. (There was also the fact that Britannia was totally Richard Garriott’s world and anyone else trying to explore interesting ideas there had to face the inevitability of those dreaded words, “That would never happen in Britannia” or “Iolo would never do that!” Serpent Isle was born of frustration with that, too — I told the team we were going to create our own world, within the Ultima universe, so Richard could never say that stuff to us! But that’s a story for another time…)

Wings of Glory was sparked by a plane ride I took with Chris Roberts while he was working on Strike Commander. Here was his team of supergeniuses, creating the most amazing flight sim engine to date — best looking models, best looking terrain, a 3D cockpit you could actually look around to check your surroundings — and all he could think of to do with it was a jet fighter game?! That seemed ludicrous to me. Jets don’t really dogfight. They fight from a distance, guaranteeing you’d be too far from Strike Commander’s beautiful 3D models to see them… flying too high to marvel at the incredibly detailed terrain… relying on radar to spot far-off enemies, ensuring you’d never have any reason to look around the 3D cockpit. It was nuts. I was frustrated. From that moment, I had to do a WWI flight sim, so you could get up close and personal with beautiful slow-moving planes, fly low to the ground and marvel at the terrain, swivel around the cockpit straining to catch a glimpse of an enemy before he got the drop on you.

Deus Ex was completely a response to Thief. I remember sitting in meeting after meeting with the team, arguing that it was a bad idea to de-power players to force them to sneak and avoid combat. “What if I’m not good enough to sneak past a guard? Or I just want to bash a guy over the head once in a while?” I lost all those battles (and, the way Thief turned out, I was clearly in the wrong — the game rocked). However, those lost battles led me to a place where all I could think was, “I’ll show those guys. I’ll make a game where you can sneak, fight or talk your way past any problem.” The next four years were just details — the game was born out of intense frustration with Thief.

More recently, working with John Woo on the Ninja Gold movie concept, I was driven by frustration one two levels: First, the Hollywood/Game collaboration just never seemed to work right and, second, ninjas are always treated so stupidly, in such a juvenile manner. I saw an opportunity to address both of those problems. (That’s really about all I can say about this, other than to warn people not to draw too many conclusions about JPS’s activities from the published reports.)

This bringings us back to the here and now. If you recall , this all started with Paper Mario on the Wii (again, a fun enough game I’m not dissing!…) Paper Mario fed right into my perpetual frustration with games that lead players around by the nose, offering false choices, when they offer choices at all, offering players the opportunity to solve puzzles (exactly the same way every other player solves exactly the same puzzles). In other words, it’s a game that allows players to pass some time but not much more. And that drives me nuts. In fact, much as I love Mario and Zelda and platform action/adventure games and all, there’s not much that frustrates me more these days. So, of course, I’ve been playing them obsessively and (surprise!) we’re working on a concept at JPS that will help address my frustration — a concept driven, as always, by a weird combination of love and frustration for specific games.

I’m hugely motivated these days by my love of and frustration with Zelda, Mario and other games of that ilk. Clearly, part of the appeal of these games is the chance to immerse oneself in familiar worlds and familiar gameplay. And there’s something soothing about knowing there’s One Right Way to do things. But as appealing as that idea is, there’s danger in too much reverence for the past, and these games seem so mired in their history, so married to convention they kind of make me mad. Prettier pictures won’t maintain sales forever. Someone has to offer a different take on action/adventure gameplay — why not us here at JPS? The frustration is definitely building! And that means there’s a game coming… Man, I can’t wait to talk more about this, but I better stop before I get myself in trouble.

Back in the world of generalization…

Whatever the frustration that drives my creative urges, it’s always screaming frustration of some kind that drives me. Everything I do is a response to something, a dialogue with someone or something (even if the other party doesn’t know a thing about it!). For me, art requires something to push against — maybe even something I want to destroy. (I really did want to shame other developers with Deus Ex, to ensure they could never make a straight shooter or simple save-the-world RPG again without feeling a little embarrassed about it. You can decide if we succeeded or not…)

I need an “I’ll show them!” moment before I can muster the energy to devote three years of my life to something. As my lovely wife Caroline will gladly inform you, I go out of my way to find things to get worked up about, things to get mad about, things I think are stupid in games — things to react to. For me, right now, I’m reacting to stupid ninjas and conventional platformers, just as I reacted ten years ago (jeez, has it been that long?!) to conventional shooters (and “sneakers”), back in the days of Deus Ex.

This all leaves one big question, of course — how do I reconcile the JPS core value of “Innovation” (see my blog post from June 9, 2007) with the reactive/editorial approach to design discussed here? That, and a bit about what comes after the frustration, is the topic for next week. For now, though, I turn this over to you folks, ending with two questions:

First, I see other “reactive” designs out there (though I won’t name them, for fear of offending friends and colleagues who may not find the idea of being reactive, rather than more conventionally creative, all that appealing!). But that doesn’t mean you folks can’t name names. So what reactive designs do you see out there?

Second, what game types/styles/categories bug you, frustrate you, make you want to tear your hair out — which genres, in other words, do you think are ready for reaction and reinvention?

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What Paper Mario Taught Me About Creativity and Why I Make the Games I Make

24 Jun

Last week, I mentioned that I had finished Paper Mario on the Wii and found the experience fun but frustrating. I guess the thing that frustrated me, specifically, was that I spent 25 hours of my life playing and at the end of that time, what did I have to show for it?

Was I a better person? Had I learned anything about myself, my family, my friends, my life, my work–anything? Sadly, the answer was “no.” I’d beaten every boss and solved ever puzzle exactly the way the designers intended. I’d switched in and out of a cool 3D mode, switched characters at just the right time and experienced a story of lovers reunited and a universe saved. But, mostly, I’d just sort of turned off my brain and killed some time. That’s it. End of story. And I’d never get that time back. I’d been diverted, but that was all.

Now, before anyone starts screaming, I’m not saying that everything has to be educational or personally or socially uplifting or anything like that. It’s okay just to “pass time.” I’m not even dissing Paper Mario (though I’m sure someone will take this as a rant against a pretty fun game…). What frustrates me is that Paper Mario is typical of so many platform games–nearly all games, when you get right down to it.

As developers, we almost never think about what games can do to enrich our players and, as players, we almost never encounter anything that informs us about the human condition. The audience certainly doesn’t seem to be clamoring for anything more than diversion. (I mean, the art director here at JPS has over 300 Pokemon in his Pokedex–I can’t even imagine investing that much time in something that offers so little in return!) There’s no other medium that routinely and without much self-reflection offers consumers so little.

Certainly there are books and movies and CD’s that don’t seem to offer much in the way of examination of the human condition, but even the most banal of products in those media offer insights into culture, into what we think is important and what isn’t. Games just aren’t like that. For the most part, games are all surface, no subtext. They’re about doing–they have to be about doing–but rarely about the WHY that drives the doing and even more rarely about the consequences of doing whatever it is you’re doing in the game.

So what does any of this have to do with me making games unlike a lot of the stuff I play (which was the topic last week and is still the topic I want to talk about this week)?

Well, this lack of subtext and significance is what I’m frustrated about these days–and frustration is, for me at least, the start of the creative process. (And if you think it’s easy sustaining a feeling of frustration over the three years or so it takes to get from seed idea to finished game, think again! I work hard to remain frustrated, as my friends will happily tell you.)

Playing Paper Mario started a thought process that brought me to the realization of just how frustration driven I am, professionally speaking, and that got me thinking about how different that is from what drives some other people I know.

I realized I’m a Reactive (or “editorial”) guy, creatively, not a Clean Slate guy. And I’m okay with that. Next week, I’ll talk about what I mean by reactive and clean slate, and why I’m okay with it…(Man, I did not expect this to turn into a public exercise in self-psychoanalysis… go figure.)

Am I a Gaming Hypocrite?

16 Jun

I just finished playing Paper Mario on the Wii. I certainly had fun with it–I mean, I don’t feel compelled to finish many games. Few games offer sufficient rewards to justify the time and energy required. But something about Paper Mario kept me playing.

It certainly wasn’t the depth of the gameplay or the story. It wasn’t the opportunities for self-expression through play. It wasn’t the opportunity to test behaviors and see the consequences of different choices in a believably simulated gameworld. And the challenges in the game fall under the category “Guess What the Designer Had in Mind.”

The pleasures of Paper Mario were completely different from the pleasures I want my own games to offer players. In other words, Paper Mario embodies almost nothing I think is important or interesting about games. It’s a linear, Pavlovian, utterly diverting yet ultimately empty experience–a way to pass (for me) 25 hours. Frankly, though I guess I’d have to recommend the game as a “fun experience,” I’d also have to say I have absolutely no interest in making a game like it.

Frankly, I find myself in that position a lot–obsessively playing and, yes, enjoying, games I’d be, basically, ashamed to have made. What’s up with that?

The Hypocrisy Conversation

You wouldn’t believe how many times my friends–yes, my friends!–and colleagues give me grief about why I’m such a hypocrite when it comes to the games I like to play versus the games I like to make. (Good thing I have a thick skin!)

The conversation usually starts with someone saying something like this: “You’re a total Legend of Zelda freak, Warren. You’re always obsessed with some puzzle game or other. And aren’t you the guy who loves stuff like Diablo? How come you don’t make games anything like the stuff you seem to enjoy playing the most?”

Well, I have to cop to the truth behind the question.

I am a Zelda goober and have been since the SNES days. (Somehow I missed the NES games when they came out–or maybe I was just more of a PC snob back then–but now that we have the Virtual Console I plan on getting caught up). I do find myself obsessing about puzzle games. And Blizzard’s stuff always gets my shorts in a knot, keeping me up way too late, way too many nights (well, up until WoW, which captivated me for a while but then lost me, the way ALL MMO’s lose me–a topic for another time…)

So it’s a fair question, why DON’T I make games like that? Why do I spend so much time playing and ranting about stuff that doesn’t give players much to think about or much control over their experience? Why do I love games with no story at all? Why do I spend hours and hours staring at a screen until my eyes bleed trying to figure out how to beat some boss monster in some dungeon in some fundamentally silly game that’s nothing more than a way to pass some time? And why oh why did I spend all that time fighting some dude named O’Chunks?…

Well, for starters, let’s be clear about one thing: I do play plenty of games that are more like the stuff I like to make–it’s just that there’s precious little of it out there. Look at the options available:

  • The Irrational Games guys seem to be on the same page I am (or, at least, they’re working from the same playbook). That gives me a game to play every couple of years.
  • Valve’s stuff is kind of a second or third cousin to the Origin/Looking Glass/Ion Storm/Junction Point games, but that’s not really very similar–they’re kind of the ultimate rollercoaster rides (though they hide the rails pretty well). And even if Half Life and Deus Ex offered identical play experiences, that’d still mean a game every–what?–five years or so?…
  • Bethesda’s stuff is sorta kinda close, too (though their stories seem less focused and their simulations broader and shallower than I’d like, personally)…
  • Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic had some of the qualities I enjoy in the games I work on. And Lionhead’s Fable felt kind of like my kind of game, too. (Having said that, both of them took a binary, Good/Evil–er, I mean, Light Side/Dark Side–approach that made the games less interesting to me than they might have been with a more nuanced approach.)
  • Ubi’s Splinter Cell games are pretty Thief-like (though there’s something about the animation and the responsiveness of the controls that bugs me, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what that something is…).
  • And there’s the GTA series, of course (though I think I’ve said quite enough already regarding my feelings about their content, as distinct from their gameplay–I’m not going back there, thank you very much!)

That’s about it, really. There just aren’t a lot of people making the kind of game I like to make. If I want to play games at all, I’m inevitably going to have to play a ton of games that are nothing like the games I make.

And, despite the similarities between those few games I’ve mentioned above and the Ultima/Underworld/System Shock/Thief/Deus Ex games I’ve worked on, they’re not really as close as you might think–the differences I’ve noted, parenthetically, above are just the tip of the iceberg. Frankly, when I do find a game I could have made, or would like to have made, I spend too much time being annoyed by the countless details that were executed differently than I would have executed them. It’s way easier to play something completely different so the competitive juices don’t get flowing!

Beyond that, though, there are a couple of other factors at work. For one thing, I’ve never said every game should be an Ultima or a Deus Ex. There’s plenty of room for games that offer nothing more than a pleasant way to pass some time. I don’t always want to be thinking about everything I do and the consequences of every choice. Sometimes I just want to be diverted for a while. And games like Zelda, Paper Mario, Bounceout, Jewel Quest, Bubblet and Alchemy are certainly diverting!

And beyond that, there’s the simple fact that I don’t think I’d be very good at making games like Paper Mario. I mean, puzzles just aren’t my thing, from a creative standpoint–my mind doesn’t work that way. There’s no way I could execute a puzzle game or a platformer or a linear story game as effectively as the people who’ve been doing it forever, probably because they feel as passionately about those games as I do about my own. I can play games like Paper Mario all day (and night) long–my lovely wife, Caroline, will vouch for that!–but I can’t imagine sitting down and trying to design one.

And that painful realization–that I could never make a “Miyamoto game” or a “Blizzard game” or a “Valve game” or a Popcap game, even if I wanted to–got me thinking about where the creative process starts for me, and why I make the games I make. That’s what I want to talk about in my next blog entry. So check back in a week for more on this topic.

 

Secondary Values

9 Jun

Last time, I posted the first part of the JPS studio mission. That covered our reason for being and our Primary Values:

  • Player-driven narrative
  • Quality gameplay and quality presentation
  • Collaborative company culture

A couple of folks commented that those Primary Values seemed surprisingly Profit and/or Business oriented, rather than Art oriented. I’m going to have to come back to that some time, in a later post, but before that, I want to talk about the Junction Point “Secondary Values .” These support the Primaries (obviously) and, if you were surprised at how conscious we were about Business before, fasten your seatbelts. The studio’s Secondary Values are

  • Innovation (all right–one for the Art crowd!)
  • Partnership (huh?)
  • Profitability (uh oh…)

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Innovation

For some developers, it may be enough to refine and polish. We strive for something different, something more—we want to change things.

As an adjunct to “Quality,” and as a natural outgrowth of the value we place on player empowerment, all Junction Point Studios games showcase some feature or combination of features players have never seen before. Each game advances the state of the art in some demonstrable way.

In a business crowded with sequels and “me-too” product, however professionally presented and packaged, we believe the marketplace demands—players demand—novelty in setting, in tone, in graphical style and/or, best of all, in gameplay (notably, for us, the areas of player expression, player experimentation, player choice and obvious, significant consequences). Note that none of this precludes working on sequels, licenses or collaborating with others in the creation of characters, worlds, stories or anything else.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like “Does this game advance the state of the art in any demonstrable way?” and “Is there an approach to this problem or a way to implement this game system that will be new to players while remaining true to our primary values?”

Partnership

Though our internal corporate culture is our primary concern, the business of game development is increasingly one of cooperation and collaboration with groups outside the “home office.” We work, more and more, with individual contractors, outside companies that create assets for us and, of course, funding and publishing partners.

We treat these external resources as much like internal team members as we can—with the same respect and honesty with which we treat each other. In particular, we work closely and openly with publisher representatives in Development, Testing. Marketing, PR and Sales to provide them the information and materials they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible—they’re part of the team, too.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like, “If I had to promote this game, what would I want and can I help deliver that?” or “If I were a tester, would I have the tools I need to help find bugs that will compromise our other values?” or “If I were a contractor, would I feel like part of the Junction Point Studios team?”

Profitability

Our goal is to create high quality, innovative games, but to do so, we must generate sufficient revenue to sustain a viable business. We must, in other words, remain profitable.

In part, we achieve this through a focus on quality. In addition, we achieve this by making our games as accessible to as many players as we possibly can. We strive to reach an ever larger portion of the growing game audience. And we maximize potential sales by giving our publisher the tools to do the best job possible of marketing our work.

(Note: If you’re a publisher or other potential funding partner, you might want to stop reading here or, at least, skip the next paragraph.) 

However, it’s important to note that we do not believe that the only question—or even the most valid question—one can ask about a game concept, or a finished product, is “Will this game generate maximum profit?” Profit, yes, absolutely, but the desire to make money may be tempered, at times, by our other values, as outlined here.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like, “Is there a way to save money on this aspect of development without compromising our other values?” or “Is there a way to increase the revenue-generating potential of this game without increasing cost or risk?”

Three Contracts

To achieve our goals, we must live up to three implicit “contracts”:

  • We have a contract with each other requiring that we work together to the highest possible standards and with utmost respect. We strive to satisfy our individual and collective creative desires, to advance the state of the art in gameplay and to help our teammates grow as people and as professionals. Collaboration and the unfettered exchange of ideas are paramount.
  • We have a contract with players requiring that we offer them maximum entertainment value. We embrace players as collaborators in the creative process—as much the authors of their own, unique gameplay experience as we are. Our games provide tools to encourage their creativity and active participation in the story. We never lose sight of the fact that our players are as smart and demanding as we are.
  • We have a contract with our publishers requiring that we work to remain solidly in the black. Our decisions may not always result in maximum return on investment but we will always make enough money that our publishers will, without hesitation, continue funding our efforts.

So there you have it. The full version of the JPS mission statement—the one I probably should have kept to myself. Let me know what you think. Am I crazy? Does this sound like a reasonable set of values? Does JPS sound like a cool place to you? Talk to me, people!

The JPS Mission (Director’s Cut)

5 Jun

If you check out the Junction Point Studios website, you’ll find a page outlining the company mission. It’s short, pithy, straight to the point and accurate, as far as it goes. But as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am one wordy bastard, and I don’t think the web version of the mission statement goes far enough. The website guys gave me two paragraphs to describe the company mission and I was, frankly, a little lost. I need more elbow room than that—a LOT more.

Below, you’ll find the first part of my longer version of the mission statement–long enough that I’m splitting it into two parts. The first part, below, covers the overview and our Primary Values. A second part, which I’ll post soon, will cover the Secondary Values and wrap things up.

As you’ll soon see, this was written for internal use and, to be honest, I’m not really sure anyone who doesn’t work here—or is thinking about working here—will find it interesting (though I hope so!). Still, the short version left me frustrated enough that I figured I’d use my bully pulpit to get the long version out there.

So, brave reader, continue on, settle into your comfiest web-surfing chair, grab a snack and let’s talk more about what makes Junction Point Studios tick. (You not-so-brave types should click on another link now…)

Putting Power in Player’s Hand

Junction Point Studios is an independent developer of innovative electronic games that feature strong, player-driven narratives.

We believe long-term success can best be achieved by delivering games of the highest quality—in gameplay and presentation—within the limits imposed by the reality of time and budget.

We seek the most talented and dedicated practitioners of the art of game development to join us in a company culture that is positive, friendly, and team-oriented—a culture built on a foundation of cross-disciplinary collaboration, open communication and life-long learning.

Our success—creative and commercial—rests on these mutually supporting pillars:

  • Player-driven narrative
  • Quality gameplay and quality presentation
  • Collaborative company culture

Primary Values

Player-Driven, Narrative Games

Junction Point Studios focuses on the creation of games unique in their combination of strong narrative plot arcs and freeform, player-driven minute-to-minute gameplay. We may occasionally venture out into the world of abstract games or some other non-narrative form, but only as a “palette cleanser” before returning to our first love—story games.

Story or no-story, our efforts are driven by one critical concept: Unique player experience is as important as developer creativity. By “unique player experience” we mean that, rather than being funneled down a predetermined, puzzle-strewn path, players are confronted with problems solvable in a variety of ways. Our games allow players to explore, experiment and express themselves through their solution choices—and we show them the consequences of those choices. If we remain true to these ideas, no two players will end a JPS game having had the same experience.

Our goal, then, is to deliver on the promise of “shared authorship” and “emergent gameplay,” ensuring that players feel they have crafted their own experience through their in-game choices. The story we craft exists largely to provide context and significance for player choices and lends predictability and the impression of inevitability to the consequences associated with those choices.

This hybrid narrative/freeform player experience, a hallmark of the Junction Point Studios “style,” is delivered in a variety of ways:

  • Through player tools and interconnected game systems that allow and encourage emergent behaviors
  • Through player interaction with those systems and with the gameworld
  • Through traditional story-structure and preplanned and/or scripted “magic moments”

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in questions each JPS employee should ask him- or herself regularly: “Will this decision empower players more fully? Is what I’m doing putting power to shape the experience in the player’s hands or am I taking power from the player?” The preferred answer is to favor decisions that allow players to shape their own, unique experience.

Quality – Gameplay and Presentation

In game development, quality matters—it affects everything from sales to review scores to awards to fan support and even employee satisfaction and retention.

Great games matter.

Our goal is, then, to create great videogames. We define “great” or “quality” as:

  • A game that hooks players quickly and keeps them playing—and replaying—from start to finish
  • A game that has broad appeal, meaning we make games about things for which there is already an audience rather than believing we can manufacture interest and create an audience
  • A game that is as accessible as we can make it, in terms of player training and user interface
  • A game that looks as good as it plays
  • A game that reviews well—90+ review scores are always our goal
  • A game that generates positive fan response and competes for Best of Genre and Game of the Year
  • A game that we believe is better than the last one we made

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in questions like, “Will this decision make the game empirically, measurably better, as measured by observable playtest results and/or by review scores?” We are less concerned with questions like “will I like the game better, personally, if we do thing X?”

Positive, collaborative company culture

To create great games we must create a great work environment. For us, a quality workplace is one which is positive, warm, friendly, respectful, healthy and smart. Specifically, our culture embodies the following ideals:

  • We value collaboration among members of the same discipline but also across disciplines
  • We encourage everyone to speak his or her mind without fear of judgment or ridicule
  • We talk talking openly about any problems we see and work to ensure that problems are addressed quickly and don’t linger
  • We recognize that everyone can contribute to the creative process and actively encourage everyone to do so, regardless of title or position on the org chart
  • We hire the most talented, dedicated practitioners of the art of game development but, as important, we look for people with the potential to grow during their tenure with us and/or who can contribute to our own growth and the enhancement of our development culture
  • We encourage personal and professional growth, helping one another to grow, both personally and professionally—we are all teachers and students

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in each employee asking “Am I thinking of team and project, first, and putting personal goals second?” It lies in hiring the people who seem likely to fit into or enhance our culture and who buy into our primary and secondary values. It lies in finding ways to involve more people, rather than fewer, in all aspects of the game’s development, asking “If roles were reversed, would I feel a sense of ownership in this situation?” It lies in asking, “Now that I’ve finished my work, is there anything I can do to help that other guy?” It lies in asking whether you can help someone do or be better, regardless of the circumstances.

This brings us to end of Mission Statement, Part 1. I’ll post Part 2 later this week and then try to get myself on a weekly blogging schedule. (We’ll see how long that lasts!) For now, though, let me know what you think about Part 1…