Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 14

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Happy Thanksgiving week!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today I work on an updated sell sheet for our fourth prototype.  I post a color copy on the wall next to my desk, next to three I’ve done previously.  I’ve come a long way since 8-Bit Fudge, but much of the improvement is really Mark Jarman‘s artwork!

Around 11 am, Debbie, a hiring manager from EA, shows up and talks to us about the interview process.  Many of us brought resumes for a quick review, but most need a bit of rewriting after her informative counsel.  We stay an hour late, after which she leaves to meet with Cohort 3.

logoAmy is sick today, but invites us to play test Cohort 3’s game-in-progress Reflex, bribing us with pizza from The Pie if ten or more of us show up.  The game is much improved from the last time I tested it two weeks ago.  The creators ask many questions, and I leave half a page of “anonymous” feedback in their Google feedback document.  (Integrate the Myo, available this January!)

Wednesday.

I arrive 30 minutes early and copy a few last game ideas from my game design journal to notecards for our “100 Game Ideas” assignment.  Others arrive, and we start to stack printouts and notecards on the table as Jose checks our names off a naughty and nice list.

We spend the first half of class discussing what design really is (“creating a positive human experience” is my favorite definition.)  What is game design specifically?  What are the detailed differences between mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics?

Jose then addresses the mountain of five thousand game ideas at the front of the room.  Will we use them to play a design game?  Long weeks of preparation up the suspense.

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Jose asks how long it took us to write our 100 ideas each.  For some, it took two hours, for one person, forty.  I came up with mine over the last three months as they naturally appeared, writing my 100th four to six weeks ago.  Jose hopes at some point in the process, ideas just start to flow.  If not, he says we should write another 100, and keep writing them.

He then rightly or wrongly supposes our last 20 ideas must be our best, and proceeds to recycle the first 80 ideas from each stack into a big blue bin!  It’s a bit shocking, and makes me think what would happen if a music teacher told Mozart to throw away all of his early sheet music?  (Mozart actually did destroy much of his work, according to 1984’s Academy Award winning film Amadeus.)  Maybe not every idea in Cohort 4 at EAE:MGS is at that level, but what if the next Fallout 3 or Halo was somewhere in that stack?  Jose says if we had any really good ideas, we will remember them.

office binHe reads off one idea from each stack as he discards the balance.  “Did anyone else have an idea substantially similar to this one?”  The most generic idea (compare Plague, Inc) has a dozen copycats, while a dozen out of fifty really are unique.  Nearly half the class has at least one idea that incorporates one or more zombies.

5,000 game ideas minus 4,000 recycled ideas leaves 1,000 that Jose permits us to pick up afterward to develop into the next phase of the assignment, ten full paragraphs summarizing our ten best game ideas. Phase three will be to create a full page on the five best of the best, two weeks from today.

I admit staying after everyone else leaves to recover my cards from the bin, even though the stack is redundant.  (Next time use a shredder!)  I copied every idea from my own typed list, but I’d like to have a growing deck of ideas easily accessible for personal, if not class use.

I vehemently disagree with anyone who claims a game idea is worthless, even if there are millions of game ideas out there from tens of thousands of game developers.  An idea is at the heart of every IP and should be respected and built upon, even if one doesn’t always have the benefit of capital and co-workers to develop and monetize it.

On the other hand, when it comes time to develop a game, there is something to say about being able to select just one.

urlMy father once said a real estate investor should always look at at least 100 properties before investing in one.  Check out 100, make contingent offers on five or ten, and close on one you are not attached to but is the best investment.

The same process goes for investing in a movie or a game.  This process is worth internalizing.  Isn’t that what we really do as we transition from 100 ideas to ten paragraphs to one executive summary worth pursuing?

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In hindsight, Jose broke a few golden eggs, but he made us all better geese.

Thursday.

No class today!  It’s Thanksgiving!

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I play Forza Motorsport 5 at my cousin’s house before the big feast.  Kristian recreates my highly customized car, detail by detail, using Forza’s famous paint editor, and I race in it, the way I’ve always wanted to in real life on the Salt Flats.  We also play Killer Instinct for five rounds, and I win four, thanks to my recent tournament experience.

Later I shop the Steam Fall Sale, picking up recent indie games like Don’t Starve and Lilly Looking Through, console classics like Final Fantasy VII, and The Brigmore Witches DLC for Dishonored.

Friday.  Black Friday.

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At 11:00, I head for GameStop to really kick off Black Friday.  My goal is to really honor and respect the true meaning of Black Friday, whatever that means, in 2013.  I buy Xenoblade Chronicles and Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Wii, both classics that normally sell for $60 to $90 at GameStop used.  Today both are $40.  I also invest in Beyond: Two Souls, in spite of mixed reviews.

Around 2 am, I go to Toys R Us to pick up recent Xbox One, 3DS, and Wii U games at Buy 1 Get 1 40% Off prices.  Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Super Mario 3D World, and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds join an extra Xbox One controller in my shopping cart.  I look for an exclusive, retail PS4 game I really want to play, but don’t find one.  Sounds like I’ll have to stick to downloadable indie games like Resogun and Contrast for now.

I get to sleep at 4 am and sleep through my planned 8 am purchase of a Gold’s Gym year long membership for $50.  Fortunately, they have not sold all 25 at 8:30 when I finally get there, so I’m good to go until February 2015.  Of course, I could have upgraded to Wii Fit U for just $20.

Arriving home, I plug in a $30 PS+ annual 1253176_samembership pin (Black Friday $20 off), only to discover the network is down for the day due to the European PS4 launch.  GameStop replaces my card twice before we figure out the problem lies with Sony, who are aware of the problem according to a customer service rep who spends 60 seconds with me after a 30 minute wait.  It seems the PlayStation Network has a lot in common with ObamaCare, at least today.

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