Warren Spector – Lecture 2 w/Patrica York


Director of HR for Disney Interactive Studios. Helped integrate Warren’s studio into Disney. Topic: How do you get a job in the game business?

She’s in charge of HR for all Disney Interactive’s internal studios. Five studios around the world. Staffing. Growth & development plans. Right people in leadership roles. Growing people. That we’re making the best games possible.

Worked at EA Sports in Vancouver first. She got into the games industry because a friend of an executive passed her resume.

“If a job is going really well – they give you presents.”

One thing Disney does is ensure that the studios maintain their own culture – that they have their own expertise in the games that they make.

Disney has five studios:
* Propaganda Games (making new Turok)
* Junction Point Studios (Warren’s Studio.)
* Avalanche Software (make Disney property based games.)
* Fall Line Studios (?) (“Nintendo Center of Excellence”)
* Black Rock Studio (racing division of Climax Group in UK.)

We she joined, there was 150 people. Now there’s over 800 two years later. 150 opens at the moment. Always looking for ways to grow, wether it’s a startup or an acquisition. There’s more position than there are people.

Spector Questions

We’re always looking for everything. Lots of programming and art jobs. It’s become quite hard to find level designers. As the games become more complex it’s become a career path of it’s own. Good concept art – defined as created without initial input – is hard to find as well. Good producers, people who can lead the team.

Most common thing she looks for is passion. This isn’t a job on an assembly line making widgets. You have to love it. What games do you play? Why? What is your favorite? Passion for the industry is required because you will work really long hours.

Industry experience is important at certain levels, not to get in. Need to branch out and find people in different areas (i.e. Aerospace industry.) To get her attention on a resume, she’ll want to know what project you worked on. What was your specific role? What piece did you own?

Next gaming is much more complex. [Don’t agree with this – it’s just more.] So specific knowledge is required. [Do agree with this, but not as much as people think.] Because of this, college education in game disciplines is more important. Not just how to make a game, but the business side as well.

Survey of Disney Games

Played a Narnia game trailer.

Played a Hannah Montanna DS game trailer.

The freeform multiplayer in that game is really cool. When you’re jamming with your friends recording songs together. I’m buying many copies. (Spector) Our general manager says this is a true test of if you’re really secure in your masculinity. (York).

Played sequel to Nintendo DS top selling titled.
80% Disney licensed. 20% Original IP. Disney is one of the top tier developers for DS.

Played Turok trailer
Notice it doesn’t say Disney? It’s Touchstone. Lots of blood & fighting on tailer. Brand used to distance family friendly Disney brand from it.

Question: Where do you find most of your candidates?
Not from Monster.com. (Visible distain.) We do a lot of university recruiting for sure. We like to get to know the different professors in schools so we can know who the best students are and who we should be talking to about jobs.

Gamasutra specially mentioned, posting aren’t the best ways to find candidates, but they do find some. We do a lot of networking – who know. 60% of their openings came through referrals. Get to know people in the game industry so you can be referred in.

We gather credits off of game boxes. We will reach out to people. We’ll cold call. It’s a rough thing to do. They have a crew of recruiters who do that.

Question: Interns?
Well established intern program in Glendale, CA. Called “Think Tank”. They’re tasked to come up with new IP. Paid internships. Two intakes – 6 months term. Other studios have their own intern program. Lots of opportunities if you’re willing to move.

Question: What’s it like working for the mouse?
It’s fun. Puts a smile on my face. It’s a really big company. It’s so creative. Passion for what you do. Lots of way to grow yourself with lots of opportunity.

Question: One thing which strikes Spector is that it feels like there is a creative core culture. 120k employees, yet everyone seems to buy into the mission. Spector has never seen that happen at a game studio. How does Disney do that?
Part of the magic. You’re cast members, not employees. Creative is really encouraged. There’s a tech, art, production, design councils – to share learning and ideas across all locations. It’s a part of your regular job. Not looking for a cookie cutter approach. [Kind of a non-answer.]

Question: There’s so much more talking across studios than other experiences. Had the opportunity to meet with Disney engineers and Pixar now. Way smart. Hope that continues.
It’s incredibly exciting. Did a recent tour of Pixar. The creativity is almost oozing out of the walls. There’s Pixar University, so they want to figure out ways to get that available.

There’s going to be more and more as they grow.

Story: Spector was at a function with Pixar folks. He wants to do fluid simulations for something unannounced. He found himself talking to one of the top two or three fluid simulation people on the planet.

Back out of PR mode…

Question: Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t?
I usually have someone who’s more technical than me with me when I ask “For a game you’ve played, that if you could meet the person who made it, what would you tell them about it? What would you do differently?” [Good one.] Looks for creativity in the response.

Student Questions

Question: Percentage of entry level & junior positions?
Depends on the studio. At the early stage, they’ll have more senior people so they’ll want junior people. They balance that as.

Question: How are game producers different?
Each studio has a different definition of a procurer. Has been trying to standardize on a standard. Common job titles across all of the studios is one of her biggest jobs for the last year.

Some can be financing and scheduling focused. Others more creative. Once and a while you’ll get somebody who’s good at both. Read postings closely, because it could mean almost anything.

Spector would describe a producer (at Ion Storm) as a person in charge of the studio’s interest – the business interest. Product Director or Lead Designer is in charge of making the best game. The tension between those two positions is where greatness happens in his mind. Neither one of those had a bulk of the authority. At Junction Point, it’s a more tightly focused team management and scheduling job.

Everyone is a designer is one of his truism.

Read A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood by Art Linson (http://www.amazon.com/Pound-Flesh-Perilous-Produce-Hollywood/dp/080213551X) to know what Producers live through.

Question: What does a junior level producer do?
Warren wasn’t far off the mark when he says start in QA. Most junior producers start there. That’s one way to move up the ranks into the production.

Depends on the genre. In a sports title, will be things like updating the stats for the next version. In others, keeping track of all of the features. Making sure everybody knows what they need to do next.

It requires organizational and communication skills. Requires knowledge of some project management tools. It’s a project management thing more than anything else. Doesn’t require a ton of experience. (Spector)

Question: Unintelligible. Follow up about QA.
You do have a crowd to stand out. Do QA at the studio itself. Not at a contractor or offsite. That isn’t the best way. You need the two way position. To see what the developers do. There aren’t as many of them, but those are the best ones to get into.

Our QA Leads are going to be there as long as the studio stays around. At the end of projects, contractors get laid off. It’s a fact of the life in the industry. They find a way to keep the best ones. You have to be willing to do whatever the team needs. There’s nothing more important for a producer. You’re the guy who makes sure the team gets what it needs. If you’re part of that small testing group, you’ll have ample opportunity to show what you’re made of. The best ones don’t get laid off. (Spector)

Question: Unintelligible. How constraining is Disney on vision?
If you’re working on a Disney title, then there’s going to be certain ways Disney wants to be presented. There is some freedom. There’s a long green-light process. Some ideas might be absolutely out there. We bring them in a little bit sometimes. It’s important to make sure we sure we have what would make the game really fun. The IP division, for new IP, there are no restriction other than can’t go past M. Don’t do sports either.

Every publisher imposes constraints. (Spector)

Pirates movie really pushed the edges of entertainment for kids.

Question: Unintelligible. Something about LucasArts [sigh] & Disney’s relative goals.
The big goal is to be one of the top five publishers.

Disney is a branding machine. It’s where their bread is buttered and they know it. He gave a talk about sequels and license at GDC a few years ago. You can be creative within the context of any IP. Constraints is where creativity happens. There’s plenty of room for creativity if you’re clever enough to find that spark – what makes that license worth exploiting. (Spector)

Where is the creativity? Is it gameplay, features? If you look at the products you’ll see that it every product. They do specifically reward for patents. Looking for improving technology.

Question: Why did you acquire Avalanche? (?)
They had be widely successful in their previous employer. It was obvious that those guys knew how to make a game. When Turok was released there was absolutely no doubt it was the right decision to do. Everyone just recognized the level of talent that was in that room. It made sense to bring that internally, because they wanted to control the creative a little bit more.

Question: Something about EA Spouse (http://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html), re her previous work experience at EA.
It’s a hard working industry. We don’t want people to be killing themselves over this. We’re not saving lives. This is the entertainment industry, so we want to keep that perspective in there. You loose your perspective and you’re going to make mistakes. We do have a crunch period. There’s always that down to the wire. The goal is to make that shorter. They want to make that a whole lot shorter so people can have a life.

We’re bringing in people who do have the education background behind them, the business skills, the project skills, that they can plan a project out better than we could have in the past.

Warren Spector Lecture Start @ 52:17

Video Game Analysis: “Favorite” vs. “Important”

* 10 “Favorite” Games (and why)
* Some different criteria
* Differences & similarities between lists

His version of the class’ assignment. Some of this is on his blog.

His Criteria

  • Fun
  • Obsession
  • Personal significance
  • Professional influence

What did I get obsessed about and not realized that twelve hours had passed. Which games came along at key points in his life that were really meaningful. They represent big moments for me. Other games which brought me closer to my families and friends. I’m probably married today because I played {something} 2 with my wife. Which changed the way I think about games? Which games do I go back to?

His List

  • Tetris
  • M.U.L.E.
  • Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
  • Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
  • Warcraft/Warcraft 2
  • Suikoden
  • Super Mario 64
  • Diablo
  • Half Life
  • Guitar Hero
  • Ico

[Ico !] Tetris is probably the best game of all time. The rest are in chronological order. None of the games I worked on are on this list. I don’t think it’s ok to pat yourself quite so hard on the back. None of the games on this list are the sort of games he likes to make. Is kind of weird. When I play games like the sort I like to make, I find myself obsessing about the ways in which I would have done it differently and that immediately pulls me out of the experience. I tend to like to play games which are exceptionally well executed.

Most of these games are pretty old. A game has to stand the test of time. He can got back and play these every couple of years and still get pleasure out of them?


How many other 23 year games do you still play? That’s pretty much the bottom line. It’s everywhere. It’s enviable that we’re going to talk about D&D. The whole business owes a debt to Gary Gygax. In the same way, the casual game segment owes its existence to the creator of Tetris.

Ubiquity. There are Tetris shelves.

History is unbelievable. Created by Alexey Pajitnov. Book called Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World by David Sheff (http://www.amazon.com/Game-Over-Nintendo-Conquered-World/dp/0679736220). Covers the crazy history of this game. Textbook case everything which interesting and important about the game business. It’s crazy. Strongly recommend reading this.

Core Characteristics of the Medium

  • Could only be a video game
    ** No two games play out alike
    ** Action driven by player choice
  • Perfect Design
    ** Exquisitely balanced
    ** Short duration and inevitability of failure
  • Simplicity
    ** Nothing high tech
    ** Aestehetically pleasing visuals and sound

  • Who needs next ten graphics & 5.1 sound?
    This is a game which truly embodies these characteristics. Lots of player intentionality. It’s basically a perfect design. Exquisitely balanced. Short duration/high satisfaction. It’s simple. That’s the thing which is beautiful about it.

It’s pure game.

It created a new genre – a whole new thing.


You gotta play MULE. Reference to Dan => Danny Button. The fact that no one has done a multiplayer version of MULE is just insane. Want a great project? Do a quickie multiplayer rip-off of MULE. I guarantee you will make a ton of money.

Basically it was a war-game translated to the screen. Had a realtime component. You had to decide which territory you wanted. Limited resource production. Continuos time pressure. There were things you spend resources on. Interactive 4 player interactive battering required because you couldn’t produce everything. Ability & Necessity to trade with other plays.

One of the critical thing about great games is you must be able to screw your friends.

It brought us closer together, not further apart.

Find an emulated version and play it.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

At the time it came out he was still making tabletop games. As a video game player he had been getting really board really fast. First game he ever played which told him that games could be more than about just killing monsters. That games could give you even more freedom than he thought possible. Richard had a vision which changed how he thought about video games. It had real ethical conundrums. You had to behave like the avatar. You had to make ethical choices constantly. This is the game which made him want to help create a new medium

Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past

The finest game ever made with the possible exception of Tetris. He plays it about a year. Tetris would win his desert isle contest, because you can play it over and over. But Zelda, because of the storytelling, feeling like a hero. It’s an absolute jewel. It’s has wonderful iconic which you want to care about. Game balance is wonderful. He’s playing it on his Wii now. Simple and wonderful.

Occasionally ChronoTrigger shows up on his favorite game lists, but this is the game.

Warcraft/Warcraft 2

Couldn’t pick which one deserved to be on the list. It’s the only game which has made him laugh and sweat at the same time. All you have to say is Zug Zug and people laugh. More personality in those little units… Multiplayer was a revelation – with the possible exception of Command & Conquer. This game almost destroyed Origin. We played a lot of this game.

This is the game which put Blizzard on the map and gave them the resources to produce StarCraft and conquer the MMO space.


I usually hate traditional Japanese RPGs. Boring. Random battles. I think you can do your taxes by creating a party in most jPRGs. I hate games which give you story, story, story… That only allow you make choices during the combat part. This game does all of that, so why is it here.

There is a recruiting system. You can optionally recruit them or not. You use them to participate in mass battles with their specific abilities. You decide who – so that’s really cool. It gives you a way to express yourself as a player in ways that most jRPGs don’t.

Start of game is a ruined castle. By the end of the game, it’s populated by the people you have chosen to bring there. It is made beautiful by them. It expresses who you are. I’ve been trying to get a home base like that for years. Some day I’m going to make a game which is all about the home base.

The conversation system is dirt simple. There’s basically no interaction. Linear. Every once and a while, they give you these big choices. If I answer that, it’s going to say more about me as a human being… It stopped me dead in his tracks. He was offered life & death choices which he actually felt.

“Do you leave your best friend to die? Y/N”
“Do you fight your father? Y/N”

When you have invested hours and hours to play a game, those moments change you. I could no more consider conversational systems which give you trivial choices which are completely irrelevant, uninteresting and are not revelatory of anything, let alone your personal character.

[Deus Ex came from here.]

Super Mario 64

This is a game which has inspired, intimated, and been ripped off than any other game. No game has done a better job of showing you goals before players are capable of reaching it. To entice them to keep them moving for it. Disney calls this a leaning.

The reward schedule is perfect. Even the save load system is terrific. You don’t loose real progress. You never loose any of that. This is a graduate education in game design.


Has there ever been a sound as rewarding as the sound of gold as it hits the ground? Things which designers really understand: some economics, psychology, skinner rewards. The way they used sound to provide feedback is amazing. The randomized dungeons mean each play through is different. Diablo II skill’s system allows character differentiation and multiple ways to solve problems in the game. Multiplayer is the cherry on top.

This game has probably wasted more of this time…


The fact this this was Valve’s first game was terrifying. One of the most professional produced, best tuned experiences. There was a little misstep at the end with the jumping worlds. Prefers HL to HL2.

Guitar Hero

Made by best friends of his. Fulfills his fantasy. Picture of his mother and father in law playing is all you really need to know about why this is on his list. Any game which can get a roughly 70 year man/woman playing a video game is OK in his book.


It amazing him that he likes this game. His hates games like this. It was perfectly executed. Puzzles were exceptionally designed. When he first played it, the camera work seemed wrong to him, because of his experience as a RFT (Film) Major. The reality is the camera moved just a little further than he thought it should – too high etc. The camera is being used to reveal to elements in puzzles. It’s always int he perfect place to show you what you’re going to be interacting with in 15 minutes. It because a tool to help navigate through the world. Camera is a huge problem.

You drag the princess around by the hand. After a while you start feeling this. It’s a magic moment in a game. I’ve never felt anything like that since. If I were smart, I would figure out what that thing is and try to give it to other people. You really start feeling things for her because of that touch. [Totally and completely agree.]

There comes a point in the game where this complete turnaround. The princess who you’ve been dragging around, getting you killed, etc. does something which is awe inspiring. One of the most magic moments in a game. I still get chills thinking about it.

The fact that it didn’t sell worth a damn is a crime.

“Best” List Criteria

  • NOT fun…
  • Significance
    ** Creating a new genre
    ** Unique characteristics of the medium
    ** Influence
    Given how young this medium is, this list won’t survive. You can talk about things which do have significance.

The “Best” List (Chronological Order)

  1. Star Raiders
  2. Ultima IV
  3. SimCity/The Sims (everything)
  4. Tetris
  5. Doom
  6. Myst
  7. Command & Conquer
  8. Super Mario 64
  9. Ultimata Online
  10. Grand Theft Auto III
    Honorable Mention: Space War, Pong, Dungeons & Dragons, John Madden Football, World of Warcraft

[Rescue Raiders and Choplifter should be on this list.]

Star Raiders

You have to remember this was 1979. Atari 800. Amazing sound & graphics. D&D lost it’s luster for him. A video game which took itself seriously. It was a 1st person game. I was Luke Skywalker in Star Wars for the very verist time.

Creating a new genre

  • The World’s first Space Combat Sim
    ** Strategy meets Action
    ** Terrific graphics. 3D game – the first one ever.
    ** Imitators: Elite, Wing Commander, X Wing vs. Tie Fighter

Core Characteristics of the Medium

  • The power to transport…
  • Immersion in another world
  • It’s YOU in that star fighter
  • It’s YOU deciding
    ** Where to go
    ** When to fight
    ** How to fight
    ** When to run away

“For the cost of a Star Raiders cartridge, we who are earthbound can also experience the thrill of space travel.. The visual effects here are also very real, especially when you add a dash of imagination.” – Joe Hafner, ANTIC Magazine, July 1983 (https://archive.org/details/1983-07-anticmagazine)

That’s a game of huge significance. The fact that none of you know it or have experienced it is exactly why need to start preserving our history before it’s lost.

Sim Whatever

Will’s ability to take seeming unfun things and make them intensely fun is beyond belief. It’s player driven in every way that matters. How man God games have there been since then? The fact that it spawned The Sims…


I could have picked Wolfenstein. This is the first game which really cracked the mainstream consciousness. It was everywhere. It basically created online games and the mod community.


One of the first CD games. They upped the ante in terms of production values in a way which you could argue has been damaging, but has also allowed you to reach a whole new audience. It has a slower pace than tradition games. Pretty deep storyline. Non-violent interaction – made it OK for non-gamers to play games. First time maybe people started thinking that maybe this is an art form.

Command & Conquer

Everyone played this game. Made RTS games, for a while, as the most popular game genres.


11 million units sold. First time that anyone tried to adapt side scrolling gameplay to a 3D environment.

Ultima Online

Took MUSH/MOO/MUD and made it commercially viable. Holy cow did Richard Garriot have to fight to get this game made. No one else saw this. Marriages, divorces, friendships all sorts of things. Wouldn’t be to much of a stretch to say that WoW exists because this one did first. Austin wouldn’t have a thriving game development community if it weren’t for this game.

Grand Theft Auto III

I’ve gotten in so much trouble talking this game. I adore the game design and love the gameplay. I hate hate hate the content. The content is unspeakably horrible. This is the game which is one of the games which is one of the high water makers which we can not show off to people who could make difference and that really annoys me. I live for the day that the guys as RockStar apply their talent to something which he could show his mother.

Moving it into 3D changed everything. They honed the gameplay in the 2D GTA/GTAII and put it into a believable real world setting. There hadn’t been any when this game came out. Adults could play without feeling stupid. Players creating their own gameplay every time someone plays this game.

A sense of transgression. Games can allow players to test behaviors which can’t do in the real world.

Honorable Mentions

  • Dungeons & Dragons – Without D&D the video game industry would not exist. We’re only right now outgrowing our D&D roots.
  • Space War – Very first video game. MIT. Real time action.
  • Pong – Brought video games into the home.
  • John Madden Football – Put EA on the map. Mainstream content. Year based franchises.
  • Railroad Typcoon/Civiliation – Had to have Sid Meir games.
  • Halo – First console 1st person shooter which was any good.
  • World of Warcraft – My wife is probably playing right now.

Other Criteria?

  • Overall sales?
  • Best-sellers by platform?
  • Best-sellers by genre?
  • Metacritic scores

Overall Sales (Millions)

  1. Pokemon Red, Blue & Green – GB – 20
  2. Super Mario Bros – NES – 18
  3. Nintendogs – DS – 14.8
  4. Pokemon Gold & Silver – GB – 14.5
  5. Super Mario Land – GB – 14
  6. GTA: Vice City – PS2 – 13
  7. Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire – GBA – 13
  8. GTA: San Andreas – PS2 – 12
  9. Super Mario 64 – N64 – 11
  10. Gran Turismo 3: A-SPec – PS2 – 11
  11. GTA III – PS2 – 11
    Don’t believe that these values are perfect. These are the best overall selling games of all times according to some sources. That’s a pretty decent list.

What are the characteristics of those games which unite them? (Other than Nintendo) [Look at the mobile vs. stationary breakdown. Way more mobile anyway you slice it.]

Best-sellers by Platform 1:49:46.

Hard to read.

This seems a little less useful because the older platforms are less relevant now.

Best-sellers by Franchise (Millions)

  1. Mario – 193
  2. Pokemon – 155
  3. The Sims – 90
  4. Final Fantasy – 75
  5. Tetris – 60
  6. Madden NFL – 60
  7. The Legend of Zelda – 52
  8. GTA – 50
  9. Donkey Kong – 48
  10. Gran Turismo – 47
    A look at this list says supporting your brands is not the worse thing you can do. Franchises are huge. If you can’t be creative within them, maybe you should find another line of work.

Best-sellers by Genre 1:51:03

Hard to read.

If you’re putting studio together, and you’re trying to figure out what to do, you should get pressure to go where the money is. 10% of the GTA market is better than what most original games do – why wouldn’t we go after that market?

Metacrtic Scores

Most developers have bumps to their royalty payments based on metacrtic.com. Widely used metric to determine how successful a game was.

What about my own games?

  • Space Rogues
  • Ultima VI
  • Ultima Underworld
  • System Shock
  • Thief
  • Deus Ex
    In terms of favorites… These games have enough significance that I would probably put these games on some list somewhere.

Space Rogues

This game is largely forgotten today. It was hugely influential today because of the way it mixed and matched genres. Sort of Star Raiders. It was a Roleplaying game with conversations. Video arcade mini games. This game was successful enough to support the development of Ultima Underworld which lead to Thief. Paul Neurath (co-designer) is one of the unsung heroes of the game industry.

Ultima VI

Hotkey buttons. Streamlined conversation system. Trade-skill system – a really remarkable simulation. Ethical underpinnings. Showed the power of emergent gameplay – had to be the future of game. Core of Spector’s philosophy ever since.

Ultima Underworld

Largely a tech experiment. Came out before Wolfenstein. Could look up and down. First game which really clicked on the level of it was “you” in that world. It’s still the state in the art of roleplaying. If you updated the graphics in this game, it would be role-playing state of the art. Level 4 of this game is absolutely magic. Showed you could combine character development, player choice. action, storytelling, everything in one package.

System Shock

Small step forward from Underworld. Did establish new storytelling conventions. Supported leaning. More of an emphasis on simulation than any game he’d worked on. [Occulus VR foreshadowing.] Simulation. Immersion. Player choice. Emergent gameplay. You weren’t playing Lara Croft. No impediment to you believing that it was you in the world. You never spoke. Critical design decision.


I get way too much create for this game. This was the first stealth simulation – first person sneaker. Took the FPS conventions and stood it on the ear. It was the game about being balanced on the razors edge of danger. This was a game that succeeded not when you were in combat and not when you were completely safe. When you knew guys were looking for you. When you knew that any misstep on your part could cause disaster. It was that split second before something terrible happen that was the engine which drove Thief. No game had done that before. This was a stealth simulation.

Deus Ex

It was created out of frustrated with Thief. The player was consciously weakened. Games are almost always about power fantasies. About letting players do things they couldn’t do any other way. Thief forced a particular gamely style. Players will always find the easy way. This was the game that you could fight, sneak, or talk your way through. Also the real world roleplaying. Set in the real world. Build locations based on blueprints.

A game which was about something. Game stories have to be about more than it’s surface, just like novels or films. Dues Ex is about what it means to be part of a family. There are family relationships all through the game. It’s about what does it mean to be human? At what point will you stop being human? For what will you sacrifice your humanity? The balance of personal freedom and the good of community. What’s best for a community vs. the value of personal freedom.

I have my own opinions about that sort of stuff. But the whole point of Deus Ex was, just like we didn’t want to force a play style, I didn’t want to force my politics or ideology on players. What we did was we engaged with a dialog with players about how they felt about that story of stuff. At the end of the game, it wasn’t that they killed a monster and saved the world, it’s that they decided the world should be, not based on what the characters said or did, not based on I wanted them to do, but what they personally as human beings, not as players, not as characters what they thought was the right thing to do. As cool as it was that players solved problems the way they wanted to, the coolest thing was that players were talking about that after they finished the game.

Next Week’s Assignment

  • Game Play Critiques & Abstracted Interactions
    ** Present a “critique” of a game play experience using a novel way to describe the aesthetic.
    ** Game tuning exercises will be performed on various casual games.
    You need to be thinking about this if you’re going to be developing a game or if you’re going to be a game critic.

Content Analysis

  • If there’s a story, what’s the developer trying to tell me?
  • How is the story communicated?
  • How does the player interact with the story?
    Is there a difference between the surface story and the game. Is the story communicated via a linear cut scene? People cry in Final Fantasy games because the story is told as a movie. That’s a solved problem. It’s not hard to make people feel something well “all they’re doing is watching a movie.” Are players driving the story? Does their action uncover it? Bioshock is the perfect is example of uncovering the secrets of the place as you play. What kind of story is being told?

Mission Structure

  • Is the game mission-based?
  • How are missions structure?
  • How are missions offered and accepted or rejected?
    Are there failure paths? Is it branching tree or completely linear? How does the

Reward Schedules

  • How frequently is the player rewarded?
  • What are the rewards?
  • What behaviors are rewarded?
  • How are rewards delivered?
    This is about half of the job of the game designer.

Points? Stars? Opening up a new location? Little bits of story? Tools?

Everything you reward players with tells them what you want them to do more, or less of.

It’s not about playing games – it’s about understanding them.

Save/Load Scheme

  • Save anywhere, any time?
  • What prevents constant saving?
  • What does player give up, saving/loading?
  • What impact does save/load scheme have?
    You could write a treatise on this. You would not believe the arguments people have in the game development community.

Impact on pacing & playing.


  • How does the player interact with the game?
  • How do abilities contribute to/detract from overall experience?
  • How do camera controls work?
    There’s almost nothing more important than the kinesthetic experience of the game. It’s you – the controller, a keyboard, a mouse. Is it good to use every button on a controller just because you can? Turn rates (Halo reference), jump heights, run speeds, etc. That determines so much about your world. Amazing how important that really detail kind of stuff can be.

Every game is different. Mario 64’s camera controls are spot on, but they may not work for your game. Indoor vs. Outdoor.

Character Development

  • Is there any?
  • How does it work?
  • How does it tie back into reward schedule, story communication, overall experience, etc.?
    In System Shock you were just a hacker, without voice. In Dues Ex, you had a name. We made the voice actor talk in monotone because we had no idea what emotion the player might be feeling at the time. Same for personality.

All of this stuff ties back together to make the overall experience.


  • Positive/Negative feedback loops?
  • Player communication
    Positive feedback loops encourages a particular behavior. The game doesn’t allow anything to prevent the player from continuing to succeed. If you do this – and you do it well – you’ll get it even better at it. Sometimes you want that to get the game to an end. Sometimes you want to make less effective players, to make the game more challenging.

We are the only medium which lets them actually do stuff. The player needs to know what they can do, what impact is likely to happen and what impact did happen after the action taken. How does the player communicate this to the player? What about uncertainty?


  • What can the player DO?
  • How does the player know?
  • Are specific verbs “good” or “bad” for games?
    This is the most important thing (for the whole semester.) Games are about verbs. They’re not about nouns or additives. Will Wright kind of disagrees with Spector on this. Games are all about what players can do. Think about what the verbs of a game are: run, jump, shoot, explore.

Identify the verbs of any game and you’re halfway to understanding it – then look for “good” and “bad” verbs. If you’re a designer and you say: “The player “learns” X, Y, and Z” Does that tell you anything useful? How does the player learn? If you say the player “runs” that’s very straightforward and clear. It’s a useful verb for a designer. Learn, not a useful verb. Look at the games you’re playing (critiquing) and identify the verbs both “good” and “bad”.

Seven Questions

  1. What are we trying to do?
  2. What’s the problem?
  3. What are the development challenges?
  4. Has anyone done this before?
  5. How well-suited to games is the idea?
  6. What is the player fantasy?
  7. What does the player do?
    Before I take a game to the one page write up concept document I ask myself these questions. It’s potentially useful as an analytical tool. What does Halo want you to feel? What’s the core idea behind the game? What is that idea’s potential?

What is the core idea which lead the developer to make that game and not the infinite number of other games they could have made?

What are the most challenging things that the developer tackled? People don’t even appreciate how sophisticated the AI was in Deus Ex. They got so hung up on other things. A lot of the criticism of the levels in Deus Ex 2 were as a result of technical limitations. They were too small to contain the game play that we wanted to offer to players.

Has anyone done this before? If the answer is no, you’re on the path to understanding something about what makes this game unique. When you can answer that question, you’re on the way to a decent analysis.

How well suited to games is it? I didn’t use to not talk about this. It was just something I just did. Was working a Love Story Panel with Raph Kostner. They had to come up with a love story. He fumbled the ball. Games are not well suited for telling love stories.

Does the player fantasy lead to good player goals and rewards? What are the verbs?

Related Posts:

Lecture 1 Warren Spector
Lecture 2 w/Patrica York
Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith
Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance
Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood
Lecture 7 w/Mike Morhaime