Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thanks for a great 2011!

Hey everyone! Here I am!

I just wanted to thank everyone who bought, read, supported, promoted and illegally downloaded
"Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design" in 2011.

I especially want to thank everyone who posted or e-mail me this year. Thanks for letting know that you are using "Level Up!" as a teaching tool. Your online and reviews were really appeciated (you did write a review, right?) And those letters saying "thanks" really made my year! I'm so happy to have such awesome fans and I can't wait to play your games!

My 2012 new year's resolution? Post much more frequently of course but I'll have plenty of reasons to do so because I am almost done writing the NEXT BOOK - which I can't wait to tell you all about... but first I have to draw over 250 illustrations!

So have a very happy new year, I wish you all of the best in 2012 and I'll see you on the Design Lair real soon!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Still not dead.

So, I might be the world's most infrequent blogger but I'm not dead. I've just been busy. Let me sum up this summer for you:

1) The final EARTH's video game design class finished up with the kids making their own levels. I realized that 8 weeks wasn't enough time for them to really get comfortable with the tools so next year's class is either going to have to go longer or I'm gonna have to have them dive in on week one.

2) I left my job of (almost) 7 years at THQ.

3) I started a new job at Walt Disney Imagineering. If any of you have been reading this blog, you know the significance of that to me. And no, I a) can't get you into the park for free and b) get you a job at Disney (yet) and c) make that change to the attraction you think they should make.

4) I'm writing another book. I don't want to spill the beans on what it is yet, but if you liked "Level Up!" then you will like this one.

I hope that tides you over for now and look to this space for some exciting announcements soon!

Friday, May 20, 2011

This week in class!

Hooray! The Ventura County Star ran a great article on our video game class today. You can read the full article here.

After basking in the glow of their glory, the kids are gonna roll up their sleeves and do some intensive learning this week.

They've got a lot to learn about the LittleBigPlanet Level Editor but they're smart, I'm sure they're up to the challenge!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

EARTHs class... Friday the 13th style!

This week in the EARTHs game design class, the students focused on team work. Focused might be a little loose a term as we had guests that day... a reporter and photographer from the Ventura County Star newspaper who had come to check out the class. I'll post the article when it goes live! (Thanks VCS for coming out and talking to us!)

With the help of the Hawaiian hat, we the kids drew names to determine the design teams for the rest of the class. Friday the 13th weirdness was in the air as the students made some odd-defying draws to pair up their teams.

With their teams matched up, the students then worked on coming up with a story genre for their level and some potential story beats. They included:

Pacific theatre combat (which will be fun to see how they create a level without any shooting!)

Hearts (and villages burn) in Romantic Horror

Video Game themed action with heroes trapped in a virtual world

Techno-Thriller with heroic computer hacking

and Meat-Evival Times complete with cows in shining armor! A really cool and diverse selection of genres. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with them!

Finally, the students got their hands on LittleBigPlanet where they roared through the two-player tutorial missions! (I think they were just happy to play games and take a break from all of the thinking!) So far, so good!

Next week: MAPS!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Robot in the Corner Podcast interview

So about a month ago, I gave an amazingly fantastic interview with the boys at "Robot in the Corner" (Titus, Wes and Dean) who do a podcast for Game Informer's website.

I was on fire. I was hilarious (if I do say so myself), I was doing voices, I was telling stories... and at the end of the 2 hour interview, the RitC guys told me the show didn't record.

Flash forward a month and I finally got around to take 2 of the interview. It's a fun interview in which we learn, we laugh... dare I say... we love video games.

Listen to it HERE! NOW!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This week in class...

The first week of EARTHs video game design class went pretty well - at least according to my kids - When I asked them what their favorite part of the class was, I was releaved when they said it was activities they did and not just that they got to play arcade games before the class started.

Highlights of the class included when one of the students gave an incredibly accurate description of what an oscilloscope does and how it works, when the class decided that "kung-fuing" was an appropiate game genre and when no one fought over the game controllers but all patiently took turns. (I was really proud of them and I'm not even their Dad!)

So, what's going on this week? Here's the sneak preview:

This week, we're going back in to ancient Greece to learn about genre...

... to a galaxy far far away* to learn about story...

... and take a page or two from a certain video game design book on how to write a story.

I'm looking foward to it!

* Oh, by the way, May the Fourth be with you!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What's a video game class about anyway?

Many of you have asked about this video game class I'm teaching at EARTHs school this week, so lucky you, I decided to give a SNEAK PREVIEW!

Week one - where to start? The students (or the "lucky 13" as I'm calling them) are going to begin with the basics - WHAT is a video game?

We're going to learn about WHO makes video games...

We're going to learn a little about the HISTORY of video games...

We're going to brainstorm some ideas for video games and then... we're GONNA PLAY SOME VIDEO GAMES! I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I never had an afterschool class like this.

This week I finally start a project that I've been planning for almost two years... and I'm really nervous.

Back in 2009, my 7 year old daughter was taking an after-school animation course and I thought "How cool is that? I wish there had been an animation class when I was a kid." Which got me thinking if her school might be interested in a class on video game design?

The class wouldn't be just about making video games, but actually about the important things you do when making games like brainstorming, collaborating on ideas, giving constructive criticism, taking your dreams, putting it on paper and working together with others to bring those dreams to life.

Around the time I was musing with these ideas, I read about a program called HASTAC and the National STEM Game Design Competition - President Obama's initiative to get technology into schools via various means including Playstation 2 and a great game called LittleBigPlanet.

As a HUGE fan of LittleBigPlanet, I had been playing the game with my own two kids and was creating our own levels. I started researching how I could get a grant from the $2 million that the MacArthur Foundation was contributing to the HASTAC program.

However, after six months of being shuffled around by the people at HASTAC, the MacArthur Foundation and Sony (where I used to work) I still wasn't any closer to getting a start on the class or obtaining any equipment. When I finaly did talk to someone at HASTAC, they told me the program was actually a competition and not an on-going program. I must have missed reading that the first time around. And when I found out that the kid's school summer programs were being administrated by the local Parks and Rec (who required teachers to be trained educators - something I'm not) I thought the class was sunk.

Discouraged, I stopped pursuing the idea... until I was attending the San Diego Comic Con where two Sony marketeers were demoing the Marvel Comic add-on for LittleBigPlanet. I figured, what the heck, if anyone knew about the program, it would be these guys. The guys at the show didn't know much about the program but one of them gave me a number of someone from Sony Entertainment who did.

Upon returning from the show, I contacted the Sony marketing rep with the hopes of getting Sony to donate PS3, Monitors, Games - anything that would keep me from spending about 4G of my own cash (the estimated cost of the class.)

Sony was intrigued with the idea and very generously donated copies of the game LittleBigPlanet but couldn't help out with the hardware. The other burst of enthusiasm came when I talked to the Principal about the class and she wanted it to happen regardless of how the other after school classes were done - which means I didn't have to do it through Parks and Rec and I didn't have to be an "official" teacher. I had my green light and not long after, the games from Sony arrived! We were back on track!

Re-encouraged, I explored several user-donated programs like Kickstarter to raise the additional capital for the hardware - as I braced myself for some major fundraising, I received an e-mail from the school Principal - the local Time Warner was funding the class! The additional donation allowed us to buy monitors, PS3s and extra controllers and classroom supplies!

So as I write this, things are pretty much in place and I start class this Friday at EARTHs academy with thirteen 4th and 5th graders. I've given talks to hundreds of people with no problem, but this time I'm actually nervous. I hope they like the class. Today my daughter gave me this bit of advice: "Daddy, don't make the class boring."

I'll do my best.

Monday, April 25, 2011


As you might have figured out, we're big fans of Disney parks and the imagineers here at Mr. Boss' Design Lair. is a fantastic blog that shows lots of behind-the-scenes of the making of Disney magic.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Westlake Village Levels Up!

Hey All!

I'll be signing "Level Up!" at my hometown Barnes & Noble in Westlake Village, CA on April 8th starting at 7pm!

Start thinking about what you want for your unique level design and I hope to see you there!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Red Faction? I'm all over that game!!

See what Darius Mason is doing up there? He's saying WOOOT! 'cause he's so darn happy for me!

The latest games that I was involved with here at THQ is Red Faction: Armageddon - if you like blowing everything up including horrible aliens, then this is the game for you!

What's even cooler, is if you Pre-Order RF:A at Amazon or GameStop, you get a free download of Red Factions: Battleground, a game I worked on. If you like blowing things up (including your friends) while driving around in vehicles, then this is the game for you!

If you Pre-Order RF:A at Wal-Mart, you get a FREE copy of the Red Faction Comic Book I WROTE! (with Paul DeMeo) If you like reading about guys who blow each other up, then this is the comic for you!!!

Let me repeat this... The comic book I wrote will be carried in 2,907 Wal-Marts! Very Nice!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Write it down!

I've been working as a creative manager for a major video game publisher for several years and the one thing I still don't get is why development teams are so hesitant to put their designs on paper. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to their reluctance - there's been a silent war within the industry for years about the need for game design documents (GDD) - especially when the results are 300 page tomes that no one wants to read. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Personally, I'm a fan of Mark Cerny's "Method" - which inspired many of my own views on game design documentation - Cerny promotes a "Macro Design" which is no more than five pages that covers the character and moveset, exotic mechanics, level structure, size and count, level contents and the games' overarching structure. In Level Up! I share my own version of the game overview that I call the "ten pager" which adds in the topics of story telling, AI and bonus/DLC materials.

I think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism and sometimes it still bothers me - it stems from the fact that no one likes to be wrong. I understand the feeling that when ideas are put down on paper, they become "real things" and therefore subject to criticism.

You get the feeling that the designs become locked in stone and can't be changed. Teams have often told me that they don't want to create paper designs because it takes away from time that could be spent putting the design into the game code.

But what I find ironic is, THIS IS THE FUN PART OF MAKING GAMES! Where the sky is the limit! You can come up with anything at this point as long as you can dream it. Sure, you'll eventually have to be grounded by reality but I find creating gameplay designs to be the least stressful part of the job.

Now I'm sympathetic to these concerns regarding time and scheduling but it in all honesty, it doesn't take that long to write down a design. If you spread the work out or work with others, it can go that much faster.

So here are seven reasons why you need to get your designs down on paper:

1. Paper designs allow you to get a picture of the entire game's scope. I was once shown the paper designs of Galaga and the entire game was all there on paper - before a single pixel had been drawn or a line of code written.

2. You can work out size, distance and proportation relationship before building a character or level. Plus it prevents you from having to resize models.

3. You can quickly find descrepancies in pacing, combat, rewards, economy and even story if you use tools like a beat chart.

4. You can spot where the player might be given too much information at once to help ease confusion or information overload

5. You can determine where you might need to add something new and help promote good flow in your game.

6. The human mind is a slippery thing and it's easy to forget good ideas. Get them down before they're gone forever!
7. You get cool artifacts as reminders of your thought process - plus if you don't use a design, you can always save it for another game!

Hopefully I'm convinced you (even a little bit?) to why you should document. Let's hear your reasons!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nerds! at Wondercon!

I love attending Wondercon - it's big comic book convention that's not as crazy as SDCC but still pulls in lots of great guests.
Every year I consider giving a talk and this year I decided to put my money where my mouth is. So with the help of a few friends, I present to you:


Room 104

Nerds! The Secret Origins of Game Designers

Comics. Movies. Games. Did you know that a life of fandom might be perfect training for a career as a video game designer? Learn the secret origins of industry veterans Haden Blackman (Star Wars: the Force Unleashed 1 & 2, Batwoman), Tim Longo (Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Dark Forces), Jason Weesner (Tomb Raider: Legend, Vectorman), and Scott Rogers (God of War, Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design) as they share how their love for all things nerdy led to successful careers in video games...and how you can start your own career too!
Wondercon is held in San Francisco at the Moscone Center South. You can get tickets and info here.
See you there!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Game, Set, Watch is already a great video game blogsite, but its sister site is the one I'm currently excited about.

FingerGaming is one of the better sites I've found on tablet gaming - and considering how many titles are out there, it's good to have a resource that helps you track down cool and interesting games.

Check it out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GDC signing!

UPDATE: The GDC signing was a HUGE success! Level Up! completely SOLD OUT at the show!

I drew over 25 unique levels for Level Up! readers!

I got to meet many nice people from all corners of the world!

MANY THANKS to everyone who stopped by!


Hey all!

I will be signing copies of Level Up! At the GDC bookstore in the Moscone Center South from 1-3 pm on Thursday March 3rd.

You don't have to attend GDC to go to the signing.

Come by, say hi and get your FREE unique level design and MYSTERY GIFT (while supplies last!)

See you there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Do Books HAVE T-Shirts?"

That's what someone recently said to me.


There are so many awesome designs based on artwork from "Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design," I don't know which one I want to wear first. Maybe I'll wear all of them at once and walk around like that kid in "A Christmas Story"!

What are you waiting for? Christmas!??
You can get your official LEVEL UP! T-shirt right here!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Game Designer's Manifesto

I've been recently interviewing lots of game designers and one of my questions is "what is your game design philosophy?"

I figured if I asked a question like this, I'd better have one for myself ... and it turns out I do. I rediscovered my "Game Designer's Manifesto" in an old notebook and have transcribed it here for you.



1. I will be open to good ideas no matter who and where they come from.

2. I will focus on the "moment to moment" gameplay without losing sight of the whole project.

3. I will work out ideas and concepts on paper, in prototypes and in discussion before committing other people's time, energy and effort to work.

4. I will accept that change happens and is neccessary as long as it is not constant and arbitrary.

5. I will strive to lock down the "Three C's" (Camera, Control, Character) as soon as possible and not change them unless absolutely neccessary.

6. I will communicate ideas and changes in design with team members and work with them on how best to execute those ideas and changes.

7. I will play my own game as often as possible during the course of production.

8. I will play other people's games in order to expand my own knowledge.

9. I will always follow a negative comment with a "because" and be open to civilized debate if disagreements arrise.

10. I will provide feedback as quickly and clearly and in person if possible.

11. I will give a positive comment when providing feedback.

12. I will create gameplay that enables and empowers the player towards success.


I hope all you current and future game designers take these points to heart - or are inspired to cultivate your own "game design philosophy."

Catch the Doodle Bug!

I love sketching out ideas for new games and making paper designs. I also love seeing other people's designs (Ever since I first read "The Art of Star Wars" I got bit by the concept art bug)

Obviously the guys at love these too and are showcasing the "napkin doodles" of game developers.

It's fun and inspiring stuff - always great to see the creative mind at work! Who knows, you might see one or two of my designs up there one day!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

PARTY!! Well, kinda...


This year I am making good on a 15 threat to have the "I didn't get invited to the Sony Party Party" at GDC.

OK, so it's not so much of a "party" and more like getting together to have dinner and an evening of talkin' about making and playing video games but without all the bad appetizers and the threat of losing your hearing.
If you are interested in joining me, please contact me via the e-mail address on this website.
More details coming soon!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wolfenstein 1-D

I'll let the game's description sum it up:

"In 1992, Wolfenstein 3-D revolutionized video games and created the 3D first-person shooter genre. Now, after decades of development, Wolfenstein 3-D has been converted to breathtaking, epoch-making 1-D. You can now play the game in a single, dazzling one-pixel line."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Star Wars Laffs

Here's a little something I thought of on the way to work today...