Barnett Does GDC, GDC Survives The Experience

Apparently, being a DIY punk involves giving a talk that has nothing to do with what you promised you’d talk about.

Game design theory is very complicated, he said, because people are overthinking the problem. “Theories in design are as timeless as the fashion of hats,” he said. The theories, he continued, are a means to sell a product and are nothing more than a series of catchphrases that get traction and are then sold to people. “This is because we don’t like chaos, we don’t like uncertainty,” he said. “So we look for earnest people with intelligent systems to sell. Prophets that can fortify our faith. It’s caustic, and it’s dangerous.”

Clearly, we need someone to struggle against the status quo of publishers who squelch innovation. Designers who aren’t afraid to advocate new ideas in the face of the conservative mainstream.

You know. Heretics!

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54 Responses to Barnett Does GDC, GDC Survives The Experience

  1. Longasc says:

    We definitely need more catch phrases with very little content to fill the many days of GDC or what did he want to say…? 🙂

  2. Makaze says:

    Barnett talks big and an awful lot but doesn’t really seem to ever back it up by saying anything meaningful or better yet, actual results. In the same way that Jacobs should not be both CEO and Lead Designer, Barnett should not be Creative Director and Head Circus Monkey. Pick a job, be good at it. I think we all know which job Paul is more suited for.

    And the hypocrisy… Everyone who has ideas above me is stifling me with their uncreative thoughts! Everyone below me is wrong and should fall in line with what I say because I said it else I’ll burn them at the stake!

    Remember the morale of this talk kids, it’s better to be a loud in your face “rebel” than to be good at what you do.

  3. Mist says:

    WAR is a catastrophe of game design on top of a complete clusterfuck of game programming. Between the entirely one-dimensional realm war and the fact that the gameplay is considerably less responsive than any other AAA MMO ever published in the broadband era, it is an absolute miracle that anyone still plays this game. Barnett should have never been let anywhere near the design department. That guy talks more and says less than John Romero and Derek Smart put together. EA needs to just shut that studio down, they’ve become grossly incompetent while their egos continue to expand.

  4. Anonymouse says:

    OK who pushed Paul’s Awesome button?

  5. Mercury says:

    Yeah, but how can that be copyright infringement?

    Oops, next thread, moving on…

  6. dartwick says:

    I guess my concise estimation of the hypocritical pontificator was inappropriate.

  7. Takk says:

    Well the “we don’t like Chaos” thing sure explains why the Zealot sucks so badly. 😀

    Mythic’s PR department needs to sequester him fast. Then their management needs to replace the programming and C&C staff.

  8. DoubleD says:

    Inconceivable!

  9. Daniel says:

    I not sure I understand all the implications of what is being said here because I am not a game designer. But I do think there is truth to the fact that many games tend to be over-designed. One current example of this is the way WoW is working to eliminate most of the randomness from the game in the interest of creating more class equality. I find it sad because randomness is part of life, it’s what makes billions of dollars for all the casinos around the country. People like randomness, it’s thrilling and exciting.

    “earnest people with intelligent systems to sell.” I agree with him wholeheartedly on this point. Only don’t call them “prophets” because that’s an insult to the proper meaning of that term. Call it what it is, which is theologians selling and creating dogma; that’s the proper analogy.

  10. Tide says:

    A lifetime of 7400 games… big man, big numbers. Totally unverifiable, and in any way a useful metric? This guy is a walking studio disaster.

  11. UnSub says:

    People like randomness, it’s thrilling and exciting.

    Humans get excited by random reward systems. They don’t like random events screwing them over or being the eternal underdog.

    Paul’s use of language is interesting: “prophets”, “heretics”, “faith”. Those are very powerful words.

    Also, he dissed Raph by dismissing books on theories of fun. STRIKE HIM DOWN RAPH! UNLEASH YOUR ANGER! 😉

  12. Longasc says:

    The guy at Eldergame dissed Raph’s book recently, too. But in a quite elaborate and constructive way. I have no idea how Mr. Barnett commented on it, but he was indeed more in using words stirring a lot of emotion and making the clown for the audience, it seems. Oh my.

  13. Guy says:

    So, basically, he’s calling everyone who thinks about games on a more academic or rigorous level than he does “useless eggheads”? But we all have to trust his great intuitive mastery? Is he frustrated because he can’t think about games more academically and thus regales against the ivory tower elite as wrongheaded?

  14. Arkenor says:

    I’m afraid I find that gentleman so irritating to listen to that I have trouble absorbing his words of wisdom. And I’m a Brit.

    Playing over 7000 games is certainly impressive, though he clearly can’t have played any of them for terribly long. Then again, he also said this: “I was in charge of hiding all the crazy things around the world for people to find,” Paul confirmed. “I can safely say that no one has come anywhere near finding even two percent of them. There are years and years of finding all the nonsensical gags that are hidden within the game!”

    That also combined his love of unverifiable large numbers with an excess of self-congratulation. I think he’d be far better off in marketing, than design.

  15. […] frustrations and send a negatve vibe towards those reading them. Meanwhile, the pundits decide to kick dirt over the developers with glee as yet another MMO fails to meet expectations – and by expectations, I mean beat World of […]

  16. Arkenor says:

    Also:

    “Theories in design are as timeless as the fashion of hats”

    What is he trying to say? That the fashion in hats has not changed? Does he think Isembard Kingdom Brunel wore a baseball cap?

    As someone who occasionally endures funny looks while wearing a trilby, I say this with no feeling of guilt: he knows nothing of hats and their fashions.

    Or is he trying to say that game design theories change all the time? Surely that would run counter to his claim that everyone is stuck in the mud, and in need of a shake-up?

    I’m just confused.

  17. Iconic says:

    What Paul Barnett says would be more interesting if he’d ever made a game I liked to play. Most of the elements that people seem to like about WAR are either borrowed from DAOC or from other games. I’m not sure what it is that Paul has created that any one other than Paul really likes.

    I try hard to look past the hype machine aspect of his personality but once you get past the hype I don’t know what is left.

  18. Raph says:

    Depending on which article you read, he was either slagging me or not. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. 🙂 I had enough fresh-out-of-college kids come up to me this GDC and tell me that my book changed their life, or that UO was their formative gaming experience, that I am not worried about people calling me a snake oil salesman (if he did in the first place). Slagging off efforts towards greater understanding, well… shrug.

    Glad to hear that he’s digging the indie scene and saying big pubs are in trouble. He wasn’t listening closely enough to us snake oil fellas three years ago, though, if he says no one predicted it. 😉

  19. Sullee says:

    Who let him speak?

    Seriously. Tough time finding decent folk to do this? This guy has no wisdom to share.

  20. Matt Mihaly says:

    Guy wrote:

    So, basically, he’s calling everyone who thinks about games on a more academic or rigorous level than he does “useless eggheads”? But we all have to trust his great intuitive mastery? Is he frustrated because he can’t think about games more academically and thus regales against the ivory tower elite as wrongheaded?

    To be fair, great games do not come out of academia, at all. Ever really. There’s possibly an exception here or there, but I suspect (I missed his talk) that he’s just venting a gut-level reaction to the idea that you can turn making great games into some sort of formula. You cannot, of course, but I would be seriously surprised to find out that Paul is slagging off people like Raph’s effort to understand more about games. I don’t agree with all of Raph’s conclusions but I literally don’t know anyone in the industry that thinks that delving into the discipline is a bad thing. Improving your craft isn’t the same as being stuck in an ivory tower.

    I know it’s easy to get all riled up and lash out at Paul for his sin of being outspoken and not producing a game as successful as he had hoped, but give the guy a bit of a break. Yeah, he says some questionable things (and I think a couple of the things he reportedly said are flat-out bullshit) but that’s partially because he says a lot! I think everyone has a lot of questionable things to say if we lower the barrier between thinking and saying.

    As a player, would you rather that you hear what the devs are actually thinking or would you rather have everything they say passed through a sterile marketing filter? If you tell me it’s the latter, you’re lying to yourself I think. Accepting the former means accepting that not everything that comes out of someone’s mouth is going to be perfectly consistent or intelligent.

    I don’t know the guy though, so I’m just speculating.

    –matt

  21. Arkenor says:

    As a player, would you rather that you hear what the devs are actually thinking or would you rather have everything they say passed through a sterile marketing filter? If you tell me it’s the latter, you’re lying to yourself I think. Accepting the former means accepting that not everything that comes out of someone’s mouth is going to be perfectly consistent or intelligent.

    The problem is, everything he says is so hyped up that he is a fundamentally unreliable witness. I don’t know how closely you followed WAR, so you might have not been exposed to him as much as I’ve been. His nonsense was one of the primary reasons I got frustrated with WAR. What I want from a developer is to be talked to like an adult, with truth and fact, and if I’m lucky, some well-thought out explanations for design choices. Admittedly, that may not be what the majority of players want, and Mr Barnett certainly does have an extremely loyal following who enjoy his antics, but if I want zany humour I’ll watch the Mighty Boosh.

  22. geldonyetich says:

    Well, I’ve certainly enough heresy to be a good game designer. If I can stop procrastinating long enough, I’ll make a game so non-mainstream that I’d be lucky if more than 5 people play my game sometime in my lifetime because they rather be playing Narutapokaballz 3: The Reckoning Of Warcraft. Damn sheeple.

    To a great extent, my experience with dabbling with game design as an indy developer, backed up with reading a few books such as Raph Koster’s Theory of Game Design and The Art Of Game Design (Jesse Schell) is that a single unified game design theory is about as easy to nail as a single unified life theory. This is because games are, crammed under one perspective, little simulated microcosms of life that are engineered provide an entertaining, “what if” for our brains to enjoy.

    So when Barnett says designers are overthinking it, I’d say he’s both right and wrong in this regard. He’s right in that capturing a realistic microcosm should be simple enough to deliver an experience relatively free of the corruption born from an overthought design. However, he’s wrong in that such a capturing can not be done without putting a whole lot of thought into exactly what aspect of life you’re trying to present and how to go about it in an entertaining fashion.

    Put another way, it takes a lot of effort from a skilled production crew and accomplished actors to simply deliberately reproduce a completely believable scene of everyday life. Does that make sense? A lot more thought goes into deliberately reproducing the right life experience in the right way than simply falling off a log with the camera running.

    He’s also right in suggesting people get pretty damn upset with life’s uncertainties and are anxious to accept an easy solution, but that’s more of a generalized qualifier and less related to the matter at hand of what games are and how to make better ones.

  23. Klaitu says:

    I have no idea what the guy is saying. I don’t speak BS.

  24. Delmania says:

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

    It’s nothing more than old and rather pointless struggle between those who develop theory and those who build a product based on that theory. If I am reading this correctly, he’s claiming that theory is nothing more than catch phrases designed to hook people and that people buy into it because the alternative, chaos, we don’t like.

    Ironically, for as much he disses theory, his game isn’t really success, it’s prodding along, but that’s about it. He’s got a point that people do put too much stock into theory, but to discard as nothing than catchphrases is rather stupid.

  25. Makaze says:

    Matt Mihaly :
    As a player, would you rather that you hear what the devs are actually thinking or would you rather have everything they say passed through a sterile marketing filter? If you tell me it’s the latter, you’re lying to yourself I think. Accepting the former means accepting that not everything that comes out of someone’s mouth is going to be perfectly consistent or intelligent.

    And I’m cool with that. The problem is virtually everything I hear from Paul is passed through the self-promotion/wacky to cover the lack of substance filter. Which is almost as bad. I’m not slagging on him (this thread brought to you by the word slagging!) for saying something stupid at GDC. I’m slagging on him for giving an entire speech filled with stupid things and those being an accurate representation of his normal mode of communication.

  26. Warhammer is definitely my favorite MMO.

  27. J. says:

    Walt Yarbrough :
    Warhammer is definitely my favorite MMO.

    For the game, or the entourage?

  28. Daniel says:

    @UnSub. I have been thinking about Scott’s claim that players claim that want challenge but really don’t and how that relates to the RNG. And I think that they way they relate is that a video game like WoW operates on the exact opposite principle than a casino. The casino, in order to stay in business, has a house edge. The net effect of this is that the ordinary person, in the long run, will go broke if they spent all their money at the casino. The gambling system is designed from the ground up with the house edge in mind.

    It seems to me that good games are designed in the reverse. The house edge, if you will, is to the player. While the player will die a few times, in the long run the player should “beat” the PvE system (call this leveling, a skill up, etc.)

    “They don’t like random events screwing them over or being the eternal underdog.”

    Psychologically, that’s just not true. Clearly, you don’t understand the psychological nature of risk. In the mind of the gambler, random events don’t “screw them over”. They either win or lose. “Screw them over” is exactly the type of emotional judgment most risk-loving people avoid entirely. People with that “poker face” are not worried about being screwed over, they are too busy calculating the odds.

    As for the eternal underdog, that even sillier. I suppose the Lone Ranger was a cultural phenomenon for no particular reason. *You* may not like random events, or being the eternal underdog, and that’s OK. But there are plenty of people who do like that role, and spend their entire lives fulfilling it.

    The six million dollar question, however, is whether those people make a stable enough base to fund a game long term. Casinos do go broke. There is no doubt that WoW has changed over the years as it has sought to expand it’s market and make the game accessible to a wider audience.

  29. Raph says:

    Paul left me a note on my site saying he wasn’t referring to me, or indeed to anyone in particular, but instead to people who blindly accept “sages on stages” as authorities without questioning, skepticism, and seeking answers out of their own initiative.

    Having been misreported or vaguely reported in speeches plenty of times myself, I buy that.

    He didn’t leave his contact info, alas, so I can’t follow up with him.

  30. Athryn says:

    Every time Barnett opens his mouth, he sticks his foot in it.

  31. Guy says:

    I think game design is a complicated mix of art/intuition/experience and math/theory. Not to mention a good heap of testing and iteration. Describing any of these critical inputs as useless is to reveal perhaps an incomplete understanding of game design, or at the very least frustration over some past argument.

    Maybe he isn’t representing himself well in this spontaneous moment, or maybe it’s a continuation of what a lot of people have been seeing over the last year. Got nothing against him personally, but thinking carefully about game design is not a bad thing.

    Charlie Parker once said, and I paraphrase, that in order to play jazz, you have to learn all the scales and theory, and then… forget all about it. In other words, you need to have the details and mechanical stuff down pat, but then… make an intuitive leap. You won’t actually be forgetting what you learned, just “grokking” it on a different level and going somewhere new.

  32. […] posted articles about two GDC talks, one by Mythic’s Paul Barnett and the other by Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan. While the articles themselves are interesting, I […]

  33. EpicSquirt says:

    Design – Implementing – Iteration.

    Theory – Practice – Refinement.

    The more often you do it, the more transparent the boundaries get.

    Solid up-front design for complex projects is a good idea, need to spend much time on the design because it makes the implementing easier and fixing crude design errors can be hard.

  34. Luckycynic says:

    Man there is so much hate here. If you guys don’t like the game, fine. It is not forced upon you but what is this new fixation on dev bashing. Don’t you guys have anything better to do than make up false premises of a flawed argument against a video game and it’s developers? Bugger off!

  35. Luckycynic says:

    J. :

    Walt Yarbrough :
    Warhammer is definitely my favorite MMO.

    For the game, or the entourage?

    May I confess? Both! I haven’t gotten excited about a game that the devs were not excited about. Podcasts, videos, interviews, some devs just wing them and others make them even more enticing… I like that! I like a game that has substance and has excitement leaking from each podcast!

  36. Rog says:

    Wait, let me get this straight– Paul Barnett is complaining about catchphrases and trendy design theories? The man is a walking catchphrase and all I’ve ever heard him spew is his latest design theory of the week. =P

    Now if only he’d ever put the nonsense he goes on about into a game, because last I checked most of the big ideas he had for WAR never made it in, or simply weren’t as he described.

  37. alchemda says:

    @Mist

    All in the eyes of the beholder. There are 300k of us who are loving the game, no matter how crappy some guy think’s it is.

  38. EpicSquirt says:

    @alchemda
    And?! I don’t think it’s crappy, it is crappy!

    You think it’s not crappy, but 3 times (your 300k) the people thought it is, and left! Same can be said for AoC and TR.

    So give me a break with your fanboism please. There are tons of people on the world who read bullshit newspapers, eat the worst possible food but they don’t have to do it. Maybe they’re loving it, but why should people who experienced yellow press and press-meat respect them?!

    You have a low standard, but I prefer doing nothing instead of playing Warhammer, it is more rewarding and fun.

  39. ymrar says:

    EpicSquirt :
    @alchemda
    And?! I don’t think it’s crappy, it is crappy!
    You think it’s not crappy, but 3 times (your 300k) the people thought it is, and left! Same can be said for AoC and TR.
    So give me a break with your fanboism please. There are tons of people on the world who read bullshit newspapers, eat the worst possible food but they don’t have to do it. Maybe they’re loving it, but why should people who experienced yellow press and press-meat respect them?!
    You have a low standard, but I prefer doing nothing instead of playing Warhammer, it is more rewarding and fun.

    Is there anyway you could put it in a more arrogant way? Because if you can tune it up a bit, I think I might burst into laughter. You are bordering ridiculous.

  40. EpicSquirt says:

    @ymrar
    What’s arrogant about it?

  41. Einherjer says:

    If EpicSquirt says the game is crappy then i must be crappy. It is not arrogance though. It’s sheer know how and intelligence and we who play WAR, along those who play Darkfall, are self deluded fools. Right…

    You said it mate, now go back to WoW, while hearing the latest Usher and eating a big mac. And before falling asleep don’t forget to read the latest Dan Brown so you can look smart by the coffee machine the following day at work. Yep, that’s quality.

    Bland entertainement for bland people. Bloody eejits…

  42. Ironwood says:

    On the other hand, Jazz sucks.

    (Not the Autobot. He was cool.)

  43. EpicSquirt says:

    @Einherjer
    Unlike your sarcasm, my is backed up with some numbers. I can’t comment on Darkfall, as I don’t play it, but Warhammer is crappy, as a piece of software and even more as a game. Enjoy it, I don’t give a shit actually as you have a right to have a bad taste, just don’t pretend it’s good or that the critics are assholes because you or 300k people love it. The bar are the people who expected a better game / higher standard and who left.

  44. Einherjer says:

    Gee Epic, so all those guys who stuck with EVE must be real ‘tards, right?
    Dude, the only thing Epic about you is how much you fail.

  45. EpicSquirt says:

    @Einherjer
    EVE has a continuous growth from the beginning, it was a game worth playing from the beginning. I played it from beta 2003 till 2005 daily for several hours and still resubscribe from time to time.

    Not sure what kind of analogy you’re trying to draw here. There is none to draw, in no aspect. EVE didn’t lose 3/4 of its player base short after launch and both games are very different in idea and implementation.

    If you think that the fans stuck with Warhammer Online will manage to rebuild the game with Mythic’s help, you’re mistaken – there is even more competition on the horizon, some even with GW’s IP. The people who stuck with EVE had epic PvP from the beginning, corps and alliances have raised and fallen from day 1, there was something worth to fight over and there were many means to do it, where Warhammer had and still has Scenarios of Lag and City Sieges of Bugs.

    I’m sure that sadomasochism is a form of love too.

  46. Longasc says:

    Angry german kid of east european ancestry just had a hissy fit? Or are you always like that? :>

  47. EpicSquirt says:

    @Longasc
    Try to discuss the actual matter instead of resorting to such comments.

  48. Longasc says:

    It is not me who named himself EpicSquirt and his homepage Crymore. I did not think that you are such a reasonable and sensitive person after taking a shit on alchemda, ymrar and Einherjer.

    So please, feel free to explain your epic entry #36.

    Edit: Actually, there is nothing to explain… you have utterly disqualified yourself. Not really looking forward to more incredible comments like that.

  49. Jeff says:

    EpicSquirt, Longasc

    Which one of you is Alliance. which one is Horde? :p

  50. EpicSquirt says:

    @Jeff
    I don’t play WoW, never got beyond level 16 or so. Didn’t like the graphical style (my bad taste), but if I’d play I’d be Horde I think.

  51. Jeff says:

    @EpicSquirt

    Sadly I have to side with the other guy then. /gank

    :p

    edit: Hmm. Maybe he is horde too. lol

    All I am saying, is give peace a chance

  52. The Claw says:

    “so all those guys who stuck with EVE must be real ‘tards, right?”

    Not sure what the connection is between EVE, a game which has slowly but steadily attracted more and more and more players continuously over it’s entire lifespan (which is quite a long time now); and WAR, a game which hyped a lot of hype and shifted a lot of boxes and then saw 75-90% (depending on whose numbers you believe) of the buyers ditch it almost immediately because they simply didn’t like it.

  53. […] you hide in your irrelevant niche with the broken shell of your dream game, complaining about the Big Mac-eating, Usher-listening mainstream. Because everyone ships late with bugs and missing features, so STFU and accept […]

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