Friday, July 2, 2010

Moving on

I came to the realisation recently that my career has been driven by a secret achievement grind, hidden relatively successfully by the fun of making games.

It started off pretty innocently. "Work on a game" seemed like a pretty fun achievement to go for as a gamer, and it brought me into my first games job in the late '90s, but the first hit is always free. "Work on a game" very quickly leads to "Ship a game".

So you ship a game, and get the adrenaline rush of being able to show something you made to your friends and the world. The trick here though is that you very quickly realise the path you were on before was the tutorial, and now you've got multiple paths in this huge world to chase down for completion.

"Ship a game" gets replaced with things like "Ship a game that's good" and "Ship a game that non-gamers recognise when I mention the name of it". There's sidequests of "Make an original IP" and "Make a game that people still replay after the first month". They're great goals that give you design constraints on the fun and awesomeness of making games.

This was great until I started working at Harmonix. Working on something like Rock Band basically allows you to auto-complete most of the achievements on your life list. "Make a game with unique controllers", "Make a game I'm not sick of after making it", "Make a game that makes first parties do anything to help you" and "Make a game that hits the zeitgeist" all got annihilated in the course of a few years.

At some point during all of this, I forgot to keep track of what achievements I was going for. The sheer fun of crafting new experiences for players puts everything else in the background. Sure, the hit from releasing the title and seeing people enjoy your games was still a big part of it, but I craved the hit of being hands on. It's 100% of your job as a staff designer, but as I became a senior and then a lead on AAA titles with 200+ people on them, the ability to chart the vision and the direction of a title starts to encroach how much time you can spend tweaking the details personally.

This realisation put me in a weird position: I want to be able to help drive the vision and direction of a game, but at the same time be hands on and physically implement and iterate on the low level of making games in a more substantial way than time affords me when working as a lead on multi-hundred person titles.

So, with Rock Band 3 now design complete and on the final path to 0 bugs, GM and distribution, I decided to do that. Today's my last day in the office at Harmonix. Tomorrow, I hop on a plane and fly down to Austin, TX, where I'll get ready to start work at Twisted Pixel on a ridiculously cool new project. It's the holy grail of game design positions - I'll get to contribute and help drive the direction of a well funded and supported new title with a close knit superteam, while at the same time being hands on and able to directly impact all aspects of the game. 

I'm sure new achievements will spawn and complete that I didn't even know about while I'm there, and I know we'll be making some amazing and memorable games, but that's not the only goal anymore. I'll be too busy having fun working on awesome new games, learning a whole new set of ways to make said awesome games, eating breakfast tacos, and never shovelling snow ever again to notice.



xK1 said...

Thanks for your hard work at Harmonix, and some great games! I look forward to whatever you come up with next.

Gokuroro said...

Man, congratulations on everything you've achieved so far, and I hope you'll have the best time in any way you choose to keep on going.
Again congratulations and thank you for everything you've done for us gamers so far.
See you again in your next title. :D

Kev said...

Achievement unlocked: create the best music game in existence (1000G)

Take care, Dan. Thanks for all your hard work and insights to the process of making a game.

Nick Cummings said...

Congratulations Dan! There's not much I can say about your work at Harmonix except that you've helped develop what is, in my mind, one of the best games ever made with the Rock Band series.

Also, I wanted to thank you again for taking the time a while back to share some advice with me about working in the games industry. I'm starting work with some friends on our first game and it's been helpful to keep your advice in mind.

Twisted Pixel makes some wonderful games, and everyone I've met from there has been totally awesome. Best of luck with the new job! Can't wait to see what you come up with there.

Andrew Ho said...

Dear Dan,

I'm glad that I got a chance to meet you at PAX East and E3 2010, and I wish you the best of luck at Twisted Pixel Games. I've greatly enjoyed your work at Harmonix and will undoubtedly look forward to your work at Twisted Pixel, hope I'll run into you again.

Andrew Ho

mage said...

Wow, you go from one of my favorite developers to one of my other favorite developers. Twisted Pixel have been turning out some really great stuff. Definitely looking forward to what you come up with there, and thanks for all the RB goodness.

Sage said...

Dan, you are a monumental badass. As the kind of sperglord who meta-thinks about every element of a game being presented to him, I really like your work. You adhere to some wonderful principles that made the presentation and playability of Rock Band into what they are today, and those things are what keep me coming back for more. Well, and maybe the weekly DLC, but, y'know.

I expect any game you work on to be polished, easy to play, and addicting. I'm really stoked to see it!

Gigi said...

Thanks for the melon. It was perfectly ripe! Bon Voyage!

Fraske Designs said...

dan, i am so happy i got to see you before you shipped off to texas, i wish you the very best of luck!

SenorDingDong said...

Adios Dan! Thx 4 th mmrs

Now you can nosh on some awesome bbq. Seriously, you're like centrally located in Texas BBQ-ville!

And if you ever get lost amidst the strip malls and belching refineries of Houston, give me a shout!

Marcus said...

I hope you have lots of luck and tons of fun in future endeavors. Tell the guys over at Twisted Pixel that they rock, too!

anthony said...

Thanks for the opportunity to host the RB2 preview party at Ground Kontrol back in ' was a blast! And thanks for the great design work on what has become my favorite game series of all time. Best of luck with your new endeavor!

Hintz66 said...


Don't know you, but upon trying to find recently released details about RB3, I stumbled onto your blog. Firstly, I want to thank you for all your work on a game(s) that have gave me so much quality entertainment over the past 3 years and, also, have allowed me to stay in touch with friends from home. Secondly, from a professional standpoint, I completely understand the dilemma you were in, which was so eloquently described in your blog. I want to express my appreciation for your decision and the balls it takes to leave a stable position simply for the reason of happiness and self fulfillment. I wish you the best of luck in your new position. I look forward to your work to come.


Shugo said...

Thank you for all the great parties and friendly get-togethers that Rock Band has brought me and all my friends and family. I hope you enjoy your new position and I'm eager to see the product of it all.

Rock on, Dan.

Gamegeek said...

Best wishes for your new enterprise. I'm sure it will rock ... no wait ... hell ... you know what I mean.

"Make a game that hits the zeitgeist". Oh man. I am SO stealing that one. :)


SatansBestBuddy said...

Next objective: make a game that would convince even Roger Egbert that games are art.

s said...

Good Morning.

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