Chris Taylor

CEO and Founder, Gas Powered Games

Designer Perspective Chris Taylor.jpg

Chris Taylor is a game designer and entrepreneur whose credits include Hardball II (1989),  4D Boxing (1991),Triple Play ’96 (1995), Total Annihilation (1997), The Core Contingency (1998), Dungeon Siege (2002), Total Annihilation: Dungeon Siege II (2005), Supreme Commander (2007), Supreme Commander 2 (2010) and Age of Empires Online (2012).

On getting into the game industry: I started in the business by answering a small ad in the newspaper as a programmer at a game developer in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada called Distinctive Software. My first assignment was to do the sequel to the successful baseball game from Bob Whitehead at Accolade (Bob was a famous Atari 2600 developer and founder of both Accolade and Activision), called Hardball II. For a first game it was a great learning experience and I worked almost every single day for the 18 months it took to develop the game.

On favorite games: This list changes over time, but some of them include Populous, Duke Nukem 3D, the original Command & Conquer, Ratchet & Clank, Battlefield: 1942 and now Minecraft. I like these particular games because they grabbed me and gave me a fresh new experience. I really don’t enjoy games that retread old ideas. I like spending my time experiencing something new!

On game influences: The most inspirational games are the early games designed by Sid Meier, Peter Molyneux and Will Wright, and then without a doubt Dune II and Command & Conquer from Westwood Studios. Without Command & Conquer I would never have left Electronic Arts to create Total Annihilation. These games are a great reminder that it’s not about technology, it’s really about great game design… and this is true today more than ever.

On the design process: I’m pretty random, and I get my inspiration from everything around me. Lately I have been playing a lot of free-to-play games and games on Facebook. I spent a few years really leaning away from technology and asking myself a tougher set of questions regarding gameplay and what precisely the modern gamer wants. More than ever I aspire to make games for everyone, all over the world, and not just hard-core gamers.

On prototyping: We do something we call a visual slice. A visual slice (sometimes also called a vertical slice when it includes gameplay as well as visuals) is developed to communicate the overall visual aesthetic for a game. It’s what sales, marketing, and publishing executives look at to get excited about what the game will look like when it is done, and to a lesser extent, how the game might actually play.

On solving design problems: A great example of a difficult design problem that we solved was on our upcoming game, Space Siege. We wanted to make the game playable by a large audience, but we still wanted to make the game challenging for expert players. We came up with a concept that made it more difficult to play if the player wanted to keep their “humanity” intact, but if they allowed cybernetic upgrades, they would have an easier time of it. This was a perfect way to blend story and gameplay and difficulty into one seamless solution. If you play through the game and win but become a horrific half-man, half-machine in the process, you can always play again, this time with the goal of keeping your humanity. It has the added benefit of being a scoring system as well.

On writing design documents: Each time I have sat down to write a game design, the approach is usually evolved from the last one. When creating a new design, I describe the high level stuff at the start of the document and then cover the details later. One of the key things I do right up front is to answer the 10 most difficult and jaded questions that someone who challenges my design might ask. Like I have always said, if I can’t answer these questions, it’s a good time to reconsider why making the game is a good idea in the first place.

Advice to designers: My advice would be to get a job in the business at any level to get your foot in the door. When you see how games are really made, you will change your strategy and get your game made much sooner, even though it could take you 10 years to learn the business. Read every book you can find and play every game you can get your hands on. Pick your role models and look carefully at how they find success.