What Makes a Good Quest Designer?

I was recently asked the question, “What makes a good quest designer?” I’ve got a lot of experience in quest design, but I had never sat down and actually thought about what skills or traits made me good at what I do. After thinking about it for a bit, I came up with an answer: Communication, creativity, and the ability to be receptive to feedback.

Quest designers are the multidisciplinary focal point of the team, so being able to concisely and accurately communicate the design vision to others, especially to people working in different disciplines, is extremely important. Without good communication skills, a designer could have an amazing design in their head, but the rest of the team would likely be working on an entirely different vision of the game, causing the experience to not feel cohesive. Games are made by large teams of people, and being able to effectively communicate the vision of the game is often the difference between making a unified experience and having an amalgamation of various parts that don’t fit together.

Most of a quest designer’s job is to provide new and exciting opportunities to the player, which is where creativity comes in. Creative designers will come up with innovative new ideas that players haven’t even dreamed about. Having a creative mind also allows them to breathe new life into old concepts, making them feel fresh and novel again. In addition to the content they make, creativity can help designers come up with different workflows or ways to solve technical problems that less creative people would just accept as the way things are.

Designers are constantly bombarded with feedback from all sides – Leads, other designers, team members from other disciplines, playtesters, or even the community. It’s easy to be overwhelmed or to take feedback personally, but a good designer knows to accept even negative feedback as a positive thing, as it’s a way to strengthen the design. Additionally, knowing which pieces of feedback to act on and which ones to disregard is an extremely valuable skill for a designer. Sometimes this means not listening to the vocal minority, especially when a game has a huge online community. As an example, players might say that a certain attack is underpowered, but maybe it’s mathematically balanced and simply needs to feel more powerful with added visual or sound effects.

So there you have it, the three traits that make a good quest designer. Focus on communication, creativity, and receiving feedback and you’ll have a solid foundation for any quest design role.

Overwatch Montage Videos

For the past year or two, some I’ve been playing quite a bit of Overwatch with friends of mine. While doing so, I’ve been utilizing the Highlights feature quite a bit, which, after thinking about it, is an extremely smart feature to get people to create content to promote the game. I decided to try my hand at creating a few montages using highlights from the past year or so – Check them out!

Lucky Shots

Fail of the Game Montage

Play of the Game Montage

Creativity Tips

A few months ago, a friend asked me for tips on being creative. We ended up talking for a few hours about the whole creative process from start to finish, and some of the ideas that we bounced back and forth were great tidbits of information that I hadn’t really thought too much about before. After reflecting on what we had talked about, I thought other people might benefit from our conversation. So without further ado, here are some tips on how to be creative and for the creative process in general.

Everything’s Been Done Before

First and foremost, it’s very important to realize that 95% of creative ideas have already been done before in some form or another. This should be a liberating thought, not a debilitating one! Ideas aren’t created from the void, they’re formed by combining other, already existing ideas in new ways (More on that later). Don’t stress about things like “this has already been done before” – Whatever you make will be a completely new experience for many people, and your unique take on the subject matter will breathe new life into it.

Just Get Started

Staring at a blank page can be intimidating, but I can’t stress how important getting started is. Every great novel started with a single word, every work of art with a single mark on the canvas, every AAA video game with a single line of code. You don’t have to make that huge novel or painting or game all in one sitting.

When making longer stories, it helps to start at a high level, then break it down piece by piece. For example, if you’re writing a book, start by writing a few sentences about what the whole book is about. Then try breaking it down by chapter. Next break down what the first and second halves of each chapter will cover. Once all that’s done, actually do the work of writing the chapter. Use your breakdowns and notes as a guide, but don’t forget that those are just tools to get you started – It’s okay to deviate from them if you come up with a cool new idea.

Finish It!

Most creative people I know are really good at starting projects, but they tend to struggle when it comes to finishing them. There are many reasons projects get abandoned – Life getting in the way, perfectionism, moving on to new, more exciting projects, or simply because finishing something is hard work. That said, finishing is hands down the most important piece of advice on this list, especially if you’re new to creative pursuits and are trying to get a job. It’s better to have a single flawed, finished project than a bunch of perfect, unfinished ones.

If you ever get stuck working on a problem, the best suggestion that I have is to take a break. I know it sounds crazy, but stop working and go on a walk, get some sleep, or just think about something else for a while. You will continue to unconsciously work through the problem and a creative solution will very often present itself. Brains are cool like that! All that said, don’t forget to return to the project after taking a break – Don’t let this be what causes the project to remain unfinished!

Easy Ways to be Creative

We’ve talked a lot about the process of making something, but how does someone actually be creative? Here are a few easy ways to create new ideas:

  • Combine two things to make a new thing. A + B = C
    • If you’re having trouble coming up with a useful C in this example, start with random As and Bs and see if they lead you somewhere useful.
    • Still having trouble? Try an idea generator like this one.
  • Copy/steal from other creative works.
    • Don’t plagiarize, but use other works as inspiration. As long as you don’t literally copy/paste, whatever you borrow will become something new based on iteration, your own thoughts or edits, or the world you put it in. It can also help to take things from other mediums and see how they can fit your medium of choice.
    • “Good artists borrow great artists steal.” (See what I did there?)
  • Choose a theme and make decisions based around that theme.
    • Examples: Fear, library, greed, time
    • Or push this further: Choose two themes and combine them to make a cool new thing! For example, Zelda: Link’s Awakening = Nightmares/dreams + music.
      • This uses the tip above about combining things! A + B = C
    • Having trouble coming up with good themes? You can find theme generators online as well.
  • Brainstorm/play with the problem.
    • Creativity is just playing around with thoughts and ideas.
    • Playing with a problem, especially using humor and doubly especially with humor and other people you’re comfortable with, is a huge help when trying to think creatively.

Conclusion

So there you have it, my tips for being creative and the creative process in general. My background might be in game development, but that’s just a medium. These same tips work for writing, painting, crafting, or any other creative endeavor. What are you waiting for? Go get started, but don’t forget to follow through and finish it!

Postmortem: The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys

In case you haven’t been following along, The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys is a 2D platformer that focuses on a grapple hook mechanic that I developed for a game jam with some friends – The Megaman Game Jam. I’m constantly looking for ways to growth as a developer and learn from my mistakes, so I wanted to write a postmortem on how the game turned out at the end of the game jam. Here’s a video of the finished product, as well as my thoughts on how the process went.

Postmortem

First and foremost, creating a time-based (As opposed to frame-based) platformer is harder than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize you had to implement literal physics equations to get platformers to work in a time-based structure. I’m very fortunate to have paid attention in physics class in high school! That said, I did “ship” with slightly (Maybe ~4 pixels) different jump heights when at low (~30) or high (~120) frame rates – A problem I aim to look more into now that the game jam is over.

Similarly, I had heard in the past that implementing moving platforms is hard, but the logic for them is actually extremely simple – When the player is colliding with one, move the player with the same velocity as the platform. There are definitely lots of design considerations to think about – What to do if the player gets squished, what happens if a horizontal moving platform runs into the player, how do they interact with other game objects, etc – but the implementation logic itself is simple. Unfortunately, I ran into a quirk in the GamerMaker Studio 2 engine that ended up making an approximately 2 hour task into a 10+ hour one. Long story short, GameMaker Studio 2 handles sprite masks (Collisions) in whole numbers, which makes sense, since a sprite can only occupy whole pixels. That said, x and y coordinates can be any range of float values. This discrepancy ended up causing a ton of pain for me (I would have pulled my hair out if I had any). Luckily, people in the GameMaker forums were super helpful and pointed out my problem after I asked them for help saving my sanity! Here’s a video showing the problem I ran into (I was so baffled by this problem I had to create a separate project just to focus on debugging it!)

Postmortems don’t have to be all about what went wrong, though. Working on new traps/objects was a ton of fun! I designed and implemented most of the gameplay objects in a single day. I can’t wait to add more to the game – I already have a large list of ideas! One thing I aim to do is create interactions between objects (Especially the grappling hook). Currently, the only interactions that I have are the grappling hook with walls, crumble platforms, and darts, and falling rocks with crumbling platforms. Increasing that matrix of interactions will help the game feel much deeper!

I’m so grateful I chose to add the grappling hook! The game would be extremely boring without that mechanic, and the initial implementation only took me about 2 hours to add. That said, I did have to do a lot of tuning and bug fixing after that initial implementation. The grappling hook also helped inform some of the design of the game, such as level design, crumbling platforms crumbling when you grapple onto them, and non-grapplable walls (Which I probably didn’t utilize as much as I should have).

I think the simple “story” is the way to go for a game jam. Anything more and it would have been wasted time. That said, if I choose to develop this into a bigger game, I’m going to have to think more in-depth about the story and how I can marry the gameplay to it.

The roguelike aspect of the game doesn’t really shine at the moment, due to the limited number of rooms. I need to make way more levels, which will require me to create more objects and fine-tuning my level design.

All in all though, I rediscovered my love for working on small projects! It was a blast to come up with ideas, script object behavior, and tune the game’s mechanics.

Megaman Game Jam Submissions

We made it to the end of the first ever Megaman Game Jam! Here are the games that were submitted.

Shots in the Dark

Created by Scout Clithero.

Description: A game of social deduction.

The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys

Created by Paul Kankiewicz (That’s me!).

Description: A 2D roguelike platformer where the player explores a dangerous ancient temple using a grappling hook.

Notes:
I recommend playing it with keyboard and mouse, but it supports controller as well.
Shift + S: Cycles between a few screen shake options if you want to reduce it.
Alt + Enter: Toggles fullscreen. Warning: If you move the window, you’ll likely fall out of the world.

Late Submissions

It is likely that there will be more submissions that will be completed past the deadline. Check back later to see if anything has been added under here.

Megaman Game Jam Progress: Week 2

With a second week down, the Megaman Game Jam is already halfway over. Here’s my progress so far:

The main things I did this week were adding several traps, creating two levels (Plus a few temp ones), randomizing which level the player gets loaded into when they go through a door, and lots of tuning. The idea here is to make the game a roguelike platformer. I think the game is already a lot of fun, but there are still two weeks to get in all sorts of great things!

Megaman Game Jam Progress: Week 1

For the past week, I’ve been working hard on developing a game for the Megaman Game Jam. Here’s my progress after 1 week.

I’ve mostly been working on the main platforming mechanics so far, so I hope to spend more time developing the game into something bigger in the coming weeks.

Megaman Game Jam

I have a lot of game developer friends. After talking to some of them, we decided it would be fun to challenge each other to a game jam. Thus was born the Megaman Game Jam!

Rules:
1) Time limit: 1 month. Game submissions are due on July 15, 2021 at 11:59 PM PST. This long timeline allows people to make their game when they have time, rather than crunching to get something in. This does mean submission quality will vary wildly, but that’s okay!
2) Assets (Art, audio, etc) can be obtained anywhere.
3) Judging/prizes: None – This is just for fun.
4) Submission format: Anything goes – Exe, Twine, website link, etc.
5) Submissions/playing the games: Games will be posted on this site in a separate post after the cutoff date.
6) Submissions are not required to stick to the theme.

Theme: Inner Demons

Check back in one month to see what unique and interesting games we came up with!

What Does a Game Designer Do?

“What does a Game Designer do?” This is a question I get asked a lot. I often jump into the technical details and my day-to-day responsibilities, but that all too often seems to go over the heads of my audience, leaving them just as clueless as to what it is I actually do as they were at the start of the conversation. Today, I’m going to take a different approach. Today, my answer is “a game designer is like a carpenter.”

Carpenters start by choosing what sort of project they want to work on. This could be a house, a bench, a stool, or whatever. Similarly, at a high level, someone on the design team (Typically the creative director or some other high up designer) has to decide what project the team is going to work on.

Once the project has been decided, it’s time to get to work. The carpenter then draws up some schematics that detail exactly what they project entails. This is done for two major reason. First of all, fixing mistakes on paper is much easier than fixing them in the finished product. Secondly, it’s much easier to create something when you have an blueprint to work off of and to point to when something doesn’t look quite right. In game design, we call these blueprints design documents, or documentation.

After making a plan, the next step for a carpenter is to gather all the tools and materials they need to complete the project. A carpenter might gather materials like nails, screws, and various pieces of wood, as well as tools like hammers, saws, and screwdrivers. A skilled carpenter needs to know how to select the exact right components. Should the nails be made out of steel or iron? Should they be 1″, 2″, or 3″ long? Should they be common nails, box nails, or finishing nails? Game designers have to make all of these decisions for everything they, or someone else, makes in the game, and some decisions are much tougher to answer than you might think. There’s a common design problem called “The Door Problem” that showcases this very well. Unlike carpenters, game designers not only have to select what they want, but they have to effectively communicate what the game needs to other teams. Here’s where communication skills come in handy, as this is sort of like playing a game of telephone. To make matters worse, it can sometimes feel like other teams speak an entirely different language.

It’s important to note that while a carpenter knows how to use the materials and tools to make something beautiful, the carpenter doesn’t actually *make* the materials or tools themselves. Similarly, a game designer needs to know where to place assets (Art, audio, etc) and how to use tools (World editors, quest editors, behavior tree editors, etc), and likely has a hand in how they’re made (ie, their design), but they aren’t typically the ones that actually create them. It’s a designer’s job to put everything together, not make the individual pieces.

At the end of it all, a game designer, just like a carpenter, has to spend the time and do the work to put everything together in a cohesive manner. Artists can add beautiful animations to models, but without a game designer, that’s just a movie. The audio team can make hours of epic music, but without a game designer, that’s just a soundtrack. Writers can write stunning prose that would make even Shakespeare jealous, but without a game designer, that’s just a novel. So what does a game designer do? They’re the people that bring everyone’s work together in a cohesive manner to make it shine.

Quest Complete: Work my way up the game designer chain

I was promoted to Senior Game Designer at Monolith Productions!  I’ve been working in the industry for roughly a decade now, and it still doesn’t even feel real.  It’s hard to believe that I go to work everyday to make games that are much bigger than what I played as a kid.  Life’s strange sometimes 🙂  Next quest: Ship a title with a 90+ Metacritic review score!