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'Care more about being respected than being liked'

'Care more about being respected than being liked'
October 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

October 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Indie, Design, Recruitment

In her Saturday presentation at IndieCade in L.A., Wizardry developer Brenda Romero encouraged game designers to worry less about maximizing efficiency and more about achieving greatness.

In a talk riffing off the popular documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Romero likened the high-end craftsmanship of Michelin-star restaurants with finely authored game experiences, in particular her own development of her board game, Train (pictured).

"I obsessed over every detail. Every decision mattered," said Romero. "I tried to make a game as good as my skills allowed... If I didn't know the answer [to a design problem], I waited until I did."

Train depicts the systematic removal of Holocaust victims to Auschwitz by the Nazi rail system, represented by a set of tracks and box cars players are asked to populate with small yellow figures. Romero spent a good deal of time prototyping the game, which debuted at the Games For Change conference in 2009.

"[Good game design] costs what it costs and it takes the time that it takes," Romero said emphatically. "It's not a coincidence that it's also the one game for which I'm most respected."

"Mediocre rarely rises"

While Romero acknowledged that being able to take the time and resources necessary to complete a personal project speaks to "a tremendous statement of privilege," she also suggested an uncompromising devotion to excellence was a reward in and of itself.

"Mediocre rarely rises," said Romero. "I don't know anyone who says 'I want to be an average piece of shit.'"

In continuing her restaurant analogy, Romero stressed the importance of building a strong, committed team, and in particular building up talent through systemized apprenticeships and mentorships.

"We don't have [game developers] say 'oh, I studied under so-and-so.' Why not? It is our responsibility to teach."

A large part of this, Romero said, was in understanding game development as a craft worth honing. Just as Michelin star chef Jiro Ono is depicted in the movie as having obsessed over the fine details of his profession to the point of elevating his food to an art form, Romero said games also lent a space for "the pure pleasure of crafting and delight in the details."

"Care more about being respected than liked," said Romero. "If you ship a bad game, no one is going to say 'Yeah, it had problems but she's such a nice person!'"

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