Lisa Brown

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Why do people usually push the door when it says pull?

Alright, auto-question, let's do this. I see a lot of this disparaging of people for "not being able to read" when they do a door wrong, especially from people who love to revel in the "stupidity" of others to make themselves feel better about themselves.
Listen up. If the only thing telling a person how to open the door is a tiny bit of text then you have FAILED as a designer. Your job is to make the user experience of a person walking through a door so seemless that they do it without even thinking about it! Having to stop and read directions is a bad door experience.
There's a series of doors near me that I hate. It's in a long breezeway connecting two sky walks. The first two doors you go through are glass push doors within long vertical handles. Then, suddenly, inexplicably, the next two doors (which look exactly the same with the same handles) are pull doors. There is of course a tiny placard with the word push or pull on there. Every single time I go through this passage I see it fuck people up. Every time! And its often catches me even though I went through it many times before!
And the thing is, I can see the logic of why the designer switched the doors. They change at a central nexus with an adjoining hallway, so it "makes sense" that the would always open inwards to the nexus. But, whatever, this person clearly didn't playtest their damned doors.
I hate those doors.
Anyway, to answer the question, people usually push the door when it says pull because the door designer FUCKED IT UP.

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Do you think it's worthwhile for a student applying for internships to include soft skills like "communication" and "leadership" on their resume? My gut tells me it looks cheesy at best and disingenuous at worst. Is it better to let (team-based) projects speak for themselves?

I can't speak for all folks in hiring situations (and maybe some twitter folks can chime in with their opinions) but I don't think you need to list stuff like that under "skills" (even though they really are!). You can highlight them, though, with the verbs you use in bullet points when describing what you did on your projects. I feel like this gives them better context, anyway. Like having "communication" listed as a skill won't convince me, but a resume/portfolio that effectively communicates information to me will, if that makes sense

Do you still play For Honor? What platform? If you're on PC... wanna play sometime?

Alas, I play on PS4!

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I'm supposed to apply to a game school I've been wanted to go to for ages and pass the entrance exam; but I love my life in my town with my friends and lover and cared ones and now it's like I don't even want to be accepted in this school and euhghph what should i do :(

Change is difficult and scary! I can't answer this for you, as my values and experiences are not necessarily yours, but I will say that I tend to grieve more for future change than when it actually happens. You are imagining the life that surrounds you suddenly disappearing, which of course would be jarring, but I've found that in the actual act of changing that transition seems to go a lot more smoothly. For me, I always valued trying out new life experiences, and still value loved ones who have moved out of the center of my life, even if the relationship has changed. You also should ask yourself, will all your loved ones also stay in your town forever, or will they potentially also move on? Would that change how you feel? Other questions to consider: Would going to school put you into debt? Would you have stability in staying? Is this an opportunity that would grow more difficult to recreate over time? Do you have the lifestyle flexibility to try new things? What are the things about your current life that you don't want to lose? Would it be possible to fulfill those needs while still going to school?
Also, keep in mind, even if you DO stay in your town and keep doing whatever you are doing right now, that does not guarantee that your situation will stay the same and feel the same forever. It's going to change because things change because life. I'm all about pushing people into trying new things and having adventures, but only you know the details of your life and circumstances and values, so only you can figure out the answer to this.

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I think the cover letter I wrote for my dream internship was too informal. I told a personal story with feelings and stuff instead of talking about how my experiences make me the best intern ever. I did write a bit about one of their mechanics to try and show some design knowledge. Did I mess up?

Huge disclaimer: I literally cannot remember the last time I wrote a cover letter, and I've only read a few in a hiring context, so I am probably a terrible person to ask when it comes to advice on this. I often refer people to Liz England's article on the topic - http://www.lizengland.com/blog/2014/07/from-student-to-designer-part-3/
Regarding the personal story thing, if that story doesn't show specifically how you would bring value to the company, it probably isn't very useful. I see this a lot in applications for things like scholarships, etc. You have to start with a baseline assumption that EVERY SINGLE APPLICANT has a passion for games or grew up with games making a significant impact on their lives or whatever. It's almost a given. So if your personal story just repeats the same theme that every other applicant does, or if it doesn't give a strong context about WHY you do what you do that is something that makes you uniquely qualified compared to other folks' experiences, it might be that those words are better put to use towards another purpose.

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Do you think meat pies are strange? Also, what kind of things would you suggest when it comes to marketing your first game?

Jeremy Craig
I do not think they are strange. As for marketing, I'm afraid I'm a terrible person to ask, as all of the games I've worked on have been marketed by someone else, often an experienced team, except Imaginal, which was a noncommercial work. My guess would be to figure out who your audience is and then figure out all the ways to maximize exposure to that specific audience. For example, trying to get a Megabooth slot at PAX is great if that attendee demographic is the biggest potential audience for your game, but if it is not then perhaps that time/money is better spent elsewhere?

Good answer! I talked about dailies with some friends recently (we were all playing For Honor, as a matter of fact). Quests and orders certainly aren't 100% bad... wish I had more space to write about them. How are you liking For Honor? I've been playing almost nonstop since release...

I love it! The combat feels so interesting and fresh to me. I like the Raider a lot. I missed out on playing last two weeks because of Train Jam/GDC but hoping to get back onto it this week. I love Apollyon.

Any recent trends in game design that you aren't a fan of? As an example, I'm not very keen on the daily quest systems that keep showing up in multiplayer games- I think Hearthstone executed it well and made them popular, but I think they make a lot of games less fun.

I'm honestly struggling to think of any. I feel like I had a paradigm shift when I started to think about player types and ask if something that annoyed me in a game was for someone else. Like dailies in multiplayer, I can visualize exactly the type of players that is for, and I myself enjoy a little structure to give me some short term goals (like I love For Honor's war orders). I'd be more interested in examining what it is that makes those systems explicitly unfun for you rather than something you could ignore and still enjoy the game, and if there were a way to include light structure for those "work" players without actively inhibiting the fun that your player type is having (possible the answer is no but still worth exploring!)

Graduate followup: My degree is in computer science, but in a perfect world I'd be a designer. I have a few small jam games to show, but nothing more substantial. My living/financial situation should be solid until at least August.

Okay, bear in mind that I just gave a talk at GDC about bad advice, but here are some more questions (you don't have to answer them to me but I hope answering them to yourself may help). I'm working under the assumption that you want to work at a studio.
- Do you have any inclination as to the type of studio you want to work for? I know it's tempting to be like "I'll take any job anywhere" but that just conveys lack of focus. I would search around at the type of places hiring entry level positions right now, and pick, like, 3 where you would be most excited to work (this doesn't mean only apply to 3 places, but rather pick them as a way to help you focus)
- Do you have a body of work that you feel shows off your work as a competent designer or programmer for what those companies need? Remember, their first question isn't "is this person a good designer?" but rather "does this person have the skills to do the job I need to hire them for?" If the answer is no then you probably need to focus on some more long form projects that add depth to your portfolio. This could take several months of work. These days I tend to recommend game jam games as supplemental work rather than the meat of a portfolio, but really just make sure you can show off your depth of skill.
- How risk-averse are you? Does the thought of August excite you or give you anxiety? Would you do better work on your game stuff if you had the security of a steady income or would other work distract you? If you don't have a job by August are you in serious enough financial trouble that your life could be at stake?

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I'm graduating from college in two weeks and I don't have anything lined up after that and I want to work in the industry and ahhhhhhhhhhh...help?

This sounds very stressful! But I cannot offer any advice without more details: what do you mean when you say you want to work "in the industry?" Like is there a particular studio or type of game you want to work at/on? What is your skillset? Do you have a plan in place for living while you try and find work? (at a big studio the hiring process can literally take months from application to hire)
As a general response I think Ubisoft Toronto is hiring a bunch right now.

Hey Lisa ! Do you know any article about "player naming things" in videogames ? I dunno how to call that, but when an enemy or item doesn't have a name in a game, players tend to name those themselves. (I learned recently that what I called "coins" in the sonic games were actually called rings)

Somehow I missed this 2 month old question, sorry! I know the phenomenon you are talking about, but I don't know if anything has been written about it. I think the community naming in the first Twitch Plays Pokémon is an example of it on overdrive. I would love to read any research on it.

What was the highlight of GDC this year?

This is a tough one, l think it's a three way tie between response to my bad advice talk, response to my Hyper Light Drifter level design talk, and seeing people play and enjoy Ghost Dentist VR

What is the most interesting thing you've learned recently? (Doesn't have to be useful knowledge)

I learned that the Waterfall production method was a fake counter example in a book on design from the 70s. It was literally a strawman and was never meant to be used in real life!

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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Liked by: Nika Harper

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)

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?

Ktiger34’s Profile PhotoSina 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!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3P66Qho3ykWertle’s Video 134930582258 D3P66Qho3ykWertle’s Video 134930582258 D3P66Qho3yk
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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Wertle’s Video 134930582258 D3P66Qho3ykWertle’s Video 134930582258 D3P66Qho3yk

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.

@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!

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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Language: English