Warren Spector – Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood

Hal Barwood – Movies, Games, Stories




Question: “Where are you from?”

Dartmouth, NH. Got interested in movies early on because his father ran the movie theater. Citzen Kane.

Question: “What from your upbringing…make movies? or make games?”

Our house was filled with board games. Defeated by his brothers mercilessly. He couldn’t go into games when he was young because computers weren’t accessible. He didn’t really understand that games were designed and made by individual people. [Shades of Harvey Smith.]

Question: “You were designing games from when you were a kid. What kind?”

A kind of wooden box with a masonite box. Switches on each side for offense/defense. Football game. Plug jacks into various sockets completed circuits. Hit a bit button to indicate how successful a play way. Separate game board. His friends played it endlessly.

Biggest revelation of games ever experiences: “The inexhaustible depth of scissors, rock, paper. Been fascinated by that ever since.” Airplane, baseball games, etc.

“He’s right – that’s a really powerful idea” – Spector

Question: “How do you go from getting beaten in board games to designing sophisticated electronic games? Education?”

Liberals high school kid. Did well. Fascinated by the idea of robotics. The idea that computers could have it’s own personality. Interested in the fantasy of the thing. Not math or science particularly.

Question: “Did you go to college knowing you were going to do that? or film?”

Went in for the Engineering department. Decided once he got to the school to not do that. Went down painting and drawing path.

Question: “How did you get into animation?”

Puppet animations with stop-motion animation. 2D.

Question: “Brown University to Hollywood?”

Lucky. Did really well in college. About a year and half before he finished, he made some friends who were interested in movies. Made impressionistic documentaries. Interested in editing. One of his art teachers knew James Ivory. Applied to USC Film School. Got married & went to CA.

Question: “Your cohort had impressive people in it.”

List of names, 17:05. Included George Lucas.

Question: “You and Matthew Robbins?”

After film school, he did industrial films (Boeing, NASA). Training movies. Transitioned through commercials into writing.

Question: “Strange process? Don’t pass scripts back & forth.”

It took us 8 shots to get a movie made. 7 Scripts were thrown away. Working in a collaboration as a writer requires you to pay a lot more attention to how things get done. [Good prep for later game development.] Used 3×5 cards tacked on wall with headlines for what the scene was. X does Y to Z. They would shift them around based on the “Acts”. Our collaboration survived because we’d stay in the same room. Turn out the pages jointly.

Question: “That process sounds very close to what I’m doing right now on a game project.”

It’s pretty ordinary for people do it. Final Draft does this.

Question: “How did you get the gig? (Sugarland Express)”

“The tragedy of movies is your best ones doesn’t always get done.” Ripped from the headlines – but Hollywood-ized.

Question: “First thing you did on Sugarland Express was to make an ad?”

That’s the sort of thing you should be doing – otherwise you don’t understand your premise. There are some games which he’s made where he’s wish he did that.

Question: “To Bingo-land Express”

The movie industry is small. You meet a lot of people. Wanted material which could appeal to black audience. His one adaptation from books. He did lots of outside research.

Question: “MacArthur?”

We spent a year doing research. We needed to do it, because it was supposed to be reasonably factual.

Question: “Movies are getting bigger, up to Close Encounters without credit?”

Only 6 movies have his name on them, but he’s contributed to over 30. Better than average. Steve Spielberg had a huge hit in Jaws, so there was no saying no. Helped fix Steve’s script. Example: added Devil’s Tower to the movie. Fixed a bunch of problems. Climax is a moment of wonder and awe, but there is no drama or conclusion. Their idea of putting drama in was adding the return the child at the end. Mash potato scene.

Traded a percentage of the movie for not getting the credit.

Question: “Corvette Summer?”

The idea that someone is interested in Corvette Summer is so flattering. I don’t know how to respond…

Question: “You were the writer and you produced with your partner. How did you decide which role you’d each take?”

It goes back to film school, where he didn’t take the directing course, so he figured he shouldn’t do that. His partner (Mathew) went to film school expressly for that purpose. Ego wasn’t an issue.

Question: “How did you get Mark Hamill?”

It’s an original. Teen age quest movie. Original version very brutal. It was odd any way you think about it. Studio got nervous about how rough it was and he knew Mark through Lucas.

“I about wrote my dissertation on coming of age movies. It’s an under appreciate movie. You should watch it.” -Spector

Question: “Speaking of not particularly under appreciated movies, Drayonslayer. I’m doing what I’m doing because of 7 voyages of Sinbad and Ray Harris (unintelligible)?”

His acolytes worked on my movie.

“Stuff going on about religion. Oppression. Neat stuff.”
Remember that we had a president not quite as wonderful as our current president but doing stuff. Richard Nixon.

“The depth is there. The effects. They were over the top incredible.”
All I can say is I wish I had CGI. Took a lot of time on the set. There is nothing as badly behaved as a rubber dragon. It’s amazing how unlike photographs that movies are. Looking at discrete frames, everything is blurred. When doing animations, you need to worry about this to avoid strobes (i.e. old Disney animations.) The inking and painting would be done in such a way to produce those blurs. [Lots of film technical stuff here which doesn’t connect for me.]

Question: “You seemed 20 years ahead of your time. A film about biological contamination?”

I wish I had more money to get to where we wanted to be. Had $5million not $20million. It was a movie about an chemical which makes people crazy.

Question: “One more film question. In that 1975 interview, you talked about a movie called Clearwater?”

Post apocalyptic setting. Oregon. Group gets together and rebuilds a steam engine and goes out exploring.
Did you ever think about making that a game. 10 years before Road Warrior, it was Road Warrior with a train. (One of Hal’s favorite movies.) Almost got made. Cancelled because of money.

“Sounds like a perfect setting for a game.” – both.

Question: “After a while digits became more attractive than sprockets and now I’m a game guy. Actual quote. How?”

Epiphany moment on set of Dragonslayer. Didn’t own a computer, but did exist. He had a HP-41c calculator. [YEAH!] He found it more it more interesting to program it to play “Hunt a Wumpus” [DOUBLE YEAH!] than watch the filming of an elaborate scene with fire, villagers, and tons of action. He realized if that was really true, he was in the wrong business.

10 years later he went to work for LucasArts.

He didn’t realize that he should drop everything and try to get into the game business. He got slowed down by making another movie and didn’t transition.

Question: “You worked on two games as an amateur?”

Apple IIs were pretty slow. Exactly 1MHz. Shortest instruction were 3-4 cycles which meant about a quarter of a million things each frame. [Precise technical detail. Interesting. Don’t recall similar detail in movie discussion except maybe in reference to animation.] He knew Basic and learned 6502 assembly language. Made a tile based game – Space Snatchers, entirely in assembly.

Question: “Did the guys at LucasFilm know what you were unto?”

They sort of did. Because of Lucas, he got to know Steve Arnold (2nd guy who ran LucasFilm Games.) He also got to know people who worked there. [Dream Job technique.] They knew he’d done something so when they needed someone they went for him.

Question: “India Jones was an adventure game. In some ways straight forward, but it introduced one major innovation was the pick your play style?”

Originally a suggestion of his collaborator Noah Falstien. He went off to go do other projects, leaving him to hold that 3-path bag. That cost about 6 months of his life. He loved doing it but it was really hard.

Another innovation, mini-games. Whole bunch of them. They’d done one before, but added many other activities, not just puzzles.

Lucas had developed a phobia about any of his characters getting killed. If Indy couldn’t actually die, then there wouldn’t be any risk, so they did that. “Complete violation of the house rules.” [Good for him. They strangled creativity.]

Question: “Were you involved in the action version?”

No. First game in 256 colors with voice.

Question: “Did you have a sense that LucasArts were at a golden age?”

I thought it was great. That was wonderful. That was then, this is now. We all believe in adventure games in those days and did our best to advance the state of the art. Design seminars. Don’t see that going on quite the way it did then.

SCUM was the underlying engine developed 3 or 4 projects earlier.

Question: “What do you mean by adventure game?”

I think of a story. Driven by a story. The task of the player is to open up that story and to allow it to proceed by solving puzzles.

Question: “It seemed at some point the form stopped evolving. People tend to not make them any more.”

Truth is, Indiana Jones is the only adventure game I ever did. Action and RPG games aren’t adventure games. Most of the other stuff is what what I call action adventure. [Movie storytelling background coming through again…] Story elements which are very strong, with a coherent world – you can shoot the shit out of a bunch of bad guys.

Rules of Thumb: (Dan Airye (?)) You can’t just vary monsters by degree, you have to have different kinds. (i.e. Bosses.)

Question: “That’s one of our rules. Brings to mind the 400 project with Noah Falstien. Creating a lexicon of game design.”

That’s the hope, but not enough other people jumped on the bandwagon. It’s languishing a bit. Have more than 100. Started in 2001 with GDC talks. Was interested in summarizing how we make games. The problems that we face are so enormous in difficult and number that we’re not really good and find a way out. Some of these rules are explicitly known to us, and some are only passively known. Believes these rules are the substance of game design. In this respect, game design is similar to other arts and engineering. Beyond theory.

For example, in Improv theater, one the techniques is to “accept all suggestions.” Never say no, otherwise the act will stop. Another example, “If you want to stop an asteroid from colliding with Earth, you have to change it’s velocity by 1mm a second, 10 years before it hits to move it aside one Earth year radius.”

Example programmer rule: “Never believe a programmer when they say something will take two weeks to do.”

Question: “What were some of the inspirations for the Rules?”

Read a lot of science books. Broad interest. Interested that we can deeply focus on solving problems. Was reacting to Doug Church’s Formal Abstract Design Tools. Doesn’t believe in them at all – worthless. Spector concurs.

The world is discovery. In the world of film, there was a discovery that “cuts” would work. How to manipulate material. That humans would accept that idea and enjoy it. People didn’t understand the close-up. Quickly you learn “film” literacy.

Materials, What it Does, How you reach psychologically => Game Design Rules.

Materials are constrained by time & budget. Mechanics are things you think will attract people to want to play. What do people want to do or not.

Example: Guitar Hero -> tracking game mechanic. Turns out people like that.

Rules concept come from this intellectual force, materials and human beings combining together.

Question: “One of the things I like about the 400 project is the rules are very concrete. As a designer I can see how they apply to my specific problems.”

If you to be in games, or a writer, what you want to develop is a productive understand of what you’re doing. So you know what to do when given a blank page. When you start.

“To some it is Napoleon; to some it is Alexander the Great; to some it is philosophical struggle. To me it is simply Allegro con Brio. [discussing the first movement of Beethoven’s third (Eroica) symphony. Other versions of this quote have Toscanini saying, Some say this is Napoleon; some Hitler; some Mussolini. To me it is simply Allegro Con Brio.] – Arturo Toscanini

“You just have to realize that if you’re going to be a creative person your ideas are always going to collide with solid material.”

Question: “Fight player fatigue.”

People get tired. Games are hard. There must be charms to keep you involved. If they’re not there, you abandon the game. Compare completion rates between movies >> games >> books.

Question: “In the longer rule descriptions there are specific examples. Maximize expressive potential. Everyone of these speak to me – even though we disagree on a lot of stuff.”

This rule is a favorite.

Dramatic writing rule: take all of the characters in your story and write a scene between every pair of characters, even if that scene isn’t going to end up in your finished product. Look for the maximum use for all of your characters. Try out all everything you could do.

If you have a mechanic, look at all of the options of what you can do with it.

It’s worthwhile keeping these rules in mind consciously, otherwise you won’t stretch to obtain this stuff.

Question: “Maintain level of abstraction.”

Be consistent to your game’s setting and aesthetic. When writing a book, for example, you need to make a decision about how far in you will go into the mental life of each character. Don’t change how deep you go.

“Unity of effect. Yours makes sense, and ours we have to explain.”

Question: “What’s been the response to the rules?”

Languishing. Proceeds by fits and starts. Noah tends the embers. [I wonder if this would be different in the era of Github/Google Docs.]

One of things you learn about rules is the trump or contradict others and even themselves. Domain [scope] of the application also is critical. If you have two rules, which one wins.

Rules are really more or less guidelines.

Question: “Do rules ever go away?”

He has his own little set. They’re not all in the list if he stuck them all in there. A lot of them haven’t been discovered – what else do people know about. [Wonder what he thinks about The Art of Game Design – lens concepts.]

“Allow the player to turn the game off.” You should have a save game system which has no effect if player turns the game off. [Death to checkpoint saving! Not really, but at least something. Replaying Ico, and I wonder if it’s “couch” save game system which requires explicit action by the player is compatible with it.]

Question: “India Jones & Desktop Adventures. Yoda Stories?”

Wanted LucasArts to get interested in casual games. Specifically wanted to attract female players. 5% female based on LucasArts demographics. Eventually casual market came in, but was way ahead at the time.

Always been interested in the idea that could keep telling itself again and again with some novelty – like chess. After a few moves you have a “unique” situation. Thought there was a way to do this with puzzles which could be algorithmically hooked up. Sounds like a lot of procedural generated content.

Jones got very bad critical reaction. In Jones there was only a single puzzle chain. Each puzzle lead to another in a predictable fashion. Reduced some of the sense of mystery – spaciousness. For Yoda Stories focused on raising speculation for the player. Broke puzzle chain in two and didn’t tell player which “chain” they were working on or what chain items went to.

Question: “During break you mentioned graphics were very simple?”

I still play Yoda Stories, because it has genuine replayability in a story game format. Very hard to get to happen. Isometric tiles instead of top-down would have improved reception. [Heard this from Harvey Smith re Technosaur as well.]

Question: “Higher the fidelity of the graphics means you have to display more of the outcomes of the internal systems. I don’t think you could increase the fidelity of Indiana Jones and Yoda Stories.”

“Unity of Effect” => Maintain level of abstraction. In naturalistic world, some of the artificiality can’t be scoured out of a procedurally generated one. Leads to uncanny valley-like issues.

Question: “Smaller casual games?”

I’m interested in smaller casual games. Last project was 39 months – creative for about 6 months rest was as a management droid. Little games allow for quick projects. Not a fanatical person – will never play Halo, Half-life, WoW. [Interesting choices because all of those, especially Half-life, are very story drive games. That said, the story is “on rails,” but based on the previous description of adventure games that wasn’t precluded.]

There’s an echo from the TV & Movie business. Most studios would rather gamble big bucks on something which might be a big hit rather than do something which would be only moderately successful, even if it had a higher chance of pay-off. [Thinking, Fast & Slow concept AGAIN.]

Question: “Mata Hari. A new approach to dialog. (Still stuck in 1992 narrative structure.) Concept of tokens. Tracking multiple scores.”

Adventure games are alive and well in Germany. It’s a classic adventure game. They do adventure games really cheaply compared to LucasArts. US would be 5 times as expensive. At LucasArts when he was there, there were 400 people, about 200 active developers, at least 100 were hardly able to do their jobs.

When you go to a small studio, example Nihilistic, where there very few people there, 100% people know what they’re supposed to be doing – otherwise everything would collapse.

Nevertheless, they’re heavily budget constrained.

To deal with the fact that they couldn’t produce enough material to have a full fledged puzzle game, they decide to introduce some light RPG aspects. For the completist player. [GERMAN!] If you complete without backtracking you get a higher Skill score. There are easter eggs hidden items which led to Spycraft score. She was a dancer – strip tease. You have to dance to solve puzzles and find inspirations for new moves. Using the new moves, you get a higher Money score.

Decoder games with wiretapping.

Tokens have to do with the dialog system. He’s been very unhappy with how this has worked for a long time. Doesn’t care for branched dialog tree structure. Likes the slight variation used by TellTale. Concepts instead of literal display of text. Not literal. Not bad, but idea from Brian Moriarty from idea from The Dick (cancelled LucasArts game.) You proposed want to say, to talk to someone with using tokens.

Be careful to not confuse puzzles and clues. A puzzle is something which must be done to proceed. A clue is something you need to know to proceed.

You should be able to do two things. Unify all materials in the game. If it’s an idea, it’s still an item. All it is a concept with a solid visual form as a token in your inventory. You can use them in the same way that you use an item. The inventory display grays out things you can’t talk about with an NPC. Good part is that this unifies ideas an object.

Turns player memory into physical items.

Also conversation is surprising. It’s critical that you know your character isn’t going to betray you. So you can have a lot of fun seeing what she does when you play token discussion items on NPCs.

Would never work in a 1st person game. Requires a 3rd person game. [Uh, why?]

Be careful NOT to betray the players trust. Everything you get Mata Hari to do must live up to players expectation. That the right things will happen.

“Never thwart player expectations.”

Players feel really confident when they’re doing gadget puzzles. They feel very comfortable about that sort of stuff. This way changes how you feel about approaching people – you approach them the same way.

There’s a seduction technique. Requiring dialog choices following other choices is a maze. Do as little of that as possible. Most dialogue in their game is, crudely, locks & keys.

You can combine tokens as ideas. “How’s the weather in Paris?”

Game may not ship. [Did…]

Question: “There’s never any real consequence for making a choice. Can you reuse tokens at will?”

I would like to do that, but don’t have enough resources to get that done. Building alternative scenarios means time and money.

Someday we’ll have expert systems…

Hal Presentation

A Reasonsable Way to do something…

That’s a way people try to be polite. What it really means is:

“I would never ever do that!”

A lens [ ! ] into the stubbornness of the game industry. Many of us are specialists, but few of us are writers. We don’t often borrow things. Summary of common production problem -> reinvent the wheel. Doing an FPS? Just use Unreal or Cyrtek. Reveals a certain aesthetic that we have. People in other disciplines are quick to look for allied fields for help. Not so in Games.


  • Chronicles
  • Missions
  • Stories
    The “Stories in Games” debate never goes away. It’s impossible, but we do it. Chronicles are the sort of thing which happens in WoW or in any group game. Vice City. You’re telling your own story. Missions have assigned specific goals – no character making a dramatic choice. Stories are propelled by a character’s choice (Example Ico).

Arts are Individual

  • They overlap
  • Get Experts
    Example, level design can be informed by architecture.

Rules of Thumb

  • Ideas meets Artists
  • Wisdom
    Practicality of rules… Supersedes theory.

No “I” in “Team”

  • Most Teams are Structured
    It’s a cliche from the Military and football and their assigned roles and hierarchy. Games are a bit of an exception to that. As a freelancer, toughest part of any job is trying to figure out who’s in charge and what the hell they want from me. [Not scoped to being a freelancer…]

Make Little Games!

  • Learn Your Craft
    “Make your material talk to you.” Paper doesn’t talk back to you in the same way that a thing will. Won’t put as much effort in. Teach you if you have what it takes. It’s hard to do games – not all of it’s fun. Joyful labor. Find out, if it’s not fun, are you still interested. [I thought this was really interesting. First, it’s COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY TRUE. But aside from that, it’s an interesting lesson vis-a-vis his film experience. He knew something about movies before going to Film School, but only spent a short time making scratch movies before going. Is there a minimum effective dose here? If so, sounds pretty small really. That’s good news if true, but likely to be dependent on the person in question.]

Trailer for RTX: Red Rock. (At 2:01)

Commercial flop, but proud of it.

Mata Hari Wiretapping Flash App Demo (At 2:02)

Like Scramble-Square. Puzzle edges have to match up. Squares can be moved or rotated. 9×9 square. Multiple possible solutions. Pattern puzzles (Rubic Cube) are evergreen. 5 min after you do one, you forget and have to learn/do it again. Need to turn it into something which actually does something. Paper isn’t good enough

Space Snatchers: Apple II Game (2:05)

Had cut scene. [God I miss playing games like that. You can’t really play them any more, because we’re so ruined, but wow.]

Yoda Stories (2:09)

[YEAH Star Wars!]

Audience Questions

Question: “Mass Effect conversation system?”

Not a big RPG guy. Played KOTOR & Jade Empire. Hated KOTOR because it was clunky. Jade Empire was much better. Somethings were totally divorced from reality.

Leery of emotional or ethical ideas. Deep and complex. Take a game like Fable. Crude representations of morality don’t work for him.

Games can thrive on fairly simple stories. Character is not Hamlet. In games we have Spiderman’s web. Indiana Jones is a good example. Have good credentials – place you in the action. Indiana Jones speaks languages, fists, pistol, whip, goes on digs.

Example from Movies: The Mountain. Dynamic of the movie is a moral delemina. In a movie you can’t make an environment a villain. It’s just a condition. In a game you can.

Question: “Mata Hari might not ship?”

Game is being made on a shoestring. [It did. Got both good and bad reviews. Sounds like a resource issue for most. SIGH.] Predicted another year before release. [Turned out to be 2.]

They’re falling behind a little bit. As a publisher how to you manage the release cycle. Every week his mood goes up and down.

“That’s pretty much the game business.” – Spector

Question: “How do we share technology in an industry that secretive?”

It is, because we’re organized into companies. Companies are run by foolish people who want to protect these assets which are semi-worthless. If you’re smart, you do as little software as possible.

This happened at LucasArts with an interactive sound system called iMused. Everyone does that now, but they were forbidden from talking about how they were doing it.

As an analogy in the movie industry, if you were doing a feature motion picture about football or baseball… [Long skycam description.] When the camera guy leaves at the end of that production, and will tell everyone else at his new company about what’s going on. So everyone knows exactly what to do.

GDC is ineffective and has to get changed.

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