Sometimes it’s hard to not believe in fate. Everything important always seems to just fall to my hands. Just like my work practice period.
When our second year was coming to a close, the time was approaching for our work practice period. This concerned me greatly, as I assumed that I would have to get an internship somewhere that would advance my degree programme. Which was programming. Which I hated.
But then, we had some guest lectures about Finnish game companies. Just like other lectures mostly concerning the business side, they weren’t very interesting. But then, Jussi Autio, CEO of Tuonela Productions, mentioned that their company uses a lot of interns for many purposes, like coding, graphics… and design. That raised my interest. After the lecture, I asked him about getting a practice period in Tuonela. That five-minute talk was the turning point of my education.
Tuonela Productions is a small game company that has created several card- and board games. I mostly did some content design for some board games and one of their digital games, which sadly did not see the light of day. The days at Tuonela showed me a very important thing: That I did more with my wits than what I had learned from the school. At the end, my initiative (which came as a surprise) and my analysative skills were commended. The whole experience reassured me that I was on the right track: Game design was my forté.
I returned to school with both confidence in my own abilities, and suspicion on what school could teach me anymore. My suspicion turned to dread after the Global Game Jam, where I saw what Kajak wanted: Marketable, simple mobile games. True, GGJ might have been a wrong place to explore the expressive power of interactive content, but the ”games are supposed to be fun”-attitude infuriated me to no end.
And at last, the final hurdle was approaching: The thesis. I was again lucky, for Tuonela had one for me: Designing a game mechanic for their game prototype. Two other students from my class also joined the project: One would do the music, and the other would code the program. The project itself was fun, but faced the typical problems: It took ages to implement anything. But in the end, I designed something that should in work, and wrote a nice-looking piece of design document. The hard part was just coming: Writing.
Game design is subjective. This is a fact. My cat has probably had more influence to my design principles than any game design course or book. This means it was extremely hard to base any of my writings to a credible source. There are two major things in a thesis: Theory and practical. Theory is the part where you read books and garner the knowledge base on which you base your work. I understand that this approach works and is effective when you are, for example, constructing a building. You need to know physics so that your building won’t collapse, and you’ll need to know how to start building, so that you won’t build yourself into a corner. Man has built stuff for millenia, so sources shouldn’t be a problem.
But game design is subjective. There is no gravity and weather ruining my turn order. I can deconstruct and start again in an eyeblink. If a base rule does not work as written, then I can re-write it. Everything is done in my mind, so there is no need for guidelines. There are good practices in user interface, true. And there is a vast difference between a modern game and a game from a decade ago. But trying to find a source for these facts is pure pain.
In the end, I had to use all my cunning and persuasion to get the thesis accepted, even though the sources were mostly other games, the theory part was a complete lie (I did not base my design on the things written in the theory section. I based it on other factors), and I did not even bother to write a good self-analysis on it. The thesis taught me only how to slither through a monolithic relic of bureaucracy with the least amount of work.
Damn. I was supposed to write something positive in this post to contrast the complaints in the last one. Let’s try it again, then. Next time, the pleasant things from Kajak!