Kira Goes To Hollywood

 Posted by (Visited 7104 times)  Game talk
Nov 092006

It is really interesting reading Kira Snyder’s experiences with the Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop she has recently been lucky enough to get accepted to. And the reason it is interesting is because there’s nothing remotely like this in the games business.

Kira herself comes from the games biz (among other things) of course, so maybe she’ll chime in here on the comments about the differences.

Me, I just got back from yet another fantastic intensive workshop style conference which was all vets, no newbies. A common thread that has come up at all of these is the issue of whether bringing in some recent entrants to the field would be a good thing. Universally, the answer has been “young blood is great — newbies are not.” The fear is always that having folks new to the industry would basically slow down discussions, force a lot of training time, and distract from the really, fairly tough problems the workshops and conferences are trying to solve. (These sorts of design conferences and workshops are generally about solving big problems, either for the attendees or the industry; Project Horseshoe in particular is very “think tank”-like).

I suppose that to some degree, internships can solve this, but it’s just not the same. When I see Kira’s experiences as she describes them on her blog, to me it parallels the experiences I’ve had in high-end writing workshops, like Turkey City (if you are into SF/F writing, you probably heard of it because of the famous lexicon. Turkey City was brutal, honest, and had zero tolerance of amateurism. If you presented a substandard story on your first time out, you didn’t get to come back. But newbies did get a shot — it was a matter of whether you could cut it when tossed in the deep end of the pool.

Even more similar to these Hollywood workshops, of course, is a paid workshop like Clarion. I have never been (though Clarion, the original, is moving to San Diego!), but it’s described as a place where journeyman writers go to be forged into Pros, hammered upon by a series of expert instructors who are all noted authors.

I don’t know of anything like this in the games biz. Why not? Well, part of it is probably the increased dependence on teams for making damn near anything as a game. Which is a real shame; I’m becoming more and more enamored of the idea that since game systems are fundamentally systemic, designers need to learn to code at least enough to make basic prototypes. The time required to hack out a quick small game really isn’t much different from the time needed to write a short story, so it’s not a time limitation.

Ironically, the only place where I have seen something similar is probably in the Game Development Camp they run in Denmark, and in somewhat similar summer camp programs that are popping up in the States.

I actually think that if we wanted to improve games journalism, one of the best ways to do it would be to make every reviewer and games critic go through a camp like this, so they can learn to appreciate the art form from more than just the player’s angle.

  8 Responses to “Kira Goes To Hollywood”

  1. I’d be interested to hear what the difference is between “newbie” and “young blood” as it applies to game designers.

  2. Shit man, I was talking it up with Crawford and Mateas and Stern about consistently inconsistent UI paradigmns for dramatic interaction back at Phrontisterion when I was 19. Young blood has fresh ideas and a lot of energy, newbies just have the energy.

  3. I understood the difference between newbies and young bloods in spirit. In terms of criteria, I think the distinction is somewhat ambiguous.

  4. The distinction, basically, is between true newbies, and folks who are “up and comers” and perhaps just don’t have the recognition yet. There’s a lot of folks who are still considered “up and comers” by many despite having plenty of experience and chops and even hits. Some of them were even in that recent Escapist article on “hot developers under 30.” Robin Hunicke would be one of my top nominees — she only got into the industry recently, because she was doing her PhD, but she moves in the same circles as all the top folks and has always fit in perfectly in terms of knowledge and skills.

  5. […] Comments […]

  6. In my opinion, there are three primary measures: experience, knowledge, and creativity. Newbies are unproven talent who have not lined up with the status quo. They can be knowledgeable, creative, or both. They just lack experience.

    Young bloods are those who are highly creative and perhaps sufficiently knowledgeable to know what they don’t know. They are usually experienced, and therefore their creativity and knowledge has been demonstrated in the field.

    Sometimes, however, young bloods can be inexperienced—as in your case more than a decade ago, Raph! 🙂

    The distinction appears to be merely that of experience. I believe that is odd criteria for attending conferences and workshops such as and similar to Project Horseshoe. Anyone can devise a creative solution to a creative problem. To limit perspectives on those creative problems to only those who have been indoctrinated with the ways of the industry seems to lack foresight. Xenophobic insularity stifles, not breeds, innovation. Growth is hampered, too.

    I would be fearful for any organization that does not consistently seek insight from energetic newcomers and external sources. That is why I’m always looking for speakers and panelists from outside the traditional games industry to involve themselves with the San Diego Chapter of the International Game Developers Association. When you close the doors on the inexperienced and unproven, the “Age of the Dinosaurs” never really comes to an end; the dinosaurs simply continue to exist in small, isolated areas of the world playing checkers, musing about the good ol’ days, and resisting change of every denomination at every front.

  7. As an outsider to the industry, I have to wonder why those “still considered ‘up and comers’ by many despite having plenty of experience and chops and even hits” don’t currently attend these events.

    To my mind, the ‘up and comers’ are either unaware of such events or they don’t see the value in attending. 😉

  8. Raph wrote:
    The time required to hack out a quick small game really isn’t much different from the time needed to write a short story, so it’s not a time limitation.

    I don’t agree 100%, I think it’s easier to write an interesting short story than to make a fun small game, in general. Maybe that’s because I’m weak at visual art. 😉

    But, you’re forgetting the important thing here, Raph: training. Most people start learning to write in the first few years at school. Even if you claim that early writing is mostly mechanics (akin to knowing how to turn a computer on), you still learn more about writing through practice than you do about the important elements of making a game: programming, art, visual design, applied mathematics, etc. Some of these topics aren’t covered until college! I think that a “game workshop” will require a lot more background, and you’ll find a lot less qualified people, overall.

    You also have the issue of “what is a designer?” Many industry positions assume designers can do level layout, but some designers, like myself, aren’t level layout people; on the other hand, we can write great documentation and have effective communication skills. Some people are good at “big picture” type of design planning necessary for being a creative lead on a project. Some people are great at understanding probability and math and love coming up with game mechanics. It’s rare to find someone with all these abilities in equal amounts, though. A good designer knows his or her own limitations. If I were to go to a “designer workshop”, any talk about level layout would probably not interest me. I simply am not very good with the tools available, and I’m not sure that spending time learning to become better at level layout will profit me when there are already great level layout designers out there. So, the question becomes, “What do you teach at these types of workshops?”

    This, of course, ignores the most important thing that is vital in most writing workshops: how to sell yourself and, by extension, your work. Business is vital in these creative media.

    Tuebit wrote:
    I’d be interested to hear what the difference is between “newbie” and “young blood” as it applies to game designers.

    And, who decides? Peoples’ opinions of me seem to run the gamut from “tiny walking design god” to “up-and-comer” to “bitter, broken man” to “would rather hang out with lepers.” Admittedly, I haven’t worked on many high-profile projects, and I think some people think my Meridian 59 obsession is a bit unhealthy. 😉 But, who is right here? If a designer does what I have done, focus on the smaller-scale independent side of things, are they less worthy than someone who has worked at large companies on high-profile hit games? Not many easy answers here, unfortunately.

    Anyway, to the topic at-hand, I found Kira’s posts very interesting. I need to start checking her blog more to keep up-to-date on this. Fascinating for someone who is interested in writing, even if not for television.

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