Author Topic: Jeff Freeman, SWG Lead Game Play Designer, speaks on the NGE  (Read 1756 times)


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Jeff Freeman, SWG Lead Game Play Designer, speaks on the NGE
« on: November 28, 2005, 04:13:15 PM »

Friday, November 4

SWG was my first job in the game industry. I had played UO for a couple of years or so and knew Raph Koster in that internet sort of way: everyone that visited or posted on any message board anywhere on the internet knew Raph Koster.

Played EQ to level 35, got killed by the same frickin' sand giant three times in a row trying to recover my corpse two weeks after a bug caused me to lose all my gear before EQ CS had the tech to undelete items and man that was it for me.

So I made a "grey shard" using POL (written by Eric Swanson, who also works at SOE now – how weird is that?) and did that for a few years.

Those were Good Times. Friday I'd post a "Wishlist" thread and people would reply with a hundred things they wanted added to the game. And Saturday and Sunday I'd add hundreds of things to the game. Production on a single small server is pretty nice. None of this "Oh, that'll take 2 months to deliver and will require two programmers, a designer and three artists."

A lot of .broadcast "Hey everyone, brace yourselves, I'm going to replace the magic system in 3…2…1"-sorts of moments. Frequently doing development on the server that people were actually playing on, while they are playing on it, and only using a local server for really significant changes.

In terms of administration, the people were a lot harder to manage than the game. Not just the players either, but the co-admin's: the folk that hosted the server, gm "staff", and whatnot. Janey emailed Raph describing a pretty ugly situation, and he'd responded with just some no-nonsense advice on how-to-run-a-mud, which she forwarded to me, and to which I replied, directly to him.

That led directly to establishing, in writing, just what exactly the scope of everyone's responsibilities were, what the rules were, how they would be enforced, and so on. Simple stuff, right? We had none of that and, duh, we ran into a lot of problems 'til we did.

This had nothing to do with his position in the game industry and everything to do with his experience with MUDs, and my lack of it, and his willingness to share info with a fellow enthusiast. Great learning experience, should I ever run a MUD again: Sony hires professionals to do that stuff.

But it also opened a dialog between the two of us and I s'pose put my crazyass game design ideas on his radar.

Anyway, hadn't talked to Raph in a while (because, well, things had been running pretty smoothly) so one day I emailed him and asked how he'd been. He said if I sent him a resume then he could tell me what he was working on.

So I sent him a resume. And they flew me down to Austin to meet the whole SWG team and interview for a systems design position, which I didn't get. Heh.

Couple months later they flew me back again for a worldbuilding position, which I did get.

Within a few months or so I was scripting systems. Then within a couple years, lead content designer for JtL. Then a few months ago, "live lead systems designer". My titles were growing and growing!

As of last week or so, now it's "Lead Game Play Designer". A step backwards in terms of character-count, but not actually a demotion, or even that big a change in responsibilities.

Mind, we have a Creative Director and that isn't me, and a Lead Designer and that isn't me either. They're both my bosses, even though my title's longer. And there's a whole plethora of producers and executives and executive producers above that.

So don't get the crazy notion that I'm "in charge" here. "The Man" is a many-headed beast called Management. I just try to help it make good decisions. With regard to game mechanics, it even lets me decide, sometimes.

So a few months ago The Man comes along and says "What can we do to make this the most fun game it can possibly be?"

It was the lead designer who holed-up in his office for a few days and then said, "Hey, come look at this."

There's no way we can do that.

There's no way we should do that.

Man that's fun.

The Man will never let us get away with doing that.

We can't do it.

We shouldn't do it.

Oh man that is fun.

When an executive producer sees something that is impossible to do, but which is too fun not to do, he makes a noise like "Hoooooooooph".

My job was to be the guy to say, "Yes we can do that." I had to say this about forty times a day for two months. Lead Designer said it too, of course, but no one believed him, because he's crazy. Obviously.

And they would only believe me for a few minutes at a time.

It's frustrating to see the posts about Raph rolling over in his grave, crying himself to sleep, seeing all his design thrown out the window, etc. The notion seems to be that Raph's game is slow-paced, deliberate, social, "worldy", and in no case ever "fun" vs. this change which tosses-out everything Koster-esque about Galaxies. Specifically, that 'removing the Raph' is what makes it fun.

First off, Star Wars Galaxies is already a whole lot of fun for a whole lot of people. And it was very successful.

And Fast Action Combat and the introduction of classes based on iconic Star Wars character archtypes doesn't toss-out everything Koster-esque about Galaxies. Far from it.

The social elements of Galaxies' design remain, and for good reason. MMOs must be MMOs and not just big single-player games that everyone just happens to play all at once. We wouldn't have gotten things like player cities, entertainers and so on without Raph, and I wouldn't want Galaxies to be without them. Simply removing them wouldn't make the game more fun anyway.

There's a lot of cool in Galaxies. We're making all of it easier to see, easier to get to.

Honestly, I doubt I even have the capacity to design a game that is completely un-Raph like. Who do you think taught me this stuff? Over the course of years. Here's how you get X. Here's why you want X.

Yeh, I think I'm good 'nuff to see the 'why' and come up with 'Well if that's why, then we could do Z instead', but at that point it's a quibble over implementation detail, not design philosophy. I don't agree with Raph on every point about every thing, we're pretty much aligned in terms of high level game design.

For example 'Socialization requires downtime' is something Raph might say that I might not agree with. But 'MMO's require socialization, otherwise what's the point?' is not something we'd disagree about.

Many people have been influential in my personal development as a game designer and I've learned an awful lot on my own, but nothing and no other single person comes anywhere close the influence that Raph Koster has had on, in terms of game design from soup-to-nuts, what things I think about, if not in fact what I think about those things.

So I think these sorts of remarks are a little inaccurate, a tiny bit irksome, pretty unfair

"Wake up, Mr. Freeman.  Wake up and smell the ashes." ;)
I play games on a:
ZX Spectrum 48K | Grundig C410 cassette recorder (adjustable head) | 20BT TV Philips Multistandard Color V37cm | ZX Interface 2 | New Kempston Compatible Competition Pro Switched Joystick | Sinclair BASIC OS


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I play games on a:
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Re: RE: Jeff Freeman, SWG Lead Game Play Designer, speaks on
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2005, 05:56:29 PM »
Quote from: Paul


Hmm... "just like in WoW" seems to be quite a common theme there.