Lisa Brown
Latest answers

My friend makes games for his dayjob & also in his spare time. They don't have a noncompete in their contract so it's technically fine, but it caused some stress in their relationship recently. Any advice on navigating this?

It sounds like this was the result of a misunderstanding on one or both parties on the matter of what was appropriate, so I'd suggest making sure there IS some kind of noncompete clause in the contract to make sure everyone is on the same page in the future.

I've been very lucky in that the studio I worked for had a very liberal noncompete and encouraged employees to experiment with side projects (I don't remember the exact wording, but it was basically that anyone is free to do side projects as long as they aren't direct competitors to the games at the studio - which is reasonable considering it is highly unlikely someone would work on a high profile AAA shooter as a side project - and also that nothing was using company time and resources). I always tell people when they interview for positions at studios to ask for information on their noncompetes up front, because sometimes it can make or break if you really want to work there or not.

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How do you manage to find motivation to work when you're feeling sad ?

This has a two part answer.

Part 1: You can't summon motivation. When you are motivated it's a great way to forge ahead in your project, but when you're not motivated, you have to rely on discipline to push you through. This is why all the writers I know have a set time every single day to write, even if they only manage 100 words, the discipline of repetition is what makes novels happen.

Part 2: Okay, so we've established that discipline is what you need to work on stuff when you're not motivated. For the situation of being sad this is also true, but there are two different cases I see myself running into.

If the sads are just your standard, reasonable sads, then discipline to work can push me through it. Doing pomodoro sprints has always been helpful for me, especially if I can find a sprint buddy and we can share what we did with each other during the 5 minute breaks.

If the sads are a result of a depression creeping around the chemical defense barriers, then it is a completely different situation. This still relies on discipline, but instead it is discipline to STOP what I'm doing and take care of myself. Doing sprints in this mindset would not work, and would probably make everything worse. So, it is the discipline to NOT work, and to understand that I'm still a valuable human being when I'm not working.

So how do you know the difference? Lately, I've been relying on the keen observations of my closest loved ones. It is easier to see from the outside, afterall. If I say I am feeling down and they've observed all the warning signs of how my depression manifests, they may say "stop what you're doing and go take a relaxing bath, right now!"

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Two birds in the hand or twelve in the bush?

Twelve with one stone

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Hey Lisa ! IRL escape rooms/game are starting to be a popular thing here in France, but I've never read anything in english about it ? Is this particular to france ? (do you know if teachers talk about those in game class ? I wonder.)


Escape room games are definitely also a thing here in the states! You should ask Liz England on twitter sometime about how a seasoned group of game developers was consistently defeated by several different escape rooms :P

I know for a fact that at least one past class here at the school where I'm doing my residency had a project to build an escape room, so I'm assuming it's on the radar of educators. I love physical location-based games but I also think that VR is a great format for solo escape-room games (that's basically what I Expect You To Die is, after all)

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How do you feel when you're playing a demo at a convention and it clearly has handed you the victory? Would you still consider a game fun with little to no challenge?

Sina Jenani

I think this is going to vary entirely depending on the type of game it is. Of course you want to make a show floor demo be an accurate representation of the best things about your game, and also be condensed and easy to pick up and try. Usually you don't want the demo to be more than a few minutes just to get as many people through as possible. So yeah, I think if it's plainly obvious that you're being given a win it can feel a little disingenuous (I remember playing a racing game where the first track was very obviously rigged to have you come in first place to the point where it was almost comical). However, if it's giving you a win and is very, VERY well disguised, then that might be such a bad thing if it's still accurately representing the game. I think there are plenty of game types where the fun is not a factor of challenge. But if it's, like, a Dark Souls III demo and is gamed to be easy then yeah, that's gonna be disappointing.

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How to get over crippling impostor syndrome?

I was actually on a panel all about this at Indiecade last year!

It is, I'm afraid, a somewhat constant struggle. Once you get over one layer, a new layer of doubt on something else tends to appear (at least with me). I've struggled with various forms of imposter syndrome over the year, but the biggest one I had in grad school was pretty much cured when I got an internship in the industry, doing actual game design work on a game that shipped. Up until that I was able to deftly justify why my classmates and professors' praise of my talents "didn't count," but when I was out in the wilds with real industry folks, and they told me I was a badass, I had to believe them.

Easier said than done, right? I essentially got lucky to be in the right circumstances in the right time. Here are some general imposter syndrome tips, some of which I discuss in that panel

- be mindful of whenever you say "but" mentally to explain why some accomplishment or qualification doesn't actually count
- If you have smart people who you look up to praising your talent, realize that you dismissing them is actually rather insulting. I mean, these are smart people, right? You know they are, so trust what they say!
- Surround yourself with people who support you and who are honest with you
- SO many people struggle with this issue, and often write about or speak about it. Read the articles and watch the talks
- Sometimes we have a tendency to put other developers on a pedestal. We see them speak on some topic and our mind fills in the gaps about them that we don't know, and we sometimes personify them as some super genius who is brilliant at everything. Know that these are just regular people like you and me. Just normal, everyday humans. Be careful of how your mind fills in those gaps.
- Know that you have value outside of the work you do

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Many devs say something like, "if you make games, you can call yourself a game developer." When can someone call themselves a game *designer*? Since some elements of design rely on taste, is there even a threshold? If I wanted to do a show or podcast on game design, when would I be "qualified"?

Some of this depends on context. Much like you say, if you make games, and are making decisions about "how the game should be," you are designing games and are a game designer. People use this affirmation a lot for beginners to get them out of that "I don't count" mindset that can be so inhibiting. There's no special secret ceremony to induct people into the Society of Game Design or anything like that. In the context of, say, applying for a game design job at a studio, you have to have the work to back up the fact that you say you are a designer. Sometimes this is less about being a good designer than about having the skillset to fulfill the design needs of the studio.

Regarding the podcast thing, it's the same deal, there's no "qualifications" for running a podcast, you just do it. You can be thoughtful and analytical about games without being a professional designer. I guess figure out what you have to offer that is unique to you? Like what is your goal with a podcast like that? What are you trying to accomplish with it? And then conveying that honestly. I guess just don't try and come off like you're someone with years of industry experience when you're not, but that doesn't mean that there isn't value to your thoughts that you want to share.

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I know this is a huge noob question, but i cant actually find a definitive answer anywhere: Can you explain what "combat design" refers to, specifically? Is it placing enemies in the game/scripting them to ambush, etc. or is it more stat balancing, what attacks enemies have, or more in that field?

So this is a little tricky, and I remember musing about this on Twitter once. Combat design can be very different between genres as far as what a designer actually does. At the end of the day, the thing that all combat designers have in common is that they're trying to solve the same general problem: How do I make the combat feel good?

What this is on a practical level is highly dependent on the genre. Combat design in a fighting game might be heavily focused on balancing move sets, figuring out frame timings, etc. In an action shooter that is more linear it may involve more scripting and choreographing combat setups. In a more open action game it may be designing rules for enemy behaviors and attacks and reactions and balancing those. In a hack-and-slash adventure game it could be figuring out character combos and the circles of attack range in an arena-like setting. And so and and so forth.

I think you run into the same issue with all subsets of design (for instance "level design" in a linear story game versus an open world combat game versus a brawler versus a racing game are all going to involve very different skills!). So yeah, when someone says they're a combat designer, it means they are specialized in solving the problem of how to make combat feel good. There may be some carry-over in principles, but the skillsets and solutions are usually quite genre-specific (or even game-specific in some cases)

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I'm starting to write stuff about game. But should I write these in english ? I think so because *if* I have an audience I think it'll be english. I kinda wanna make videos out of it, I think it would be appropriate, but what about my terrible accent ? Should I make it in french and add subtitles?


I guess it depends on your goals, and know that I am heavily biased and privileged as a native English speaker on this matter. I mean, if your goal is to get more comfortable with speaking English it seems like it would be a great way of practicing that, accent or no! If you want to instead reach and focus on an audience of native French speakers, then maybe French would be better.

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@regaljoe asks, "What item from your childhood do you wish you could find again?"

Ooo, I don't normally do Question of the Day but this one made me recall a story. When I was little we had a toy called a Zube Tube, which was really nothing more than a cardboard tube with a spring inside of it that made cool noises. My first childhood home was right behind an airport, and when the airport decided to expand, they kicked us all out of our homes. After we moved, my brother and I realized that the Zube Tube had been misplaced. We'd left it in the basement of the old house.

We stopped by the old neighborhood once - after everyone had moved out but before they had plowed all the houses down, and we did a little sneaking around the old abandoned house. It was surreal, seeing what was once our home, still there but with all the soul sucked out of it, ready to be obliterated from existence. Anyway, our goal all along was to sneak back into the house and get the Zube Tube, but we discovered that the basement stairs had been destroyed, so there was no safe way to get down there.

That experience, of returning to our familiar home before its destruction, was surreal and impactful. Ever since then, both my brother and I occasionally have stress dreams about going back to the old house to try and get the Zube Tube out of the basement.

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Hi ! I'm wondering if you went to the "Sleep no more" interactive theater in New York ? Do you know that thing even exists ? What do you think of it ? I'm so excited by project like these.. :)

I did not know what this was but now that I have looked it up I find it very exciting! I love stuff like experimental interactive theater (my background is in the theater so it retains a special place in my heart). I'm more and more fascinated and curious about where the idea of "games as events" will go (I know this isn't a game, per say, but it made me think of it). Can you solve the problem of a saturated market by manufacturing scarcity? What would it take for people to happily pay for a game as a once-in-a-lifetime consumable event, and I mean pay enough to make it a sustainable model? I do not know the answers but seeing people explore the questions makes me very excited!

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I'm about halfway to where I want to be before I release an alpha, however, my game is becoming harder and harder to work with due to poor design. I think a rewrite would be the best option, but I don't want to get stuck in that rewrite-and-never-again-make-progess trap. Any tips?

I guess it depends on the nature of this project. Are you on a release deadline? Is it a personal project? How long have you been working on it - weeks? Months? Years? And are you talking about poor design like the game design or the design of the structure of implementation?

Refactoring is always tricky business, and can sometimes create more problems than it fixes, but if it's early enough then go ahead and do it. Sometimes you can't help but refactor if you get close to launch and realize something like "the game will not fit into memory" or something. You gotta do what you gotta do.

On the other hand, if it's fairly late and you've got a release date to hit and this game isn't going to make or break you and you haven't released many games, sometimes it's better to push through and get the thing out and learn from it for the next project.

It's hard to advise which way to go without knowing more details, but I guess a thorough weighing of pros and cons could help.

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Sometimes I'd like to write down analysis of some game designs, but I have no idea where to start. And it feels weird because I can easily write analysis a movie or a theater representation, but I feel like I can't do it for games, like there's too much to tell maybe or I dunno.. Any tip ?

I guess it depends on what part of the design you want to analyze. Maybe start by jotting down moments that surprised or delighted you, or maybe made you curious. Then after your playthrough, go back and think about why, come up with some theories.

Same with moments that frustrated you. Talk them out with someone. Often if I write something about design I've hashed it out in casual conversation first.

For a more practical approach, record your playthroughs, go back and watch them, then start writing down all the data points you can observe. Then go back and look at the numbers and see what analysis you can derive.

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I went shopping the other day and I was thinking of the "level design" of shops, like "does this setting makes me go through the man section even if I'm a girl ?". I also analysed the game design of a simple Playground slide when I saw one in a park. Am I seeing too much game design everywhere?._.

Not at all! It's good to have insights in all places. For extra fun, visit a casino and observe how the "level design" is intentionally terrible to keep people from finding their way out. I like to go to museums and when I get to a stopping point, retrace my steps to figure out "how" I got somewhere, by which I mean how the space guided me to that spot.

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I heard that getting a job in QA might be an easier way to break into design rather than straight applying for design. Is this true do you think? If so, should I still show off my design portfolio in my application? I'm not sure what I'd put on a resume except the design work I've done.

Ooops this was sitting in here and I didn't notice! Anyway, I think the design-through-QA route was much more common many years ago, when there weren't things like internships and apprenticeships, and when the tools for creating games weren't so readily available (such that it was difficult to get experience making video games when you weren't in them).

I still know people who go into design from QA, and I have no numbers to back this up, but I feel like more people go into design through things like internships, or having their own design experience on their own before applying (through things like modding, side projects, etc). Again this is a gut feeling and I have NO evidence one way or the other.

Either way, I would not say that QA is an "easier" way to get in, just a different way. Also, please know that QA in and of itself is an important job with its own skillsets. If you're applying to a QA position, I wouldn't apply with a design portfolio. QA is a bit like science - yes, it's about finding bugs, but then you have to form a hypothesis and come up with reproducible results and that is a very specific skillset. Either way, I'll ask my QA and design-through-QA friends to chime in on Twitter to this answer.

To keep up with my streak of linking Liz England's "From Student to Designer" series in every single answer I give, here's her write-up on entry-level design jobs

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What design books do you recommend?

Benn Powell

The Art of Game Design is great for a broad coverage of many aspects of the field and continues to be one of my favorites. Homo Ludens is good. The Design of Everyday Things is excellent in how it predicts a lot of modern UI trends (and also a horrifying reminder of how bad phone UI was in the 80s). Challenges for Game Designers has some great exercises for the active designer looking to stretch their brains.

Liz England runs a game design book club where we try and read a new book every month, and I've been behind, but she's been doing reviews fairly consistently. Check her blog for other good suggestions:

As for non-design books that are great for designers, I wrote a thing about that here:

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If you had any general advice for a designer going into an internship, what would it be?

Learn as much as possible from everyone you can. An internship can be the most astoundingly useful of learning experiences, so treat every person there as a potential mentor. Seek to learn from them. Come from a place of humility and enthusiasm. Try and find ways to look in on studio processes of all sorts, to get a well-rounded understanding of how they work. At the same time, understand that you bring value to the team as an intern. Students often have fresh brains and new perspectives, so don't be afraid to use what you know and speak up with ideas!

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Also, I'm pretty sure that last question is asking about super smash bros.

Yeah I figured that out on twitter later, whoops! I actually don't play smash, though I enjoy watching the pros.

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How important are math skills in being a designer? I've seen some postings that say they require strong math skills, and while I can get by with math it's always been my worst subject. seems strange to me because in any of my designs I've never had to really use a ton of it. Mostly level design tho.

It depends on the type of design you're doing. Maybe in level design not so much (other than being able to convert metrics when thinking about things like how fast your hero moves, etc). Systems design might involve more probability, formula modeling for things like progression, economy, etc. For implementation things like designing weapons and hero movement, you might get into more advanced stuff. Basic algebra and whatnot comes into play so often that I forget that's what I'm doing.

For me, personally, the maths that I run into most often that I wish I were better at (and on occasion Khan-academy up) are: vector math of any sort, basic trig, probability and statistics. Things I want to level up on: 3D math, understanding cross products, etc.

Perhaps other designers on twitter will have additional input, so check there for more.

This reminds me, years ago I did a presentation for high school students about the sorts of math they learned that we used in game development, with real-world examples from all departments. i should dig that up.

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Hey Lisa who's yr main (melee)

Wait what game are you talking about? What if my main is not melee? I have no idea what game so I'll just list off games I can recall that I've ever had a "main" in and just ignore the melee part

World of Warcraft - Tauren warrior (tank)
League of Legends - I played Kog'Maw exclusively for ages, and then Thresh for subsequent ages
Nuclear Throne - Crystal
Destiny - Warlock

What other games do people have mains in? I just got back from traveling and am tired so I'm probably missing a considerable number.

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If you had the chance to sit down one on one with somebody whose work you admire, what would you ask?

Usually when I do get the chance to sit with people whose work I admire, I am intensely interested in how their brain works more than their work itself. So I usually ask questions that dig into that. I love to ask if they've had any insights recently.

My favorite work-related question for interesting people is "what is the hardest thing about making the thing you're working on right now?" It has never failed to yield fascinating answers.

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Graduation is scary. I'm just a few weeks away and worried I may not find a job right away. How long did it take you to land something in the AAA space? And when did you feel like you had "made it"? The more I learn, the more it feels like I have further to go.

I don't know if I'm really the best benchmark for this. I got an internship my one summer in grad school and, seeing as an internship is really a 3 month long interview, they made me an offer upon graduation and I accepted. But mine is one of many different experiences, some people don't find work right away, and have to spend more time refining their portfolios.

I'm going to once again recommend reading Liz England's "From Student to Designer" series if you have any interest in working in AAA. I should just keep a permanent link to that in my profile, really.

As far as "making it," I'm not sure I know what that's supposed to feel like. You have to understand, I spent 8 years trying to figure out what to do with my life so I feel like I "made it" when I finally figured out I was a game designer, completely outside the context of a job.

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I don't know what I'm gonna do with my life anymore. Will game design god come to me and bring me back on the right path ?

I'm afraid I don't believe in the game design god. If you are feeling uninspired, take some time to devote to your health, mentally and otherwise. And I don't mean "if only I could figure out what to do I would be happy, but I can't figure it out so why bother." Take action, and the simplest action to take in the face of indecision is managing the baseline. Note I said simplest, not easiest. Easier said than done, always. It happens to everyone.

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I'm awful at getting back to people, both professionally and personally, as I'm the type of person to isolate myself when depressed. Do you have any advice or tips for breaking out of that? I feel like I've left too many awesome potential connections just hanging. :/

Going through something similar right now, I think it's important when taking care of yourself to not get knocked further down by guilt about your own inaccessibility. It's difficult because it's a cycle that feels like it drives you further and further into isolation.

Jakub once mentioned something about this that seemed like good advice to me, for those situations where you have an email that is literally months old that you intended to reply to and aren't sure how to pick it back up. Maybe just reply to it, and say to the sender that you did get the email, and did read it when you got it, and just weren't in a place at the time where you could reply to it. Simple as that, without having to come up with justifications or explanations or apologies. A lot of people can relate to this situation, and so just knowing "Okay, that person did see my email, they didn't ignore it" can set people at ease.

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Fries: ketchup, mayo or both?

I hate mayo. Let me tell you a story...

When I was little, our next door neighbors were more or less family to us. They were like second parents and their kids were like another set of siblings, so it was common for us to wander between the two homes. Supposedly, according to the Fowlers, they would often sit down to dinner, then look up to see me staring in through the screen door, and so would have me in to join them. I was some kind of meal hustler.

Anyway, the Fowlers had some snacks that we never had at home, so I would scavenge for things like Frankenberry cereal or whatever. One day, I was over playing with my friend and I noticed a large jar of some kind of white stuff on the counter.

"Marshmallow creme!" thought child-Lisa, her eyes wide and bright and her brain operating in classic child-Lisa logic.

I got a spoon.

I removed the lid.

I prepared my being for the joyous experience of devouring a spoonful of marshmallow creme in one bite.

And this is the origin story of my hatred of mayonnaise

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Ask @Wertle:

About Lisa Brown:

I'm an independent game designer, formally of Insomniac Games (Resistance 3, Sunset Overdrive, Slow Down Bull). I'm also a graduate of Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, and a Kentucky native. I stream gamedev a lot

Burbank, CA