Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fun and Games; Turns Out They Require Hard Work!

Today, St. Gabriel's Middle School Game Design class welcomed the Creative Director of Austin-based Bluepoint Games. Donkey Kong in hand, Kynan Pearson offered up some sound advise that is not only applicable within the context of game design but also with many other aspects of life.

Kynan spent a few minutes sharing his background in the game industry and with projects such as Donkey Kong Country and the Metroid Prime Series. This immediately established his "street cred" with the students. Visiting with him prior to class, I related some of the challenges students encountered with their first big game design; specifically with making their games very complex and difficult to win. During class, Kynan used Tetris as an example to address this issue and explained to students that a game does not have to be complex to be fun. He pointed out the importance of giving players rewards and opportunities for success to keep them playing. He  went on to explain that because they know their game better than anybody, something that may be obvious to them may not be obvious to their players. Using clues to help players experience success can be a very important part of the design.

Kynan encouraged students not to be content to simply replicate game styles that already exist. He explained that there can be greater success by designing something completely unique and capable of capturing an audience that did not previously exist. Students need to think creatively when selecting mechanics for their games. It may be natural to use a jumping mechanic in a side-scrolling platformer game but they do not have to include it just because many other games of that type do.

Aside from game design, some of Kynan's best stuff had more to do with the general process of doing good work. Self-motivation is critical. To paraphrase, he stated that in order to accomplish great things and produce a good product you have to put in the work. Nobody is going to do it for you. If you want to learn how to do something, there are probably resources on the internet to show you how. Don't be afraid to try new things-just get in there and figure out what you need. Working as an effective part of a team also yields better products. Besides the value of various viewpoints and ideas, a team dynamic can provide a natural checks and balances system that is not there if you work alone. Finally (and fitting with our school culture) he shared the importance of being a kind and ethical person, not just in your personal life but in your professional life. In today's very connected society you never know when person you have encountered may have some influence on a future opportunity.

I'm very grateful for professionals such as Kynan Pearson who are willing to share their experiences with students. They have a story to tell, advice to impart and a way of connecting with kids from a completely different perspective from teachers and parents. Bluepoint may be getting a few resumes next week!

Special shout-out to Susan Benedict from Bluepoint Games. She helped set this opportunity up! Thanks Susan!