17. What are some common mistakes that you see from students who take your classes?
The most common mistake I see in my classes is a lack of time budgeting. I do my best to give really detailed syllabi, assignment expectations, and other information on my website courseblogs which I'm convinced is more than most professors, yet I still often see final projects that reek of poor planning and the 'night before' syndrome. I think this is probably due to a combination of overconfidence and underestimation of the work involved, and I believe that the best skill that my students can learn is the ability to break assignments down into meaningful chunks in order to plan out and do the research and planning required for the assignment. This is especially true in research papers and design documents and the like. I have gotten to the point now, where after grading literally thousands of assignments, I can glance at a work an know how much time a student spent in the planning phase. This is detrimental in the industry, and I hire only students who have demonstrated their ability to plan well. Also, I know that these same students are the ones who are most successful in the industry, while others experience multiple lay-offs and do not last in their jobs.
18. What games in both the past or present do you believe have had the greatest impact on the game industry?
That's an enormous question, but I think that so long as we don't assume there is a connection between 'impact' and 'good' then we can say with certainty that the big games that are making the money like GTA V and Assassin's Creed are doing very well despite some gameplay problems (AC3 was pretty universally panned but did very well anyway as did the well-received AC IV - which was renamed to sell better despite being an AC3 series prequel technically) That said, I think the most impactful games right now are in fact the so-called 'indie' titles which are experimenting with new forms. I'd cite 'Thomas was Alone' which used narration instead of graphics to create a great story, or anything from Tell Tale like the ongoing 'Walking Dead' which is using player data to create new content for their story by heavy data mining from the online enabled game. Services like PSN and the iStore have changed the way we game, and thus are changing the industry from the inside out.
Well this is an opinion, surely, but I remember when Prince of Persia: Sands of Time came out it changed the way I think of gameplay. One of the highly innovative things about it was the adaptive difficulty built into the game. as a result, anyone could play and feel comfortably challenged by the game. What most people don't realize is that many games just build this right in. I think that the Fallout Series has much to teach us, and 3 is another example of how adaptive difficulty was implemented perfectly well. So my answer is that any game that adjusts gameplay or procedurally adapts to the user is worth keeping an eye on, and will have the greatest impact.
19. What is one of the most important lessons you have learned on some of your previous projects?
Design by committee doesn't work. Having a creative director or head designer is the key to projects. Every member of the team also needs to have a clear idea of what their role is. I've been on teams where I didn't know my role, or who was in charge, and the creativity literally stopped in those moments until someone stepped up and took charge. This sort of problem is never seen in the industry on effective teams, even teams of hundreds know the chain of command, and we still can recognize the creative director and "style" of big games like Bioshock or Brutal Legend as a specific person -- in this case Levine and Schafer.
20. What games should any person interested in game design play at least once?
Yes. --- What I mean by this is that I don't really agree with the assumption that there is a seminal list. If someone wanted to become an FPS expert, then they really need to play lots of FPS's like DOOM, Quake III, Borderlands and Medal of Honor. If someone wants to be an adventure game expert then they would need to hit some of the best in that genre like AC, Tomb Raider, Portal, and so forth. RPGs? The list is massive starting (at least!) with the old 3/4 isometrics like Baldur's Gate and culminating in Skyrim and Fallout -- but the point is that you are the sum of the games you have played. I know I am. I hate JRPGs. I get bored with massive world games (though do love them for a time), and though I'm good at FPS's I really have no great love of them, though I did enjoy Borderlands for some reason. What I obsess over (nowadays - its different from when I was younger) is the AC series, anything with high levels of interactive story, and until last year Minecraft at perhaps an unhealthy level, but which I will happily be getting back into for professional reasons again soon. Ask another professor and you'll get a different answer, but I look at it the same way as any other Humanities field. I've read Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Dickens - but I haven't read ALL of Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Dickens. (I have, however, read all of Rex Stout, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, and am working on the most recent by Stephen Lawhead, but that's a different matter.) Same principle.
21. What do you believe is the best way for someone to get their foot in the door in the game design industry?
Design games. I'm not being silly, I'm being very serious. There are tools available to you now to create games. Be it gamemaker or UDK or others, there is a massive toolset and community available to tap into. Even if you just start by building an adventure map in Minecraft or Skyrim mod then putting it on the forums for feedback and fixes, you should be designing NOW,making NOW, and 'publishing' NOW just like any artist. Build that portfolio, and in combination with that ATEC degree you are working on you will stand out over the other candidates on hiring day. Applying that time management mentioned before an you will will have a paved path to success!
Adam L. Brackin, Ph.D - Doc to his friends - is an independent media consultant, writer, and sometimes professor. His teaching and research interests include: Social Media, Transmedia, & ARG, all forms of non-linear & interactive narrative, story mechanics models, and video game studies & design.