Sunday, June 24, 2007

If Game Design were Painting...

Here's another way of looking at what game design is, thanks to a recent conversation I had with Brenda.

Suppose I have this great idea for a painting, but I don't have the artistic or technical ability to pick up a brush. I could spend years learning anatomy, perspective drawing and the use of various tools, but that would take too long. I can picture this thing perfectly in my mind's eye, although once it's actually on physical canvas it might not look as cool as I'd originally thought. Or, maybe I have all the ability that I need, but I just don't want to put in the effort, because painting is hard work and takes a lot of time.

So, instead of doing it myself, I'll write down a detailed description of exactly what I want painted. I'll include all kinds of details, descriptions of characters and background scenery and color... although my vocabulary might be a little strange to a professional artist, if I never learned technical terms like "vanishing point". Then I'll give this description to a professional artist, and if my idea is cool enough maybe she'll make the painting for me.

Suppose I manage to find a willing artist. A first draft of the painting is made. I offer corrections, in some cases because the artist's work includes better ideas than what I'd originally envisioned, and in other cases because I was unclear in my "spec" and the artist misunderstood what I wanted. We go back and forth like this for awhile. Finally, the painting is done and we're both happy with it (or, I decide that it's "close enough" and I need the money). We sell the painting. I get all the credit, because it's my idea, and the painter was just my instrument. The painter gets more of the money from the sale, because of supply and demand (fewer people want to build someone else's idea, than to come up with the ideas themselves).

Of course, this would never actually happen for a purely creative work. And yet... that's more or less the relationship between game designers and game programmers. And part of me has to wonder how we game designers can possibly get away with it.


Alex K. said...

Yeeeeeah, that's one way to describe it - the art commissioner (designer) hires an artist (programmer) to create a painting. I was always more partial to the "architect/foreman" metaphor, since it seems to resonate with more people.
On a side note, I actually HAVE commissioned artwork from people for projects I've done... does that speak well for the analogy, or does it mean it's a little too on the money to be a properly displaced metaphor?

Quest said...

Let us pretend that computers gain the ability to translate from common speech into machine language. Game designers write out ideas for the game, explicitly describing all of the interaction a player has with the game (minus implicit rules).

The computer takes a design document and creates a full fledged game out of it. Each game is a unique experience depending on the design document.

Now then, who is the artist? The Game Designer, for his vision? Or the programmers that worked on the computer's translation ability?

Assuming the computer interprets the designer's document exactly as intended, the designer is 100% the artist.

However, the computer must assume there are some implicit rules in the design document, and that is when the computer/programming team becomes a designer.

Modern programming teams do the same thing. Translate between English and machine; assume implicit rules. Almost always, they provide design-related input back to the designer.

It should be implied that a programming team has a hand in the game design. The reason designers are credited is because they handle larger sections of the design framework, while programmers provide input on specific features in the context of the existing framework.

Designers specialize in design; programmers specialize in programming; and artists specialize in art. The credit allocated to each group is based on their specialization, but all of them have some impact on each other.

Quest said...

More directly on topic...

Have you met game designers that claim 100% rights to a team's creative work?

I could see some non-industry people thinking that game designers did all of the design, but how does this notion survive inside of the industry?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is a valid metaphor. I think it would be more accurate to compare game design with any other form of design. You get a guy to design a car, the body and interior and the complete user experience, yet he has very little to do with the engine and suspension that really make the car work. Or an architect who designs a building that is built by a civil engineer. Don't be too hard on the specialist game designer. Programmer-designed games tend to suck!