Skip to content

Month: August 2023

My creative drive these days

I am reading this classic book on game design, called Rules of Play. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. The book manages to join thoughtfulness with a practical breakdown of things.

In chapter 12 there is a note about what drives a game designer. It can be:

  • The will to change some rule
  • Explore storytelling
  • Visual aesthetics
  • Social interaction
  • Explore new technologies.

In my case, the context influences my drive. All those points are interesting to me, I have to feel there is a clear vision to help close up land down. I love to connect the dots, more than strive for a revolution.

There are “the Kojimas”, that come and shape the future with their vision and personality. But those are like unicorns, the majority of us are good to serve and deliver.

About storytelling

When we use the word storytelling, very often we mean “telling a story”.

Storytelling is the process of communicating through a story. The goal is to give emotion, to persuade, and also to sell something inside of the game.

Game design offers many tools to build the story to reach this goal:

  • Gameplay (or UX) design helps leaving to mechanics some story outcome. We saw the other day the critical success/failure
  • System design identifies resources, rewards, and balances to give proper meaning to each action
  • Narrative design offers concept, worldbuilding, characters, dialogues, cutscenes
  • Level design enables the learning of core concepts (skill atoms) and arranges the environment.

The storytelling process:

– starts from concrete goals to achieve

– identifies what is measurable and how*

– creates and implements the story to excite, persuade, and sell.

When your game is silent, still offers a narrative. Still tells a story. Dozens of games are published every day. The way of communicating through the story is one of the keys for the Players to choose us.

* Not everything should be measurable, that is a common misconception. Not everything that cannot be measured should stay out of the equation. But that’s another post.

Remote or face-to-face?

Large corporations and Venture Capital investors are returning back to face-to-face or hybrid. Very often there are also interests in real estate investments that lead to that choice.

Other companies see remote working as an advantage. They can:

  • find qualified people in wider geographical areas
  • offer to employees quality of life.

The two positions do not need to be in conflict. Too often I read sentences about one or the other position that make me smile. There are common points on which to work:

  • It’s good for everyone to know that there is a place, an office to go to. It offers professionalism and an optimized space for work, which not everyone has. It is mentally reassuring. I believe it also improves loyalty, somehow.
  • We all know the problem of climate change and we know that a significant part is due to transport. Being able to reduce contaminant transport is one of the measures we must take, as humanity. There are people who deny this problem, and I respect it even if I don’t share it.
  • We are social beings whose evolution has been built on cooperation. Human contact is necessary in any case. There are people who are more or less introverted, in different situations. In all cases, it is good to think about how to improve the environment within the company, and its culture.
  • We all need time to take care of our private life, our family, and the people and animals we love.
  • We all want the companies we work for, or clients, to be successful. In this way, our work and salary will benefit. The problem arises when there are abnormal growths that cause a lot of stress to employees. Those aren’t healthy, and I’m convinced that big investors don’t like them either.

More issues

Having talent from large geographic areas means access to very distinct salary ranges. This can become good or bad depending on how you use it.

  • It can be beneficial for smaller companies, or in areas where there is no developed ecosystem.
  • It can be great for some professionals who would otherwise have a hard time finding work.
  • Employees in areas of higher density, where rents and expenses are high, may feel in danger.

My take

Neither face-to-face nor remote work is dead. On the hybrid solution, I reserve my doubts, since I don’t have enough data and I have never worked like that.

We need to shift focus to the betterment of our society. Working to build companies that add value from an ethical and human point of view. It is not a matter of remote/face-to-face, it is a matter of vision. How can you create value and make this World better? That is the question.

A little on my freelancer life

When I chat with people in my industry, I see that there is some confusion about the freelance career.

  1. The first is that people decide to freelance when they can’t find alternatives. A stopgap solution.
  2. The second is that it is better to specialize a lot to become more recognized as a professional.
  3. The third is that we serve when there is too much work to do and generally for secondary tasks.

Well, like all myths, all the points mentioned have a basis of truth.

A stopgap solution?

I started to freelance because I couldn’t adapt to the typical “job application -> first interview -> test -> ghosted” loop, back in 2016. Instead of wasting time with processes that in 80% of cases lead to nothing, I decided to start creating value.

I decided to devote myself to being a game designer, first on personal projects. Fictional ones. Every day I dressed up, put my clock on, and started working imagining I was earning money for that. Fake it until you make it is about that! I started sharing everything online, I decided to be the best game designer I could possibly be. The first contacts arrived, from companies that had ghosted me! “Hey, would you be interested in a small commission?“.

So yes, at first it was definitely a stopgap solution. But then one discovers that there is a great hidden value. It is not for everyone, I had my fathers supporting me. Otherwise it would have been impossible.

Better to become a specialist?

For me, game design is divided into narrative, level, system, and gameplay. In f2p mobile, the words “system” and “gameplay” are very often changed for “economy” and “UX”. I do everything.

  • I write dialogues and conceptualize worlds.
  • I craft levels in the engine documenting everything.
  • I create systems and economies using simple and understandable spreadsheets.
  • I create wireframes, mock-ups, and flows based on player narratives.

I don’t want to specialize in anything, because it’s not convenient in my case. If you are “the level designer that made the most successful levels in <insert famous game name>“, go for specialization. But I have not (still) had the opportunity to work on a super successful game. And most of the professionals are the same. I prefer to be a Swiss knife, that way my life is more interesting and I get more assignments.

It is true that there are very capable specialists who earn even more. But it is not the only possible way.

Just for marginal tasks?

The third point also has some truth. The first contact comes either from startups or from bigger companies that are overworked. However the clients that remain are those who understand my potential, with whom I have established a relationship.

Having an external expert person in the first place costs less. Secondly, it can help you in case you can’t find the right seniors. Thanks to remote work, I can supervise the work in places where senior professionals don’t go to live. So, in practice, by paying me 1-2 days a week you save the money of a manager (who may even slow things down, if not the right one).

Is freelancing good?

Freelancing is not for everyone and not for every lifestyle. I lead a fairly austere life, without too many frills. But we bring a lot of value. Very often, people who have worked for a company for many years know how to work just for that company. I see everyday the problems of many different realities, so my perspective is broad and I can be faster than normal.

And the extra speed always has consequences, on the body and on the mind. Nothing is free. Some final hint:

  • Learn as many languages as possible. I speak 5 languages. Languages open a lot of opportunities.
  • Never stop learning. My Udemy is always ON and when I can afford I take extra courses.
  • Create connections with service providers to speed up your job. You need partners, as any business.
  • Avoid every kind of friction with people. If you don’t agree with something, say it. But avoid talking bad about people.
  • You need to make professional contacts. Lots of them. Prepare your strategy.

Combat: the center of gravity of game design?

Lately, I am seeing a lot of high-level solo projects popping around. I don’t know you, but sometimes I am so amazed that I think “What am I doing instead? Am I really a game designer? I mean, look at that!”. I guess it’s completely normal when you have passion for what you do.

One thing in common that I see very much is that the videos shared always show combat. So one may ask:

  • why combat?
  • Are we just violent monkeys always thinking and dreaming about fights and shots?
  • Why does combat have this sort of gravity that always sucks in the best designers?

To me, it’s not that we are doomed, to me it’s because combat fits perfectly in the true meaning of games. Let me explain.

Good reasons to put combat everywhere

We play games for a lot of reasons, but most of them are directly linked to our survival skills. To have fun is, to speak synthetically, to learn. And to learn is to improve our survival skills. Having to beat something or someone is part of the metaphor of survival.

Another good reason to me is that combat is a great way to realize game mechanics into a meaningful feedback loop. If you throw a ball for nothing, that physical mechanic in the long term can be very boring. If you have to hit cans you have a more interesting goal. If the objective is not a can but something that can hurt you, that gives you more motivation. The fun closure happens when you can throw the ball -> the ball hits and you see the feedback -> your score improves after that feedback! So that you can do the same over and over again and improve your score.

Combat has become in recent years also a design specialization. You can see a lot of offers out there for “combat designers”. Combat is for Players accessible and compelling. Many mechanics are easy to model and mix thanks to combat.

So, friends, we can rest assured. We are not awful beings, as humans we intuitively spot and take all possible shortcuts. As Players, we love to aim and kill, because we can train without getting hurt. As Designers, we can show off our craft and present our ideas in a fun context.

Rules and worldbuilding

The success of Baldur’s Gate represents for many the triumph of things done right. It’s always nice to see that creations made with a love for art can go far.

As a game designer, I also want to join the discussion by contributing my grain of sand. Baldur’s Gate 3 has the advantage of a system of rules that is well-known in a niche of players. When we say “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” we refer to the license and intellectual property. But from a game design standpoint, it’s much more. Holding a license is not simply holding the right to use characters. It means having a significant part of the design work already done.

When you create any game, you create a magic circle that players voluntarily choose to enter. In the magic circle, they will find rules and a world that they can like or dislike. Creating rules and the world is a very important part of a game.

  • Dungeons & Dragons rules are based on the roll of the dice.
  • There are numerical factors to add and subtract from each roll. Those factors depend on the characters and the context. There is an interesting connection with the narrative.
  • The system also allows for surprises. In jargon, critical failure and critical success. In practice, things can get surprisingly good or bad. And that is how unexpected moments can twist your story completely.

Baldur’s Gate 3 also uses the Forgotten Realms setting. Imagine 2 decades ago. Some Dungeons & Dragons players create a campaign. They draw maps and create legendary characters. They decide to publish this setting so that other groups can create stories and enrich them. That is how Forgotten Realms and many other settings are born.

In game design, we call this worldbuilding. Another expensive part of our trade. Do you think it’s easy to create a world with dragons and magic that is consistent and players accept as decent? Well, it’s not. It’s very easy to get it wrong. Players of tabletop RPGs are extremely knowledgeable in fantasy fiction. They read a lot, they study a lot and it’s not easy to please them. If you meet that niche, chances are that you can also reach a massive audience.

Someone says that if 10 people are true fans of your product, your product has a chance to become a massive hit. Having a system of rules and worldbuilding already available is a tremendous advantage.

Questions to ask on culture

It happens to many of us to join a company and realize that it is not the place for us. Not for the product, not for the people, but for the type of culture there.

During some selection processes, we have the opportunity to speak with the founders. There is always a moment when they ask us if we have any questions. I recommend these 3 questions to understand where you are going to end up.

Are you running a race or a ride?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. There are professionals who prefer racing. They want to feel the adrenaline rush and get some results first. Train hard and work hard. They don’t like to lose the race. They want to be at least on the podium and bet everything in their lives on that.

There are other professionals who, like me, want to last 100 years. If some competitor does better, who cares? There’s room for everyone. Take it easy. Do your job with patience, and dedicate yourself to those hours with all of yourself. But remember that life has many facets, not just work.

Fun fact: I worked for a beautiful company that ran a ride. The company was bought by a multinational whose vision was: “to become the best f2p company in the world“. From ride, work turned to race. In a race, people are left behind. I jumped ship immediately. Many of my former colleagues were fired in 1 year, probably for some number on a spreadsheet. Do you read the company vision? Do you meditate on that? That is very important, believe me.

I’m working for you. What are the elements that will lead you to say “nice job” in 6 months?

This question is essential to understand what are the things that the company is looking for. All businesses want to make big profits, big and small. This is obvious, otherwise, a sane person would never get into entrepreneurial ventures.

There are many different types of leaders. Ask this question and listen carefully to the answer.

Fun fact: I was in a bar having an informal interview with a company that wanted to land in Barcelona. I asked this question to the person who was supposed to be my future boss. This person replies “I’ll tell you that you’re doing a good job if I’m drinking champagne from PRADA shoes! Hahaha!“. I finished my coffee, said goodbye politely, and left. The company has never been able to create anything here.

If you fired in the last year, could you tell me why?

This is a question that will make us understand the intentions of the companies. It’s a question I’ve never asked anyone. Today I only interview for companies that really interest me. With solid projects.

But given the recent times, where the job market treat people like commodities. This question is fundamental.

In fact, we need to understand what kind of monster we are entering through the jaws. If this monster will spit us out, shit us out.

Or if we will become part of his organism contributing to its functioning.


People who don’t know how to manage often manipulate the topic of cultural fit to serve their ego. Other times, it professionals who don’t know how to ask questions view this topic not so important.

Remember: you should become the member of a company to improve its culture. No one should never force you in their schema.

The past to get a vision

There are people who are able to read the situation in the video game industry and create a vision. This isn’t enough to create a successful game, but it’s definitely a start.

Rather than pretending to forecast numbers, they are capable of looking back.

That makes a lot of sense, actually. Whatever kind of game you want to create, study the market for 10 years now. By studying its evolution, in fact, it is possible to understand trends, errors, and choices.

This helps to trace a backward path and identify possible forks that could arise in the future!

A large part of the future audience of a certain genre will be the people who are playing that type of game today. With a few more years, but above all with a lot of knowledge that will come from the past. That will lead to their gaming choices for the future.