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Beware the 'Genius Game Designer'
Beware the 'Genius Game Designer' Exclusive GDMag Exclusive
October 10, 2013 | By Matthew Wasteland

October 10, 2013 | By Matthew Wasteland
More: Console/PC, Design, GD Mag Exclusive, GD Mag

We've probably all met That Guy -- heck, we may have even been That Guy (or That Gal). In this reprint from the April 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine, Matthew Wasteland takes us inside the private devlog of the one true gift to the game industry, the Genius Game Designer.

Dear Design Log,

One of our testers came up to me today and said, "Remind me why we have the fireballs in this game?"

This guy obviously has a lot to learn, especially if he wants to be a designer like me. It's obvious that fireballs not only look cool, they're an important part of any game that takes itself seriously. What awesome game can you think of that doesn't have some kind of fire-based attack in it? Correct. There isn't any.

After further argument, he said there was no "use" for it -- fireballs damage enemies the same as the sword. So I decided I would add doors that only open when you throw fireballs at them. That'll be a good reason to have a fireball spell.

-- The Genius Game Designer

I was just playing World of Warcraft when I was struck by a flash of inspiration: our game should have EPIC BATTLES.

Working on the e-mail to send to the rest of the team now.

-- The Genius Game Designer

Tomorrow will be the first playtest session where we put this creation in front of the unwashed masses. I don't understand what the point of this is, but I guess the publishers wouldn't know brilliance unless other people told them about it. It sucks that I'm supposed to take it seriously, though -- they just invite people in off the street! How will rabble like that be able to recognize my art, let alone appreciate it? It's ridiculous.

I asked the studio head why they couldn't recruit playtesters who actually understood the kind of game I'm making here. If we got some of the people who post a lot on the forums on my official website, for example, I think we'd get much, much better results.

It isn't easy being a genius game designer.

Dear Design Log,

Today I upped the damage on the Sword of Cutting. But then it made the enemies too easy, so I raised their HP, too.

-- The Genius Game Designer

Big meeting today to discuss what we should do if the player doesn't time his or her Spell Ring correctly. In order to really encourage them to get it right, I proposed having the spell damage the player instead of the enemy, take control away for 30 seconds while they stagger around, and add the failure to a permanent "number of times failed" statistic that gets uploaded to an online leaderboard ("loserboard," as I like to call it).

Some of the other guys were wondering if that was too much, but if there aren't consequences, it doesn't matter, right? Plus, it's hilarious.

-- The Genius Game Designer

Dear Design Log,

Just dealt with a bunch of playtest feedback.

Some people said it was unclear how to actually enter the Temple of Sorrows, so I put in a request for the sound guys to record a line of your sidekick saying, "Come on, we have to get in!" which will repeat every 10 seconds. The urgency will prompt players to figure it out faster.

There's a lot of misunderstanding about the use of fireballs, even though the loading screen with all of the controller mappings CLEARLY states that fireballs are used to open doors, not harm enemies. Players are so stupid! Anyway, I've now got some help text set to pop up any time the user hasn't cast a fireball for more than 30 seconds that says "Press X to shoot fireball."

I was upset with the player's comments about being "unengaged" with the story, so I put in more detail as to why the Chogoth Empire blockaded the Council of Riversong in 523 Q.F. and the resulting outcry from the Keepers in some unskippable scrolling text at the beginning of the campaign. That will really inspire players to rally to the Baldonian cause!

-- The Genius Game Designer

Time's running out. I've got to put the finishing touches on this gameplay masterpiece I'm creating. The EPIC BATTLES that I wanted never really came through even though, I wrote an e-mail about it a long time ago. I think I'll quadruple the number of enemies throughout the game and increase the rate at which they cast spells at the player to once every couple of ticks.

Yeah, so, the lead programmer yelled at me for trying to make our game better. Whatever. It's his fault the lame engine can't handle the awesomeness. Going to go complain to the studio head tomorrow.

Dear Design Log,

Well, the reviews are in. I'm pretty proud of what I did, but the game didn't score well because of the bad tech we have and the fact that the sound guys didn't make the spell effects loud enough. I need to find a place that appreciates my talent!

--The Genius Game Designer

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Andrew Giarrusso
profile image this real? I certainly hope not.

Chris Melby
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The blurb about upping the sword cutting and then the enemies' HP made me laugh. :)

Paolo Gambardella
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ahahaha, really funny! The next one should be "The guilty game designer"! It is always a fault of the game designers, at the end! :D

Luis Guimaraes
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Multiple Personality Disorder where all the personalities are schizophrenic game designers. This is epic!

Daniel Jovanov
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Dennis Dyack, John Romero, Kevin Levine and Warren Spector are designers that come to my mind as talentless hacks, uh, I mean "genius game designers"!

Harry Fields
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Kevin Levine... Warren Spector?!? Really?

Pascal Belanger
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Oh really?

Because I guess you have experience working with them? Or any experience in game making at all for that matter? It's funny that when I search your name in game dev databases, I find nothing and google only returns some guys that makes car sounds with his mouth.

Dyack founded Silicon Knights, Romero gave us some great milestones in the FPS genre and worked on more than 100 games, some of which were very successful.
Levine made Thief what it is right now and as much as I'm not sure how I like the Bioshock brand, it's one of the most successful franchise in the history of gaming and finally Spector is the father of Deus Ex, made the Ultima Franchise one of the greatest RPGs of all time.

What did YOU do?

If you want to blurb out such nonsense, go back to kotaku will ya !

Kris Ligman
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Two points:

-Industry qualifications are helpful but not required for criticism, or every food critic would be a five-star chef. Although you're right that this is the sort of judgment better passed by someone who has worked with those designers.

-Let's not use other publications as punching bags here. I also don't think Kotaku is regularly as worthy of the scorn that it receives as some others seem to believe. Certainly Stephen and his team have taken a pretty active stand for community moderation a lot of other consumerist-oriented pubs have yet to do. (Although no, I generally don't read the comments there either.)

Short version: your point is well made without derails. :)

Emmanuel Henne
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I was under the impression, Richard Garriott made Ultima great ?

Michael O'Hair
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@Emmanuel: Yes... for the first three games of the series.

Alfa Etizado
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So that's how Resident Evil 6 came to be.

Curtiss Murphy
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:) Still funny.

Jeff Murray
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Haha this this and more this! XD

Alan Au
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Ha! Reminds me of a quip I like to use, which is that "designers add and producers cut." It's a bit of an over-simplification, but it makes me want to see what the corresponding "producer's log" looks like. :P

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I'm pretty sure I worked with that guy...

Keith Burgun
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A lot of these things remind me of when Bethesda was working on the VATS system. There was (still is, actually) a problem where you can't really dodge attacks very well when the camera is like zooming in on some dude's exploding crotch, and the game is actually taking place during that shot. So they're like "Oh, ok... well that's kind of unfair, so... how about, while using VATS, you take REDUCED DAMAGE." And that's what actually shipped.

Robert Memmott
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That doesn't seem like the same thing. While it may be a design 'hack', it's one that works pretty well and makes the experience better.

Carlos Garcia
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I'm pretty sure I sounded like one of those when I was making my first game. Thankfully I'm not that arrogant anymore. The Sword of Cutting certainly made me laugh. :)

Merc Hoffner
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Baldonians. Lol

Jeff Alexander
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>There's a lot of misunderstanding about the use of fireballs, even though the loading screen with all of the controller mappings CLEARLY states that fireballs are used to open doors, not harm enemies.

Woah. That sounds awfully close to Cursed Crusade.

Bart Stewart
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There's a fine line between funny and mean.

The people who would think the stuff imagined in this piece are either inexperienced neophytes or clueless appointees. Either way, how does mocking them do anything to improve game development? All that printing stuff like this does is encourage the kind of abusive piling-on common in mass-market gamer forums -- as the comments thread here already demonstrates.

Ironic, self-deprecating humor from someone who's a designer and understands both the value and dangers of that role could be funny and instructive. This isn't either.

Paul Tozour
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> Either way, how does mocking them do anything to improve
> game development?

Because a little bit of skepticism (if not cynicism) can be a good thing ...?

Honestly, there's not really anything mean-spirited here. If there were any actual 'ad hominem' attacks in this piece, and it mentioned anyone by name, that would be one thing, but it doesn't.

It's pointing out behavior patterns that deserve criticism.

As an industry, most of our biggest risks still come from design. We don't do a good job of managing these risks. We still don't do a good job of hiring, training, mentoring, and managing designers.

We still let way too much ego (and way too many egomaniacs) into the pipeline.

I think the author deserves our gratitude.

James Margaris
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The fireballs in the first blurb are just missiles in Metroid!

Ian Richard
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While I chuckled at this article, I actually agree with Bart.

This doesn't contribute ANYTHING to the solution. It doesn't make any effort to inform people to better design alternatives, it doesn't explain that sometimes our opinions are wrong, it doesn't offer any tips to improving as a designer.

The entire article is "Let's laugh at the dumb designer doing dumb things."

I've worked under some pretty bad designers, and there have been times where I've BEEN the bad designer. Laughing at the stupidity of a guilty party doesn't help anyone, it just hurts them and puts them on the defensive.

As developers, we should be building up our industry and helping people improve rather than laughing at their failures. You said it yourself, "We don't do a job training or mentoring designers"... so why not start now rather than point and laugh?

Paul Tozour
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> This doesn't contribute ANYTHING to the solution.

It's not supposed to. It's satire.

Don't you think there's a place for light-hearted satire?

Chris Dias
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The question you should be asking is; Is Gamasutra a place for light-hearted satire?

Emmanuel Henne
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I would be careful about the misconception of ego. You want art directors and leads who keep steering through rough waters, but not have an ego ? Hows that gonna work ? Game development isnt about democracy.

Gregory Booth
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It's an *awesome* piece of satire. :)

Steven Christian
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EPIC BATTLES!! That's a great idea!