Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Level 2

After a three week break, Cohort 4 is back in the saddle at the EAE Master Games Studio South!

I am taking three classes this semester: Game Projects I taught by Bob Kessler and Jose Zagal, Design II: Virtual Worlds taught by Joseph Bourrie of EA Salt Lake, and Narrative in Game Design taught by Corrinne Lewis and Amy Adkins.

I am excited to announce that our thesis project teams have formed!  My fellow game creators are as follows (with links to their equally exciting blogs):


Rachel Leiker – Joe Rozek – Cory Haltinner


Vinod Madigeri – Siddharth Gupta – Skip Fowler – Dayna Stephenson – Abhishek Verma


James Hulse – Tina Kallinger – Brenton Walker – Antonio Revard – Matt Jensen – Jed Merrill

A few of these fine people I’ve worked with before and a few I’ve wanted to work with for months.  I am genuinely excited to work with all of them on a project that will impact each of our futures.

Now the selection process.  We are to come up with a minimum of 100 game ideas as a group. My group opts to whittle the 100 to eight per person.  Next Tuesday, we reduce our 100 to five that we will present to the cumulative class of fifty Artists, Engineers, Producers, and EP/Instructors. Based on their mastermind feedback, we will choose two to develop in parallel for at least a month, after which we will pick one game most worthy to represent us at IGF and train and polish that contender into competition shape by the October submission deadline.

100 -> 5 -> 2 -> 1

Because our plan is to submit all four projects to IGF Student Showcase and we hope each project wins one or more awards, we are also tasked as teams to study winners and finalists from the last eight years of IGF student showcase competitions.  What thesis were the designers trying to prove or experiment with?  What attributes are common to IGF Student Showcase winners, and what makes each nominee unique?  Can we iterate and innovate to create something truly unique and award worthy?

My team covers the 2007 and 2012 finalists.

For 2007, we cover And Yet It MovesBall Of BastardsBase InvadersEuclidean CrisisGelatin JoeInvalid TangramOpera SlingerRoomsThe Blob, and Toblo.

For 2012, we study The BridgeDustThe Floor Is JellyNousOne and One StoryPixiThe Snowfield, and WAY.

Thursday morning, each Producer on our team talks about three of the games for two minutes per game in front of the full class, as do representatives of three other teams.  My favorites are The Snowfield as an experiment in narrative, Dust for its pretty platforming pixels, and The Bridge for bringing to life a mix of M. C. Escher perspective and pleasing puzzle gameplay.

We then break into our thesis groups to brainstorm.

My team, now codenamed World War II Croquet Allstars by a random name generator, starts by presenting our eight game ideas each.  We get through five of our team members before Jose shakes up the process with a new and energetic exercise.

Instead of 100 ideas, we now have more than 200.  While I think our prepared ideas are qualitatively better than 95% of the in class exercise ideas, the activity helps me discover and appreciate the creative process of team members I get to work with for the first time.

In other first week news, Joe Bourrie teaches us about level design process, beginning with discussion of terms like Scale, Visual Cues, the 180 Rule (as found in the video game world, not movies), the boundaries concept, and choke points.  He says level design is about a lot more than environment, and includes non-playable characters and much more.

Corrinne’s Narrative in Game Design class is also very promising.  Narrative is growing in importance in games, not because games require story, but because games have so much power and potential to enhance stories.  The marriage of game mechanics and narrative is the reason IGN states it awarded The Last of Us Game of the Year 2013 today.


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