Monday, 1 August 2011


Last time I wrote I was talking about some people that inspired me. It was about the creative people that make me want to make. Importantly those people didn't really include anyone from the games industry because I'm not sure of the virtues of canabalism.
This time I'd like to talk about my working life. I didn't leave school and start making games. I've had a couple of decent jobs before I got into the game industry and I think my experiences in those careers taught me something pretty valuable. Once again i'd say that bringing a varied experience to games is a benefit. New perspectives and ways of working help open up the future of making games and challenge our thinking.
When I left school I went away to train to be a teacher. Teaching is about getting information across to your pupils and ideally making it entertaining enough so that it sticks. In addition a teacher establishes the rules of their classroom so that the pupils feel secure and everyone has equal opportunity to learn. A teacher designs experiences for his class tailoring them to the needs of the set of individuals that happen to be in that group at that time.
I learned at Exeter University and one of the most important elements of the course was the 'reflective teacher'. What this meant was that instead of rushing headlong from day to day wondering why things weren't going as planned you'd sit down and look at some things to improve. Try them out the next day. Take a step forward, take a step back. Keep trying and keep pushing to improve. I really think that it's something that is built into me. Some people say that I think too much. The important thing is to think constructively, stop just reacting, make a plan, test it out. I am still amazed that a game takes anything between 9 months and a year to produce and yet there is so much that is decided on the spur of the moment. Planning is almost always a few days before you plunge in, and the biggest culprits are the guys with the most to lose. I'm sure they'd say it was reactine to the fast pace of the industry but it feels more like an excuse to dither and defer important decisions until the last minute. theadvantage here is that you can look descisive and dynamic where the truth is you wouldn't need to be if you'd made a robust plan and stuck to it. (Whoops, started ranting).
After teaching I worked for Toyota, on the factory line spraying cars. Toyota was a good experience for me. What can't be underestimated was that it was physical work and I worked shifts. I soon appreciated what a days work could be like. A car passed down the line every 185 seconds and even though the work was repetitive I was never short of anything to do. When I started work testing games I sat down all day and was genuinely terrified that someone would see me just playing and breaking games, then sack me. Took me over a year to stop looking over my shoulder. I learned to fill my time, and I learned to be frustrated when hard work didn't solve all the problems.
Toyota believed in a process of tiny improvements. They asked for these improvements from the people doing the job. The tiny improvements helped the people who worked on the line, they were cheap and were trialed before they were implemented. (Trialing new ideas to see if they work before you commit seems smart when the same mistake repeated every 185 seconds will give you almost 300 errors per shift per day). The improvements allowed the people working to be invested in their job and they benefitted from their interest. Seems there's something to be learned there.
Toyota was a factory making quality cars repeatedly. Because I could do my work automatically I could spend a decent portion of my shift thinking about games. After four years I was ready for a new challenge and at the time Toyota was full of very able staff. At this point I decided to apply for jobs that I'd like to do. A few months later Rare took me on as a tester.
Testing was a good base for a designer. As a tester you try to break games. There is a creative element to test to really try to do things wrong to cause problems. the important bit is that you get to see how those problems are fixed and often they are design choices. You can learn quite a lot about the way games are actually built and the thought processes behind them.
To be honest there isn't really a time when you can't learn. And it is important to learn how not to do things as well as the right way to do them.
Many young people who want to work in games apply for university courses. I'm not convinced that this is the best way to be what they want to be. It's more important to get a broader experience of life and bring that experience to bear on games. This will expand games. It will bring successful work practice from industry into the creative games industry. And all the time you can build games - games out of paper and dice, games with free software or modifications of games. It's really important to understand why games work, what mechanics are used to keep the playwrs interest and what appeals to a player. Also value your failures - there are lessons to be learned in failure if you can stand to look back and identify the mistakes.
These things are swirled through me like a slice of marble cake. They inform my design decisions and I hope they give my most ridiculous ideas a connection to practical considerations. It's nothing to imagine something fantastic, the real task is making it work.