The Originality | Game Design, ArenaNet Guild Wars 2, Nicholas Hernandez
There is a new world in games. We experience new things there and are deeply touched by the growth that we could never experience in reality.
A new joy can never be created on its own; it is created through combination of different experiences and passion of different people, which is channeled into new possibilities. People are gathered to create one game, and their different capabilities and passion for quality create a new game.
We create another world, collecting pieces of different experiences.
Diverse superiorities < The Originality >
“Taking the time to bring different and diverse thoughts, opinions, and perspectives into the conversation gives us the opportunity to allow people from all walks of life to enjoy our games. It is better to paint a painting creating harmony between all colors, instead of using a single color like green. The more hues we use effectively, the more depth and beauty we can bring to our art.”
Game Design, Nicholas Hernandez
I am a game designer working on the Guild Wars series at ArenaNet. My current focus is designing the open world gameplay for < Guild Wars 2 >. In general, I build out the content that players interact with, the things they can discover while exploring, and the challenges they’ll face while playing the open world portion of the game.
When it comes to design in general, there’s more than just the game designers. Other roles like narrative design, audio design, UX Design, etc. also play a critical part in making the world feel alive, diverse and immersive. As a game designer specifically, I am responsible for the implementation of gameplay systems, player interactions, and general content within our games. Fundamentally, we try to understand what could be fun to players, what they find engaging, and what would help them achieve their goals. We then build it with feedback, iteration, and collaboration from the team at large.
The balance in building games
When it comes to building out the world, I try to make decisions that both satisfy a large portion of our existing playerbase whilst also pushing for fresh gameplay elements that move our game forward in the hopes that we can help people discover new and hopefully exciting ways to play.
For the latter, I try to spend time researching and getting an understanding of what people find fun outside of my own personal preferences and perspective. There are some players that are passionate about questing and exploration, while others focus on participating in structured battles and tough encounters. When trying to find new ways to engage multiple sides, looking outward can help put you in the players shoes, generate creative solutions to bridging the gap between content types, and foster new and emergent gameplay. The sweet spot is being able to put thought into how to create the most efficient and fun gameplay, while not negatively affecting the overall balance and blowing out scope.
Looking at things from a different lens
From player to developer
I went to college to study narrative design for games because I knew I wanted to work on them since I was a kid. There, I learned how to write and build narratives for mediums like movies, comic books, novels, TV shows, and of course, games. When I finally became a developer, I learned through getting to work on the products I once played like Guild Wars 2. The thing I enjoyed the most was shaping and building the physical world that the player interacted with more than the overarching narratives and spoken word.
However, it does not necessarily mean that I’m separated from the narrative creative process and that role isn’t fun. In reality, both departments work hand in hand to create the worlds that players experience. I use the things that I learned from my narrative design degree pretty frequently within my design role as well as tools and perspectives I’ve picked up in other roles like my time in QA. Every department is an integral piece of the overall puzzle that is game development and without any of those pieces the picture wouldn’t be complete.
Being able to build and shape that world for future players in the hopes of giving them memorable experiences like the ones I had when I was younger is humbling. Games helped me through some hard times in my life both as a form of education and escape. If I’m able to make even one thing that allows someone else that experience, it all will be worth it.
The importance of communication
One thing to consider when working on games within a team is that no one should feel like they’re the only one that has a say. Great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere and seeking feedback and input from a variety of individuals yields the best product.
You don’t have to be a designer to have great design feedback. All you need is the ability and comfort to communicate what you feel could better the experience from your own perspective. Every perspective is valuable in its own way. I believe it’s important to foster that level of input, especially from different walks of life. This all starts with a comfortable team; it is important to share positive experiences and to build a friendly, communicative and collaborative environment.
Considering blind spots
Like many others, I enjoy watching OTT contents in my free time as well as playing games. I truly enjoy pieces of media that tell diverse stories that give us glimpses into lives, perspectives, and cultures that we might not be used to.
I’ve found that ingesting stories like that has helped me not only at work, but also in my personal life. They help me learn about different mindsets, cultures, and perspectives that reveal my personal blind spots. If you take the time to absorb and understand the things around you, you can pull inspiration from anywhere. This helps me to think about what I’m creating and why in a different light.
Our lives are the source of creativity
I believe that having diversity of thought, upbringing, culture, and experiences is the best way to nurture creativity. Everyone has a thing that they’ve experienced or learned that is worth sharing.
That is why I try to experiment with new hobbies all the time. I grew up learning various different musical instruments. I enjoy learning about different kinds of science. I also love working with my hands and outdoor activities like soccer. This is all part of my efforts to absorb the world around me and to discover inspiration within it. I believe that being able to translate those experiences and the things you’ve learned from them into the art and products you make will always lead to the most fun and meaningful experiences for players.
Creating a diverse color palette rather than using a single shade
Adding the perspectives of all members
It is important to gather feedback from multiple areas to ensure we’re making something that people will enjoy. Once of the ways that we do this is through playtest and design/content reviews. The team gathers to discuss and play through the protype versions of our new content. This gives the opportunity for the ones who pitched and built the experience to share their objectives, focus areas, and hopes with everyone.
When I say the team, this doesn’t mean designers only. People from art teams, narrative, QA, Audio, Production also participate and give their feedback. Sometimes, everyone working on Guild Wars 2 is given the opportunity to hop in, participate, and share their thoughts. Through this process, we can get closer to the experience of players and other end users.
Growing the team & diversity of experience
In my job I’m also given opportunities to interview new job candidates and participate in mentoring. When it comes to mentoring, I try to focus on helping mentees become comfortable with asking questions when it comes to literally anything. It does not matter if you have special strengths, specific capabilities, if you’re an associate or a senior. Everyone should be able to ask questions without being judged for them, especially in new settings. I believe allowing this level of open dialog gives people the ability to feel more comfortable in approaching issues and tackling them.
For new designers and those wanting to get into design, it’s important to take time experimenting with different types of design to get a sense of which ones you enjoy the most. This gives people the ability to flex different design muscles and see which ones they want to spend the most time in.
Diversity enables differentiation
Both alongside and within design I’ve also been given the opportunity to work on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) efforts in my career. This has allowed me to educate and mentor on the importance of diversity in our staff, perspectives, and games, alongside process improvements, education, tool acquisition, and other changes. When talking about said importance with other developers, I’ve found that it’s effective to look at different perspectives and experiences like colors on a color wheel.
In art, we often try to include as many colors as possible to help communicate what we want others to see. It’s possible to create breathtaking art using only a handful of colors, but the less colors you use, the harder it is to convey depth. I believe the same goes for games and all forms of media. Having diverse perspectives allows for our art to grant others the ability to step into our shoes, live in our worlds, and share in the experiences we want them to encounter. All of this fosters a more inclusive space for people to learn and understand the things that they wouldn’t otherwise. It also help breakdown barriers and alleviate blind spots.
Taking the time to bring different and diverse thoughts, opinions, and perspectives into the conversation when making games will always give us the opportunity to allow for more people from all walks of life to enjoy participating in and playing said games. It is better to paint a painting creating harmony between all colors, instead of trying to paint using a single color like green. The more hues we use effectively, the more depth and beauty we can bring to our art.
* The above presents the personal opinions of the interviewee and not the official opinions of NCSOFT.