Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Un-Glamorous Side of Game Design

Today would be an excellent example of the un-glamorous side of game design. While most of the players of my game are enjoying an incredible double xp weekend, I'm here at work on a Sunday struggling to get a zone revamp finished for the upcoming LU 25.

I'm not the only one here either! Owlchick is in the next room working on The Fallen Dynasty stuff, and so is Peter Chang.

As a designer, I take my work very seriously and personal. Seeing what I am currently working on is nearly impossible to avoid by the gaming populace as anyone who comes from Freeport will have to pass through this zone. Does this stress me out? Yup! It's a scary prospect to make changes to anything the players play on a daily basis. You don't want to be the one who "screwed it up".

So, in an effort to try and not screw things up, I'm spending my Sunday at work, stressing out about something that I hope many of our players will enjoy instead of loathe. No pressure right?

I think that this is a very seldom seen side of what we do. I saw Moorgard here late at night every day this past week, and he worked the whole week of E3 prior. That is some tiring work my friends. Why does he do it? He loves his job, that's why.

Sometimes working on a game this big can be pretty overwhelming. Take the new player progression for instance. What players got to see was the culmination of about 5 months of work for some of us. By the time we got around to releasing it was a mix of relief and real fear. I was honestly worried that I might have screwed up the Qeynos newbie adventure areas, and the city zones with all the changes I had to do. We are talking about erasing NPCs, changing creature names, quest targets, loot, pathing, scripting, the whole nine yards. I personally "killed off" about 30 individual npcs in Qeynos Harbor alone in an effort to increase framerate in that zone. When I did that, I had to check every single character that I touched to make sure I didn't break some quest that possibly could have pointed at them.

Getting back to the whole un-glamorous thing. This job can be pretty rough if you don't have the self motivation to put in the work and hours it takes to get the job done. I remember being scared to death when I first started working here, because the depth and scope of what I was working on and the sheer responsibility of it all weighed down on me on the very first day. It can be intimidating working on one of the biggest MMOs ever. I sometimes wonder how many pairs of eyes have read Harclave's story, or how many people have killed a particular spawn of mine.

It usually all comes down to days like this, where I'm far from home, shoes off, blasting Emperor on my Ipod, banging it out. I love it!


Anonymous said...

Many game designers don't realize that long hours are ultimately counter-productive, harmful to the game on which you are working and harmful to the game industry as a whole.

This is really very discouraging. Many game developers - right about the time they have the experience to be really good at what they do, they'll be sick of doing it.

Maybe you're the exception, but that just means 5 years from now you'll be doing less-than-your-best work in long hours with a bunch of noobs.

If you love making games and want to make good ones for a long time to come then you shouldn't be burning yourself out and burning-out your co-workers.

Sometimes the long hours for three or four-week stretches are un-avoidable. Beyond that you might as well have worked normal hours. Apart from when they are unavoidable, they should be avoided because, sooner or later, you'll need to work those long hours.

Maybe this is one of those unavoidable times - you have a looming deadline and more to do than you were given time to do right or your manager doesn't know any better because people with more experience than him left the game industry already due to this very thing.

That's a shame too, though. Nothing to be proud of!

Kendricke said...

I'm often blasted for being a "fanboi" because I don't immediately punch you guys in the face verbally whenever this or that problem crops up in game. Yet, it's the realization that designers care about the work they're doing that puts me in a more forgiving light.

I don't always agree with the decisions or directions designers make, but I have always tried to at the very least respect what it is you're trying to do. I wish every player who talks about "$oE" or casually suggests "firing" developers has the chance to see you guys at work just once.