I have a considerable amount of books with dog-eared pages lying around the office. One such book is The Game Design Reader, which contains a large and varied collection of essays on (yes) game design. This book probably has the largest number of dog-ears. Partly because it is quite thick, but also because it is filled to the brim with good stuff.
One essay is written by Chris Crawford. He is without a doubt one of the best known game designers out there, a real veteran of the industry. He is also a controversial character, often voicing unpopular opinions. I guess you could call him an iconoclast.
This iconoclasm shines through in his essay for TGDR. Crawford shares the story behind the design of Eastern Front (1941) his “first big hit”. Towards the end, he devotes some attention to game tuning, and has this to say about how you as a designer should approach suggestions from others:1
“Your job is to build a great design, not gratify your co-workers.”
According to him, a good designer has thought the system through so thoroughly, that the vast majority of suggestions have already passed through his mind. Therefore, these can all be rejected without much thought. If you are swamped with suggestions you have not thought of before, this is an indication you have not properly done your job.
I can only agree, but I think the real challenge is in rejecting these ideas in a persuasive manner. It is hard to make apparent the fact that you have thought all these things through.
One strategy I am pursuing is to be radically transparent in my process. I try to document every single consideration using quick and dirty sketches, and share all of these. This way, I hope to make apparent the thinking that has gone into the design.
What Chris Crawford makes clear is that design isn’t a popularity contest:2
“This isn’t noble; it’s stupid. Seriously considering every idea that drifts by isn’t a sign of open mindedness; it’s an indicator of indecisiveness. […] Be courteous, but concentrate on doing your job.”
Some time ago, Crawford more or less turned his back on the games industry and focussed his attention on the thorny problem of interactive storytelling. The outcomes of this are finally seeing the light of day in the shape of Storytron; a company that offers a free authoring tool as well as ready-to-play ‘storyworlds’.
I wasn’t too impressed with the interaction design of the authoring tool, but the concept remains intriguing. We’ll see where it goes.
If this has piqued your curiosity; Chris Crawford will be speaking at IDEA 2008 in Chicago, 7–8 October. Reason enough to attend, in my humble opinion.