I also heard you once say you really enjoyed programming; it was your preferred aspect of game development. Is that the case in the past? How did you wind up getting to this situation of much more narrative and design?
RG: Yeah, okay. Here's the truth behind that then and I think I know where that came from. You know, my first five games I wrote by myself, so I was the programmer, I was the artist, I was the terrible writer, I was the sound effects engineer, and I was the marketer. I wrote the documentation, et cetera.
But since then, on we started having teams. The first artist we hired and every artist we've ever hired has been a hundredfold better artist than I ever was. I could literally just use stick figures. The first writers we hired from an English mastery standpoint were all head and shoulders above me.
Programmers, on the other hand, were different. I was actually a good programmer. When we would hire programmers, I felt comparable to them in skill, though I no longer program. But I could, I believe, if I'd kept up the skill, so to speak, be a good programmer. But now every programmer we hire could run circles around me.
Design is the one very unusual case. In design, I can name in the industry only a handful of people that I think are as good or better designers as I am. And it actually less a statement towards what a great designer I believe I am -- because I still believe I make plenty of mistakes and I'm only so-so at it -- but rather how hard the problem is and how unique a moment in time I began.
Because since I was the programmer, artist, designer, etcetera, it means that I now truly understand the trade-offs between those disciplines, and I understand what's important about design versus if you look at most designers today, they don't get a chance to be all those different skills, and most everybody just thinks, "Oh, I love all these games. I've got my great idea for a game. I can't program and I can't draw art, so I'll be a designer."
And so designers have no job qualifications really, if you know what I mean. And so everybody wants to be one and nobody's skilled at it.
Hopefully it's slightly changing now that engines are getting more usable -- for example, in the console games space with Unreal. The scripting is much easier for people to use now. And also in the independent or Flash gaming spaces, where there are game makers and there are ActionScript libraries that can help people get there.
RG: It still requires design skill. One interesting thing about designers... most programmers worked hard to become a programmer. I mean, they spent years studying it. Most artists were somehow born with some natural low-level talent -- I don't understand how that happened -- but then they also spend years honing it. Most designers, by the time they decide to design their first game, have not put in the years of labor to become a designer that those other skills already have.
With or without any tool advantage. More importantly, when I sit down to do a design -- which is my favorite part by the way, not programming -- when I want to design, for example, a symbolic language to include in the game, which I love to do, I will go buy an entire research library on the subject, and I will pore through that subject for a month, because even though I wasn't an expert on it, the only way to successfully include that area of design is to truly become as close to a world-leading subject as it possible, because I'm competing against literature, from a qualitative standpoint.
Almost no other designer that I have ever know does that level of research to this day even though I go talk about it all time. Whenever I talk at GDC or talk to designers, I go, "It's labor. You've got to sit down, and if you're going to talk about any particular subject through your design, you have to become the expert in that area. And if you're not, you're just going to be retreading the same ground everybody else has done, and it's not going to be interesting."
That might be where something of a programming mindset may come into play. I mean, designers don't tend to be research and development oriented.
RG: Right. Designers tend to be gamers who want to fix what they think was broken in the previous game. But that's not the way to be a great designer.
Similar to your point of storytelling not necessarily being rewarded, do you think that many players even notice?
RG: Well, I think, for example, I didn't see Fallout 3, but I'm guessing it also looked and sounded and played very well. Therefore, it's a good game all the way around.
What's interesting about games, especially hardcore games -- the core of what we do -- is gamers aren't really forgiving of sucky aspects of any game. So, just because you have good story is no excuse to be less than pretty close to state of the art on graphics, sound, action, etcetera. And each of these is really hard to do. It's hard to do good graphics. It's hard to do good sound. It's hard to do goo action. And story is extra hard.
And so, that's why I think it's missed a lot, because it's harder than most other aspects and it gives you no additional reward. You can't throttle down on your spending on those other areas to do a pretty good story. You can a little bit, but not much.
In my experience, gamers will tend to have a strong response to graphics they perceive to sub-par or physics that are wacky, but I'll get all up in arms about a story that I think is irresponsible or bad or poorly written, and I'll see nothing written online about it.
Native English speakers have so little interaction with the written word, speaking properly, and grammar, I sometimes feel like they wouldn't know a good story from a bad story.
RG: You know, and I think fundamentally we share the same what I'll call "disappointment" in the perceptions or demands of the American consumer. I agree with that.
That being said, I think there are worthwhile exceptions. For example, Lord of the Rings. Even as a painfully long movie, the fact that they took the time and really did pretty good justice to that very sophisticated, deep, and meaningful story, I think it was appreciated by the general marketplace. It's just hard to do. And those are the exceptions.