The elemental tetrad and your team
Everybody enters game design from a certain view point. Some of us are visual artists who can create the most beautiful landscapes and characters. Others love the abstract of mechanics and rules. Yet others start out as engineers, thinkering with code and learning about the performance differences between platforms. And lastly there's the story tellers, the people who invent worlds and inhabit them with heroes and heroines. Most of us have an interest in several of these fields, but almost none of us master all four. Myself, I'm a mechanics guy with a reasonable knowledge of technology and an interest in story telling. My skill in producing art is the reason why these blog posts don't have a lot of images.
If you have read my previous blog post about the elemental tetrad you will recognise these qualities as the same ones I described as the elemental parts of a game : Aesthetics, mechanics, technology and subject matter. If you are working in a team, and when creating games chances are high that you are, it is important to know which of these elements your team members identify with most. I always try to assign each of the elements at least one 'defender'. In order to create a coherent game it is important that all four of these elements get their deserved attention. If your team has nobody on board that deeply cares about technology, your game will probably end up bug ridden and running poorly while not taking full advantage of the technological capabilities of your target device. Similar scenarios can be envisioned if there's nobody to defend aesthetics, subject matter or mechanics.
If you are the one making a lot of the final decisions regarding the design of your game, knowing in what quadrent of the tetrad your team members allegiances lie can be invaluable during meetings. Designing a game is often an exercise in making difficult choices between multiple possible avenues nobody wants to abandon. Some of those options might serve the story better while another is better for performance. It helps you understand why someone would desire a certain feature while nobody else seems to deem it important if you know what element the person is fighting for. It allows you to ask the correct people for advice while working on something and it helps you identify when somebody is pushing a certain change for the wrong reasons.
But if having each element represented during team meetings is so important, how then do you deal with teams that have one writer defending the subject matter, two artists defending aesthetics, 4 programmers defending technology and nobody but yourself defending mechanics? Or what if there's only 2 of you?
The important part is that each element gets its say in a semi-equal way. So if your team is disproportionately leaning to one side, you can assign a representative for that side who's job it becomes to find concensus within the element. Game design meetings can than be held with the 4 representatives while still enabling all team members to have a say. If on the other hand there's only 2 of you, it becomes a matter of wearing different hats at different times and knowing when and how often to switch the hat.
What then if there is nobody to fight for a certain element? As said in the introduction to this article, it's unlikely people are only interested in one aspect of a game's design. In my experience there's always somebody willing to defend any given element. Most people can even switch perspectives depending on the task at hand. In my current team the lead developer mostly defends technology, but when it comes to audio and music he transforms into a valiant crusader for aesthetics. Our 3D artist and concept artist both defend aesthetics quite fiercely, but when the time comes one tends to put more importance on story while the other often tries to push the mechanics of our game.
Can you identify which elements of the tetrad are closest to your hearth and which aren't? Can you do the same for the people on your team?
Is their an obvious gap in your team and if so, who could potentially fill it?
If you want to talk about the elemental setup of your team or you have any other question regarding the design of your game, please contact me through the form on this website. I'll be glad to help.