Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games: Designer Perspective: Lorne Lanning [2014]

Date: April 2014

Source: Fullerton, Tracy. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games (pp. 377-378). 3rd ed. CRC Press.

Designer Perspective:
Lorne Lanning

Cofounder, Chief Creative Officer, Oddworld Inhabitants

Lorne Lanning is a game designer, writer, and animated film director whose game credits include Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997), Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (1998), Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (2001), Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (2005), and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee New ‘n’ tasty (2013).

On the design process:

It’s a very abstract process for me that stems from those issues in life that I care passionately about. I also do a lot of research on unrelated topics. Usually, the best ideas come from way out of left field, so I spend a lot of time in left field in ways that others might consider off target, but the creative process is one where we marry ideas that didn’t previously go together…so as a designer, I believe it’s critical to research beyond the field of your medium. Those that don’t and only inherit ideas from their medium tend to have a harder time coming up with something unique and fresh.

On prototypes:

Prototypes are critical. Focus on the most critical components that are going to test your project’s feasibility and fun factor by investing in prototypes up front. The last thing you want is a team working on something that they don’t believe can be done, so this prototype stage not only benefits the learning curve, but also a team’s morale.

On game influences:

• Flashback/Out of This World/Prince of Persia: I felt that all of these platform games brought a new degree of drama and life to game design. Realistic animations combined with an interesting story, continued cut scenes, and story-oriented puzzle mechanics inspired the first Oddworld games on the PlayStation. These games were gleaming light posts, indicating that one day films and games would have more in common than previously imagined.

• Terminator 2 (arcade): I saw this arcade game at a theme park convention before it was released to the public (it was also before I was in the game design business). When I saw this game, it became quite evident how the future of content would be in amortized digital databases across various delivery mediums. This was the first game that successfully used actual film production assets in the game. It was a signpost for me that read, “This way lies the future of universe oriented digital multimedia properties.”

• WarCraft II: This game really brought home the joy that could be experienced when managing a large group of agents that you have birthed and nurtured over time. This also revealed a huge psychological component to me that emerged via absolute control over their fate. Certainly, other games had touched upon this, but WarCraft II enabled a smooth, simple control/management interface that allowed the positive emotional reaction to the experience to unfold without frustrating tedium. It also installed a sweet, simple blend of sim and strategy that was previously lacking in real-time war games.

• Super Mario 64: Though it is very challenging to stay interested in the content (admittedly, it is for kids), the analog controls mixed with analog animations brought the interactive 3D character to new levels of life and fluidity. It always amazes me how people will tolerate stiff and digital controls, sometimes even preferring them. For me, I can’t play games that suggest they are dealing with living life forms yet have stiff or digital feeling controls that result in robotic looking/feeling characters. It’s always a huge turnoff that keeps me from enjoying what might be a good game. On this front, Mario set the stage for what constitutes great 3D analog character controls.

• The Sims: This game is a record holder when it comes to innovation as well as an amazing example of a developer’s ability to nurture and support a mod community that will, in return, nurture and support the shelf life of a product. This is a product that is beyond the norm of traditional genres. This is a game that, if focus tested with the usual suspects in the community, could likely have faced being cut while still in development. However, this series stands tall when it comes to proving that games are not always what we (in the biz) think they should be, while also proving that there is a tremendous market of potential players that are just plain uninterested in what the rest of the industry has to offer them. In many ways, this series is a great white hope for the future of innovation in game design, not necessarily in terms of the game design structure and chemistry, but more importantly in how different this game is from the rest of the herd.

• Tamagotchi: Much like The Sims, I know there is an entire breed of games that have yet to be created that will take the concept of nurturing virtual life forms to entirely new levels. When games’ sociological effects can force a major corporation, like Japan Airlines, to change a policy in response to screaming children that are delaying takeoff (because they were told they needed to turn off all their electrical devices), then you’re witnessing something much deeper than people just being addicted to challenging games. We’re now watching humans experience new levels of emotional attachment and codependency on virtual life forms.

Advice to designers:

Beyond having an extremely strong work ethic, beyond looking at and studying all the games that you can learn from, beyond being educated and brilliant in programming, design, computer animation, writing, whichever is your skill set, you need to look at and study the life outside of games that is all around you. The best ideas will not come from other games. The best ideas will come from areas that have nothing to do with games. They will come from other areas, art forms, and sciences like sociology, agriculture, philosophy, zoology, or psychology. The more you find inspirational sources that come from areas beyond the spectrum of your intended medium, the more unique your creations will feel to others.