The Phil Wells Dot Com

I Got A Big Mouth

Tag: game design

Back at the PIT Blog

Hey, I’ve written another post for the blog at the Peoples Improv Theater’s website.  Check it out!

It’s about the links between improv and game design.  So, yeah, exciting stuff if you’re a big nerd.

Guitar Hero Is Not A Waste Of Time

There is a prevalent feeling on the Internet that these darn kids should put down Guitar Hero and Rock Star in favor of the real thing.  The argument goes that all the time put into mastering these games could just as easily have been spent mastering real guitars, as that is held to be culturally more significant.

Never mind that kids who play Guitar Hero are picking up real instruments, I take umbrage with the idea that somehow learning to play songs on a real guitar has a greater real-world impact than mastering a video game. Of course being a legendary player of Guitar Hero is not going to make you rich and famous.  But honestly, playing a guitar probably isn’t either.  The best guitarists in the world undoubtedly play because they just love playing their instrument (or at least that’s where it all got started).

Why is that?  The truth is that mastering an instrument and mastering a video game are similar experiences.  Here you have this thing invented years ago by someone else, and out of this invention emerges a whole system of methods to learn, practice, and master.  It’s this learning system at the heart of each endeavor that people love about playing music or games.  When it comes down to it, structured play is a form of work.  It’s a matter of narrowing your focus, finding flow, and entering the magic circle for a few hours a day.  As long as this learning paradigm is being studied, practiced, and worshiped, who cares if the end result is a song or a high score?  If the songs don’t get famous (and they largely won’t), the difference in cultural impact is nil.  That’s not to say that playing a song on a guitar is useless.  It is to say that playing a song on Guitar Hero is not useless.  Either way it’s teaching people how to learn by doing.

Iteration for Improvisers

I’ve seen it a million times. A group will “invent” a new form or game, practice it (or not), then throw it up on stage. Then they’ll keep throwing it up on stage whether it worked the first time or not. The assumption is that the group has to get used to the new form and that it’ll improve itself simply by being played through a few times without any conscious attempt to make significant changes. Of course, this is doing things the hard way.

Game designers are great at using iteration in their work. They’ll toss together some rules, crank out a prototype, and playtest it as soon as possible. Really, when it comes to designing a game, what could possibly replace the value of actual players interacting with this system you’ve set up for them? And, naturally, a game designer’s job isn’t complete once the game enters playtesting. In a way, that’s where the real craft begins. If it isn’t fun, it goes back into the workshop and tweaks begin. Too often, improvisers would be content to release the game as-is, no matter how tests went, and rely on the players of the game to just get used to it. That is no way to improve a game, and it’s no way to improve the structure of an improv show.

Improvisers: your form will not figure itself out. That doesn’t mean you need to trash it altogether. It means you need to critically evaluate what went right and what went wrong, and use your time wisely promoting the right stuff and excising the wrong stuff. This is true whether you’re playing Party Quirks or Harolds, Freeze Tag or Deconstructions. Test it, refine it, repeat.

Even a game has to hit the shelves at some point. Your brand new longform structure spends itself as soon as it’s implemented. It’s never complete. And so improv groups should never assume that the form is set in stone. If your second beats aren’t working, change your second beats. If your group just can’t do organic edits, don’t do them. Stop treating the form like it’s sacred. Only success is sacred.

My 20-Year Plan

I’ve never been much of a long-term goal setter.  In fact, I only became interested in planning next steps even in the short term within the past few years.  I can’t imagine what it has been about these recent times that caused me to seriously consider what the future holds.  Probably a little less booze and a lot more Ali Farahnakian had something to do with it.

Anyway, here’s my plan:

  • Keep working as a QA tester, release manager, etc for my current employer.  It’s important that I stick with QA because I’ll have to remain in this position during the next step, which is
  • Go back to school part-time for programming and finish my degree in computer science.  This is in here because my current employer has offered to basically cover 90% of tuition after I’ve  been here three years.  Once my degree is done I work here for one more year to qualify for the education benefit, then
  • Get a job as a QA manager for a video game studio.  At this point I’ll have a degree in computer science and like 8 or 10 years in QA experience.  I hope that’ll be enough.
  • Design games and write about game design the whole time.  I’m thinking board games, but whatever’s clever.  I hope and pray that this can turn into a lucrative startup business so I can
  • semi-retire and just move board games from my own company.  Hire a sick game-making crew.  Get myself a set of golf clubs.  Meet Jason Rohrer.  Die.

Except for the part where I die, I want all this to happen within 20 years.  If the education benefit from my employer gets recessionized, the next few steps will change.

What’s your 20-year plan?