I’m incredibly lucky to be making video games. It’s a fun, creatively rewarding way to make a living. I’ve worked with, and continue to work with remarkably smart, talented people. But that’s not to say I haven’t experienced a few frustrating moments in the last 20 years I’ve been in games. If you’re new to the industry, allow me to point out a few of the more common pitfalls (along with a few very UNcommon ones). These are my top 10 expressions to watch out for, based solely on my own experience. If you hear any of these at work, remember: YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
1: It’s whatever you want it to be!
This is something I usually hear from level designers when I see their blocked in level for the first time and ask them, “What’s THAT supposed to be?” To be fair, it’s not THEIR job to make a jungle look lush and overgrown, or a Moscow street look... Russian-y. They were just told to make the game fun! So they use the tools they have, which are usually blocks. So when they’re done, and they hand it over to the art team, that Moscow street can look like M.C. Escher just threw up all over QBert’s apartment. Have fun making that pile of cubes look like an ice cave! Ever wonder why there are so many crates in video games? Now you know.
2: Huh. That’s weird.
Usually heard from an IT person looking at my frozen computer the way I look at a designer’s blocked in level. Typically 15 minutes before I’m supposed to give my GM that PowerPoint doc I promised him. Oh yeah, that reminds me:
3: Can you take a look at my PowerPoint?
Nobody EVER asks you outright to work on their Powerpoint. Because who in their right mind would do that? It’s the most thankless task ever. So the smart ones (and I mean your exec producer or GM) just ask you to take a look at it. No biggie. See if you have any images they can use. Next thing you know, it’s 8:30 pm and you’re redoing the entire 40 slide deck. It’s the office equivalent of waking up in a bathtub full of ice without your kidneys.
4: We need you to come do a quick on-camera interview!
OK - I’ll admit that this is probably a little specific to me, but that doesn’t make it less traumatizing. I’ve actually heard this twice in my career, and both times it’s been baaaad news. One time, I’d just returned from a week off sick with Scarlet Fever. (Scarlet. Fever. Apparently I’m not immune from Little-House-on-the-Prairie-Diseases. I’m just grateful I didn’t come down with Consumption. Or Dropsy.) All the color was drained out of my face, if you didn’t count the huge red blotches all over it. And the purple bags under my eyes. (I’d like to blame the extra 40 pounds and horrible hair on the Scarlet Fever too, but that was all me.) The senior AD on the team was directing a Making Of video and wanted me to explain an aspect of the game I was working on. You can still find it online. “Faces of Near-Death”, I think it’s called.
5: We’ll just reuse art from last year!
Probably the most chilling expression of the bunch. Sure, it SOUNDS great. Think of the time we’ll save! All we gotta do is, y’know, zazz it up a little! Up-res those normal maps! Rebake those lightmaps! Bob’s your uncle! It’s such an appealing idea, in fact, that a LOT of studios say it. The problem is, I’ve never seen it save any time. Either the look is too different from one game to the next, or, worse, it’s too SIMILAR. Either way, this can turn into a trap that takes MORE time to get out of than just creating assets from scratch. And at the point where you’re trying to finish creting all of the new art you didn’t account for, everyone starts wondering who’s bright idea re-use was. Here’s a tip: just to pin it on someone who quit 2 months ago.
6: My kid’s been playing a lot of that new game lately…
If this hasn’t happened to you, you just haven’t worked with an exec with a 10 year old kid. When he wanders up to your desk and casually says this, look forward to adding go karts to that medieval fantasy game you’re working on.
By the way: this isn’t limited to execs. We’ve ALL done this. We all DO it. It’s kind of impossible to not want to emulate something cool we see in games we play. Like, y’know. Go karts.
7: It IS done. Exactly how you asked for it.
When a programmer says this to you, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. See, programmers are a very precise species. They take you at your word. Every last one of them. Specifically. Your syntax better be PERFECT, buddy. Because when you ask an engineer to add mirror tech to the game, just remember: you never said you wanted them to reflect anything.
8: This version will be more of an expansion that a true sequel.
THIS NEVER EVER NEVER HAPPENS. Ever. The thinking is, we aren’t planning on a FULL sequel, and we don’t have enough time, anyway! We’ll just do a bit of a mini upgrade. Then you start. And faster than you can say “Marketing is really excited about the potential of this game”, you’re designing a huge sequel...in an expansion time frame.
9: Where are we going for lunch?
If you’re heading out at noon with a pack of fellow gamers and you hear this, chances are you’re going to spend most of the next hour wandering aimlessly, arguing with each other. So bring a power bar. These packs are pretty easy to spot: they look like a grumpy bunch of homeless camp counselors. The bigger the group, the lower the collective IQ, and more likely they’ll be wandering the streets until 1pm, unable to agree on Subway or butter chicken.
10: We’re going to have a quick all hands meeting.
...The subject of which is usually never “To hand out free Playstations!!”