Notable g33ks – Game Designer Edition

Why hello there to all of our fantastic friends, viewers and fans of this little spot on the Internet. Last week the staff here at g33kWatch posted a Podcast entitled, E3 or How Joey V Fell in Love With Ken Levine. In it, while talking about E3 2011, the group talked about how all of the major companies tried to trout out very important game developers and have them explain why they were making games on a particular platform.  Ken Levine in particular made some waves with his statements that Irrational Games would be adding PlayStation Move support to Bioshock Infinite, they would make a Bioshock game for the PS Vita, and that they were going to be working with Nintendo on the WiiU.  After discussing that, Joey V talked then about how he bought an XBOX 360 just to get the original Bioshock and how because of that he will do anything Ken Levine says.

Now this seems like a fine Podcast topic and actually lead to some laughs.  Yet the problem that we quickly realized is that … some people are not aware of who the fuck Ken Levine is!  It seems obvious to us because we want to know everything about the games that we like, but for other individuals it may not be such an easy task to keep up with who is in charge of making specific games.

So that got us thinking.  What if we took our old G33K of the W33K section that had been gathering dust, and retool it so that every now and again we could tell you about g33ks of note.  Well, that’s exactly what we did and I welcome you to the first article in the newly formed Notable g33ks section of the website.  Right now you can find it by hovering over the News link and while that may change over time, it’s good enough for now.

So with the backstory out of the way, allow us to tell you about some Game Developers that have made a huge impact in the gaming industry, and people you should know more about.

Ken Levine

Game Studio:
Irrational Games (Quincy, MA)
Notable Games:
Thief: The Dark Project, System Shock 2, Freedom Force, SWAT 4, BioShock
Currently Project:
BioShock Infinite

Let’s start right off with the man who inspired this post.  Ken Levine had what many would consider an interesting story in getting to be a game designer and developer.  A comic book and D&D nerd for much of his life, after graduating college Ken sought to be a movie screenplay writer.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that line of work never worked out for him.  He bounced around from job to job never really finding something that he could be passionate about.  That was until 1995 when he picked up the latest issue of Next Generation Magazine and applied for a job at Looking Glass Studios.

From there, Levine got to use all of his nerdy passion towards games and boy did he make some good ones.  He has credits in the original Thief game (which at the time was regarded as one of the best games of all time), Freedom Force, System Shock 2, and of course being instrumental in the design of the original BioShock game.  He didn’t design or work on BioShock 2 because he and team felt like they had already told enough of the story and didn’t need to revisit the city known as Rapture.  So instead of working on a sequel he didn’t believe in, Ken Levine and the other fine folks over at Irrational Games have been working on BioShock Infinite which has been topping many gaming critics Best of E3 2011 lists.

Obviously you can just point to his history of games and say that is what has made him successful, but to me what has made his gaming career remarkable is his ability to tell a story.  Using all of the wonderful skills he obtained as a kid who was into RPG’s and Comic Books, added to the already established skills as a fledgling screenwriter, Levine realizes that the most important thing about games is the story.  If you go back and and play some of the games that I’ve mentioned above, you’ll just see how jam packed they are with detail and storyline.  Remember the big reveal in BioShock and just how long they had been planting the seed for that all the previous hours of gameplay?  How every level was designed to convey to you just how messed up Rapture had gotten?  Pretty remarkable if you ask us.

Ken Levine delivered the PAX 2008 Keynote and we implore you to take a look, it was really a great speech.

Tim Schafer

Game Studio: Double Fine (San Francisco, CA)
Notable Games:
Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, Brütal Legend
Currently Projects:
Costume Quest, Stacking, Trenched

Tim Schafer is a big deal to a lot of g33kWatch staff members and should probably be a big deal to you as well.  We spent a lot of our early years playing the LucasArts adventure / puzzle games and Schafer was a huge part of those games and their development.  The majority of those funny puzzles and dialogue you remember from games like Maniac Mansion, and Monkey Island were thought of by Schafer.  If that wasn’t enough, he was lead designer and project leader for games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango that took adventures to new and interesting directions.

After all of those hits though that he helped make at LucasArts, Schafer went to create his own studio in San Francisco dubbed Double Fine.  It was there that Schafer and his team have had an up and down road with gaming success.  The best way to describe the work over at the studio is certainly what that is pushing the limits and known conventions of what should and shouldn’t work.  Originally the studio made a splash with the console game Psychonauts that was a huge hit critically, but didn’t sell well initially but eventually garnered a cult following through digital distribution.

Of course after that what Tim Schafer is probably best known recently would be his involved in the game Brütal Legend.  A highly stylized world and game using the album covers of Heavy Metal classics as its inspiration, the game featured surprisingly good voice work from the likes of Jack Black and Ozzy Osbourne and fantastic dialogue as we have come to expect from Schafer games.  Unfortunately the game was a console Real Time Strategy game, which would have been better if the game wasn’t being billed as an action adventure game from the start.  It became confusing and ultimately just not that enjoyable at times gameplay wise.

After the rough go with the last two major console releases, Double Fine has really hit a groove as they have had three successful releases in the Downloadable Games market.  Games like Costume Quest, Stacking, and Trenched have shown that the team can make crazy cool games quickly, and with that trademark funny writing.  Tim Schafer is an extremely cool guy that will go out of his way to talk with you at conventions and what not and loves checking out new games.  We here at g33kWatch watched him go all around PAX East 2011 talking with indie game developers, signing autographs, and taking pictures with charismatic gentlemen.

Peter Molyneux

Game Studio: Lionhead Studios (Guildford, Surrey, UK)
Notable Games:
Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, Fable I, Fable II, Fable III
Currently Project:
Fable: The Journey

To state that Peter Molyneux is a polarizing figure in the game development industry would be an understatement.  No matter what you may think of him though, one can not deny just how grand of an impact he has had on the industry as a whole.  In many different publications and on many different sites Molyneux has been regarded as one of the most influential and greatest game designers ever.

Pretty lofty statements in that previous paragraph and lofty statements and high reaching goals are some of the trademarks of Peter Molyneux’s career.

He is perhaps best known for defining and working in the Simulation, Tychoon and God style of games.  Games like Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Black & White were all created under his watch and have been praised very highly over the years.  Populous is considered to be the first God simulation available on the PC and featured gameplay where while you may not have direct control over the human population you are watching, you can influence them through manipulation and sometimes even divine intervention.  Dungeon Keeper built on that, but focused on the task of building up an fantasy evil empire.  Black & White, which marked the first game out of Lionhead Studios, borrows a bit from both games giving you the God simulation found in Populous but also providing the creature interaction like in Dungeon KeeperBlack & White also started the ground work for Molyneux’s work with the Fable series, as the game featured you growing attached to a giant animal that acted as your avatar and would go out and do your bidding.  The creature would also grow in different ways depending on whether you treated it well, or treated it poorly.  Oh yeah, and the budget for the game was $6 million dollars and Molyneux paid for it COMPLETELY out of pocket.  Pretty cool right?

All of that sounds good and exciting right?  Well that all is, but Black & White and the Fable series put Molyneux on the path of being the controversial figure that he is.  For Black & White there were a lot of crumby controls in the game, and the most interesting parts of the game, namely the giant creatures, just weren’t a big part of it.  Fable on the other hand took it to a new level.  To put it bluntly, Molyneux talked about all the shit that you could do in Fable I, and most of the stuff he talked about was either not in the game at all, or was a watered down version of the concept he was attempting to achieve.  This trend continued with Fable II and Fable III which again brought grandiose claims of what the player would be able to do in the game, with only a moderate amount of that actually making it there.

In the end though, the thing that makes Molyneux great is that he is ALWAYS trying to push the envelope.  He is always coming up with new ideas and is always trying to make them work in his games.  Often these ideas and promises that he makes go wildly wrong, but for the most part it doesn’t stop his games from being successful and entertaining … even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind when you first got it.

Thanks to all of you for reading this long ass article and we hope you enjoy it.  Please comment on this post with your own thoughts as to what you think of these game designers, other designers who you like, and if you like the new direction of the Notable g33ks section.  Thanks!

Joseph Valenti

Founder of g33kWatch, Joe is the guy who makes sure nobody hurts themselves. Connect with me on Google+

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *