For more info: www.erasmatazz.com
How did you get into the game design industry?
In 1966, a friend showed me a paper wargame, "Blitzkrieg". We played it, I became an avid wargamer, and from there started thinking of my own designs. When computers became available, I built one and programmed it with a wargame. In 1979, I got a job at Atari.
What are the necessary skills for doing game design well, and can it be taught?
Most important, breadth of education. Game design is not a specialized form of programming. All the great designers have a broad range of intellectual interests: economics, history, music, science, etc. Also, a continuing insatiable intellectual curiosity. All the great designers are avid readers.
Of the game designer's we've interviewed, we have identified three approaches to starting a project - develop a scenario, follow a game-genre heritage, or start from a technological premise. Is there another method?
Yes. Decide what you want to accomplish, then do it. It's so simple,
so obvious, yet so rarely done. For example, my last game, "Patton Strikes
Back", was designed with the goal of creating "a wargame for the rest
of us". Before that, I did "Balance of the Planet" with the goal of "showing
people how environmental problems interact with economic and cultural
issues". My most creative design, "Trust and Betrayal", was built with
the goal "talk to the animals". The three methods you cite have no clear
objectives, so it should come as no surprise that they don't accomplish
anything. If you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there.
How do you initiate a project?
I set my objective, something that's important, something that I believe
in. Then I explore ways to reach that objective. I normally choose difficult
objectives, so the exploration process often takes a long time. Once I
have hit upon a satisfactory strategy, I set to work implementing it,
but there are often many ugly surprises along the way, requiring intense
redesign effort. Eventually I get it working.
How do you organize your work? Do you have a predefined working process?
I have no set way of tackling any design problem other than hard work
and a refusal to back down from difficult problems. Any truly interesting
problem must be new enough to lie beyond the applicability of standardized
methods. If you want to stamp the products out in rapid order, get a machine,
or a human who has been ground down to the status of a machine.
What are the tools of your trade and what is your relationship to these tools?
Books, a computer, a compiler, pen and paper, music to listen to while
I work, woods through which to walk while I think. The books educate me,
the computer angers me, the compiler frustrates me, the paper clarifies
my thoughts, the music harmonizes my mind, the woods maintain my perspective.
What is the biggest technological limitation of your profession, and how do you deal with it?
The execrable state of input devices. The keyboard and mouse reduce my
user to an inarticulate clod; I can't very well interact with a user who
can't say much to me. Would that computer systems spent half as much money
on input devices as they spend on output devices!
Where do you get your inspirations? Who are your mentors?
My inspirations come from all around me, from the people I interact with
-- ALL the people: the checker at the supermarket, the veterinary assistant,
Bible-quoting neighbors, a PhD friend, a science fiction novelist, a French
lady in England, a real estate agent. I minimize the role of computer
people in this, because they're so stiflingly inbred, so caught up in
their own world that they can't see the real world.
How do you see your profession evolving?
Not much potential for significant change in the game design industry.
Games have settled down to their steady state in much the same way that
comics have settled down. The comics today are, from a marketing point
of view, not much different from the comics 40 years ago. Artistically,
there has been some progress, but the most dramatic changes have been
flash-in-the-pan sensations; the basic identity of comics has not changed.
Computer games are now in the same position.
I very much doubt that games will ever evolve into anything like books or movies. The games industry had the opportunity to do so in the mid to late 80s, and it consciously rejected that opportunity in favor of short-term success. It has now worked itself into a small but profitable hole from which it can never extricate itself.
Its audience is precisely defined, both in the positive sense AND the negative sense. We know exactly who our customers are: young males. We also know exactly who our customers AREN'T: everybody else. Worse, everybody else knows it, too.
What do you want to do in the future?
Speilberg's Saving Private Ryan. An astounding combination of technical perfection and artistic brilliance. The sound bullets make when they whiz through the air, the ease with which unescorted tanks are destroyed in close quarters, the fellow picking up his arm, the ready shooting of prisoners -- vastly impressive in its attention to detail and its human feeling.
What was the last book that really pleased you?
Ride of the Second Horseman, a fascinating study of the origins
of warfare. The author demonstrates that our concepts of warfare arose
from the economic circumstances surrounding the dawn of our civilization.
Thus, we westerners developed total war by fighting the decisive battle
to destroy crops, thereby starving our enemies. The Chinese developed
a theatrical style of warfare that minimized damage to the all-important
irrigation systems. The Aztecs developed a cannibalistic style of warfare
to compensate for the lack of protein in their diets.