A lecture I just gave at Game Focus Germany.

The title is “Programming is Easy; Production is Harder; Design is Hardest.” I gave this lecture on January 24, 2008 at the Game Focus Germany conference. Casey Muratori and Electronic Arts are the absent guest-stars of this lecture. I’m still not sure exactly what this lecture was about, but people seemed to like it all right.

Here is the link to the lecture, which is a .zip file containing PowerPoint slides and an mp3 audio track. The full zip is about 30 megabytes.

This lecture was not a keynote, so its subject matter is smaller in scale than the past couple of lectures I’ve posted.

I like hanging out in Germany. I would definitely come back next year!

17 thoughts on “A lecture I just gave at Game Focus Germany.”

  1. Nice talk. I love that Molly Rocket manifesto and am always reinspired when I read it. I’ve gone through a similar transition with my attitude towards programming, although I don’t have the deep perspective on the other two issues that you do.

    What exactly has production involved doing on a game with 3 years of you and 1 year of a full-time artist? Are you counting art directing in that? It sounded like you counted the art directing in design instead, practically. I guess I’m still in the “we’re just two guys in an office” mindset. I mean, I keep todo lists, but I can’t see that as being 10% of the programming time.

  2. Hi,
    I’m new here, but have been very interesting in Braid since Joystiq posted a feature on it in 07. All I can say is, it looks amazing and I genuinly wish you sucess with it.
    Just wondering- once the XBLA version is finshed, do you have any plans to release it on other consoles? I would love to expiriance Braid, but as of now have no 360, so it would be brilliant if it was, at some point in the future, avalable on Steam or WiiWare. What are your ideas on this?
    Sorry that this is completly unreleated to the post, I was unsure of where else to ask my question.


  3. Damn, I was trying to dig up the full text of EA’s original 1983 “We See Farther” mission statement, for contrast with its current one, but it seems to have vanished from the net save for an unreadably small version.

  4. I am astonished how you come up with something new, inspiring and relevant every time you hold a lecture about independent games. Please continue to post your lectures on your blog. Looking forward to see your keynote at the Nordic Game Jam.

  5. JP: You mean this one? (It just came up in a mailing list thread a week or two ago):


    Sean — I am counting part of “Art Direction” inside Production. There’s a “schedule, have meetings, make sure everything is going okay” part, which I am counting as Production. But then there’s “assess what is being produced, decide if it needs to be different aesthetically, or come up with new ideas based on that, decide whether it’s conflicting with the game design / etc” which I am counting under Design.

    But then also, David is doing a large chunk of what would be considered “Art Direction” in the mainstream industry. Because it’s not like I give him a list of assets to draw, and what color palettes they should be, or whatever, and say “draw these things”. Mainly he comes up with what to draw, and then mainly I try to steer from a more abstracted level than that.

    I think in a mainstream company, if there is a person whose job is Art Director, they are also probably doing a lot of production tasks too.

  6. Sam: In the long term I want to release Braid on many platforms. What those are, I don’t know. The PC will probably happen. The PS3, maybe, it all depends.

    Braid will never be a WiiWare game, though, because the requirements of that medium are too stringent (we would have to cut the game down hugely to run on a Wii, and even then, it wouldn’t be appropriate because Braid is an asset-heavy game but WiiWare games are supposed to be small enough to fit on tiny local storage or be re-downloadable.)

    I don’t think a PSP version is very likely (the UMD disc is a real problem) but maybe someone will come out with a next-gen handheld in a year or two? I have no idea but it feels like about time.

  7. Oh, Sean, I forgot to mention — also included in that 10% Production thing is stuff like: Managing my own todo lists, having phone meetings with Microsoft about how the game is going, writing up various documents for them, ESRB submissions, just keeping that bug list of theirs maintained to reflect reality, and a bunch of other stuff that I am forgetting right now.

    But now that you mention it the 10% might be too high. Like I said, the numbers are fabricated.

  8. Jon: pretty much, the specific page with “We See Farther” on it:


    is the one I was looking for, but I’m pretty sure the other page has some copy in common with it.

    Regardless, what I find particularly inspiring about it is the way it implicitly ignores or breaks through the boundaries between artists and technical people, and likewise between art and entertainment.

    Sadly, since then both of those divisions have widened and have come to define game design today, much like EA has abandoned the vibrant optimism of those early days.

  9. “Please continue to post your lectures on your blog.”

    I just wanted to second this, it’s very interesting and watching the powerpoint presentation with the audio as separate mp3 works rather well. Thanks for posting.

  10. “I’m still not sure exactly what this lecture was about, but people seemed to like it all right.”

    Haha! Well, even if you are not sure about what you were talking about, it was entertaining nontheless. 🙂 Catching a live two-minute glimpse of Braid was enough reason for me, but that’s a personal thing. I’m looking forward to its release, might even be the first game I pay for on XBLA.

    I think your lecture was well placed right after Greg Costikyan’s keynote “The Independent Developer Shall Rise Again”. Overall, all the information about motivation, problems, advantages, pros & cons of indie development was probably the most interesting stuff I took from these two days. That and the free beer at the party.

  11. Again, great presentation. I like your thoughtful almost sketchy slides.. The sliding scale of barriers and difficulty curves between programming and design is an interesting one. Do you think that you need to overcome a number of difficult early technical barriers to realise that the design process is the hardest to hone? Or can you be aware of that even without overcoming the technical curve? Many of my students dont understand the difficulty in improving design because they lack the technical skills to implement their ideas, therefore their ideas work perfectly in their heads and dont need improving.

    I also beleive that whereas programming can be elegant and architectural the results are usually judged on the surface, ie does the code perform as required. Design on the otherhand is closer to artistic intention/interpretation and therefore involves much more subjectivity. IMO this inevitably makes it harder to assess and improve.

    However i still feel somewhat uncomfortable with the division between ‘programmer’ and ‘artist’, something i seem to routinely argue over with michale from tale of tales. Maybe as a programmer and artist I like to promote the rennaisance man ideal… i ramble … as always

  12. Yes, well, that was part of what I was hoping to get at: as a beginner, programming is hard but design is easy, but that’s only because the overall skill level is low (so for example the quality bar for design is not very high yet).

    It’s funny you say “their ideas work perfectly in their heads” because that is one of the main subjects of a new lecture I am giving tomorrow.

  13. Awesome. Great lecture. I really agree with most of it, especially the stuff about “why create?” and “what is worth creating?” I absolutely think in those terms.

    I think a happy medium must be found between the perfectionism/idealism that would always make you go back to the drawing board when you get close to finishing a game and decide you’d rather make a different game and the mentality of mechanically producing cookie-cutter games just to generate revenue. But I do think it needs to be a happy medium where the art is not lost.

    Anyway, I just finished listening to the lecture part (haven’t listened to all the questions yet) and I just really felt like saying how much I liked it. Thank you. : )

  14. Your lecture was very inspiring to me. I started looking for other lectures you gave and found the one you held in Melbourne about the “why” of game making as opposed to the “how”, and that really made me think. Do I actually want to go into the mainstream game industry at all? Probably all I’d be doing there is kind of lame, silly, and mainly uninspiring games. The only reason for going into that industry to me seems, to learn about the “how”. Which tools are best to use, which skill set is required etc. They could probably not tell me a lot about the why’s.
    What do you think, (if I may ask)? Is it a good move to go into the mainstream business to learn about “hows”, Or should I just do that myself with all the knowledge that’s available online?

    Finally, I wanted to point out this flash game “Samorost” to you. I think you would like it. (I really dig it.) Maybe you already know it. It’s like an adventure with beautiful graphics, lot’s of detail fotos from mushrooms and roots from the woods.

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