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Design by committee: A conversation with Kyle Gray

High expectations for Henry Hatsworth meant I had a lot to say when I finally played it. After I posted a note about the game which got featured in Gamasutra, I recieved a surprise email from Kyle Gray, the mind behind the game.

I had been wanting to play Henry Hatsworth for a while before I finally got the chance, and so when I did I realized that I had a lot of things to say about it. First I talked a bit about the flow of the game and then I posted a note about its starting screen. After the latter got featured in Gamasutra, I received a surprise email from none other than Kyle Gray himself.

I met Kyle when a couple semesters ago when he came to the ETC, the graduate school to which I go and from which he graduated - I talked very briefly with him and certainly don’t expect him to remember my face or even my name. Nonetheless I was truly flattered that he took some of his time to reply to a post regarding a game he designed.

“There is a very simple reason why you can’t use the stylus on the bottom screen” he said. Kyle was the one who led the pitch for Henry Hatsworth and also the game’s director, so I definitely believe it when he says the game “is meant to be played without the stylus”. He adds that “casual gamers seemed to play the puzzle more, and they also tended to use the stylus. Had we been able to remove it, I would have since you can spam the puzzle using the stylus a lot easier”.

I understand what he means, since I played the game with the D-pad for a long while. After a while, though, I realized that using the stylus to spam the puzzle, just as Kyle suggests, yielded better results and so I switched to the stylus. That was when I noticed the bottom title screen did not take stylus input, since I would take the stylus out as soon as I turned my DS on.

So it’s clear that the stylus was not part of the vision for Henry Hatsworth - why did it end up in the game, then? “I tried to eliminate it altogether” says Kyle, “unfortunately, marketing would have none of it”. As I read that, the story of Kyle’s departure from EA came immediately to mind. Game companies do not come much bigger than EA, and it hurts my head to even think about the process that creative decisions must go through to survive in a publisher as big. It also makes me realize how great Kyle’s pitch must have been in order to get through (a DS puzzle/adventure game at EA Tiburon?!).

As I near the end of my graduate program and get ready to actively search for a job as a game designer, I can’t help but wonder about what type of company would fit me best. We all start out with dreams of breaking into the games business by scoring an amazing job at a huge publisher, but as we grow more experienced the smaller studios start to show their real value. For example Schell Games, where I worked for the summer, is an amazing place where creativity seems to hang constantly in the air, radiating from every head. You also never get the feeling that things aren’t being done right.

Kyle leaves me with a final word of advice, almost a word of warning. “Should you opt to work for a big publisher you’ll quickly discover how much of the decisions are made by people who aren’t involved in development”. I always thought of Henry Hatsworth primarily as his game, yet it seems that his vision got diluted along the way. “But that, of course”, he adds, “is why I left”.

-Thanks a lot to Kyle for allowing me to share this conversation, and best of luck to him on the revival of the Experimental Gameplay Project.

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