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Chris Avellone's Tripped Out Russian Interview

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Chris Avellone's Tripped Out Russian Interview

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 21 December 2013, 18:01:16

Tags: Chris Avellone; Kickstarter; Obsidian Entertainment

A Russian game designer named Anti Danilevski recently interviewed Chris Avellone for his blog. He has thoughtfully made the original English version of the interview available at Gamasutra. This is definitely one of MCA's stranger interviews, covering such topics as his religious beliefs, lifestyle and daily regimen, as well as the usual gamut of game industry, game design and Kickstarter-related questions. It's a must-read for all hardcore Avellone fans. Here's an excerpt:

Steve Jobs used LSD and made an iPhone. Do you think different psychotropic substances are truly extending or opening the mind, or is it just a beautiful theory that doesn’t help in creativity at all?

I don’t know. I mostly see the damage they cause. To explain – in the past, I’ve seen frequent cannabis users be unable to focus or worse, drift down very long irrelevant tangents even when not using, and it bleeds into critiques, design, and more. At the same time, so I don’t come across as a hypocrite here, I frequently consume tons of caffeine to motivate myself, which often does the same thing, so... yeah.

I use a number of different methods for creativity that don’t involve substances, if you’re interested. They are:
  • Working out with a writing pad nearby. Once the endorphins hit, it can help with brainstorming.
  • Going to see some other art form – an art gallery, a theater production, or even reading a magazine or book outside your comfort zone to spark your imagination.
  • Go read interesting history. Or any history. I got this one from an old colleague of mine, Scott Bennie, because frankly, there’s so much crazy shit that’s happened in the real world, you don’t need sci-fi to make interesting quest seeds and NPC personalities.
  • Going to a boring lecture with a sketchpad. This caused me to design almost all my dungeons and adventures when I was in college - some of my classes were so dull, my sketchbook and my imagination were my only escape.
There’s more, but that’s a few bits to throw out there.

Double usefulness from the education. Not bad! And when you make games, do you think about those three questions that I've asked above? Do you feel that we are responsible for what we are doing now, for what we deliver to our players?

I think about death, and about personality themes and how the player might be challenged to think about them. For example, Planescape: Torment is very much about regret and what can cause one’s behavior to change – and the game mechanics are designed to reinforce that with the alignment shifts based on your choices. More recently, Fallout: New Vegas explored letting go of one’s obsessions in order to grow (and begin again) in Dead Money in the companions, the narrative arc, and the player. In Old World Blues, it was nostalgia, the dangers of living in the past, and our responsibility to the present – most of the NPCs in Old World Blues never stop to consider how to apply what they’ve done to make the world a better place, nor do they care. The player is in a unique perspective to question this throughout the adventure.

We had a big discussion earlier – who IS a good game designer. How do you see it? Is it a rare thing, or anyone can be a game designer and no special talents is required? One more thing about good game designers: what the most important perks they should have? May those perks be trained somehow?

I combined these two questions because they have a lot of similarities.

So - there’s traits to being a game designer that don’t require formal training. And some that are. If I were to break down the natural elements:
  • The ability to want to entertain others before yourself. Designers recognize they are providing a service to their player, and they do what they can to make them feel good about playing the experience they’ve designed.
  • To step outside yourself and take note of what other people find fun. This ties into the point above, but the willingness to listen and watch to see what makes others happy, and then craft an experience based on that is important.
  • A willingness to do research in your own genre and love of your own genre of games – and a willingness to push the envelope in that space to see what else can be achieved.
  • This is very true of large teams, but the ability to communicate via text, via art, via a prototype, or in person why an idea is fun, inspire others, and sell them on an idea... and carry that energy into the design itself.
  • This is part of the trend above, but recognize the execution of an idea is important, not just the idea itself. If someone told me they had an idea for a man who dressed up like a bat and fights crime, that might sound pretty stupid at first... but it all depends on the execution. Give ideas a chance, don’t discount them at first mention, try and imagine how they could work.
  • Give critiques, not trash talk, there’s a huge difference. “Opening doors in your game sucks” vs. “I’m used to the A button being the action button in most games I’ve played, so the fact it’s assigned to the B button in your game to open doors is something that seemed counter-intuitive to me.”
  • Scope yourself. You can’t do everything you want with a game. Know when to hold back and know that the game can be much better for NOT including everything and the kitchen sink in the design.
There are more elements: the ability to critique and analyze designs, training yourself in other disciplines (environment art, animation, scripting, UI), playing your own work, constantly researching new tools, challenging your ideas with others... often, some of the best design ideas come out of debating and arguing those same ideas, and some of the worst ideas justifiably die the same way.
Not quoted - Chris' assertion that Dear Esther is a "non-game". Problem, indie hipsters? I was also amused by his little comment about Oblivion.

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