Game design, particularly for big-budget, blockbuster console titles, is an incredibly tricky and intricate process. In the most recent episode of the Irrational Interviews series, the creative directors of two renowned franchises compare notes on how they work, what creative design really means, and how the games ever get out of the door.
Ken Levine, creative director and writer of Irrational's BioShock and BioShock Infinite discussed the process of games writing and creation with Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig, creative director of the Uncharted series.
The two start with a conversation about what a creative director really is, or actually does for a game. For all the comparisons games continue to draw to cinema, even today, Hennig and Levine are both adamant that the development processes and final products are hugely divergent. Levine explains that the role of a creative director is "not as clear as a film director... our job is still not very well defined."
Hennig agrees, saying that the role is "both sort of wonderful and terrible," and adds that there's a certain kind of nimble quality involved in producing games. "The best games are developed in a very iterative way," she says, comparing the process to the rigid scripting and storyboarding more often found in films. "It's invention, it's experimentation engineering... it's not the way films are made."
While repeating that she hates for the process to sound at all "mystical," because making a game is anything but, Hennig does echo a sentiment often heard from artists in many physical media when she explains, "It's not like you're crafting this thing; it's like you're blindfolded or in a pitch dark room trying to feel out the shape of it and figure out what it is. This story is already a thing, but you're just trying to learn it, and you're trying to discover it."
Levine and Hennig also discuss the phenomenon of gamer entitlement and customer opinions (referencing the current wave of Mass Effect passion amongst fans), and what responsibilities creators do have to both the players and to the product itself.
The whole hour is a great chance to listen to two peers discuss and demystify their work, and hear how the games we play take shape from the inside out.