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Opinion: Yes... If

Opinion: Yes... If

August 1, 2011 | By Jameson Durall

August 1, 2011 | By Jameson Durall
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More: Console/PC, Design



[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Volition Inc. design director Jameson Durall explains why developers need to take after Walt Disney and adopt a "Yes... If" attitude to challenges instead of "No, because" approach.]

I'm currently reading Walt Disney Imagineering, which focuses on how Walt Disney created the parks and how the Imagineering group came into existence along with their practices. The first part of the book talks about their philosophy and says that no one could tell Walt no... if you did, he would find someone who would say yes. This morphed into the saying that you can never say "No, because"; you can only say "Yes... If".



This is dear to my heart because it strikes home with an issue that game designers often deal with. When working on a new design idea, it's not uncommon to get the response of "that's not possible" from the other disciplines that you are working with. I have too much respect in the abilities of every person around me to let anyone tell me "no" or that it "isn't possible".

It's important that everyone learns to say "Yes... If" and then figure out exactly what it's going to take to make this happen. It may be the case that what the game designer is asking for will take a programmer two years working non stop to accomplish... but that's fine. If the feature is important enough, we can then evaluate what we need to do to make that happen.

Early in the development of Red Faction: Armageddon, we looked into what it would take for the single-player campaign to be playable in co-op. Since the cost of destruction is high, as discussed here, we expected this to be a long shot at best but wanted to see what kind of cost we were looking at.

The response we got was that it would take X time just for the programmer to look into it deeply and see what the costs would be to us. This was actually good info for us because we could then evaluate if we were willing to spend that cost and how it would impact development. The response could have easily been that it will be too hard or it's not worth it, but this attitude and willingness to investigate the issue thoroughly allowed design to make a decision.

In the end, we decided not to spend the time there... but it did get us thinking about how we could create a co-operative experience within the limits we had. So, we worked closely with the programmers and discovered the possibility of taking it up to 4-player co-op as long as we didn't use the streaming system. This was the origins of Infestation Mode for Red Faction: Armageddon, which wouldn't have been possible if the initial question of co-op had been shrugged off entirely because of perceived difficulty.

Part of my job as a game designer is to think ahead to what kinds of gameplay we need to be accomplishing two or three years down the road and this often means we're thinking of exciting new things. I need everyone on the same page and most importantly with a positive attitude so we can all work toward making great games for years to come. The ideas we come up with are not always going to be home runs, but we need the freedom to explore anything we think could evolve our gameplay into something special.

Now let me be clear, I'm not saying I expect the rest of the team to bow to game designers and provide their every wish. I prefer true collaboration from all disciplines when working on new things, and when there is hesitation from anyone, it's best to talk it out. Part of the problem is often that the game designer isn't exactly clear in the messaging of what they are looking for and too much is left to interpretation by the listener. This is a tough thing especially when delving into radical new areas that the game designer doesn't yet fully understand himself.

Designers need what I like to call "Freedom to Fail" during development so we can try new things without feeling like they all have to be a success... or even possible for that matter. This not only means the designer needs to be free to try anything, but all supporting staff need to be on board with new ideas and thinking how can we accomplish this instead of being concerned with how hard it is to achieve.

In the end, anything is possible... if you're willing to assign the time and resources to it. I would even argue that if you're not scared to death about something new for your upcoming game then you might not be pushing yourself hard enough toward making something truly unique.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]


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