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What makes a good designer? It’s a question I think all good designers have asked themselves at one point or another.

Kboom Games, Blogger

January 27, 2012

4 Min Read

The Life of an American Developer in China: Investigative Design (Part 3)

by KBooM! Games Project Manager Paul Otake

What makes a good designer?  It’s a question I think all good designers have asked themselves at one point or another.

There are technical skills, like how to assemble a sensible and clear design document or how to think critically and design a flawless game-flow process, but those are all a matter of practice and proper training. These, along with the other practical aspects of design, can be picked up through good study or with a little experience in an actual game studio. Although these are critical skills we must possess, this alone is not enough to really define us. The real substance of a designer comes from something broader, harder to nail down and determine where it comes from… because it comes from everywhere.
Our experiences define us. They become the source of all our creative efforts, and ultimately they determine what kind of designers we are going to become. Everyone shares experiences. All of our roots come from playing games when we were kids. Along the way we’ve all seen many of the same movies or maybe read the same books, but it’s the extraordinary things about us that lend a different perspective to our designs.
Some people are less imaginative than others, but what makes up for this can be a natural inquisitiveness and thirst for expanding our boundaries and our understanding. I think that as designers, we are innately curious about the way things work, the secret things that operate behind the illusory curtain, and we will do whatever we can to answer questions and uncover new mysteries to investigate.  

My curiosity has always revolved around people, and has driven me to this moment and ultimately led me to China. To learn more about people and the “whys” and the “hows,” I studied philosophy in college (the first time around) and have spent a majority of my life consumed by wanderlust, traveling for long stints of time and surrounding myself with the strange and unfamiliar in an attempt to unravel its secrets and try to understand it. This ended up being a large part of the reason for me deciding to come to China and work with the team in Qingdao. The chance to work with gamers who come from an entirely different culture, with completely unique experiences, seemed to me like a once in a lifetime opportunity and something which sparked my curiosity like few other chances I’ve ever been presented with. One of these curiosities focuses on the nature of games and the common element that makes them great, the idea that there must be something lying within, that regardless of cultural background or language, there is an element of games that everyone who loves to play can relate to. It’s a question I’m still working on, and hope to come up with a clear answer to soon. In the meantime, the point is that whatever your reasons… there is always a question, or dozens of questions, that we want to answer. And all of them contribute to who we are, not only as people, but as designers. 

Since coming to China I have been blown away by one of the designers on our team. Although he is young, his grasp of the essential design skills like logic and game-process are impeccable. Beyond this, he is a perfect example of that natural inquisitiveness and curiosity. He has immersed himself in enough rock ‘n roll, movies and comic books to get a solid grasp on Western culture. This has helped immensely by giving me someone to relate to easily and who can understand ideas and concepts without hours of background description. For fun, just for the sake of expanding his knowledge, he tore through a 20-part series on psychology in his free time. What does psychology have to do with making games? About as much as philosophy. Which means maybe it has everything to do with game design. Everything that can broaden you as a person will improve you as a designer. It really is as simple as that.  

The point of this whole thing is that a good designer needs to open themselves up to everything, never tire of learning, and always strive to improve themselves and understand more. For me, it is all about actual physical experience… I will travel anywhere, eat anything (and believe me, I have), and talk to anyone. You don’t have to travel all the way around the world to discover new things, you might not even have to walk out your own front door, just never stop asking questions and seeking answers. The worst thing a designer could do is shut themselves away from the world and only play games. Part of what makes all other forms of art amazing and relevant is that they all draw from every aspect of the living world and human experience; video-games should be no different. The imagination is a hungry thing, and it requires real life experience and information to sustain it, so become a like detective, investigate the world around you and always strive to translate that into your games.

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