In a previous post entitled Why I Play FPS Games I posted a response to a comment where I mentioned different types of people who could design levels for games. It got me thinking about designer’s lives outside the gaming world.
Gaming is still a relatively new industry when compared to movies or books. Only in the last few years have people moved from school to university to game studio/freelance. Previously I presume they changed careers as more and more jobs became available. Now, people are specifically working towards dedicated careers within the game industry. I accept that the above is a generalisation and is used for illustration purposes only.
One question I have is “Is this a good or bad thing?” It may seem obvious to you that of course it’s a good thing but experience in the outside world may be very important. I know a Gym manager of a very successful and well-known Health Club (in London) who only employs trainers who have either changed careers or have plenty of experience OUTSIDE the fitness industry. His argument is that when he tried employing newly qualified staff they lacked the ability to deal with people. They may have known the technical aspects of their job but not the people management. Now this example isn’t perfect but I feel the general principle is the same. Will only knowing about games be enough to create the next level of entertainment? What other worldly experience would be beneficial? A grounding in popular culture, psychology, history, art – the list goes on!
As well as considering outside influences for game designers I began to consider what previous, or current, professions may make good level designers. Here are my thoughts:
- Classical Music Composer
I have long harboured the desire to research the structure of classical music (Mainly symphonies) and make a comparison with the overall balance/structure of levels within a game. Some readers may know that symphonies have quite restricted structures regarding the different movements etc. Patterns and themes occur in both symphonies and games and I think it would be interesting to see a composer balance the different types of SP levels etc. (If anybody is interested in working with me further on this please contact me)
- Detective Novelist
These types of novels can be very elaborate and lead the reader on a criss-crossing journey. The FPS games tend to have simpler stories because of the way the story is told but that doesn’t mean they have to be simple. Being able to convince the player that something is true only to have the opposite be true may be a valuable skill.
Perhaps the most obvious career to consider but I’m sure there are disadvantages as well as advantages. Perhaps town planners may make better level designers. What do you think?
Who better to design a level in an FPS game than somebody who has been in a similar situation? Whether the level is good to play may depend on whether they you attacking or defending a position. This may be more valuable for Modern warfare games than Sci- Fi ones.
Time for a thought experiment. Lets collect a group of willing participants from varied professions and ask them to design some levels. Each participant would have a technical assistant to actually sit at the computer and use the editor. These designers would direct their assistant to physically create the design, unless they wanted to do it themselves. However this experiment is to see the quality of the design not the ability to actually build levels!
There would be three different groups:
- Group 1
This group has NO experience in gaming. They have never played a computer game until now.
- Group 2
This group has a little experience in gaming. They have played computer games for less than one year.
- Group 3
This group has extensive experience in gaming. They have played computer games for over one year but have NEVER designed a level.
Who do you think would produce the best levels? It’s unlikely that Group 1 would produce the best levels but what about between Group 2 and 3? I don’t know, I suspect that it is less to do with gaming experience than with creativity and imagination. Which brings me back to the first point at the beginning of this post. Can you be creative and imaginative without experience or some influence from outside?
Younger readers (No disrespect intended) may assume that creativity and imagination are independent of experience and to some degree they are but imagine a man who has lived all his life in a cave and has no experience of western society. Now ask him to create something for your game. It wouldn’t be impossible but without having knowledge and experience of society he would be lacking a key component in creativity, that of ADAPTATION.
A new work is in some way adapted from other, previous work. Is it possible that Gaming design is becoming incestuous due to a lack of outside influence? No of course not but it is important to have a wide experience of live as possible.
I’m making the situation sound much worse than it is but I feel the point is still valid. I believe that creativity unencumbered by limits and preconceptions is necessary but there has to be a balance between freedom to create and experience to adapt.
Perhaps I’ve tried to discuss two separate topics and confused them. I’m not convinced I have made my thoughts clear enough but no matter how many times I revise the draft it doesn’t seem to improve.
My final question to you is:
“Is the gaming industry missing out on an incredible wealth of talent and experience just because most applicants are fresh from college?” It’s much easier to teach people how to use an level editor than it is to teach them creativity. I’m certainly not suggesting that current level designers aren’t creative! I’m just wondering what’s the oldest professional level designer you have heard of?
Some of these thought processes stem from the fact that I’m over forty and am disappointed I’m not working within the industry. (Although I haven’t tried) If there are people my age, and plenty older, that play games why can’t we make them?
As always I’m interested to hear your thoughts and comments.