Archives for the month of: August, 2012

The latest issue of Kill Screen Magazine is out – that brainy journal about game culture – and there’s a small piece with my mug in it. The article is about what will happen to games as players become older, and a few game designers, including Randy Smith, Manveer Heir, and myself, are asked for our opinions on the subject.

Kill Screen frames the article as old age potentially being the “kiss of death” for gamers because of the frailties that accompany older age. The other designers mostly mention things like screens for the vision-impaired and hand-eye coordination issues, but I have a different take on the subject. For me, many real-world games enjoyed by older players, such as Bocce Ball, are already as physically intense as a videogame and I see the issue as more about culture than biology.

Here’s a bit from my response. You can read the rest of my answer in Kill Screen, issue 6.

Videogames do not need to be redesigned for older players. Even the most intense controller-based videogame has fewer physical demands than Shuffleboard. And while videogames don’t offer the same kind of physical exertion, they do offer problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, and social interaction – activities with incredibly valuable cognitive benefits.
 
But ultimately, people don’t play videogames because they are good for you. People play games because of pleasure and culture. They will play games if they are enjoyable, and if they are a part of the culture in which they live. Today we scoff at “old people’s games” like Bridge and Mah Jong – when we’re all senior citizens, the kids will laugh at our old-fashioned games like Starcraft and Angry Birds.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of German novelist Herman Hesse, and to mark the occasion, the BBC created a half-hour radio program about his work. I was interviewed about his book the Glass Bead Game, a story set in a future where a priestly class plays a mysterious game that lets them explore the relationships among disciplines like mathematics, music, and astronomy.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, in part because he keeps the actual rules of the game frustratingly ambiguous in his book. As a game that potentially crossed every other cultural domain, the Glass Bead Game was a big influence on the Metagame, a card game I created with Local No. 12 in which players compare and contrast different forms of art, design, media, and entertainment.

You can listen to the entire BBC program here. I come in about halfway through, around minute 18:00. Among other topics, I discuss how our geek-centric, information-dominated age was presaged in the Glass Bead Game’s society of intellectual scholar-monks. Thanks to producer Alan Hall for tracking me down in Berlin this summer for our very enjoyable interview.

Last night at the Eyebeam center for Art and Technology here in New York City I took part in the Jean Claude Van Jam as a judge. The event was a 48-hour game jam in which teams had to create a game inspired by a randomly selected Jean Claude Van Dam film, and I was joined by game designers Greg Trefry and Keita Takahashi to judge the results.

The games had a great sense of humor, and many of them featured unusual hardware input devices, which is impressive for such a short amount of time. The winner, Wrong Bet! was inspired by the film Lionheart and was a social game in which two players competed in a rock-player scissors-style duel while several other players bet real money on them and could influence their actions. You can view all of the games, as well as a video of their final presentations, here on the Jean Claude Van Jam website.

Congratulations to all of the entrants, co-sponsor of the event Babycastles, and organizers Kaho Abe, Ida Benedetto, Ben Johnson, Ramsey Nasser and Matt Parker. The world needs more strange and wonderful game jams.

Recently, some of my graduating students at the NYU Game Center wrote to me asking for advice about how to get that first job in the game industry. Below is my response, which I thought I might as well share here on my blog. These suggestions are geared towards people entering the industry for the first time and trying to get an internship, freelance, or full-time job at an existing company (rather than starting a new company). They are also good rules of thumb for more experienced game developers. Many of these tips sound obvious when you read them on the page, but trust me: after being on the hiring end of things for many years, you would be surprised how many job applicants don’t get them right. I hope you find them useful.

  1. Target your communications.The worst thing you can possibly do is send a generic cover letter that doesn’t mention anything particular about the company you are contacting. Do a little research on each company you approach – their games, their history, etc. and be sure to mention something particular about them when you contact them.
  2. Work your connections. Knowing someone who knows someone makes it 1000% more likely that you will get your foot in the door at a company. Contact faculty, friends, and colleagues in the industry and ask them about internships they know about. Go to local game events and SOCIALIZE. When you meet a developer working at a company, ask them if they have an internship program or if they are hiring. If they do, get contact info for that person as well as the person who you should contact about the position, and mention the person you met (or even CC them) when you contact the company.
  3. Be passionate. You MUST demonstrate passion for making games in your communication – that’s what the cover letter is for. Talk about your childhood of playing games, highlight a class project you loved, tell them what you are playing now. Ideally, you link your passion to something particular about the company – such as how you were addicted to their recent release. Don’t make things up, but find a way to authentically demonstrate your love for games. The implication is that you will translate that passion into hard work in your job.
  4. Name drop. If you had a class with any faculty that your target company might know about, mention that person in your cover letter and list them as possible references. You need to work every angle you can.
  5. Show them what you do. Be sure to give them examples of your work. If you made a great card game, find a way to share it (a description and images work much better than a set of rules). Put together a portfolio site that showcases your work. It’s also important to tell them (briefly) what was brilliant or interesting about each game you share.
  6. Present yourself well. Communication is a key skill for any game development position. Your writing should be perfect, your resume well-composed, and your website graphically clean and easy to use. Contacting someone with sloppy writing or visual design – when you are asking them to hire you as a designer(!) – is an automatic disqualification.
  7. Think about things from THEIR point of view. When you apply to a company, here’s what you have to imagine: a huge stack of resumes or an inbox overflowing with emailed cover letters. That’s your design context. You are in a competition and you need to figure out how to stand out. All of the above tips will help you do that. Think about what the company needs. They are not doing the internship out of charity – they are NOT doing it for you. They are doing for themselves, because they have work that needs to get done. Read their job or internship ad CAREFULLY and make sure you are really directly addressing their needs. If they are looking for a playtester, don’t try and convince them to hire you as a game designer (although it is perfectly alright to talk about your passion for game design). Any application process is a DESIGN problem – so just as in making a game, think about it from the audience’s point of view and create an experience. A company is not a faceless corporate entity – it is composed of individual people. It all comes down to catching the attention of the person sifting through the stack of letters and resumes, and convincing them that you are the right person for the position.

Smart and stylish design website MoCo Loco has published a great little piece about Interference on their website. In addition to text and images, it features the new Interference video created by Emeric Adrain.

The subtitle of MoCo Loco’s site is Design / Interiors / Art / Architecture – and as a collaboration between an architect and a game designer, I have always liked to think about the work I do with Nathalie Pozzi not just in the context of games, but in the larger context of design culture. I’m very happy to see our work featured in this context.

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