Is LEARNING Game Design overestimated?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Liak, Sep 1, 2016.

  1. Liak

    Liak Veteran Veteran

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    Yesterday, I watched this video about Shovel Knight and nailing nostalgia:










    After watching it, I thought: Isn't all the talk about learning how to design games that is going on ("you must totally read hundreds of articles and tutorials, watch videos etc.") nonsense?


    What the developers of Shovel Knight did was they took elements from games they liked and put them together. There is very little in it that they actually "invented", is there? Sure, there were some capable level designers at work, but actually, even the level design doesn't seem to be on a level that is unreachable without a university degree.


    So, in conclusion, isn't it enough to know what you love about your favorite games and put it together as your new game? Maybe have one or two cool ideas to spice it up a little? I, at least, feel as if all the talk about learning how to design games is a bit far-fetched and certainly partly a matter of people who actually HAVE learned it on an academic level to brag about it and make themselves seem more professional than they actually are. Or in short, my thesis is: Intuition equals academic education when it comes to game design.


    Agree or disagree? Why?
     
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  2. Wookiee420

    Wookiee420 Veteran Veteran

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    I have a degree in audio engineering and culinary, and what i can tell you is the degree doesnt create the talent. Someone who only has played video games can design an amazing game, and on the same token first in class could produce the worst thing possible. They only thing that school teaches you is that there are tools, and what the tools do, and how to use them, they do not create talent. Using recording school as an example, I can use any DAW (digital audio workspace), i can set mic in the best place imaginable, i can tweak the settings to get you the best sound in the world, but I cannot create the music, i cannot play the instruments (well i play sax and piano but not well enough to be proud showing off). I hope you get what I am getting at, there is SO MUCH INFORMATION OUT THERE, that if you have the drive and determination and desire to make the best product you can, then why go to school? After loans I spent about 100k on schools, my culinary school I now cannot tell anyone about because its Le Cordon Bleu and they were shut down for failure to educate and frauding students. I could have learned the exact same things at a community college for next to nothing, or from the interwebs for even less, and people cannot take that education away. It feels AMAZING when I show off what I am doing on my game and I honestly tell someone that I have no idea how to do anything, but I taught myself to make this masterpiece that is forming in front of us. The utter joy that comes from figuring this stuff out without an education is in itself worth what you would have spent (if that makes sense).  Also one of the biggest flaws about school is the Gen Ed, if you are going to do anything creative then the other class you take are just murder to you, you want to make games but you have to take sciences, and maths (useful i admit), and english, and whatever else the school makes you take that isnt what you want to spend your time doing.

    I guess what I am trying to say is school is wonderful, but not necessary. You can easily learn everything you want to at school online in your own time and whatever you need help with there is this WONDERFUL group of fellow Game Makers here that will help you with anything and everything we/they can.

    TLDR
    Basically, school creates knowledge not talent/creativity. Talent/creativity creates a desire to gain the knowledge to make your visions a reality
     
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  3. The Stranger

    The Stranger The Faceless Friend Veteran

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    I agree with everything @Wookiee420 has said. I believe this whole design philosophy nonsense stems from people trying to find some sort of hidden pattern\correct set of must have's, for something which, for the most part, should be purely creative. Knowing what works simply creates cheap knock offs and imitations of things. You're not trying to be creative, you're trying to make something which you know will work.


    That's all it has come down to, now. Doing what is profitable, not what your heart cries out for.
     
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  4. Plueschkatze

    Plueschkatze Veteran Veteran

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    ... Still just taking what youl like about games doesn't make you ABLE to do a game. ;)


    Therefore you'll need articles and videos to help you get to know an engine and shortcuts to archive whatever it is you want to archive.


    The best part of my time studying graphics was the possibility to talk to A LOT of other people learning the same stuff and mostly from very different backgrounds... So they could help you out und you could help them. I did get to know quiet a lot of new programms and websites that way. BUT this are things you can get via the internet, too IF you are active enough.


    The most valuable skills I got from my study times might be some pretty basic design knowledge which I deepended through awesome tutorials on youtube or vimeo.
     
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  5. consolcwby

    consolcwby (2015: afk...) 2018: BAK! :P Veteran

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    It can be.


    I noticed a trend a few years ago, where people are attempting to legitimize games and gaming after the film critic Roger Ebert stated "Games are not art." So, like any medium, the people in said medium are attempting to prove this wrong. When I was young and in college I majored in Broadcasting and Film. The film classes were about analyzing the differences between formalism and avent-garde, symbolism, etc. What it really boiled down to was this.


    Since the early days of computer gaming, many designers compared the developing technology to that of film in it's early days. This has caused people, over time, to take this literally! And a film critic happened to comment about it and die before they could prove him wrong. So, what's the answer to the art problem? Making better characters or plots? NO! Analyze gaming in a similar way to the way films are analyzed, of course! That's why the big push is on. To prove to film snobs that computer games are arty enough to be snobbish about as well! :D Essentially, the wrong move!


    And, by the way - I am still a film snob. But a game snob?... Oh, please! Don't insult my intelligence! Games are fun - films are serious biznezz - amirite??? :D
     
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  6. Zeriab

    Zeriab Huggins! Veteran

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    Can you elaborate some more on this?


    The talk I've heard about has primarily been about how that is not needed.
     
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  7. Liak

    Liak Veteran Veteran

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    Well, as I see it, there are a lot of YouTube channels that talk about specific topics of game design. There are a lot of blogs and Facebook groups about it. Just yesterday, someone posted there: " I've been reading a total of 100+ video game design from articles, blogs, and Ebooks..and all about video games. Is this normal?" And even RPG Maker Web offers you advise as far as certain aspects of game design are concerned. Admittedly, most of them don't rub it into your face as "follow these scientific rules or your game will suck", but still, there's a notion going on that learning about game design rules and principles is an important thing, with no mention of the possibility to compensate for a lack of knowledge by simply following your intuition or take inspiration / game elements from games that you love.


    In short, there's a bit too much focus on the scientific side instead of the creative/intuitive one for my taste. While I do watch videos and read articles about game design myself and find them very interesting, I feel that there's some sort of discouragement when it comes to people who "just want to make games" (and in my opinion may absolutely make great ones without scientific knowledge).
     
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  8. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    I think that there is a danger of baby and bathwater here.  I agree, it is not necessary to study game design as a formal subject in order to make an excellent game.  No amount of study will compensate for the lack of creative ideas.  But as has been said so often - ideas are cheap, it's their implementation that is difficult.  And here is where I think expansion of design knowledge does come in.  Because I moderate the Games Mechanics Design forum, I get to read a lot of fascinating threads looking at different design aspects of all the mechanics that we might want to put into our games.  At lot of them come up with non-obvious solutions to tricky questions.  The same can be said for this forum which is looking at general principles of game making.  Certainly neither forum is a formal school of design, but in terms of design questions and solutions, I think they have a lot to offer.  I suppose one could think of them as a top quality Community College, where practitioners share their ideas, experience and and knowledge.


    It is obviously possible to make a great game working entirely by oneself.  It is easier when one consults others.  And that is a form of learning game design.
     
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  9. LaFlibuste

    LaFlibuste Veteran Veteran

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    Schooling, in any discipline, usually does four things:

    1) It gives you a nice degree that's required for practicing in some field (I'm thinking of fields like medicine, law, accounting, engineering, etc.)


    2) It shows you different tools and techniques and teaches you to use them.


    3) It opens your horizons and gives you perspective.


    4) It teaches you to think and analyse critically in regards to your field.


    To better illustrate each point, let me take examples from my curriculum as a musician who went to university.


    1) Doesn't really apply and doesn't really need explaining anyway.


    2) Going to school will force you to develop skills you might not have by yourself. It will of course teach you to play your instrument, it will teach you to read and write music, it will give you ear training, it will teach you about harmony, chords, all the theory and rules of music, etc.


    3) Going to school, you will listen to tons of different music, you will play various styles with very varied ensembles. You will learn about possibilities you didn't even know existed.


    4) Putting all of the previous together, it will help you when you know what you want to achieve: you will know how you can get there, what options you have, what are their ups and downs, what you have to be careful about and how to do it efficiently.


    The first one is the only you absolutely need school for. The other three can be achieved without it but school is a great facilitator. Going to school is like hopping on a train, while not going to school is hiking in the wilderness. You'll get there with your two legs, depending on where you want to go and how hard you work you might even get there quicker by taking shortcuts or avoiding some detours, especially if you more or less know how to get there and/or are a bit lucky. But it's still easier and generally quicker with education.


    Let me give you a more concrete example. Let's say you play electric guitar and you are all over Dream Theater and Metallica and stuff. You learnt by yourself, listening to records and practicing guitar, and you think you are pretty awesome. You want to make a living of it so you apply for a job writing a song or whatever. The song you create is pretty cool, it's a power ballad played by a classic metal band composed of singer, two guitars, bass and drums. It took you a month to create. But with the possibilities education would have given you, maybe you would have thought of using a super dark jazz chord in a key moment to create a lot of tension that you wouldn't have know of otherwise since it's really not in "the style". Maybe you'd have subbed the second guitar for a keyboard and added an oboe, which is very unusual, to the mix to great effects. Also, maybe you could have composed it and written charts in like a quarter of the time it took you to compose it on your instrument, learn it by heart and show it to others  by ear.


    Applied to game design, maybe you are an RPG enthusiast, know a lot of different RPGs, etc. But having studied game design, maybe the survival horror RPG you thought of making would be different, maybe the art style you picked would be more efficient, maybe you would design a particular mechanic with elements borrowed from, I don't know, dating sims or whatever, that would really shine. Maybe the very awesome mechanic you thought of would be really incredible just because you knew to add just the right sound effect at just the right time for it to pick up, because before that it felt flat, forced and confusing. Maybe without education, you'd have given your game a feature you liked but went against the objective of the game, like give it a large cast of 25 characters with a complex branching skill tree, which could be awesome, but detract from the atmosphere of horror and make your game less enjoyable on the whole.


    So I'm not saying it's essential to get schooling, that you can't make it without it, but it's a good mean to get somewhere efficiently.

    TL;DR
    To sum it up, creativity is thinking outside the box, although it certainly helps knowing what the box looks like and where to go out by to achieve your goals more efficiently/to greater effect.
     
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  10. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    I don't think learning game design is overrated, @LaFlibuste pretty much summed up my thoughts on why education is good, but there actually is a bit of a dark side to it. I sometimes notice people overusing jargon, or jargon being used incorrectly though which is more annoying cause I'm a pedantic idiot. I also feel like there's a bit of a problem, but it's not a problem of learning game design, it's a problem of some people being treating game design articles the same way Ultramarines treat the codex astartes, if you don't get this, this is acutally why I think overuse of jargon is annoying, even though I understand it I think it's better to just use more simple words. What the above sentance actually means is that I don't think game design articles should be taken as anything other than advice or guidelines and not a set of rules. I can't tell you how much it annoies me when people use "the player" generalizations (you know except where it's appropriate like saying "if I make the keys rebindable the player can choose a comfortable layout"). I'm also a bit adverse to people telling others to go read an article instead of trying to argue the ideas themselves since I feel that displays better understanding of the concept and the other way is kinda intellectually lazy. I realize I kinda develoved into a rant, but I the TL;DR is take lessons of game design with a grain of salt, or maybe it'd be better to say, be flexible.
     
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  11. taarna23

    taarna23 Marshmallow Princess Global Mod

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    I think the biggest thing I learned at school was how I learn. The next biggest was out of all of IT, programming was where it's at, for me. After that, it was the various base building blocks of programming. So, I got a programming job, I got some programming done for MV, and now I'm really digging in to working on a game.


    But game design? You're supposed to make some document on what you're trying to accomplish and stuff, right? Is someone grading me on this? No?


    Well, screw it, then. I'm spending that time making my game, outlining what I want in each area, finding the things I need and the things I lack. I'm just trying to make a game that I would enjoy playing. If going to school for game design would teach me how to structure a AAA game, I'd throw it away anyway. I can rehash stuff that's been done, without a student loan.


    So, in my opinion, yes, it's overrated. Just make a game that you would enjoy. Odds are very good someone else would enjoy it, too.
     
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  12. hian

    hian Biggest Boss Veteran

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    First things first - Yes, some people are talented beyond compare and are gifted with naturally analytical minds to the extent that they can play a bunch of games, pick them apart in their heads and realize what made those games work, and then take those elements and successfully transfer them to their own projects.


    Most people though, cannot do this - just as most people can't write good books, do astrophysics, or win gold in the Olympics - especially without the right training and experiences.


    Secondly - people are limited by their own ignorance and flaws. The purpose of education is to help people efficiently develop beyond their natural and initial limits by


    employing the collective body of knowledge and experience of the people who came before them.


    Reinventing the wheel is a counter-productive and useless exercise, yet that's what you're likely doing, constantly, if you have no knowledge of game-design - Because at that point, you're essentially having to figure out everything for yourself when others have already tried and tested it over and over again.


    It's not just a matter of copying what other games have "done right" before - you also have to understand what makes those "rights" tick to begin with, and the hows and whys of it all.


    Thirdly - creativity isn't magic. Not only can creativity be learned and honed through various exercises and education - education of one kind or another is necessary in order to maximize the potential of your creativity to begin with.


    It doesn't matter if, creatively speaking, you're potentially the next Elton John, if you never learn to play the piano to begin with.


    Playing the piano requires lots of time and effort - time and effort you can cut down on if you go to the right sources rather than sitting locked up all alone in front of your piano with nothing but your solitary mind and your fingers.


    Put two people into learning something, provide one a teacher and the other no-one, and while it might be possibly for the latter to learn on their own, the person with the teacher will more often than not advance at a faster rate.


    Fourthly, human beings are animals. We have a biology, which while allowing for certain levels of diversity between individuals, still inform our intellectual and emotional life in certain predictable ways.


    It is no coincidence that certain games sell better than others - that certain experiences feel better than others to people on average.


    The most efficient game-design is the one that takes into account generalities of human nature.


    Pretending as if game-design isn't a field that can deliver more optimal answers in terms of how to best design a game, is the equivalent of thinking that gaming is subjective to the point that we can't even say whether a game is well or poorly designed despite being fundamentally broken by frame-rate issues and unresponsive buttons.


    If you don't think the latter, then you need to seriously consider the former.


    Breaking down game-design with the above in mind -


    You can not deliver fully what your creativity gives birth to if you do not have the knowledge and skill-base to accompany your vision.


    You have limited time and resources to invest in game-making.


    You have limitation as a single individual.


    There are vast resources out there relating to game-design that you can use to save time and resources and improve your approach.


    The study and field of game-design is directly trying to address the above issues by compiling data and doing studies on the design of


    video-games and how the designs impact players.


    Is learning game design overrated?


    I don't know. I don't see people routinely advocating that people go into game-design, so I don't think so.


    Can you do without it? Well yes - depending on your competence as an individual, and depending upon what kind of games


    you want to make.


    If you're a gaming genius, or just making small indie-games for very narrow audiences, then probably not.


    Is it useful though? Will it improve your ability to think about and come up with reasonable and informed views on


    game-design which are likely to improve the quality of your future projects?


    Well, if you want to be able to design game systems that feel satisfying to a great number of people, are well-balanced etc. then


    you might want to put some time into studying game design - and I don't mean necessarily in an university - just in general.


    So, yes, it's definitely useful.


    People need to keep in mind how many literally sheep games are out there among the pearls - games forgotten by history,


    or remembered purely on the basis of how much consumers hate them - or worse the "grey blob" games - the mediocre ones


    that still cost a lot to make, and therefore didn't sell well and lead to fall of a company or developer department.


    These exist aplenty too.


    All the seniors in the industry have had decades of trial and error, with the industry arguably failing more often than succeeding.


    That's why we get gems - because of the hard work and trial and error of industry giants.


    Hobby developers are not those giants. They do not have that experience to lean on, nor that knowledge base.


    Game design as a subject of study is to provide those people a short-cut. As such, it's invaluable - and the people who put


    the time and effort into advancing the field are champions as far as I'm concerned.


    If we write that process off in any way shape or form is we're being both arrogant and ignorant.
     
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  13. sabao

    sabao Veteran Veteran

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    In my very few years doing this professionally, studios seem to pass over Game Design graduates a lot when hiring fresh graduates. There seems to be a reputation among them that because their programming skills were trained specifically for game design, they lack a lot of the flexibility and problem-solving skills graduates from a traditional software engineering track may have.


    This is not to say learning game design isn't necessary. It is. On a professional level, however, game design is very rarely open as a role at entry level. You usually have to start out in another role: QA, art, dev, whatever. No one will trust you with that kind of responsibility right off the bat, especially if you don't have a professional record in the field. Anyone trying to enter the industry is recommended to master one specific skill first: either hone your art skills, or learn to code, and then climb from there. Too many fresh grads think they can jump in as GD as soon as they look for their first game gigs, and that normally just isn't the case.


    Making a successful game is a mix of knowledge, intuition and a lot of luck. You can build an idea into a game completely by ear, yes, but I personally see that as a luxury, especially when making a game in a professional capacity. Studios usually have very limited budgets and time, so you'll want to stick to a road map and minimize risk as much as possible. Time is money, and all. I've seen so many studios fold because they either ran out of funds (This shouldn't be hard to find) or took too long to get their game out (Wild Season by Quickfire Games lost a lot of its steam when Stardew Valley beat it to the market).


    As @hian here has pointed out, there is an abundance in online resources written by veterans all over the world on various matters in game design and it's a squandered opportunity to not at least give them a look. Some things just work well in games and some don't. Intuition can probably tell you which ones those are, but understanding human psychology, design theory, and other fields relevant to game design can help you understand why they work and help you form educated guesses on how or why a new game mechanic you haven't seen applied in other games of the same genre will work. I believe this is where learning game design through study is beneficial. You don't have to have a degree in game design, but it's important to study these things all the same.
     
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  14. LaFlibuste

    LaFlibuste Veteran Veteran

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    Somehow, to me, that sounds kinda like somenewcomers here who make recruitment topics for their projects which sound a bit like this: "I need a portrait artiste, a pixel artist, a musician, a programmer and someone for eventing. Me, I'll be doing the story because this is what I do best". Yeah, fat chance you're going to recruit much people, story and design is the actual fun part. :p  

    No harm intended, but I honestly think you have no clue what game design really is and you might actually benefit from reading a bit about it. Making a document or spreadsheet or whatever is just a tool. Your statement kinda reads like "Carpentry? Isn't this about measuring pieces of woods, measuring angles and writing it down on some plan? Is someone grading me on this? No? Well screw it, I'm going to use that time actually building my house instead". A document can be a useful reference and can help you outline your ideas and link them together when you are less experimented, but it's not the whole point. The whole point is deciding how your game can most efficiently achieve the goals you have for it, how you can realize it and deciding which resources you are going to need. It's the planning stage, basically. To give a crude example, it's the stage where you decide what kind of battle system you want for your game and what building blocks you are going to need to create it so you don't waste dozens of hours browsing script repositories aimlessly, trying out ten different ones and always restarting from scratch because you're not satisfied.
     
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  15. sabao

    sabao Veteran Veteran

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    More or less. It's also important to stress that whoever's in charge of game design actually understands the amount of work needed to put something together so the scope of the project remains feasible within whatever deadlines and resources the team possesses. In my younger days, for example, I wanted to build a Front Mission-type game on RPG Maker XP. This was way before GubiD or anyone else had built such a script, and I did not know RGSS myself. It was difficult/impossible to find help on this because making a battle system like that was way too much work for anyone to be doing for free (another one of my unreasonable demands at the time). The project would stall as the team feebly attempted to put something together until everyone involved just burned out and gave up.


    I'd also like to point out that there are exceptions: a fresh graduate without professional experience that can show us an exceptional portfolio may have a shot. Maybe they've built a couple dozen games of their own and put them on Newgrounds? Maybe they've written in a non-professional capacity but have received recognition in competitions and the like? Some game design sense would still be required, but as pointed out previously you'll need a little more than that to show us before we think we can bet on you.
     
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  16. Touchfuzzy

    Touchfuzzy Rantagonist Staff Member Lead Eagle

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    To be fair, I write most of the game design advice articles for RMW, and I've never actually hardcore studied game design.


    I've studied GAMES. The thing that is always important in game design isn't some list of rules on game design. There is one golden rule, imo opinion to game design:


    Know why you are adding something, what it is supposed to do, why it needs to be done, and make sure it is doing that thing.


    Most of the key to game design, again, in my opinion, is about being aware of the little things we all experience without delving too far into why. At least most of us. I like analyzing games. Breaking them down, and looking at the pieces and how they fit together, and why they make a game enjoyable or not enjoyable to me.


    Reading a bunch of articles may help one person. Or it may not. Most of the time when I read those articles, I don't come away with massive insights, usually it just confirms things I've already figured out. There are a few exceptions. The video on Megaman X's opening level made me analyze that level and tutorials in a way I hadn't thought of before.


    But most of the stuff design articles will tell you is actually pretty much logical conclusions if you try to understand why games work in the first place.
     
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  17. Wookiee420

    Wookiee420 Veteran Veteran

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    @Touchfuzzy interesting you say that, that Megaman X video, is one of the most outstanding design advice videos i have ever seen...such amazing points it makes, and now a majority of tutorials in game bug me
     
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  18. UNphiltered_khaos

    UNphiltered_khaos Game Dev. Artist. Veteran

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    I like to think of it as the RMW Guild.



    This is me. I didn't realize how much I was doing it when I was a kid playing games until I read a few books and articles about game design and story narrative. And it just hit me that I had been studying, analyzing and figuring out how they work for a very long time.
    Most of my games are inspired by something else. There are also a lot of elements that I can't specifically recall seeing in a game, but I have played a lot of them in my time and I wouldn't put it past some lingering memories to be drifting up.
    I am currently working on an RM Beat-em up. I have been taking a lot from my memories of the old Double Dragon and Final Fight 2 games. It's been fun mixing that with my own ideas and seeing what works.


    I don't have much formal design training, and I haven't read many books or articles about it. I've just run through my memories and mixed in my own ideas. And if you start analyzing it is very, VERY hard to find unique games. Yes, there are a few that introduce new genres, but they invariably borrow other ideas, and are usually only utilizing the capabilities of new hardware.
     
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  19. kaukusaki

    kaukusaki Awesome Programmer Extraordinaire Veteran

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    When I got into game design, I wanted to create games that I liked and nothing on the current market satisfied what I was seeking. I've played tonnes of games - so I knew which elements I liked and didn't and that shaped the way I produced the games in the pipeline now. Most books about level design just toss jargon around - but in the history of gaming, most developers just slapped something together to get their ideas out the door and it happened to work.  Hell, Super Mario Brothers levels were designed on graph paper (http://kottke.org/15/06/super-mario-bros-was-designed-on-graph-paper) Back in the day, everything was created by hand and levels were drawn out, given to programmers to build into code. 


    Now, you necessarily don't need a degree in level design - once you've studied how the nuts and bolts work, then you can craft decent levels. You just keep in mind the atmosphere, the obstacles, and any potential enemies in the way to achieve the goal you've set.


    Level design is easy. User Interfaces are another matter...
     
    #19
    consolcwby and Kyuukon like this.

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