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  • Published: 02 August 2000
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part Ten: Masochist
By Paul O’Connor, senior game designer

Since Oddworld Inhabitants is always looking for game designers, I thought you might find it interesting to see what you’d have to go through to join the crack team here at Oddworld. Along the way, maybe I’ll convince a few of you to seek less stressful work, like being a crash test dummy.

After the usual résumé- and phone-screening process, candidates are subjected to ‘the test.’ The test is brutal. It comes in two parts.

First is a paper layout based on a stock ‘level treatment.’ The treatment describes a theoretical environment and some gameplay possibilities from the middle act of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Working from this treatment, we expect candidates to create a layout map describing the 3D space of play and the location of various characters and game events, while at the same time demonstrating how the goals of the treatment are realized on paper. It’s up to candidates to develop their own visual language (in the form of a map key) to communicate their plan. While we wouldn’t expect to use this paper layout in the game, it will help us judge the organization and presentation skills of the prospects.

The second part of the test is to write an original level treatment. This test challenges candidates to conceptualize a gameplay environment from start to finish, including a description of the venue, an outline of possible gameplay, and descriptions of any special characters, mechanics, and game events the region requires.

If a candidate returns the test materials on time, and if the materials meet with our approval, we’ll arrange a phone interview. Then we basically go after the poor guy, addressing specific elements of the treatment and level design. Our intent is to determine if the candidate has the flexibility, initiative, and creativity to survive in the Oddworld design department, which at times can be a harsh and fast-moving place. Phone interviews last for an hour or more, and they can be a grueling experience for the candidate. Over the speakerphone, one member of our team will pose a difficult question, followed by another member: ‘Your layout calls for at least five unique mechanics? The budget will permit only one. Which do you keep? Which do you eliminate? Why?’

The interview is additionally difficult in that there are rarely any right answers, but plenty of wrong ones. It’s hard for candidates to hit one out of the park in a phone interview, but we can easily spot someone who is going to be inflexible or too in love with pet ideas.

In all, it’s a daunting process, especially in a business where interviews frequently consist of the following dialogue:

‘Do you want the job?’

But designers have to prove that they will not only endure pain, but that they will also eagerly inflict it on themselves. Any damn fool can be a passenger in a car wreck. Deliberately wrecking your own car, well… that’s what separates the designers from the crash test dummies. More on the game’s progress next time…