Saturday, January 28, 2012

Game Expo 2012 Presentation Notes for "The Details Where Devils Dwell"

As you can see from the Power Point slide up there, the title of my presentation is “The Details Where Devils Dwell.” This blog post is intended to fill in the details and notes I had around each slide and cover some of the tangents and anecdotal examples I threw out during the live show at the 2012 Game Expo.

Before  I get into the meat of this, some hearty thanks are in order, so allow me to call out some folks critical to the success of this presentation now.

First of all I'd like to thank Dave Warfield for approaching me to speak at Game Expo, I feel very honored to be one of the presenters among such a cadre of caliber cohorts! Big shout out to all the folks that organized and ran the event, particularly Thuy Khuc who has the calmest demeanor during a tornado of activity I've ever seen.

Massive thanks to Christopher Molineux for coaching so well on how to speak to a subject I enjoy and bring an audience along for the ride.

Big burly thanks to Dan McBride, Ruth Spink, Anna Sloan, Stephanie Bachmann, and Paul Martin for supporting my involvement, allowing me to represent Slant Six Games during the Expo, and setting me up with both a coach and several media interviews. For my virgin effort as a presenter, this really turned out to me an amazing, albeit exhausting, adventure!

Last I'd like to thank all the folks that took time out of their own busy schedules to look at various forms of this presentation from inception to this incarnation. The end result would not be as succinct, palatable, refined, or chalk full of goodness without the feedback, ideas, opinions, and constructive criticisms you afforded. So stadium wave slow clap accolades for Kirsten Forbes, Tim Bennison, my amazing wife Lindz Williamson-Christy, and my confoundedly incredible colleagues Paige Meekison, Devon Detbrenner, Rebecca Lathangue, and Ben Hanke. A big chunk of what this presentation could be snapped into place while running the sea wall with the Slant6ers running consortium, so kudos to them too.

If at any point you read an acronym or expression that's unfamiliar or unclear, please don't hesitate to email me so that I can explain whatever jargon I might have slipped into this presentation without providing sufficient context or definition.

Allow me to quickly establish a bit of context. I’m a designer by trade, so if you’re hoping for deep insights about secondary lighting sources, you might be in the wrong room. 

I'm a 16 or so year veteran of the industry, starting out at Dynamix in Eugene, Oregon working on Starsiege and Tribes 2 among other things. I started out as a texture artist and learned on the job how to build 3D models, BSP (Binary Space Partitioning) architectural constructs, HUD (Heads Up Display) iconography, pause menu graphics and information, dialogue writing, audio slicing and processing, and a bunch of other things that still help inform choices I make and sensibilities I have today.

I later worked for Radical as Lead Level Designer / Senior Designer for Scarface: The World is Yours, Crash of the Titans, and other projects and demos and pitches. 

I've worked a brief stint as EA Black Box, another year with Next Level Games making the film tie-in merchandise game for the Captain America film. 

Most recently I'm working as a Senior Designer for Slant Six Games, currently acting as Lead Campaign Designer for the Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City game. Have to say now that SSG is one of the best places I've ever had the good fortune to work. When looking for prospective employers, remember that it's not just about the money, or the brand name. It's about culture, experience, and being surrounded by people you're inspired by and feel you want to learn from. Anything else is just a gig, and without positive culture, can become a grind very quickly.

For the extent of this presentation, the sorts of details I’ll be talking about relate to Intellectual Properties, or IP for short. Every game represents an IP. We won’t be talking about original IP games much today, as creating original IP is a whole other Pandora's Box of demonic details to consider.

Today we’ll be chatting about designing and creating games from existing IP content; both designing for an additional installment to an existing game franchise, and converting a non-game IP like a film or comic book into something interactive and fun to play.

I aim to demonstrate how understanding the limitations of your IP can help you to get more rewarding designs and gameplay experiences out of it and I’ll share some of the hard knocks lessons I’ve learned working with IPs like Scarface, Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, and Captain America.

And the biggest lessons I’ve learned have been about the potential gold that awaits deep down in the details of every prospective IP you might encounter. The real trick sometimes is knowing where and how to dig in. That said, before you dig in and start getting creative, you need t sort out where the buck stops are, and that starts with identifying who owns and can ultimately answer for the IP.

You can waste a lot of time asking the wrong people for allowances or details. Determine who can ultimately say yes or no to design ideas, and get those questions in from of those people as quickly and concisely as possible.

Before we get to the fun use cases I’d like to be up front about the most important lessons I’ve learned when designing around an existing IP. The IP must be part of the Filter you use to judge the quality and relevance of any design you come up with for the Game. I’ll talk more about creating Filters in a bit. Most importantly you really must identify the constraints of your IP, and once you start digging in you’ll be surprised how many there can be; marketing, publisher, licensing, story cannon, actor contracts & likenesses, other merchandising rights, target audience, etc. We’ll discuss some examples I’ve worked with shortly.

You need to make time to understand your audience and appreciate their needs and expectations, no matter how flimsy or fickle those aspects might at first appear. While you can’t just cater to your IP’s existing diehard fans you also can’t ignore them. Likewise you also have to consider whether or not your IP is stale and if your game is the chance to breathe new life into the IP and create new fans.

You should want to consider what features are required as “price of entry” for your game’s genre, while you want to avoid simply “Feature Chasing” other games in a similar genre. Throwing in features just to be competitive that don’t directly relate to your IP will feel awkward and you’ll end up writing in plot lines to justify features your fans might not expect or want.

The important thing is that as part of understanding your prospective audience, you include the wants and needs of your games entire target audience, not just fans of the IP or just fans of a particular genre of game. By defining the breadth of your overall target audience you can better preserve the integrity of the IP you are trying to leverage and empower.

You might notice I didn’t call out Designers as your target demographic. For sure designers play games, a lot of them; for fun, for research, for competitor analysis, and hopefully for fun again. While you may earn kudos from designers for clever designs, if you lose your perspective audience by intimidating them with overwrought, convoluted designs for design’s sake, then you may have made a mistake.

Designs that serve to empower and enhance the narrative and integrity of the IP you’re representing will serve you far better than anything you implement simply to be clever or to show off your designerly prowess.

OK, so that was a deluge of "You should this, you better that..." instruction. Let's back up and break this down so that you can decide for yourself what you actually want to take away from this presentation. Cool?
At the core, we’re going to talk about creating games from established IPs, creativity within constraints, and investigate some tips and tricks for adding depth to your games what will translate to consumer satisfaction that further translates into better financial returns, which is usually the bottom line after all.
So I’d been with Radical a couple months as a designer, and we were working briefly on a pitch for an open world 50 Cent game, I’d gotten elbows deep into researching project housing in Queens and urban distribution models in Brooklyn when I was asked to come into my Producer’s office to spitball the idea of making a game out of the movie Scarface.

50 Cent had possibilities, and certainly had me in the right mental space, however Scarface certainly made more sense for our team as a sweeping, epic crime story that spoke to a fairly substantial demographic across 20 years worth of fans. Another studio went on the make a 50 Cent game and made some quick cash and a whopping 48% Metacritic. Key point though is that the games eventually made for 50 Cent understood their core demographic, and particularly the second one, were pretty fun to play without being big sprawling open world situations. The games focused on allowing players to be 50 Cent just as we came to focus our game around being Tony fucking Montana. In the second 50 Cent game a mechanic went in where players could purchase more weapons or buy better profanity. Which do you think players maxed out on first? Genius.

Back as Radical, the intense design session quickly resolved that Scarface made sense as an open world adventure, a laundry list of questions became immediately apparent. Tell the story of the film? Maybe a prequel? He dies at the end, doesn’t he? Maybe in the game he survives? Should we include other characters from the film? If so, which ones? Do we even let people play as Tony, or someone in his gang?

Already in research mode, I switched gears and began researching the world of Tony Montana. I started with the film, then soon dug into the time frame the film represented, the actual history of drug trafficking and distribution into the US through Miami at the time, and the growing trade through Mexico that came soon after. I read the DEA website’s massive library of history, learned about the cartel heroes and conflicts, and the history of drugs through the Caymans, Bahamas, Cuba as well apparently. I learned about Norman’s Cay and dozens of other tidbits that could be peppered throughout our game to add integrity and connect the fiction better to reality.

As we answered the questions about playing as Tony, and in what time frame respective to the film, I could then pull ideas and concepts from the film’s script, the film itself, and the time period the film is set in and topics the film touched to create locations, landmarks, characters, narrative options, and more. Essentially laying down the restraints of the who, when & where for Scarface the game we then had the restraints required to judge all of our future design decisions and maintain the continuity of the game.
A Golden Age comic book inspires a film that inspires a video game. Here is where research alone wouldn’t be enough. With over 70 years of history, Captain America became a real learning opportunity about constraints.

Basically, the game’s story would exist within a tiny bubble that was is a montage within the film to briefly explain the origins of Caps’ military career. Since the game wouldn’t be telling the story of the film, we then had the freedom to make up our own. Except, we couldn’t conflict with the reinvention aspects of the film IP that may or may not match with the comic books. Yet we wanted to include characters that were classic to the comic book version of the character but not necessarily included in the film.

Other examples of existing IP include game franchises, like Crash Bandicoot, originally established by Naughty Dog, and Resident Evil from Capcom. Working with IPs like this, you have to ask yourself, is this a Reboot or an Installment?

Crash Bandicoot has a lengthy track record of games, some great, some others not so great. Working with this IP meant trying to find ways to reinvigorate the brand, rekindle audience excitement without alienating long time fans. Something we’ve seen brands like Batman do repeatedly despite many flawed installments along the way.

With Crash the biggest obstacles for designing for it turned out to be the legacies of the brand itself, partially manifesting with publisher unwillingness to financially subsidize a full brand reboot and the development costs that would accompany such a bold move. So the games, despite the best efforts of the team to infuse new energy, mechanics, and aesthetic sensibilities, simply felt like more installments of a serial that had jumped the shark with a nuked fridge several dev cycles ago.

Resident Evil is a whole other thing.

Films, toys, comics, games, and a very rabid fan base.

Identifying the constraints of the franchise, the hero and villain characters, the history of events as they unfolded in 1998 in Raccoon City, Capcom’s expectations, and both shooter and survival horror genre enthusiast expectations would be pivotal to working out how to weave together designs for narrative and gameplay experiences that would satisfy the full breadth of our perspective audience.

I joined the project later on and had to ramp up quickly in the lore of the land, what constraints we faced, so that at this late stage every nudge or judgement call I make is best serving the quality of the product and the expectations of our target audiences while also remaining timely and in budget.
I’ve mentioned identifying the constraints of an IP previously, however let me get a little deeper into what that means.

An IP has a narrative side. Story, characters, locations, plot points, and established histories that you need to be aware of so that any conflict you introduce is deliberate and not a result of sloppy continuity.

I recommend calling these things out during your research into the IP. Wiki is a great place to start for a lot of better known IPs, though go to the source content as much as possible to be sure you’re acting on fact rather than opinion.

For Scarface we went through the script and film and film credits and listed every name dropped, every person referenced, every location visited, and every action in the film that could be turned into a possible gameplay mechanic or system. Distribution, staffing, property ownership, and money management quickly rose to the top of the list. The characters we’ll listed soon filled in the roster of bosses and mini-bosses we would eventually weave into the game’s story to contend with.

Further, though, we learned we needed to match key beats and locations. The mansion, the Babylon Club, an Frank’s Motors with the famous Hawaiian wallpaper for example. We could add to those to make them more gameplay friendly, sure, but the spaces had to be there, and had to have the integrity of those iconic locations in the film.

The product you intend to make has a bottom line as well, and that also provides constraints that will affect your design. Your budget, your engine, your staffing, your timeline all contribute to making your designer life miserable.

Once you recognize and all out your fiscal and technical constraints, you can better begin to make smarter choices about what baskets you want to put your eggs into. What features contribute most to the integrity and quality of your product? What designs would cost most to implement? Designers that lose sight of cost, resources, and schedule are designers that will run late, go over budget, and burn a lot of OT that probably could have been mitigated by better, more frugal preplanning.

The other aspect that needs to be considered is what else your project is being bundled with or tied into. The Captain America game, for all intents and purposes for Marvel’s marketing and merchandising group, is another toy on the shelf to cash in on when the film comes out. Scarface, on the other hand, had competitors’ marketing to worry about externally, while internally there was a push to cash in on the unexpected success of a deluxe DVD reissue of the film while also making deals with companies like Def Jam and Bodog for cross-marketing opportunities.
As I'll describe shortly with a Captain America example, you must define your allowable cannon. What parts of the IP can you use, will you use, and do you want to use?

Also, once you know what is viable for you to use, work out what isn’t. For Resident Evil we’re restricted to the timeframe and events from the games RE2 and 3. We’ve looked to the films for inspiration, like using shipping containers as zombie spawners ala the RE film in Vegas. However, we aren’t using any of the film characters per say, or narrative events, like all the Jill clones.

For Scarface, we pretty quickly established a need to use Tony Montana as a filter, both his moral code and his demonstrated behaviors from the film. Let Tony dance in Babylon Club? Well, he did that in the film, so ok! Let Tony kill a bus full of nuns and orphans? No can do, violates his moral code. Let Tony be a pimp? Nope, would be subjugating women, more or less violating his moral code. He can kill pimps though to “liberate” the ladies if he likes.
Our contribution to the Resident Evil behemoth has been to move the IP into 4 person cooperative shooter space. This has the advantage of bringing the IP to new fans while at the same time risks alienating fans of the most typical, slower moving classic RE horror games.

This is something that needs to remain firmly fixed in a designer’s mind when making choices about the experiences in the game, the narrative choices or collectables or combat or use of monsters or puzzles or timers or any number of other minute examples.

Classic RE games have a lot of puzzle aspects to them. Shooter games, by and large, don’t. Classic RE games have a lot of inventory management to them. Shooter games generally don’t. As our game is a sideways sequel that’s returning to classic events and affording some fresh perspectives on that timeline, we were able to sidestep puzzles and inventory management that might slow down the action and found other ways to appeal to classic fans through hero cameos and more extended interactions with keynote monster characters, particularly in the Versus four on four multi-player modes.

Had we been a direct sequel like RE5, I believe we would have been far more required to include puzzles and some degree of inventory management, simply to remain true to the established brand’s enumerated titles. Being a one-off does have certain advantages, streamlining you design agenda definitely being one of them.

Take the character Dum Dum as an use case for needing to define narrative and IP constraints up front. He’s in Captain America the Movie, and he’s from the comics. Therefore he should be easy to include in the design, right? No.

Dum Dum has a pretty rich history in the Marvel universe. He’s accompanied Nick Fury through WW2, the Cold War, and later into the SHIELD agency where he spent considerable time and resources chasing down Godzilla. Unfortunately none of this history lines up with Marvel’s reinvention of Nick Fury as played by Samuel L Jackson. In the comics, Dum Dum was part of the Howling Commandos along with Falsworth and Gabe, though Dum Dum was never a part of the Invaders, a group of superheroes comic book Captain America fought alongside that included forgotten greats like the unfortunately yellow suited Whizzer. In the movie, the Howling Commandos have been stripped of Nick Fury and been renamed The Invaders. 

Confused yet? So were we.

Essentially, we were allowed to have Dum Dum in the game, however we weren't allowed to acknowledge his role in the Howling Commandos, friendship with Nick Fury, or have Godzilla show up as an Easter Egg, despite the relationship Dum Dum has to all those things in the greater comic book cannon. One one hand, as a designer, these constraints feel like missed opportunities, however on the other hand identifying these hard constraints helped ensure time didn't get wasted chasing designs the IP owners wouldn't go along with.

Through identifying these conflicts and from them resolving constraints that we would design within, we found ways to put characters and fact tidbits from the comics into the game without violating the continuity constraints we’d been given from Marvel.
One of the first things we needed to do on Scarface was determine what audience we were trying to reach. GTA fans, sure. GTA has paid homage the Scarface film enough through the years that the connection was self-evident.

But what does that mean? Urban youth?

Not exactly, that’s an aspect but doesn’t cover the market share. Urban culture. Broadening our target demographic to include fans of the sorts of things that reference the Scarface film suddenly gave us an initial idea of our target LCD.

From that we could investigate what appealed to that demographic. Brands, music, etc.

Our producers and the design team worked with Universal and Vivendi’s marketing groups to build relationships with other companies that were trying to speak to the same or similar audiences.  Soon we had cross-promotional deals with Def Jam and Bodog, and worked with Def Jam to include new and catalogue tracks into our game’s music player and soundtrack.
When we showed the Scarface game to press and various handpicked folks behind closed doors at E3, I had my first real encounter with prospective players of our game.

Sure, I’d played against other players on line when I worked on Starsiege or Tribes 2, heard them on the chat headsets and all, but meeting people in person and shaking hands and seeing them physically react to the events on screen gave me far more insights into what worked (and what didn’t so much) with the game.

Focus testing is always a mixed bag for designers. No matter how unbiased and pure you try to make the focus tests, the minute folks are in a room playing a game together, they affect one another as much as the game affects them. If there were a way, I’d love to try focus testing games by showing up at people’s houses on the weekend with pizza and beer and watch them play a build of the game the way people likely will play the game once it’s gone to market.

So while you can define a target audience and use that to help steer your designs, you also need to watch people play your game and keep a sharp eye out for what they get excited about. With Scarface, it turned out for some people to just be hearing him talk to people, a good thing since his dialogue feature turned out to be a tremendous effort in time and technology. We’d commit to that choice because Tony Montana is so often quoted, how he says things as much as what he says. So we wrote unique dialogue for him for every character in the world, so that whenever he talked to anyone, he had new things to say, and they had new things to say back.
Establishing your constraints and defining filters should be a key part of your initial preproduction, though they may change or become better clarified throughout your production process. It’s a good idea to revisit your agenda and ensure you’re still on target regularly throughout production, that you can make nudges and course corrections and cut with the most relevant and realistic information in hand.
Once you know what you can and can’t do, and have filters for measuring how well designs can benefit or enhance your product, you’re more than halfway to knowing what your product’s pillars are. They’ll probably match you’re filters, basically.

For example, the key filter for design on Scarface was “Be Tony Fucking Montana”. Sorry to go blue, however that phrasing mattered, as Tony says a lot of off color commentary and we wanted to remind everyone on the team to keep that frame of mind when dealing with the IP.

Another filter for Scarface entailed defining what we were and were not. Initially I believe we were inclined to simply look at GTA and say, “OK, we’ll do all of that, and better.”

Meanwhile Rockstar is making their own next installment and saying the same thing. As are the fellas on True Crime and Godfather, etc.

On Scarface, we did a dense competitive analysis to help inform our assessment of where the average mean of our audience, essentially the lowest common denominator, stood. However, by looking at our game as being Tony Montana, rather than another installment of open world crime and driving, we realized we needed to look at the breadth of the market and consider any games focused on empowering a character the way we intended too. Strangely, Zelda: Wind Waker became one of our inspirations for the way they handled emergent gameplay events and world discovery; despite the fact that by and large I have deep misgivings about elves.

We did much better developing our IP’s unique identity once we changed our mindset and world view from being a killer of something else, which is just an imitation with more antagonistic wording, after all.
Every designer has styles of game mechanics and compulsion loops they like and would like to play. Not every mechanic works in every game setting. Not all players go for the same tried and true compulsion loops.

For example, I love collectables and had been playing mad numbers of hours in Bethesda’s Fallout games. So when given the opportunity to design collectables for Captain America, I went a bit overboard. Retrospect, maybe we didn’t need quite so many.

Pick mechanics and compulsion loops that best suit and empower your IP.

Collection mechanics might work for a lengthy RPG, however for a romp and stomp superhero game, maybe not so much, despite how much bonus content the collectables unlock.

Also, resist the temptation to pad out a design with a bunch of staple mechanics you know or like from other games. Instead, carefully pick and choose what best suits your IP and intended audience.
During preproduction, or any time I join a project mid-stream, I deep dive the IP like a tax audit to learn everything I can about the IP and all associated spin-offs, merchandise, inspirations for it and things it might have inspired. I read fan sites, wikis, and summaries of the comics or books if time prohibits reading all the actual content.

For Scarface I watched a slew of other Brian Depalma films to better appreciate his cinematic techniques and choices to help inform player camera choices. I had the soundtrack cycling on my iPod for weeks.

If set in a period, I research the period. If set in a town or country, I research the places and look for things I can use or extrapolate from. I deep soak the IP so that I can think from inside of it as I design. I take notes and make potential outlines and mind maps of prospective mission and goal interconnectivities.

I think about compulsion loops, and try to map items that repeatedly crop up in my research to compulsion loops or gameplay mechanics to give them context that will support and empower the IP through gameplay.

Even a linear game has choices and strategies. To better empower the idea try to afford players choices that have consequences that are meaningful to the story, either immediately or overall. Both if possible.
In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the narrator explains beating writer’s block by staring at a brick wall and describing each brick left to right in turn, starting at the bottom of the wall and working your way up. Eventually you will have to find something about the details to write about or die of boredom.

Consider the constraints of a product to be the framing that wall of bricks is mounted too. Digging into the grout and divots of the bricks is where the details live and inspiration can spring forth from.

During preproduction, or any time I join a project mid-stream, I deep dive the IP like a tax audit to learn everything I can about the IP and all associated spin-offs, merchandise, inspirations for it and things it might have inspired. I read fan sites, wikis, and summaries of the comics or books if time prohibits reading all the actual content.

My presentation coach, Christopher Molineux, pointed out that you can dig into catch phrases and characterizations to understand a market, however you need to dig into the reality of your subject matter to understand your possibilities. Through defining your allowable realities you can give your designs integrity. And through knowing and understanding the realities informing your content, you can make smarter choices about what to use and what not to use.

And example of this would be our research of Miami during the 1980's, the landmarks and neighborhoods and ethnic diversity, the cultural history that makes the city so iconic. Of course the film had done that, and I certainly cataloged every location in the film and tried to identify what neighborhood or area those locations would have existed in. Some were easy, like South Beach. Others were more subjective, like the Babylon Club. We knew we didn't simple want to make a photocopy of Miami, extrude a Rand-McNally map and try to make game spaces out of that. The landscape and level design of the Miami we intended to present needed to serve the narrative of our game, and the gameplay of our game, while also capturing as accurately as possible the feeling and spirit of both the film and Miami through the lens of how Tony saw Miami, pelicans and all.

Better understanding the real Miami, and all the other spaces I researched like the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Cuba, Costa Rica, etc. helped me to make better choices for what locations to pay homage too versus neighborhoods or areas we could occlude since they wouldn't benefit the story or experience of the game. I do feel bad we didn't do more with the Everglades, though.
A Filter is a technique I learned from a GDC presentation about applying Broadway lighting practices to game lighting and thought that the notion could also be applied to design.

The idea for lighting is to create a framing image, a single picture that sums up the cumulative experience of the game to compare all lighting designs against. The picture could well be a collage of images or image fragments, but the end result had to stand up as something that remained evocative and meaningful when viewed directly.

For design, while images do help, I think the idea is a bit more conceptual. Create a filter using the research you’ve done and the constraints you’ve defined and the expectations you’ve established. Once you have this filter, thereafter push all designs through it to see if they pass.

If the designs support the IP’s narrative, don’t violate any constraints, and would appeal to at least the LCD target audience, then they will pass through the filter and can be developed and implemented into the game with a knowledge that at least conceptually they’ll add value and integrity to the product.

These are the questions you need to ask yourself as you set up filters.

And these are some more questions you should ask yourself as you set up filters.

An interesting thing about filters is that they also can be used to together, like a chain. For example, something might work great for the IP, and be awesome for combat, however when filtered through your vehicle system, might bring the whole show to a screeching halt.

A huge risk for gameplay design is building mechanics in a vacuum irrespective to one another. The end product will have players potentially able to utilize several or all those mechanics at once or against one another. I love emergence and affording the player tools for ingenuity; however mechanics not filtered against or through one another can easily break, impede, or ignore one another, and that makes an over all experience feel ragged and disjointed.

Using the massive pad of paper slung onto a wobbly easel and wielding a fat marker that smells vaguely of grape, I shall attempt to step through this process of design, for demonstration purposes only so please don’t try this at home as I am a trained professional.

For the live event, someone form the audience suggested Doctor Who. We ran with that and began identifying constraints. Who owns the IP? Which version of the Doctor would we use? Narrowing to Tom Baker, we then ask which sidekicks? Abilities? Use existing narrative threads and threats or come up with new ones? Classic villains or new ones? Locations? Can the players tell the Tardis where to go or is the adventure linear? Who is developing the game, what studio with what Technology?

Fun fact, in the Green Room I mentioned to Skyrim's Director of Design Bruce Nesmith that the audience expressed hope Bethesda might tackle the Doctor Who license someday. He leaned close and said he'd let me in on a secret: never happen. Oh well, a fan boy can dream, can't he?
Identify your constraints. Publisher, IP owner, licenses, actors, narrative, canon or not canon, engine, mechanics, timeline, budget, resources, target market(s), etc.

Allow those constraints to fence in your playground, put boards up to hold in the sand for your sandbox, and then get creative within those constraints!

Don’t facilitate self-indulgent design phone-ins. Really take time to understand the wants and needs of your perspective audience! Nurture your IP into the outstanding and unique experience it has the potential to be. Rather than feel blocked by constraints, work within them get creative and make better, smarter choices to benefit your product, turning towards integrity and focus over kitchen sink and feature chase.

IP should always be a key aspect of how you filter your design choices.

Work with your team, publishers, marketing group, and through establishing your target audience to establish a set of constraints to better scope and mitigate risks for your project.
Keep your player in mind at the end of the day. Will they enjoy the experience? Sounds simple, however this is an easy perspective to lose sight of when deep in the brambles of production, swimming through issues and implementations like a commando air-conditioning repairman from Brazil.

I really appreciate you’re letting me speak here today, and I hope you’ve gained some strategies for your next design masterpiece!
 If you have questions or would like to discuss particulars that won't violate any of your NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreement) or mine, drop me a line at

OK, so I am a week late with the blog, Sorry about that, things got busier at work than I expected and I wanted to do the presentation first before I commit to the content of the blog post. Hopefully the proverbial iron hasn't cooled off too much yet.

Kudos to Vancouver Film School for this snap of me in action, apparently teaching a favorite Hula move.

1 comment:

  1. fascinating article. I have just linked to it (and used an image of your slide on my blog curating Scarface imagery in the wider culture, as you can see here

    A couple of years ago I wrote on why I was doing this and while I have been rather sporadic in updating the blog, I still plug away the odd time.