'You shouldn't underestimate the value of not being technical'
"You shouldn't underestimate the value of not being technical. Meaning, that you might be able to solve a problem in a way other people wouldn't consider because it's almost too simple."
- Veteran game designer Amy Hennig.
It's been a while since we've mentioned it, but the game dev interview podcast Designer Notes (hosted by Mohawk Games founder Soren Johnson and, occasionally, Finji cofounder Adam Saltsman) is still going strong and well worth a listen.
The most recent episode is the first of a multi-part interview with Amy Hennig, the veteran game designer (currently working on a Star Wars game at Visceral) who has worked on everything from Uncharted to Legacy of Kain to Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City.
Her conversation with Johnson is worth a listen because in the course of reflecting on her career, Hennig shares useful bits of game design advice and offers insight into how some notable games (and game studios) came together.
For example, in chatting about how Crystal Dynamics' PlayStation game Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was born out of her idea for an original game about a fallen angel, Hennig notes that one of Soul Reaver's signature mechanics -- players transitioning between the game's "real" world and its misshapen spirit world in real time -- was made possible because the game's design team didn't fully understand the technical implications of real-time level transitions in a PS1 game. Here's an excerpt of her comments:
"When we were told it was impossible, I think we looked at 'well, what do we have to work with? And [We] just played with it in [3ds] Max and went okay, well, this seems prety simple actually. But the fact that somebody was looking at the problem in a much more intelligent, complicated, technical way wouldn't have been able to see that solution immediately,...you know, that's what I mean when I say designers shouldn't underestimate their ability to go 'What if?' Sometimes the best ideas come from somewhere unexpected."
"I'm actually really proud of that game still; I mean if somebody said...what is the best game you've designed, I'd probably say Soul Reaver," Hennig added. "I felt like it was the purest expression of story and gameplay being the same thing."
The full episode, alongside many others featuring devs like Nina Freeman, Chris Avellone and Jamie Cheng, can be found over on the Designer Notes website (or your podcast app of choice.)