Posts Tagged ‘devry’

Fear and Loathing in Game Design

I received an email asking if I would like to meet Ernest Adams, the man who helped in create Madden football, as part of a video game design workshop at DeVry University on Dunlap between 19th Avenue and I-17.

I really didn’t what to ask the guy but questions started swirling through my head like “Who does EA think they are by creating the only NFL game?” and “Do these video game specific classes help or hurt the students?” I was going to get my answers straight out of the horse’s mouth. Not only did Adams work on the Madden franchise, he also wrote a book titled “Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games.” To say the least, he was an expert.

I immediately called back and said I would be attending.

The build-up to the workshop was spent drawing up questions. I wasn’t going to let this pass me by. I wanted to know thing. I needed to know things. I was going to get my information and possibly dig up some dirt.

I arrived at the campus amped and ready to go. I didn’t really care about the workshop. I wanted to talk to Adams. Get my dirt.

Quick side note: The DeVry Phoenix campus is really nice. I think it’s a new building, but it seems nicely laid out complete with a mini market and big classrooms. For a technical college, it seemed really inviting.

I had to wait until the end of the workshop to talk to Adams because I have this problem with timeliness. The workshop started at one and arrived five minutes before that. I had enough time to introduce myself. No worries, I thought, I’ll sit through this and come up with more questions.

Something strange happened. Hit me like a ton a bricks. I had no idea about the process of video games and what goes into making them. The first thirty minutes of the workshop was spent with Adams describing the different types of jobs, games, points-of-view and scenarios, and why each of these are important to the other.
He spoke with the passion of a man who has been in the business for quite some time. I got the feeling he didn’t look at games as something with pretty graphics or advanced technology. He was more concerned with the emotion of the game. How the player feels while playing the game.

Near the end of the first session, he said he was going to break the class out into groups and hand out a game idea to each group to brainstorm it out. Three people to each group: a writer, user-interface designer, and mechanics engineer. A few people in the class bowed out. They didn’t want to participate. He asked me if I wanted to participate, and I immediately jumped on the chance.

The group I was in consisted of myself, of course, Nelson Bixler, a first-year student in the Game and Simulation Programming department, and Xavier Olivas, a prospective student with a strong passion for video games. Bixler acted as the U/I Designer, Olivas on mechanics, and I was tabbed to be the writer.

After we divvied up the jobs, Adams handed a little note card with a game idea on it. We jobbed to make game where the gamer’s dream was to be… Little Miss World. It was to be a game for 8-year-old girls. Earlier in the workshop he told us that 35-year-old men developed the Bratz games. In other words, we had to get in touch with our inner 8-year-old girl.

I started thinking out loud, “What was I playing when I was eight? What was popular in 1984?” A stunned silence fell over my group. Both the guys were looking like I was the oldest guy they’ve ever seen.

“I was born that year, dude,” Bixler, 23, said.

“Man, I wasn’t even born yet,” Olivas, 19, said, adding insult to injury.

“Hey, guys, Super Mario rocked in the arcade,” I said trying to defend myself and all old school gamers.

Back to the game, we decided to make the game a sort of satire on the child beauty pageant industry. The opening scene would be an empty room with a solitary trophy sitting on the mantle, which belonged to mother. This room would soon be filled with trophies won by the mother’s daughter. We then cut to the mother and daughter traversing through a dress shop looking for the perfect dress on a $50 budget.

With the perfect dress chosen and purchased by the player, we move into the area where the player practices walking the runway by pressing buttons at the right time. We’d give them enough time to hit the button. The talent portion of pageant is where gaming ingenuity really comes into play. The player can hook in a guitar, a microphone, dance mat, or go with button repetition for a gymnastic or baton twirling competition.

Experience and money are gained by doing well in competitions. The player can use the money to buy new clothes, pay a stylist, get new music, etc. The player would work her way through different levels of competition: city, county, state, region, national, and finally landing Zurich for the big competition.

Adams would walk around the room offering advice to whoever needed it.

The final step of the process was creating a promotional poster for our game. Our poster was the earth and a little standing in front of with a guitar and mic. We had to go up to the front of the class to pitch our game. All the groups had really great ideas. Any fears I had of DeVry creating basically non-creative code monkeys was dashed because some of the games were really creative and well thought out.

The real story here isn’t Ernest Adams: the Madden game developer. It was about Ernest Adams: the ambassador of video games. The couple of moments I had to sit down with and talk was less about what I had planned on, but more of what he liked about games.

He said the game he liked so far this year was BioShock because of the moral choices that the player is forced to take when dealing with the Little Sisters, and that it was a satire on Ayn Rand. He said you almost feel sorry Andrew Ryan because his Libertarian utopia really came crashing down.

Adams also said that he draws inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci because he was both an artist and an engineer. He saw the world from both sides.

I have new faith the breed of video game developer and designers coming out of schools like DeVry. They all have a real passion for the industry and for games, in general. I hope to playing their games some time in the near future.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on on December 20, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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