Every art contains a related craft.
Music is underpinned by an understanding of notation and structure as well as traditions, styles, and the ability to make the noises you desire come out of the instrument you choose.
Cooking is more than throwing random ingredients in a pan. Done well, it rests on an understanding of interrelations of flavour and texture, the chemical changes brought on by heat and cold, the interplay of differing ingredients, the signatures of regional flavours, changes in seasonality, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of root vegetables.
Visual arts of any sort, whether they be painting or film making, are all founded on an understanding of light and form, of composition and negative space, of hue and value, as well as the ability to make the mark you want with the tool you choose.
And so it is that there is a craft to learn for Game Design too.
Master and Apprentice
Forget talent. Everyone starts with a lack of skill, and by dint of effort, attains some. More effort is always helpful, but this is not the smart way to learn. Merely bulling your way through is the long way round. A smarter way is by targeted and focussed learning.
When you study any art, what you are really studying is the craft that relates to it. This is absolutely necessary. The craft is what you learn.
Whether it is possible to teach someone how to be a Master, or whether this is in some way innate, is open to debate. It is, however, entirely possible to teach someone the only measurable prerequisite for being a Master: mastery of the craft.
Attaining Mastery vs Being a Master
Not all those who achieve mastery of a craft become a Master of their Art. However, every Master of an Art has also achieved mastery of their craft.
If you want to join the ranks of the Masters, then attaining mastery of your craft is the only sensible place to start.
Regardless of what your art made be, you need to practice the elements of your craft and polish your understanding until it is automatic and instinctual. As long as you want to stay at that level, you will need to continue that practice, because craft skills are perishable.
There are many ways to learn your chosen craft, and mastery of it will not look identical to each practitioner. Mastery does not mean that you know every possible permutation – there is always more to learn. However, there is a key distinction:
The novice needs to focus on the craft to achieve the effect they seek. Their effort is in bending their tools to their purpose as much as the purpose itself.
The Master understands the craft to the point that they no longer need to think about it. They intuit answers to puzzles, and they see each challenge as resolvable, generally in myriad ways. They are, therefore, able to rise above the struggles of how can I do this, and instead devote their time to the why and the what. What is worth doing? Why would I choose to do this rather than that?
The few people who are considered Masters of an Art have invariably mastered their craft. However, not all who perfect their craft can be called Masters. That extra step is far more elusive and not susceptible to a simple A, B, C approach. Based on researching the lives of acknowledged Masters in other arts, my belief is that it is dedication to a specific field, and the continuation of study that leads to true Mastery. That is a distant goal for most of us, though the journey itself can be very rewarding. There is much to learn for a practitioner of any level.
The Game Design Mastery Project (GDM)
This project aims to help game designers of all experience levels get the most out of their craft, and, with diligence and practice, to master it. It includes a series of books, a Patreon page, and my consulting work.
My hope is that GDM will enable me to help a lot more people than I can with just the consultancy work I do at the moment. I’m also looking forward to being able to focus more time on listening to what people need to know, and where they struggle. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and some stuff is second nature to me that is opaque to the novice. It’s not always easy to tell what that might be, and I’m sure I can be more effective by hearing what you have to say. Mentoring people is often illuminating for me as well, and seeing the light bulb come on makes me smile every time.
So what about each of these three elements within GDM?
To take the least widely interesting first, it is possible that the books and Patreon will kill my consultancy work. We’ll have to see. However, if there are people who still want one-on-one attention, I’ll make time to do some between the books and Patreon. I’ll set up a new contact page for that in due course. This site is overdue it’s reworking…
Game Design Mastery books
These are the heart of the project in many ways. Research shows that people learn better in small, focussed lessons, so rather than one monstrous volume hundreds of pages long, I’m producing a series of much smaller books, each of which will tackle a single piece of the puzzle. They will be inexpensive, and pocket sized for convenience (if you get the print version). The aim is to publish one a month. The books are split into two main threads: Theory & Practice, and Nuts & Bolts.
The Theory & Practice books cover the why and the conceptual end of the process. Nuts & Bolts is a series that looks at individual mechanics and dismantles them so you can understand where they come from and how they can best be used.
All of the books include background on the topic and discussion, as well as practical advice on how to apply the volume’s topic to your work. As humans generally retain learning more by doing than reading alone, each volume will also include at least 2 practical challenges for you to try your hand at.
The model for this is more the 1-Minute Manager series, if you know them, than a multi-part magazine. You do not have to collect them all; they aren’t numbered. Instead, you should just pick the ones that suit your style of work and interests. Each stands alone.
For those who are not familiar with Patreon, it is a site where people who want to support creative individuals can sign up to pledge a certain amount of money each month to do so. In return, they get some rewards.
It’s a very flexible system that aims to replace the single rich patron that renaissance Masters like Leonardo or Michaelangelo had, with a larger number of normal folk each donating smaller amounts. It’s analogous to the difference between venture capitalists and crowd funding.
The aim of Patreon is to provide partial or complete funding to enable creative folk to write, play music, paint, sing, or whatever they do instead of panic about paying the bills every month. It is a way to enrich the world with beauty in all its forms. Yes, even that one you can’t stand.
Each creator chooses one or more levels at which a “patron” can offer support, and defines what the cost and rewards for each will be. These levels are called tiers. I’m starting with 3.
In essence, the cost of each tier reflects how much of my time I think it will take for me to deal with its rewards each month. Each tier includes everything in all tiers below.
Tier 1: Curious about Game Design (£2)
Firstly, you have my sincere thanks for your support. It looks trite on paper, but it’s heartfelt. Without you guys, the GDM project doesn’t work. The books may spread the project’s tentacles wide, but patrons are the project’s heart.
This tier also gains you access to a library of GDM articles. I’ve put a couple in to start with. A new one will be added each month. On top of this baseline, another article will be added each time we hit a new milestone (when the total number of patrons goes up another 25).
In addition, there is a Patron-only Discord.
Oh, and a short, weekly, informal, behind the scenes video to see what’s on my desk and what I’m up to. This is somewhat scary.
Tier 2: Intrigued by Game Design (£5)
On top of the Tier 1 rewards, you get another 3 things:
A second Discord channel so you can talk about…
WIP versions of the background and discussion sections of the next volume in the GDM book series. This may be one iteration of each volume; it may be more. How many depends on what works when it goes live and we start to kick them about. Either way, you get to read the rough cut before anyone else, and have input into what works, what’s missing, and what could be clearer. I look forward to the conversation.
Patrons at this tier also get to nominate topics for the monthly articles and vote on which they would like me to do. I’m happy to write on anything about GDM, so let’s make it whatever is most useful to you. I’m intrigued to see what you’ll come up with.
Tier 3: Absorbed by Game Design (£12)
Patrons at this level have one more Discord server to discuss the final piece of the puzzle:
WIP versions of the challenges from the next volume of the GDM book series. Every volume will have at least 2. This, more than any other element of GDM, is here to make you think. On the face of it, some of these challenges look pretty easy, but this is deceptive, and all reward a deeper pondering. They are puzzles that you can return to time and again, and which can be answered in a number of ways. They are more like zen koans than crossword puzzles because they do not have a single answer. Only by not trying can you be wrong.
For me, GDM is a really exciting project. As those who have met me in person will attest, I love nothing more than discussing games, and I’m very hopeful that you and I will be able to build a group of like-minded individuals around the GDM concept. And yes, you’re a vital part of this. Me talking to myself just won’t be the same.
So here’s my expectation and hope: GDM will take time to build, it will be a lot of hard work, and it will be an absolute pleasure to be part of.
It starts tomorrow.