Friday, May 23, 2008

Killing my darlings...

Stephen King once wrote about how- in telling a story- it is sometimes necessary to 'kill your darlings' , meaning that even if you love something you've written or cooked up, putting it in your story can- often times- hurt the piece as a whole because the idea simply doesn't fit into the yarn you're spinning. Same goes for game design. As cool as a play mechanic may be, as cool as a level design may seem...sometimes, it just doesn't fit in with the game you're making. And unlike writing a novel, with game design, there is another reason to sometimes kill a darling: cause it's just too damn ambitious to create!

But that's the production phase...that's the hard part!

Pre-Production is one of the most fun times for a designer because it's- in many aspects- the blue sky phase of the game. A million seemingly cool ideas just floating in the ether, ready to be plucked from the air and inserted into the next great gaming masterpiece! No limits on your game, no limits to your imagination, and no limits to your fantasies that THIS IS GONNA BE THE ONE; this is gonna be the one time when you really do get to make the best videogame EVER!

And then reality sets in (if you have a great producer...which we do) and you have to start making hard choices. And you have to hope that you and the team have the experience and insight to make the correct calls, and that you are tuned into the gut/vibe/spirit of your game so that you kill the stuff that needs killing while greenlighting the stuff that really belongs in the game. If you are lucky, your gut will guide you in these decisions most days. But every project has those 'Sophie's Choice' moments where there is no good decision. Even when the game is done and- hopefully- has gone onto much success, you still wonder: did we make the right call?!?!

But for the last 3-5 months, it was easy and fun. Just blue sky for miles around.

During that time, me and other members of the team have been brainstorming and designing, trying to discover what it was we wanted to make. That work resulted in about 75 pages of notes and sketches and drawings (you can sort of see all those pages in the video blog post from yesterday, altho the video quality- for some reason- is shit).

So in prep for a Utah meeting next week- where we will need to start making some final decisions on aspects of the game- I went thru all those pages and crossed out the stuff that no longer felt right. The stuff that still made sense made it onto this list:

165 single line notes. Each one a mechanic or play idea or weapon or level concept. Each one representing between 3 days of work and 2-3 MONTHS of work! Which means, we ain't gonna get to do them all.

Which means my job today is to whittle these into Category A (the stuff I feel we MUST have and that I must sell the team on), Category B (the stuff I really want and hope to somehow get enough time and support to get it in the game), and Category C (the stuff that we'll probably end up saving for a sequel if we are fortunate enough to make second one).

And the fun part? The other key members of the team are gonna have their OWN lists and OWN categorization of those lists..which means next week should be a fucking blast of haggling, debating, arguing, and- best case- collaborating!

But as productive as next week will be, I know that some of my faves on this list are gonna get slaughtered. Some of my babies are gonna get murdered, and there's just no getting around that. And I'll- as often as Scott or Kellan or anyone else on the team- be the one holding the damn axe.

Wish us luck! :)



Nikkoa said...

In my opinion, sounds like the hardest part! I would have a hard time letting some of the more creative ideas I've had go. Not to mention, how do you know which ones are the right ones?! I suppose it all depends on the direction you want to take the game, and you need to be practical, but as grandma always said, who needs practical!

Just add some good easter eggs ;) maybe even a hidden character. I think games now days forget that early games ALWAYS had some way to warp to the end of the game where you have to fight a giant mother ship from space driven by beetles with telepathic powers.

ok no more coffee

Anonymous said...

Some times you got to chop up your idea and sometimes from one thing you get many things like when TM2 came out I only had 3 Fan Fic character from there i cop them up and got 9 of them. Same thing with 3 of my Scripts I had 1 at first and now I have 3 and a possible 4th. it all depends on the direction you want to take and remember there is always more then one path to take and you wont know if its the right one tell your reach the end.

ya I miss the Easter eggs in games lately.

Anonymous said...

Man, that sounds like a ton of fun and hard work. Really interested in what you have in store for us in the future!
Good luck to you, David.

Also, in respondence to the other commentors..
I don't really miss easter eggs, I miss the weird sense of humor a lot of the games I played in my youth had.
Especially the big blockbuster titles seem to forget a lot of the little things that really add a great deal of extra value, like easter eggs and funny secrets.

Yours truly, Anonymous.

stalepie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Dave, sorry this is a little off topic, but with MGS4 just around the corner, what are your plans about that game? Are you a fan at all?

I will be buying the limited edition for £80. That's double the price of the normal one and it only comes with a figurine and a documentary Blu-Ray. And the soundtrack of course. That's how much I love Metal Gear.

What about you? Will you be rocking Metal Gear Online? Playing through the singleplayer day and night? Anything at all?

Prince said...

Good luck, Dave. Also, we're waiting on your opinion of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Unknown said...

Hopefully you get most of your ideas into the game just make sure you guys make the right decisions! =)

Can't wait until you can actually tell us about it!!

Anonymous said...

I have an awesome idea...

Wait for it...

Kratos driving a Horse Chariot as an unlockable character. His special weapon is his Blades of Chaos that slash through the opponent like hot knives through butter.

Ok, maybe that's a little too ambitious but hey, this is the pre-production phase! ;)

Anonymous said...

you have a great way of bringing your blog to a close. well said and good luck!

Anonymous said...

I know this is not directly related to your current topic but I felt the need to mention this.

I just received the letter in response to me posting my resume’ at ESP. I have to say I am very appreciative in the reply and response. It was very professional. I didn’t think my experience and skill set was a great match for your current needs, but it never hurts to try. Like I have mentioned to others, at least it gets your info out there and the next time a company has a need for a particular skill set you might be what pops into their head.

I’m sure you don’t remember me mentioning this on past blog posts but my past job as a design engineer for an OEM Automotive Parts supplier of 23 years went to shit. The new management’s goal wanted to save money, do more with less, ship more work down to the southern and Mexico plants to the point they were not getting new jobs off the ground and shipping junk. GM and Chrysler were pulling contracts and we were losing business. Then they were walking some of their best talent out the door as a simple cost savings. Many of us that were still left with double the work load saw the writing on the wall so we left like rats on a sinking ship.

I spent most of the summer last year looking for a new job in CAD/ Drafting/ Modeling work. I was going both through network agencies and door to door on foot. Needless to say I walked through a lot of doors, had quite a few interviews and was fortunate to get a new position last October. It’s working out well. Its tough starting over but that’s another story.

The gist of my post is the feedback (or lack there of) I got from many companies. In this hiring/job seeking dance there has to be a good fit between employer/employee otherwise it isn’t meant to be.

What struck me most during this process is there were so many organizations that lacked what I consider common courtesy and respect. If I wasn’t feeling it after the interview I would always send a polite email thanking them for their time, with a sort of “thanks but I’m not interested at this time” response. Few companies would do the same. I would walk away feeling things went well then hear nothing at all and if I contacted them for some feed back it was almost like I was annoying them and some would refuse to respond.

All I’m saying is the simple act of sending a letter from ESP is what I consider a basic common courtesy in a professional business environment. So Kudos to your HR staff and thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Anonymous said...

Good luck Dave. It sounds tough narrowing down the things you love. In my own project, a script I've been working on for a little over a year, I've had to cut out so many sub plots, dialog, characters and more because it was just way too much. I know the feeling. When I was doing the story I was like, "This is going to be the best script ever!" Now I'm like, "Fuck, this is too long, this is too short...."

It's tough but it's really for the best to make sure you've got everything where it needs to be and not rush into it having all the stuff that maybe cool but won't work (which is a mistake I made before I went to screen writing classes and what not). Luck for you, you've got a team, I really only have myself.

Look forward to your Indy review. And whoever said that Kratos should be a secret character in "the game" if it's TM is a great idea but it would be hard to come up with a story for him in a TM game (not that you would necessarily need it if he was a mid boss or something).

And I'm going to NC school of the Arts this fall for film school. I so badly want to work on a TM or GOW film if they're made. I hope I can make it by that point (doubt it, but you never know), ah that would be sweet.

Good luck to you.


Niels ’t Hooft said...

"And unlike writing a novel, with game design, there is another reason to sometimes kill a darling: cause it's just too damn ambitious to create!"

Actually, when writing a novel, too, scope can be a reason to kill a darling. Sometimes you have a great idea, but you know that if you want to incorporate it, you'll have to get really, really in-depth. If you don't go all the way, it would unbalance your novel. And if you do go all the way, it would probably add about 200 pages to your novel, thus forcing yourself to work on it for another year or so ;-)

Of course the difference is that just one person would be in development hell for a year longer, instead of a whole team.

Unknown said...

oh godddamn i cant wait for this game... im already so jazzed up and we haven't even seen screen shots yet lol

Anonymous said...

When choosing for category A, you should probably decided on what you'd like to be important in the game and also, what you'd like to be the expected backbone of a sequel(, if you're lucky enough to get a sequel....not that I doubt your team's guys kick ass).

If possible, try to split category B into stuff you wouldn't mind pushing into that "sequel" box and then take the other stuff and maybe try to make into DLC or something other than the core "backbone" gameplay in the game you're currently working on(, like a minigame or a different mode or a sidequest of just something that wouldn't take too much time or could come into the product later on after release).

Unknown said...

....then again, what do I know.

maartyrr said...


not sure if you can answer this, but did Kirk Baum make it back to your team? I dont know why but I've always liked him (from the few times I played him and spoke to him on the message boards) I dont know - to me it seems like he was a key player on it.

goodluck on this projects you've got my full support

GrYnder McDuff! said...

Opening Photoshop. I'm set on reading each one of those sheets.

Anonymous said...

please david jeffe I know that with my supplication not change anything but we feel the same please take out god of war 3 for ps2 please do not go out only for ps3 and other consoles beg you there are many people who had played a god of war and god of war 2 on ps2 .... foul for those poor mortals can not take the luxury to buy the ps3 please do leave also for ps2 you will all appreciate the success that will playstation 2 as well as plasystation 3 I turn to you're the only one who can give help. listens to my question please
thanks tell me about thanks Hello

Anonymous said...

excuse my name michele above remarks to eject god of war 3 for ps2
Hello again thanks