Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 25-04-2011
Note to Dave: I wrote this before we announced Project Zomboid. Such things are possible with computers – so don’t panic.
So in previous posts I may have come across a little mean about designers. Evidently there are some amazing designers out there or else there wouldn’t be any good commercial games. But the trouble is, the designer holds the key to the quality of the game (and the studio) regardless of how good or bad the art and code team is, or they themselves are.
When you’re under pressure, you’ve got a huge amount of work in front of you and, let’s be honest, most of it is going to be a bit of a chore, what you really need is somebody to be passionate, enthusiastic, and brimming with confidence about the game. The best person to fit this role is the person who wrote the design in the first place.
When you have a great designer, everyone gets motivated.
On the other hand, someone writes a design and it sucks. Various parts of it can be fixed by the coders if they just ignore the design and implement what a good design would have suggested in the first place. But will they? They have task lists derived from that sucky design to get through, they can’t just veer off on a tangent on a whim. So you have a meeting where it transpires that the person who wrote the document really couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the game or if they do, they’re hiding it extremely well by pretending to fiddle with a pencil and ignore you. Or stubbornly refuse to budge on issues which anyone who’s ever played a game will immediately see are stupid – hey let’s implement a control system for a platform game that only a fully-trained helicopter pilot will be able to handle! That sort of thing.
So the team gets irritated and productivity drops making everything turn out a bit worse than it would have done before. So another meeting is held, and productivity drops again. Before long, literally nobody cares about the project and the whole things turns out as predicted like a rubbish self-fulfilling prophecy.
There’s a surge of motivation when the next project arrives but it’s short-lived before the same process happens again, and before long you’re looking at a succession of games spiralling into the bargain bin. When this happens you can kiss your chances goodbye of ever signing a decent project, and so you’re doomed.
So here’s the thing. Obviously it makes a whopping difference to the quality of the game depending on how good the designer is at actually designing. But it also makes a surprising difference depending on how likeable and enthusiastic they are. If you’re shit but, heck, you’re trying and everyone’s in your corner because you love this stupid game and you want everyone else to love it too, you’ll get a higher quality product than if you’re a better designer but a mopey sod who doesn’t care and everybody (except possibly other designers) hates.
Lack of designer enthusiasm kills projects. If the designer isn’t motivated then in the end, no-one else will be and it won’t matter a jot whether or not that initial document was a work of art or a wet fart on a hanky – the game will be bollocks either way. At which point, you will probably blame the coders and artists for doing it wrong which will make them hate you even more.
However, if you’re likeable but shit then presumably you’re going to improve over time. Each game will be a smidge better than the last so the studio’s profile will slowly rise, the key staff will stick around and not have nervous breakdowns and divorces, and instead of a descending spiral of despair, you’ve got a gentle incline of awesome.
So for the love of God, be nice or everything will go wrong and it will be all your fault.