Update: Richard Garriott: "Most Game Designers Really Just Suck"

| 21 Mar 2013 11:01
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Garriott thinks the system is failing game designers, by funneling everyone who isn't clearly talented at either programming or art into design instead, leading to "lazy" designers.

"Other than a few exceptions, like Chris Roberts, I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am," Richard "Lord British" Garriott, creator of the Ultima series tells PC Gamer. "What I'm saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there's a reason why," Garriott says, going on to explain that he thinks the system is failing would-be game designers.

"It's really hard to go to school to be a good designer," explained Garriott. He thinks that the majority of game designers only fall into the job because they are passionate enough about video games to want to develop them, but don't have any real skills as an artist or programmer. "We're leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they're not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer." He thinks that training options for would-be game designers are much rarer than those options available for artists and programmers.

"And every designer that I work with...I think, frankly, is lazy." Garriott says that for someone to be a "good" game designer, they have to really put in the hard yards like he did when he first started out, something that a lot of modern game designers just aren't willing to do. "They generally say, 'You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,' you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sit down and rethink, 'How can I really move the needle here?'"

"I think there's really very few great game designers," he continued, adding Peter Molyneux and Will Wright to his list of good designers. "They clearly exist, but on the whole, I think that the design talent in our industry is dramatically lower than we need, as an industry. It's a very hard skill to learn."

Very provocative words from Lord British, but if anyone is entitled to them, the man who practically invented the computer RPG is. Garriott's latest project, Shroud of the Avatar is currently in the early development stage, after recently reaching its Kickstarter goal.

Source & Image: PC Gamer

Update: A poster identifying himself as Garriott has clarified his comments, claiming that articles posted about them were written with a "sensationalist slant" and that his main point was that game design the hardest, yet most valuable skill in the industry.

"Thanks (NOT!) for the sensational headline! While I appreciate those of you who read the whole thing, to see better the whole context, even still, this article is skewed to make a sensationalist slant. My point was, that game design is the hardest, but also the most valuable skill to build in the industry. That every company lives and dies based on the talent of its game design team, and that as an industry we are not doing so well creating the talent we need in this industry, because educational systems have not caught up in this area as well as programming and art. I was not trying to toot my own horn, rather state that game design is hard. Ah well. :)"

Source (Update): Gamasutra

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Frozengale:
Here's a little bit of clarification from Garriot himself. He posted a rebuttal on Gamasutra's article about this

Richard Garriot:

While I appreciate those of you who read the whole thing, to see better the whole context, even still, this article is skewed to make a sensationalist slant. My point was, that game design is the hardest, but also the most valuable skill to build in the industry. That every company lives and dies based on the talent of its game design team, and that as an industry we are not doing so well creating the talent we need in this industry, because educational systems have not caught up in this area as well as programming and art. I was not trying to toot my own horn, rather state that game design is hard. Ah well. :)

SO he apperently has no logn tern memory and catn even remember what he said in the interview?

I could see people understandably having very knee-jerk reactions to Mr Garriotts statements but I for one agree with him completely. Every time I play a game and think "this part of this is crap why didn't they just do this" it's because whoever decided that it had to be that way designed it that way and even some of the best games I've played in the last decade suffer from design flaw, in a lot of cases even things I swear were solved in the decade prior.

Graphics, animation, sound, AI, all the ingredients can be fantastic but if the design is still bad its a bad game. We do need smarter people working in the industry who are willing to not just take an established thing and have it redone a bit different. If we had better designers we'd have fewer boring tedious CoD, Halo and Gears clones.

Garriot is a decent designer but like many of the aging "superstar" designers from that generation is an arrogant egotistical twit with an overinflated sense of his own importance and abilities. That is why I didn't back his Kickstarter, or Molyneux's and only reluctantly backed the Elite Kickstarter. Also the only Ultima games i liked were the Ultima Underworld ones.

That is my other concern, with the rise of indie gaming and crowdfunding, we are probably going to see another generation of egotistical "superstar" developers. But I'd rather have egotistical superstars producing good games than faceless, hostile corporations mass producing rubbish.

Karadalis:
He disqualified himselfe when he named Molyneux as a great game designer, among the undeserved arrogance.

Oh and:

"Whats a paladin?"

My guess is focus groups are the blame for that infamous example of Ultima fail, all the rage in the late 90's when it was made, to almost every business they touted the idea that you can make anything you do more popular with the public by simply taking random members of the public and tailoring the game to those few random people.

Of course if you take a random population sample (lured in with the promise of free sandwich bar and some attention they crave) a heck of a lot are going to say "what's a paladin" when shown this game they hardly care about, they just want to be in out of the cold.

Even if a proportion of the genuinely interested posed such a question, a good game designer would not have an established character ask that just because the player might be new. At least, not without establishing some amnesia plot-line.

Or he would be creative as in "Well what do YOU consider a Paladin to be?" which doesn't betray the questioner's ignorance, only implies contradiction on what people see Paladins as.

I speculate it was caught in the 3D trap.

This may seem hard to believe but 3D development even that basic was extremely expensive back then, the expertise on animation and AI was very limited and expensive, but now you can get such software for free. Coming off the back of 2D games, you could make those almost like collage books, just draw pixel art and have it move around over pixel art backgrounds, all within Garriott's established capabilities. But a full 3D world was something else.

So it was expensive, and tried to justify it with "broader market appeal". But he clearly lost sight of why he was even making a 3D Ultima game, it's one of the earliest examples of developers thinking they can dumb down to appeal to a wider audience yet somehow won't lose their established audience. And they don't appreciate what a springboard their established audience is.

As someone who would like to one day work as Designer, I've come across hundreds of courses for art and programming, yet not one for actual game design. I think, in this regard at least, he really has a point.

Looks like someone has had dealings with Turbine, Inc.

But still, "close to as good a game designer as I am" sounds just a little bit arrogant there, Mr. British.

I have several issues with Mr. Garriots comment. First of all, he didn't meet any good designers? I met several good designers, several bad ones, many of them better than me, but many also better than Mr. Garriot. I mean, this guy invents a new alphabet and calls this "good game design". Well, that's nice and all, but it doesn't make you the best game designer ever.
He complains about designers rehashing old ideas. Coming from a man, whose newest project is a rehash of his old ideas. One of the big innovations promised is "player houses". Whoop-de-doo... He failed with his online game venture and now comes back to the games which always worked for him. Not really innovative. I try to create something new with every one of my game designs. Does this make me a better designer than Mr. Garriot? Unfortunately not, my games are still very rough, because of my lack of experience. It's easy to create great games, when you have the manpower, time and the money. I want to see Mr. Garriot in a 48 Hours game design contest, using nothing but an ordinary computer. Then I want to see his "game design genius".
His old games? Well, I played Ultima IV. I really tried to "get into" the game as intended by its designer, even read all the manuals and first avoiding walkthroughs. The premise is unique, but the execution and the game itself is mediocre, even for its time. The game design is horrible in several aspects.
I think it boils down to "ideas are worthless". It's all about execution. You can have a great idea for a game, but fail for several reasons. Maybe the idea is to big for you to flesh it out or to expensive to create (many of Peter Molyneux' games fall into this category). If you have great execution, you get games like Diablo 3 or Star Craft 2, which are really well polished, and are considered good games although they are just rehashing old ideas. If you have great ideas and good execution you get gems like Portal.
This said, I agree with Mr. Garriot, that the industry needs fresh ideas, but I also see, why the big AAA studios are not trying anything new. But I don't think that he is in any position to advertise himself as a great game designer.

martyrdrebel27:

where is his mention of Sam Houser (or is it Dan?) or Ken Levine or Brian Fargo, or hell, even Suda51.

Now remember, we are not talking about great programmers like John Romero who could probably get Doom to work on the Apollo flight computer, or artists who create pretty looking things and intricate scripts with philosophical point.

We are talking about game design.

Things like amazing character design or writing, those are good, but they could work just as well in a film.

The point is the GAME part.

I'd give an example like Shigeru Miyamoto, although he hasn't done much variety over the past 25 years his games have consistently hung on the brilliance of the design rather than the plot or artstyle or graphical performance. Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, they've always been refined in the game design if nothing else.

Legend of Zelda just had good design elements that games take for granted these days like items progression. And getting heart-meters from defeated bosses gave a constant reminder of progress. It was how you would gain items through a variety of challenges and the items you won would be used in new and interesting ways to continue, like fighting an enemy who uses the boomerang then use the boomerang to continue and to fight the next major opponent.

Suda 51, now he is a compelling and engaging writer, has an amazing visual style to always make striking imagery but in terms of gameplay design.... well. Suda 51 games have always depended on non-interactive parts for their distinctiveness, it's how things look and what is said. Killer 7 is not remarkable for its game design but for its writing and art-vision.

That's good and all, and he deserves all the credit he gets, but games are games. There needs to be innovation in gameplay otherwise it's a bit like having a movie which consists of the narrator readign from a Pulitzer prize winning novel. Yes, it's a good novel, it may even be read well, but film is a show don't tell medium, gaming is a DO don't show medium.

The real problem is that there is no way to prove that you are a good designer if you aren't also at least a programmer. Who's going to believe you can come up with really fresh new ideas if it's practically impossible to show anything for yourself.

Entry level jobs in design are basically data entry / QA, or Level Design. The best games are ones that run on fresh new mechanics, but how many thousands of people have an awesome idea for new mechanics and never get to do anything with it?

While I am inclined to agree with some of his points, I feel less of this is legitimate thought for the industry and more thought at the expense of the industry to stroke his massive ego.

Yes, Richard, you made a good game once. An excellent game, even. Revolutionary, in a sense.

And then you made a shit game later and now you are just criticizing the industry.

Games aren't going to thrive if we only get one good game every 20 years. Think of these game designers you seem to consider peasants to your lordliness as holding the industry afloat while you come up with something else to make.

What an asshole.

I won't say that you're a bad designer, but I think of at least a dozen designers off the top of my head who have more talent than you do.

LOL - oh Richard, please never change...

As funny / ironic as this is coming from the guy responsible for the sandalwood box SNAFU in Ultima V I think it's probably fair to say that he's got a point.

Captcha: head case. Indeed. But it's how you wear it that matters ;)

Carter Rosen:
P.S. This is an era where anything a famous man like yourself says impacts his business by a lot, be careful what opinions you voice to the public, sir. I did like your Ultima series up until EA stepped in an rushed 8 and 9 to hell, of course. I don't want to see any of your future projects to be impacted by an offhand thought.

I dunno that he's really all that famous any more, outside a select group of PC RPG geeks of a certain age. I count myself among that group but as a lot of others have pointed out, what has he really done lately? And by lately, I really mean the past decade or more...

DiamanteGeeza:
One other thing to note is that it's quite hard, when interviewing, to know if the designer in front of you is any good or not. Artists have portfolios that give you a clue, programmers can take tests, but for a designer? There's not much you can do to vet them other than take their word for successes on their resume.

I'd say they should design games the way supermarket brands figure out cake recipes. That is, the tasters get the final say not the cooks. While story and setting is best left to an auteur, game mechanics are about experimentation and should be decided by tests. Otherwise, the designer with the most power will put his ideas in regardless of merit, QTEs and all.

He disqualified himselfe when he named Molyneux as a great game designer, among the undeserved arrogance.

Oh and:

"Whats a paladin?"

you do realize that most games suffer not just because of their design, but also the alienating art, the shoddy coding and, most importantly, executive douchebags meddling in affairs they should not? I'm sure you had plenty of experience with the last two, Mr. Garriot, remember Ultima 8: Pagan and Ultima 9: Ascension? It's still an issue today, the shoddy coding is caused by execs rushing the games out for some holiday or something and the execs in the publishing biz are the biggest problems because they do stupid shit like that.

Bigger evils, sir.

P.S. This is an era where anything a famous man like yourself says impacts his business by a lot, be careful what opinions you voice to the public, sir. I did like your Ultima series up until EA stepped in an rushed 8 and 9 to hell, of course. I don't want to see any of your future projects to be impacted by an offhand thought.

CrossLOPER:

Quellist:
*falls off chair laughing* "good game designer?" *splutters*

Oh mr Garriot, what an arrogant dick you are, no doubt fapping away while you remember your old successes, but wait, after those successes were some less liked games, remember? First there was Pagan and wasnt that a fantastic new way to take the series? oh wait, no it wasnt! you turned Ultima into a single player platformer! oh deary me....then there was Ultima "whats a paladin?" IX with its juvenile plot and dialog (i wont blame him for the 3D, i will blame him for the story), sorry bug-ridden mess that it was. Then Tabula Rasa and didnt that set the gaming world alight....oh wait a minute, NO it didnt!

Personally i hope SotA is going to be a trainwreck that only succeeds in Garriots fevered imagination, sorry if thats mean but as far as i am concerned Garriot is so high on the smell of his own crap he's in another dimension and this article proves it.

I am pretty sure he had minimal control over things starting around Pagan since that was when EA took over. They have a habit of wrongly guessing what customers want. Tabula Rasa was an MMO released when WoW was still completely omnipotent; TR didn't stand a chance.

But does he say this? does he come out, hold up his hands and say "yeah, Ultima 8 and 9 were a mess, its really EA's fault but i let down my loyal fans and i'm sorry" no he bangs on about how wonderful he is. The day the guy apologises for how badly he let down his fans is the day i start taking a non-negative interest in him.

I have never played any of his games, but I automatically despise any person who says "very few people are as good as me". I don't care if you're a world-class surgeon who has saved more lives than penicillin, you are an arrogant ass and I refuse to take your opinion seriously.

Which is a shame, I thought his point about designers lacking specific academic formation was an interesting thing to consider.

Well, Garriot's ego aside its probably a legitimate point to be made, but theres a plethora of potential reasons.

1) Most designers will only have a handful of truly great ideas, if not just one. He throws out a decent list of what I'd consider prettymuch one and done game designers. This isn't a unique factor to that field either, you can find dozens of scientists, artists, musicians, businessmen, etc where they've had their one shining moment and then blundered on other attempts (either becoming mediocre, or outright failing).

2) The industry will keep racing the same horse until it dies and they have to get a new one. Hand in hand with #1, this sees the "Lords" of game design getting swing after swing at bat, while upcoming designers are placed under them. Even if you get a fresh designer, they're likely to get some level of a hand-me down project and not be able to flourish.

3) Defining vision and collaborative work are almost mutually exclusive. You can occasionally get great partnerships that merge two talents to make a greater whole, but mostly, its just going to dilute the vision into a generically appealing, but less interesting blob. Cue the AAA industry, which now often has multiple 50+ person teams in entirely different countries slamming things together. You aren't going to get anything close to the consistency and possible risk taking of the 80s/90s "Dude in his garage" methods of game development with all these potentially conflicting opinions and varying levels of enthusiasm and commitment.

Pedro The Hutt:
Well, now I know why I always thought that the plot of Ultima felt like it was written by a high schooler. It's because it was!

Uh, you do know that Ultima IV was one of the first games, if not the first, that wasn't about just killing stuff? But was instead about knowledge and having a high morale character.

Steven Bogos:
Richard Garriott: "Most Game Designers Really Just Suck"
"I think there's really very few great game designers," he continued, adding Peter Molyneux and Will Right to his list of good designers.

Who is Will Right, I only know Will Wright.

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