Well, in regards to the idea of being a game designer today, I'm curious as to your thoughts about the evolution of that role. Titles are changing. We now have "creative director" which seems to be displacing "lead designer" in top billing at some studios -- whereas, that movie director you mentioned is much more codified.
CB: I still think the roles are shaking up in the video game industry. If you were to compare shop to shop, sometimes things are done drastically different, whereas Hollywood is this big mercenary freelance system where the director helms it.
Just the little bits I've learned from my experiences as executive producer on the Gears movie -- it's a very structured, yet organic, process in Hollywood, where in games it's still the Wild Wild West in some ways right now.
And as creative as I am, I'm not anything without that guy over there, Rod [Fergusson], the producer, because he's the order to my chaos. He's got a great design sense.
I'm like, "Hey I'm thinking about a gun that does this, Rod. What do you think?" He's like, "Dude, how's that going to work with this and that and this?" I'm like, "Oh fuck, you're right."
You need that kind of give and take. You can't be designing in a vacuum. You just can't. So we have a cabal process where the leads ould sit down once a week. I'll say, "Alright. Here are my issues I need to go over." They bring up other issues and we hash through things and all stay in kind of a hive mind in regards to the direction of the project. I think the results ultimately turned out very, very good.
So would you say design is a less technical process than it would have been in sort of the older days of game development?
CB: Well, the way that I design is a very organic, kind of holistic approach. I design by feel rather than by the checklist of a spreadsheet.
Not a lot of design documents, per se.
CB: We do. There's a time during the project where my job is basically just to sit and work. When I'm on site, my job is a combination of meetings, playtests, emails, and Microsoft Word, with the occasional PowerPoint thrown in.
Sometimes it's about being a communicator. It's about being a facilitator. It's about developing a cheerleader. Then, also creatively pushing for the things I think should be in the game as far as my own ideas, but also harvesting the really cool ideas of the people who I work with.
We'll sit down and figure out, "Okay, here's what the layout of this level is going to be, the start and finish. Here's all the cool stuff we came up with that we want to see in there." We give the level designer the plan, the two-pager. Then he starts shelling it in.
He may come up with this new creature idea that we could play out very well in a chase sequence or something and we'll say, "Okay we need to figure out a way to fit that in because that's very, very cool."
You have to have structure but also have enough wiggle room to stay liquid because fun is a very imprecise science.
Do you think it might become more precise, or is that just contrary to the interactive nature of games? I suspect a film director or screenwriter sees a much more linear path from conception to execution. In games, it's not so much like that.
CB: Well that's the problem with games -- or the challenge with games more than the problem. When you're doing a movie, it's a very linear. If the script reads, and you can't put it down, it's kind of hard to screw that up.
Whereas for the game, you could have a design document. You could have all the artists ready to go. But you could still screw it up because you're doing a Ouija board-type challenge of technology versus narrative versus game mechanics.
Sometimes you'll push something one direction because it makes sense for the narrative, or you'll pull it this way because the game mechanics makes sense, or the technology will allow you to do something else. In one section the writer has to account for the fact that we decided to have hundreds of locusts pouring out of the ground and make it a crazy action sequence, whereas it was quiet before.
That's kind of the delicate balance that we have to walk right now with the video game. That's why a lot of people are still sorting through all of this. Then when you mash that against gamer expectations that continue to change year after year with what they want, what they expect out of their entertainment experience, it is still the Wild Wild West out there.
You're probably still going to see a lot of shakeups and a lot of consolidation as people continue to figure out what works and what doesn't.
But do you see that changing? Will it become less scattershot?
CB: I hope so, because I think in order for any industry to ultimately grow and thrive, you need to have the shakeups kind of settle down, and you need a little bit of stability. The fact that we're able to pull off a game like this isn't an accident. It's not like this team was just put together overnight.
The people who are at Epic, we've been building this team steadily over the last 15 years, and there are people who have been with the company for almost that long. There's people who are at the company who were working on Unreal Tournament, and people from Ion Storm, and all these other companies throughout the business that we know.
There are times when Rod can anticipate what I'm going to think about a design issue, or vice versa, or we're finishing each others sentences, because we all kind of jive. You need a lot of that time in any development studio for people to gel and become part of a greater machine of the assembly line of creating a good game. It's like a band, you know?