Part 1 [02/01/2001]

dan kading 1 ·Odd Squad
Dan Kading, Game Designer · Part One
“You’re a Game Designer? Really. So what exactly do you do?”

A few years ago, Next-Generation magazine did an article that outlined the various professions that one could potentially seek in the video game industry. The article was very thorough, with one or two pages devoted to every possible game-company job that one could imagine: Programmer, Artist, Marketing, Associate Producer, Cafeteria Staff, and Peg Boy to name a few. At the time, I was still in school and plotting out my career strategy. It wasn’t much of a strategy. Had it been a chess strategy, it would have involved repeatedly asking the question, “How do you move the little horses?” But one part of it was clear. A Video-Game Designer, yes, that is what I want to be when I grow up! With that in mind I scoured the lengthy article for the section on becoming a Designer. My vigilance was rewarded so to speak.

The bit on Designers read something like this:

“…You may notice that nowhere in this article is included a section on becoming a Game Designer. This is because being a Game Designer is not a real job. If you think that you can make a living just by coming up with ‘great ideas’ and having people pay you for the ‘privilege’ of your wisdom, or by putting tiles together for a really cool level, then it’s high time that you got off your couch and got a real job, you miserable hack. You have to WORK in the game industry, and if you want somebody to listen to your ideas, you’d best get filthy rich and buy your own company to run into the ground. Until then, nobody gives a rat’s ass about your snooty elitist visions of what makes ‘the perfect game.’ Idiot. I mean, my God man, what were you thinking?!!”

You could say that my career plans shifted course a bit after that. You could also say that the Titanic shifted course a few hours after rubbing elbows with the iceberg. I figured perhaps I could start out as a Bug Tester and if I hobnobbed with the right people, I could work my way up to being an Executive Concubine for Square Soft or something.

Oddly enough, about four years later, I find myself working here at Oddworld Inhabitants with a box on my desk that contains a huge stack of small cards that have both my name and the word “Designer” printed on them. The only possible explanation for this is that I must be a butterfly dreaming that I’m a designer, since it’s accepted fact that designers don’t really exist. So, what do we figments of your imagination do for a living? If my above theory is correct, we apparently sleep a lot, because this dream’s been going on for over a year (for myself, anyway). But if you’ve read this far, you’re likely more interested in what I’ve been dreaming about doing. And if the article I read four years ago is any indication, it’s evidently not “common knowledge.” In fact, the tasks of a Designer could well be the best-kept secret in the industry.

To be blunt, I do everything and yet nothing specific. The designer is the Jack-Of-All Trades, and King-Of-A-Select-Few-That-Nobody-Else-Really-Had-Time-To-Deal-With-When-You-Get-Right-Down-To-It, Such-As-Tidying-Up-The-Collision-On-The-Ramp-In-Level-Three, There’s-A-Good-Chap. We’re a cacophonous hybrid of every single other job at the company. We do a lot of 3-D modeling, akin but to a far lesser extent than, say, a 3-D Modeler. We write a bit of AI programming, akin but to a far lesser extent than, say, an AI Programmer. We even quite frequently associate with the game’s director, akin but to a far lesser extent than (that’s right) the Associate Director. If the work of those with task-specific job titles is to create architectural masterpieces from singular specific colors of brick and mortar, then the designers are currently sitting in a very large bucket of rainbow-colored Legos.
Oh, but the things we can do with these Legos…
Because in the end, for all the level layout we do, for all the stories we craft, for all the cameras we place, for all the characters we dream up, for all the gags we devise, for all the documents we compile, for all the scripts we code, and for all the articles we write, there is, in actuality, a single decree that our commander Lorne gives to us. This guides each and every one of our actions, much as his command to “Make it pretty” guides the artists or “Make it work” guides the programmers. That guiding tenet of design which dictates each and every one of our tasks is: “Make it fun…” -to be continued