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  • Just One More Turn: Game Development Tips From Sid Meier

    [10.21.21]
    - Darenn Keller

  • Teamwork Tips

    Feedback is fact.

    Feedback is fact insofar as it reveals how our game makes people feel, but after that, it's our job to come up with the right solution to that problem.

    My take on this: Feedback is not a debate.

    You received feedback you disagree with? Thank them without trying to find excuses or explain yourself. Ask questions if you need to and find the source of the problem. If it is actually pertinent for you, resolve it.

    Feedback is free and only there to help you make a better game. Don't lose time arguing over it to convince people that they should not feel that way.

    When giving feedback, look into the heart of what the game is really about.

    When prototyping or giving feedback to another developer, look right past the details into the heart of what the game is really about. Don't focus on insignificant bugs or graphical glitches. You know they are there temporary and will be fixed eventually.

    Sit in all the chairs.

    I already met some people with this versatility; Experts in their domain, and familiar with their colleagues' disciplines.

    I studied computer science for 5 years. First, it helps me interact with programmers. It also alters my design process in a positive way. I am organized, rigorous and I prefer designing complex game systems more than stories. And of course, I can create games or prototypes on my own, which is very useful.

    For example, I'm sure "artists game designers" have their own advantages too. They can draw the design, make it appealing but clear. Much better than the ugly-cold squares filled with text that I use.

    In a team, avoid sharing the same duties.

    Learning teamwork is hard, and making video games is usually a team effort.

    The dichotomy between someone else's talent and your own is a cause for celebration, because the further apart you are, the more you can offer each other. But the opposite is also true. I know where my own talents are, and I find that sharing those duties usually falls somewhere between inefficient or frustrating.

    I want to combine other people's unique expertise with mine, and create something that none of us could have made alone -- not compromise on the same task until it's less than the sum of its parts.

    At Ubisoft, each game designer is the owner of specific features. For example, I was responsible for the procedural quests on Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. The game designer works on the design; the lead or director validates it before starting the production.

    Good game designers listen to the rest of the team to improve the design. But you don't have to compromise; you're the only one responsible for it, and that makes it more manageable.

    Imagine if the whole 200 people on the team had to agree on everything?

    One of the drawbacks is that it's harder to link the different game systems together. You're so busy with your feature that you don't know how the development is progressing on the other ones. You can feel a bit on the side, or be in total disagreement with how the other game systems work.

    Sid's Opinions

    Cheating can be fun.

    Sid despised cheats in games because it makes the gameplay easier and removes the fun from the game.

    But the designer in charge of releasing Civ II ignored Sid advice. He shipped the game with an accessible cheat menu. After seeing his son played with cheats, Sid changed his mind, and agreed it can be fun sometimes.

    sid11.png


    In my opinion, we should give the opportunity to break or tweak the game, via cheat codes or modding tools. It can be hard to accept that players tempered what you've designed, but a lot of games proved it was very fun to do it. I've started "creating games" with the world map editor of Warcraft 3. It's also on this game that I've enjoyed my first cheat codes.

    While modding tools should be available from the start, cheat codes should be earned.

    For example, after winning the game at least once, playing by the rules. The player still enjoys the game as we intend to but is able to destroy all the rules they respected so far.

    Micro-Transactions are hated but effective.

    Sid tells us that even though micro-transactions are hated, they are really effective and bring back a lot of money.

    I hate them too. I never buy from these stores, I would be a poor designer on this subject.
    Not that I don't like the content they are offering. But I don't want to pay for optional content that I should have been able to deserve by playing.

    Of course, in most games, you can gain some decorative content by playing. But it's rarely the sought-after stuff. A counterexample is Overwatch, you can unlock almost everything by playing.

    On the other side, I like DLCs because you actually buy more gameplay content, not optional skins. You usually buy DLCs because you love the game and crave more, not because you must to enjoy the game.

    Big studios like Ubisoft actually sell different packages for the same game. The premium package includes all coming DLCs. There are several advantages for the developer :

    1. The DLCs are already paid -- You can budget your production.
    2. You can change the DLCs content by taking into account players' feedback.
    3. DLCs are cheaper to make.
    4. You can start the development of the DLCs before the game is even released -- at Ubisoft, DLCs are planned way ahead of time and the development is shared between several teams.

    But we should stay vigilant: the original game (without any DLCs) must be complete.

    Players are paying for something that does not exist yet. They will be very upset if the content is of poor quality.

    Suspend reality, not examine the pain of real moral dilemmas.

    Sid gives us his opinion on what he wants to create in his video games, you decide what you want to create in yours.

    I've always felt that our role as game designers is to suspend reality, not examine the pain of real moral dilemmas. 

    There's a place for that in art, certainly --and videogames do count as art-- but it's generally not a place where people want to spend their time after a long day at the office.

    [...] games are expected to sustain their audience far longer than any other art form. [...]

    Not many people are willing to wallow in life's toughest moments for that long [...]

    I agree that most games should be relaxing. But video games have matured, and are not just a relaxation tool anymore. Moreover, some games examine the pain of real moral dilemmas and are still able to make relaxing and fun gameplay. There is an audience for this kind of game nowadays.

    Violence is not necessary.

    As good games should have an impact on the player, he wants to avoid putting too much violence in his games. It can have a negative impact on our players, even mature people that can tell it's fantasy.

    Video games are an art form, and it's never a good idea to stifle creativity. I can say with personal certainty that gamers are mature and intelligent people, and we have the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
    But when it comes to the creations that happen to inspire me, I don't think violence is necessary. The world is often a very negative place, and I'd rather push it in the opposite direction whenever I can.

    There's an argument to be made that by exposing the unpleasant reality of violence, you can inspire others to push against it, too, but this generally requires a removed perspective, rather than the inherent first-person nature of games. It's hard to claim our products are immersive, but somehow insist that the experience has no impact.

    A game with no impact is simply a bad game.

    Again, it's his opinion. Feel free to disagree and use violence as a tool to impact the player the way you want (thinking about The Last Of Us 2 here).

    Compelling games should illuminate our deepest fears about ourselves.

    Maybe the thing that makes Civ so compelling is that it illuminates our deepest fears about ourselves. It's hard to play out a fantasy of worldwide domination without occasionally wondering whether you're really the best person to put in charge after all.

    In the right context, a game is not just a vehicle for fun, but an exercise in self-determination and confidence. Good games teach us that there are trade-offs to everything, actions lead to outcomes, and the chance to try again is almost always out there.

    Connect people through their shared experiences.

    An interesting way of seeing our role as artists.

    Gaming is for everyone--and not just on an individual level, but as a whole. It's for everyone together. I haven't always known what appeals to people who aren't specifically me, but I have always been interested in finding out, and when it comes to games I thinks addiction is usually just another word for the intense connection we feel toward a work of art.

    As an artist, my job is to foster that connection in a constructive way -- and if I'm lucky, to connect people to one another through our shared experience.

    Games are not just a diversion.

    Sid created his first game, Hostage Rescue, on an Atari in BASIC with the help of magazines. You play as a "Helicopter" trying to save hostages from terrorists. They shoot missiles at you, you shoot missiles at them. But each time you shoot, hostages can die. The headcount is accusingly displayed at the bottom of the screen.

    His mother tried the game, was very focused, very into the game, avoiding missiles with her own body.

    But at some point, she dropped the controller and turned the face away. She couldn't play anymore, her heart was racing and it was too much for her.

    Games aren't a diversion. Games can make people feel, like great literature or other forms of art. Maybe even more thanks to the interaction that is a core element of games.
    I already read several times about this revelation moment; It seems like a common event we all share.

    People are generally uncooperative by nature.

    Not scientific proof but a good example to consider.

    CivWorld had a number of problems, the biggest of which was the generally uncooperative nature of real people when put to the test. [...] for the most part everyone chose to let their friends suffer.

    Funny Anecdoctes

    The Bingosaur.

    [...] I gave up all pretense of realism and invented a dinosaur that could spit poison. As a friendly nod to our producer at EA, Bing Gordon, I named my new species the Bingosaur.

    Gandhi bug is Fake.

    The rumor was that Gandhi has a very low "Violence" stat. And that at some point when his violence stat decreases, instead of staying at zero or going negative, it becomes a very high number (because of how numbers are read in computer programming).

    This high violence stat he then has would be the reason why Gandhi is using a lot of nukes in the game.

    I've learned in Sid's book that the famous Gandhi bug does not exist. Gandhi has no predispositions to use nukes. It just seems so unrealistic that Gandhi would use nukes that players found excuses and invented this legend.

    sid12.jpg

    Final notes

    If you need more details, or just want to enjoy a nice story, I invite you to get the book.

    1. Which is your favorite lesson?
    2. Which tips do you disagree with?
    3. Something to add about any of them?

    Feel free to let me a comment, I'm eager to read it.

    Sources

    Sid Meier's Memoir book
    GDC Classic Game Postmortem: Sid Meier's Civilization
    Sid Meier's Psychology of Game Design

    This article is funded by my supporters

    My biggest thanks to :
    damien and Móey Mei

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