Game development quotes

Years ago I wrote down in my notes a great quote about game development. It was something said by Jerry Holkins, one of the co-creators of the comic, back when the first Penny Arcade game was coming out. The quote was great and that’s why I noted it down, but like a dummy I didn’t keep the source where I saw it. Well with the help of people online, I finally tracked it down!

Here’s a photo of the article (or rather, his sidebar to a longer article) in the August 2008 edition of Game Developer magazine:

That sidebar was his contribution to the post-mortem about Penny Arcade Adventures, Episode One. There’s a full transcript of his blurb at the beginning of this Patreon page. Meanwhile, here’s the person on Twitter who took a photo of the actual print magazine. And here is the text I noted down, the most interesting part:

“Coming in as people who ordinarily just buy entertainment software, we didn’t understand that a project doesn’t actually look like anything until the very end. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that our game would be about grey blocks stumbling around a featureless world. We thought it was a bold visual style, and we applauded it. We also didn’t understand that a lot of the ideas you start with are just wrong, and need to be thrown away. More than anything else, we learned that if you want to criticize this industry, you might want to actually spend some time in it.”

Decades later, I still remember this quote because it was a major game commentator doing a lovely job admitting that that discussing released games to death didn’t prepare them at all for seeing their unfinished game.

Incidentally, here is another game development quote I had written in the same notes:

“Sid Meier once said that games are a “series of interesting choices.” I’ve always liked this definition. It speaks well to what is unique about our craft. For all the progress we’ve made in graphics, audio, physics, AI, and storytelling, interactivity remains the defining feature of our genre. And interactivity, when you think about it, just means your decisions matter. In this light, the true job definition of the game designer becomes clear: create interesting choices.

Games make players factor in all manner of resources as costs. The most obvious are direct analogs: wood or steel in an RTS game. But the most common resource used is time. In Civilization, when you use your turn to build archers in your city, that’s time not spent building a temple. In Mortal Kombat, the time a player spends doing a leg sweep is time when he cannot do a flying kick. The two options are mutually exclusive, and in certain situations either could be the better choice.

An interesting choice is a meaningful one, which means that there must be some appreciable differences between the two. If, in a boxing game, the left jab and the right cross have the same timing and do the same damage, the difference between the two is negligible, and the choice is immediately uninteresting.

In most cases, choices should be situational. Whether a decision is the right choice is based on the game environment and the opponent’s actions. If there is an opposing city nearby, a Civilization player should lean more towards defensive tech advances than cultural ones. If the opponent has the capability for a big and heavy attack, the player should keep a fast interrupt or knockback in reserve. With this mentality, optimal gameplay comes from choosing the correct response to the current situation.
But this way of thinking puts a premium on information, since only that will allow players to make correct decisions, rather than randomly stumble upon the optimal strategy. If you know your opponent is susceptible to fire damage, you can sling fireballs at him instead of magic missiles. Most designers are surprised as to how smart this completely transparent tactical choice can make the player feel.

Most designers try too hard to hide information. Poker’s recent popularity can be tied pretty firmly to the rise of Texas Hold’em, a variant that exposes enough information for players to make tactical choices. This was enough to create a mass-market phenomenon.

-Damion Schubert”

Although I didn’t note an exact source on either quote, I did date both, and this one says “October 2008”. That suggests it might also be from Game Developer magazine, but two months later.


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