Monday, November 2, 2009

A peek into the process of game designing

If you grew up in the 70s in Sweden, you were pretty much starved for fun TV programs.

Disney cartoons were broadcasted for ONE hour at Christmas Eve every year. The rest of the year we had to do with "shows", where hippie dressed grown-ups showed us how we should make our own toys from cloth and wood, alternatively ran incomprehensible animated doll movies from Rumania. No, I'm not exaggerating.

However, out among all those terrible programs that were supposed to be educating, but were plain boring, there actually was one kind which I never could have enough of: the inside peeks from different sorts of manufacturing industries.

The idea was quite simple. They took some everyday item, like a toothbrush. And then they showed what it looked like in the factory where it was made. I was fascinated. I still am, actually, even though I haven't seen any inside peek for many a year.

It happens that I look at things I come across, such as the tool use to crush garlic, or a plain bulb. And I ask myself: I wonder how they put this together? It's obviously made from metal, glass and plastic. But someone must have thought it out. Someone designed this. Someone collected all those pieces and made a machine that could put it together. How would that look?

Curious about what's behind
Of course my curiosity also extends to computer games. How much work mustn't there be behind an instance such as Ulduar? What does the process look like, from the first vague fantasies, brainstorming meetings and simple sketching to the actual programming and putting it all together? I have no idea, but I imagine it must be quite complicated and demanding, and probably it involves much more of grinding and tedious work than we believe.

Now would be the right time to make a twist in the post and triumphantly inform the audience that your pigtailed innkeeper has gotten a personal invitation to spend a week at the Blizzard headquarters. But I'm afraid it's not the case, in spite of the heading of it.

But I've got something else, which is pretty cool, although it is in a smaller dimension. I'm currently getting a peek into the mind of a game designer - who maybe one day will make his way into Blizzard or some other major gaming company - namely Ixobelle.

He has started a new project, another step towards his goal, to work professionally in the gaming industry. Following some good advice Ixobelle has started to design - and program - an application. Not for WoW, since Blizzard doesn't even look at that kind of stuff of fear of being sued for copyright intrusion. Instead Ixo is making a module for Neverwinter Nights 2.

Through his blog he shows his creative process, step by step, in his online diary. I honestly can't understand where he gets all the courage it takes to do such a thing, but I'm glad he's doing it, since I find it rather fascinating.

Blogger casting
What adds to the fun is the casting. Ixobelle has borrowed some inspiration from the blogosphere to the NPCs you meet. For instance there's the merchant Gevlon, the lawyer Spinks, the doctors Hatch and Tesh, and the mayor Tobold.

And the PPI staff has obviously also inspired to a couple of characters in the module. Here's Ixo's descriptions:

Larisa – The innkeeper/ owner of the Pink Pigtail Inn. A spunky little woman with pink hair. She’s the town gossip, as she overhears everything in her establishment. She can be counted on to give the ‘uncut’ (but perhaps biased) version of any story.

Elnia – The bartender of the Pink Pigtail. In contrast to Larisa, Elnia is a realist and more of a quiet observer. While people might be hesitant to talk with Larisa within earshot, Elnia doesn’t seem to pose a threat. She may have valuable insight in some situations.
So I tell you all: go and have a look at how this toothbrush of a game is born. And as an extra bonus you'll get some giggles at the participation of some well known bloggers.


Elnia said...

Well, that does sound like a horrid TV. OTOH, you could have been stuck watching Barney. And in a battle between a purple dino and a Romanian doll I think I'd favor the doll. Especially if it was dual wielding toothbrushes.

Come to think of it a battle between a purple dino and a Romanian doll sounds like just the thing that should be in Ixo's game. Awesome.

Stabs said...

There ya go Larisa - an online legend!

Seriously this site rocks and it's great to see you immortalised in a game mod.

And no less than you deserve after all the superb writing you and Elnia have given us here and in comments over at our places.

oana said...

Hi. Well, i'm from Romania and ... animated dolls??? really? when did that happen? I've never seen/heard anything about, i've even asked friends and nobody knows about them. Lol :)

Larísa said...

@Elnia: it was horrid. But on the other hand it learned us to appreciate a good Disney cartoon! The children of today growing up with Disney channel are so spoiled that they don't get the magic experience like we did. If you see it from the bright side.

@Stabs: awww thanks! I don't know if it's exactly to be immortalised, but it gave me giggles.

@Oana: I knew it! In this era of globalism you can't come away with carelessness anymore. When I said "Romanian" it wasn't literally Romania I meant. But there were this kind of movies and they were always from Eastern Europe, the communist block. Could have been Checoslovacia, Hungary, Poland, whatever. I honestly don't remember, more than the extreme dullness of them, as oposition to the sparkling ones from the west. Sorry if I sound prejudiced, but that's how I remember it.

Staffan said...

Actually, there was one other source of Disney (at least in the early 80s, not sure about the 70s). On Saturday mornings, there was a program called Godmorgon Sverige (Good Morning Sweden) that ran from, I think, 8 to 10 am. This was a generally "cozy" program, with some artist guests, competitions where you could call the show, and such. One of the show's features was that it had a short cartoon every week, and at least some of the time said cartoon was a Disney one.

Another option for cartoons was "Lilla Sportspegeln", a sports program that aired on Monday evenings aimed at kids. Each show included a Tom & Jerry episode as well.

Oh, and the summer and winter holidays were a paradise (relatively speaking) of cartoons. Traditionally, during the summer holiday public service TV (which was the only TV in Sweden back then) had a one-hour morning show for kids that started at 9 am, showing an assortment of cartoons (mostly Disney, Loony Tunes, and Woody Woodpecker) and other short children's shows wrapped in a framework with a host of some kind. A similar thing was traditionally done for the two weeks following Christmas.

But yeah, people growing up in Sweden in the 70s and 80s weren't exactly spoiled for cartoons. We did get the Muppet Show though, so it wasn't all bad.

oana said...

@Larísa: Heh. Well no, you don't sound prejudiced, I lived in the communist era and trust me, it was NOT nice. The funny thing is, we had the same problems with cartoons.. there were none ! :) And those animated dolls.. now that i've been thinking about this, they were Bulgarian :)) We could watch them sometimes too, though we couldn't understand anything given the language.
Ontopic: grats for being designated for immortality! I guess you're one step closer to becoming world famous. Gogogogo Larísa! :)

Rhii said...

I loved the segments of tv shows that did the "how it's made" thing too!

I still have very fond memories of one that took you on a tour of the crayon factory. I was a big crayon fan, so I was particularly intrigued. In fact, I may have to look up that segment on youtube if it's there. ;)

Good memories!

Bri said...

There's currently a show on Discovery Canada called How It's Made, which is exactly how you describe. Check , you can watch episodes online.

Cap'n John said...

Hmm. It sounds like the idea for H.R. Pufnstuf originated in Sweden.

Kromus said...

May you become the A'dal of the gaming world, haha!

On a serious note, i checked that site, I came, I saw, I lol'd.

also, the series "how is it made" its amazing, simple stuff such as bow and arrows go through such an amazing process.

Tesh said...

You could also peruse Brian "Psychochild" Green's blog. He's a professional game designer. I *could* write up a few things from my view as an artist in the field dabbling in design at a small studio, but I'm loathe to step on NDA toes.

I guess I really should write up a few blog posts on what I do every day; I can give an insider's peek at things in vague terms...

But in the meantime, yes, Ixobelle is handling things well and with grace. He may not be an insider, but he's got a pretty good bead on the process, and he writes well about what he's doing. It's definitely fun following what he's up to.

(I just wish I could pull some strings and get him hired. :()

Larísa said...

@Staffan: yeah, it gradually grew better (and I may have exaggerated a LITTLE). But I don't think that those weekly cartoons turned up until the 80s.

And it's true that we got the Muppets eventually. But basically I still claim that we were pretty starved for entertainment. Which actually maybe wasn't only a bad thing.

@Oana: I actually do remember ONE piece of fun children's programs coming from Eastern Europe: a cartoon called Dr Balthazar, which I think was from Czechoslovakia or possibly Yugoslavia . It was extremely crude and simple with the expectations of the kids of today, it only lasted five minutes, but we cherished every second of it.

@Rhii: oh, I never thought about YouTube. Ofc! Everything is there. There should be a ton of how-to-make-an-insert-object there.

@Bri: sounds like fun. I might check it out when I'm in the right mood.

@Cap'n John: I had never heard of it, but of course I found it at wikipedia. . Some interesting stuff there indeed.

@Tesh: I'd really like to see those posts if it would be possible to write them without putting your job at risk ofc.

Yeah, I wish I could do something substantial for Tesh too. In the meanwhile I give him whatever link love and moral support I can. Better than nothing I guess.

Hinenuitepo said...

I feel your pain!
I grew up in Papua New Guinea in the 70s.... TV?
It was a regional event when our community got a satellite and we camped at our school to watch the 1980 Olympics. :)

Anyway, the 'how it's made' stuff is still cool and it remains one of the only shows from 'those channels' I'll watch with my spouse.

Grats on yer immortality, and good luck to your friend!

Leah said...

I must be one of the few people who actually loved my communist childhood and not afraid to admit it either :P

the one bad cartoon memory I have was when I was five. we used to have this children's program every night at the same time, it was called "good night, babies" (its a literal translation) and they would show either short cartoons or portions of the longer ones. Bad memory comes from a cartoon I missed, becasue I had a gymnastics practice (they start you off early) at the same time, was "Wild swans"

some of the animation was stop motion sculpted figures, and that inspired me to start sculpting. For the most part though if there wasn't enough to watch, I didn't really notice. I was outside a lot playing with other children, or going to music school, or dance lesson that my parents could actually afford becasue if cost barely anything

I loved spending the entire summers, immersed in various activities at the overnight summer camps. if I wanted to go see a movie after school, my admittedly small allowance could actually cover it plus some ice-cream, several times over, and while we didn't have as many choices as you have in USA nowadays, we still had plenty of motion pictures to chose from.

Russian cartoons that I grew up on I still conciser to be some of the best of all time, maybe even better then original Disney (and speaking of Disney - specifically Tom and Jerry, fraggle rock, and muppet show - we had those too :P )

But I'm deviating from original topic of the post, sorry O_o
couple of programs you might enjoy and you can watch some of them online :)

Bristal said...

I did not read (or hear) the designer's words, but I don't really get your problem with the statement "show, don't tell".

Your logic about babies first making noise then hearing then seeing is faulty. They might be able to make noise when they are born, but LANGUAGE, the true difference between us and beasts (as far as we can tell at this point) comes later only with learning from other PEOPLE. God only gave them the ability to see & hear, Mommy and Daddy give them language.

Language is the tool of telling. A baby's shriek is just a response to discomfort, not a conscious attempt to communicate. Didn't God see (or sense somehow) that all was in chaos prior to telling it to get its act together?

Before language, humans drew pictures, representations of things and self, to communicate ideas, or to get a sense of self.

Art is about showing, representing, either concrete things, or more powerfully, concepts that language falls short of communicating.

I feel that SHOW is an admirable goal and would move "video games" closer to an art form. Great movies do not TELL, a magnificent piece of art doesn't TELL, good books don't even TELL. They nudge, suggest, describe, lead, and allow you to make your own decision about what it means to be YOU.

With all due respect, your whole post reminded me of a person who stands in front of a piece of art and demands, "well, what does it mean?"