Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

“I Can Do It Better”
Why People Suck at Design and Writing

So after the heated debate about “Professional” writers in the game industry, I gave it some thought and have figured out why the vast majority of writing and game design that goes into games tends to utterly suck. It’s because everyone and their mom seems to think that they can design and write better than anyone else.

If you ask someone to make a kick ass piece of art, there is solid definable evidence at the end of their creation process that the art is either cool or a giant turd floating in a goldfish bowl. Bad art is easily definable, particularly when the art is for an intended purpose for a game. When someone is a bad artist they can’t hide that fact very easily (unless they steal other people’s art and pass it off as their own, or just trace photos to make their concept art, not as uncommon as you might think).

A bad programmer is almost as easy to find because often times their shit won’t work, or if it does happen to work, it does so inconsistently, or when they try to add on to that code it comes tumbling down like a giant house of cards because they hacked it together with sticks and glue and bits of code they didn’t really understand but found on a website from some other programmer. You can’t really fake good code because there are standards and practices that any good programmer knows and follows (unless you steal from good programmers, also not as uncommon as you might think).

So when it comes to design… How do you determine good design? How about writing?

The trouble with design and writing is that a lot of the early stuff is very subjective. One person may like a particular game mechanic while another may hate it. The same is true for writing. While one person may like the wording and thematic feel of a line of dialogue, another person may utterly despise it. These sorts of arguments even happen between two or more people who are experienced and skilled in these areas of game development. One person wants the health bar displayed, the other person wants to show that the character is low on health through animations and graphics on the character itself. Both ideas have their merits, which decision is “right” depends entirely on the thematic design of the game (and that’s why a strong Lead Designer is important).

However, there are right and wrong decisions in design and there is poorly written material in writing. People who are skilled in those areas can easily recognize them, which is exactly where the problem arises. How do you determine that someone is skilled in an area that non-skilled people think they understand? You see, anyone who reads a book on writing or design can believe that they are now an expert because they know some basic rules. Does that really put them on the same level as someone who has been doing those things as their job and in their spare time for fun for many years? NO, it does not, BUT because they read a book they think they’re an expert.

I’ve read up on dentistry so that I could communicate more precisely with my dentist on which tooth was causing me pain (#28 btw), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick up his fucking drill and start trying to fix it myself! Similarly, reading a book on writing doesn’t mean you can suddenly write. It might help you recognize certain things in your writing and allow you to improve, but just because you read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, doesn’t mean you can suddenly write a good story. Hell, the guy who wrote it didn’t know how to write one either, he was just big into mythology and how humanity tells stories (good book btw).

Design is even worse in this respect, because while writing is a widely appreciated and respected (in some circles) profession and everyone can read a story and determine if they like it or not, design ideas are much harder to play out in your head if you’re not experienced with bringing game design ideas to life. The time and money invested in actually implementing a design plan can be quite prohibitive, so it’s important to know what you’re going to get before you start.

Whenever I hear someone say that they want to try out a design idea and “see if it works in the game” I immediately know one of two things. Either they are trying something really complicated that’s never been done before and they honestly need to see it in the game to get a good feel for how it’s going to work, or… They don’t have a fucking clue about game design and are too stupid to imagine how it will feel in the game based on past experiences with similar design elements and thus they have to see it in the game to even know if it’s a good or bad idea. 9 times out of 10, it is the latter and not the former. 100% of the time when it is the latter, they are not a game designer (typically they’re artists for some fucking reason), but I’ve had a few game designers who were guilty of this. The reason they are able to stay a game designer is because people in power above them can’t recognize a good designer from a bad one…

With both writing and design, it’s easy for non-writers and non-designers to try and slip in and say they know better than the actual professional. It’s this sort of ego play that ends up ruining a lot of games, or at least critically crippling them for a large part of the creation process. The people who think they can write or design often end up never learning anything either. They continue to spew out their poor ideas and feedback and worse, try to make power plays to get their badly written dialogue and poorly conceived design ideas into the game. What possesses these morons to do it?

They honestly believe they’re good at it.

However, they’re not good at it. If they were, they’d probably have a job doing it (since they seem to love doing it so much more than their own damn job). What sucks the most about these types of backseat designers and writers is that they NEVER LEARN. Even when you tell them why their game ideas are bad or why their writing is horribly off for the game, they won’t get it. They think their shit is the best thing ever and far superior to your stuff. They will never think otherwise no matter how many people tell them the same thing (“they just didn’t understand my genius”).

The reason that these people suck so much is because they’re obsessed with their own creations. They can’t possibly imagine that their writing or design idea is not good. They also can’t stand that someone else might actually be better than them at what they perceive is their strength. But the fact is, someone else has the job title of designer and/or writer…

So to all you fucktards who think you’re good at writing or good at design and yet have not actually held either title while on a project (and getting an “additional” design or writing credit does not count because we both know you bitched and moaned to get that instead of actually earning it by doing good work in either area), I say fuck off. You’re fucking the project, you’re pissing off the people who actually do those jobs, and you’re NOT GOOD AT IT!

And until you realize that you suck at it, you’ll never get better…

posted by CommanderHate at 7:07 pm  


  1. Actually due to my lack of actual Game Design knowledge, brings me to ask a question.

    Is it wrong to ask to evaluate one’s idea (whether it’s a game design, or a visual design, or story idea.. etc)

    Like if one is in charge of making the mechanics.. Do they usually go ask people how they think it works, or do they keep it to themselves and only fix what their superiors tell them to.. Since that’s like what really matters in terms of work (minus the artistic integrity or whatever..).

    Or I suppose, due to the ‘I can do it better’ people it’s hard to ask exactly WHO to look guidance for.

    Are people too egotistic to self evaluate? I’m sure someone midway would’ve thought ‘Gee.. This really SUCKS!’ But then I guess everyone’s afraid to tip off the wrong guy and get labeled..(and suffer..)

    I guess I’m in no position to rant about speaking up.. Since I’m also afraid to tip off the wrong guy at work.. Just keeping it to myself.

    Personally I would love to learn about Game Design (currently working as an artist and want to avoid what is mentioned in this blog) Yet, how can one learn the proper way? Are institutions REALLY the only way?

    Comment by Kohyunu — April 4, 2008 @ 9:34 am

  2. Institutions will steer you in the absolute wrong directions. Most people who come out of “game design” schools know more about basic programming and animation than they know about actual game design. Sadly, this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

    It’s not that people are too egotistical to self-evaluate. It’s that they don’t have the experience and skills to recognize their own bad ideas and writing, and they’re not willing to put the work in to figure it out.

    The best designers that I’ve seen are usually self-taught. They just love and play a lot of games, and they can easily define what makes that game fun to play for them and (more importantly) what makes a popular game fun for the majority of people. When you can balance your own ideas of what’s good or bad in a game, versus what makes the game fun for others in that same game, you know you’re headed in the right direction for the critical analysis needed to design games well.

    My other suggestion would be to talk to a designer you know and respect and ask them to mentor you. Have them send you design tests and then evaluate your answers. I’ve been considering setting up this sort of training service but I’m not 100% sure how to go about it or if I’d have any customers or the time to execute it properly…

    I mean, I’m no Will Wright, who the hell am I to tell people what is good design and what is bad?

    Comment by CommanderHate — April 4, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  3. If you set something up like that.. You let me know.

    Comment by Kohyunu — April 4, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

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