Street on Game Design
Was browsing through a question thread a couple of months ago, and ran across this "interview." Looked like it had a few things to say on game design.
(For those of you who are reading and probably don't know, Greg Street is the lead designer for Age of Empires 3 (http://www.ageofempires3.com).)
Greg Street on Age of Empires 3 Design:
I like Theris264's questions, because most of them are about the design process and not the game itself. We're likely to answer all these questions given enough time, but we don't want to blow anyone's mind with information. Everyone is still just adjusting to the game having been announced.
You believe in a design by play-testing. But then what is the actual job of your gameplay-designers (the people who think up ideas to put in the game)?
DS: The designers come up with a lot of (but certainly not all of) the ideas to be playtested. At the end of the day, we look at all the feedback and try to come up with a plan based on what the team is saying and how passionately they are saying it. It's a common misperception to think that designers are the ones who get to come up with the cool ideas (cool ideas, frankly, are pretty easy to come up with) -- instead, we're the ones who figure out fun ways to implement the ideas, and try to keep the whole team excited about the project.
Most of your employees have done jobs very different from game design and computer work before they joined ES. Do you think an education for game-designers is really needed?
DS: It's hard to learn "game design" the way it is to learn programming, art or even QA. But if you look at Ensemble's designers, you will notice one thing they have in common is that they are all highly educated in something. In design, good communication skills, especially writing, are paramount. As the industry grows larger and larger you will likely see more formal training in game design. Until then, read a lot, write a lot, and make sure you can finish things you start.
Where do you get your ideas for gameplay from? Books, other games, boardgames?
DS: All of the above. Like I said above, the actual ideas are easy. It's making them work that's hard. Consider the Home City, which is our number one feature. The concept of persistent elements in RTS games frankly isn't that radical in and of itself. What is audacious is how completely we are embracing the concept, even in multiplayer. It's a nightmare to balance. But that boldness, that "how  are they going to pull that off?" is what makes it so cool.
What do you do with the ideas from the fanbase? (like the civ designs in this forum and the entries from PAoM's age of unit contest)? Read them and thus gain ideas, only read them if they are hot-topics? Only use them to get elemtary ideas (with this I mean for example, taking only the general idea of a GP from one's civ design, but renaming it and giving it to another civ)? Something else?
DS: We read everything. What fans sometimes forget is that we think about these things an awful lot, and there are a lot of smart people working at ES. So it is rare that someone will come up with a completely new idea that hasn't already made the rounds here in some form or another. Instead, we generally pay more attention to general trends we see. If a lot of fans are asking for more interesting economic decisions, that's something we look at. If a lot of people say a single trigger addition would make a huge difference in their scenario work, we pay attention.
How long does it take to design the detailed general idea for a game (civs, gamelay, etc. evrything except the precise statistics, so evrything you do before starting the actual programming)?
DS: We use a slightly different approach. We come up with a very general design at first and try and get it playable ASAP. So the game is playable at an even coarser level than you describe. The original version of AOE3 had a single civilization, no Ages, a couple of buildings and one unit. We hadn't even worried a lot about how many civs we'd have, or what the resources would be. There is no point spending a lot of time brainstorming about features if an initial test shows you that there is no way the feature would work. For AOE3 (which is a bit unusual in that we iterated on the design for so long), we probably spent 3-4 months in the pure brainstorm phase before we had a playable version of the game. Everything after that was trying out different designs. It would have been longer if we were also making a new engine from scratch, but a lot of the engine changes for AOE3 came online over time. One day the new renderer was turned on. Then the new multiplayer backbone was added. At some point we decided we had enough good features to make a game so we cut off the spigot and started polishing what we had. The process is much more like decorating a room (a bit here, a bit there, a few mistakes along the way) than it is like baking a cake (follow a linear recipe from start to finish).
Posted by coolsoft_games
at 4:36 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005 8:51 PM EDT