Author Archives: Nels Anderson

Soren Johnson Discusses Sid’s Lessons

May 4th, 2009 | Posted by Nels Anderson in Link-out - (Comments Off on Soren Johnson Discusses Sid’s Lessons)

Soren Johnson discusses a number of lessons he learned from Sid Meier during his time at Firaxis.

All four observations are good, but the third and fourth are especially resonant for me. Calls for thematic simplicity and “show, don’t tell” have grown increasingly loud as of late. When Jeff Kaplan says at GDC “we need to stop f*cking writing a novel in our game [World of Warcraft]“, I doubt he’s saying that the story in WoW is completely wasted effort. Rather he’s observing that presenting a massive wall of un-engaging writing to the player is the laziest and least engaging way to create a world that feels real.

As game developers, it is our obligation to find ways to communicate the story and themes of our level/quest/game without abusing the player with ham-fisted textual salvos. That in a medium so rich we so often turn to the most rudimentary of tools (or their marginally better cousin, lengthy dialogs) is simply embarrassing. That’s not to say that text has no place in games, but like anything else it should be boiled down to its most essential and used in the best way possible. When the player reads text or hears some dialog, they should realize it’s something with gravitas and importance. Supplemental information can certainly be present in the game, but it should not be the default method of communication. Especially when there are so many other ways to communicate in our diverse medium.

Vertical Spaces in Level Design

April 21st, 2009 | Posted by Nels Anderson in Link-out - (2 Comments)

Rob Hale’s discussion of a Damnation making-of video┬áraises a very interesting point. The top down diagram that most levels emerge from does not lend itself particularly well to creating rich vertical spaces. It’s possible to create verticality after the fact, but rarely is it significantly navigable. I’ve personally wrestled with this when designing tabletop RPG maps, which are not only designed top-down but played the same way with a erasable grid mat and miniatures. Adding height variance to a space almost always makes it more interesting for the players, but it’s often difficult to make the vertical space navigable, especially if it’s done post-hoc.

Tightening the loop between concept art and level design, instead of the de rigeur practice of only using concept art to inform the environment artists, could help address this issue. Like Rob, I hope Damnation is able to pull this off. He also advocates designers improving their technical skills, a sentiment I heartily agree with.