Behind the Veil #3: My Dad’s Smarter than your Dad


My Dad’s Smarter Than Your Dad

In the last column, I laid out all sorts of money concerns attached to making a computer game, and outlined the potential benefits of working in game design. This issue I’m going to address the second of the four key game design elements: smart people.

Your average computer game company has at least two tiers of employee. The managers make decisions about what type of game to make. They are the company’s force in the world, and don’t actually have much say in the design of the games themselves; rather they keep people working hard to make the best games they can. When I wrote in the first edition of this column that professional software developers all have different ideas of what it takes to make a game, these are the people I was talking about. Since they’re basically separated from the game creation itself, they only know what their subordinates tell them.

The people who actually design the game and cut the code, the grunts, are the world’s driving force in the company. These people are dedicated, usually underpaid, and passionate about what they do. They’re often gamers themselves, like you and me. Ironically, these are the people whose names we rarely hear, since we’re all more interested the antics of Bill Roper’s than of some coder who poured his soul in to Warcraft III.

However, sometimes brilliant people just go out and make a computer game because they want to, and it turns out they’re just as smart as we now think they are. This is the swing that Roberta Williams fell out of when she made Mystery House in 1980, the first ever graphical text game and the start of Sierra On-Line.

For a game to be truly exceptional, everyone involved from top to bottom must be very intelligent. The higher-ups need to recognize that a certain game idea really is worth developing, and the worker bees need to know how to put it all together as one cohesive unit.

Being smart actually extends beyond the supposed Intelligence Quotient. The people involved need to not only know a lot about everything, but they also need to know everything about their job and the tools they use to carry it out. What good is a programmer who can recite Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time but can’t write efficient code?

Now, smart people come in all shapes and sizes, and all personalities. When I was at the University of Waterloo, everyone I knew was eccentric in some way, and every single one of them was a genius. I knew someone named Sky who could skip class all year, then start reading the course notes one hour before a midterm and get one of the highest marks in the class. In my last column I threw a bunch of numbers and hypothetical situations at you; this time I’m going to describe some of the people I actually work with, from the top of the company down, to give you an idea of how diverse intelligent people can be.

Our CEO is a good example of a smart person finding the right place to be. He was originally brought on as our IT and tech man, but when we realized he knew a whole lot more about running a project than any of the rest of us did, we stuck him with all the dirty work.

Our Head of Concept might be the most bizarre person I’ve ever met. He claims to have done so much stuff that he couldn’t possibly be less than a hundred and five, and yet he’s only about 25. He makes things up and lies freely, and we celebrate when he answers a yes/no question in under fifty words. He’s also one of the most creative people I know, which is why he’s where he is today.

Our Lead Programmer refuses to use the phone. He spends all his time in front of a computer screen, and sometimes we hear rumours that he’s gone off with his girlfriend. …We’ve never seen her. She might be a wig on a broomhandle. Our second programmer is afraid of cameras, but certainly knows what he’s doing around a C compiler. I’ll try to sneak a photo of him in to a future column.

We have a member of our Concept team who lives to tell his horrible horrible puns. He’s the oldest member of our team, and he’s just happy to be working on a computer game.

So other than severe personality disorders, what do we all have in common? We’re all highly intelligent, we’re all devoted to making the best computer game we can, and we’re all dedicated to following through. These are the qualities that can hold any group of game designers together, regardless of where they come from or what else they do.

There’s one more thing you need from your smart people: They need to be doing what they’re best at. If you’re a pretty good coder, but you’re exceptional at coming up with game art, then you should be a graphical artist, and I should hire you. I was originally brought on as a programmer, but my musical talents prevailed and now I run art and music. If you’re heading up a computer game company, and someone presents a new talent you didn’t know they have but that is better than what they’re currently doing, you should seriously consider switching their job. How much do you think Einstein liked working in the patent office?

So that’s game necessity number two, smart people. The smarter the better.

Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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