Chapter7.gif (951 bytes) Designing Computer Games

The Computer Wargame Development Team

First, there's the designer. Actually, before the designer there's the publisher, who has to agree to put up the money and distribute the final product. The publisher generally gets no respect and less recognition. While I've designed over a hundred games, I've published nearly four hundred. Designing is generally fun, publishing is customarily hard. That said, once the designer has delivered a spec that makes some kind of sense to the programmer, the programmer has to turn it into a computer program, the software, the game you can play.

In my experience, it is best to use one programmer, plus support staff. The more programmers are used the more programmer time is wasted in programmers keeping tabs on each other. Modular programming is not practical as with this approach much of the system design is done during code development. Programmer must be diligent, willing to work 6-7 days a week, leap tall buildings at a single bound, etc.

Support Staff

  • Designer- Whoever designed the manual game, or drew up the spec without a full blown manual game. The designers job is to insure that the programmer doesn't get lost while implementing the spec. It's best that the designer be kept in the process as the programming goes forward. There's always the chance that the programmer may try to turn the game into his design (either on purpose or by accident), a development that rarely works out very well.
  • Development System Experts- To help programmer with quick solutions to technical programming problems. These people give advice when asked, they don't write code. In the Hundred Years War game this consisted of the folks who ran the GEnie mainframe computers and the world wide communications system over which players would connect with each other as they played the game. In Victory at Sea, the lead expert was Gordon Walton, who led the earlier Harpoon project for the publisher, had designed and programmed some wargames himself, and could solve a lot of problems by simply pointing where they were and what the easiest solution was.
  • Chief Testing User- Keeps everyone honest by testing system every step of the way. Does nothing but test and make a general pest of himself. Sometimes the designer takes on this task, sometimes it's someone working out of the publishers offices. Generally, this person is in charge of testing and keeps track of bugs as they appear and checks to see that they were taken care of. A currently popular title for this job is "Quality Control Manager." Sounds better than "Chief Pest."
  • Researcher- Digs up additional operational data not already present, but often implicit, in the manual model. The computer wargame can handle more detail and it is often useful for it to do so. In both Hundred Years War and Victory at Sea, Al Nofi was the principal researcher.
  • Programmer Assistant- Handles routine tasks for programmer (common data entry tasks, system maintenance, order the pizza and jolt cola, do the paperwork, etc.).
  • Project Manager/Expediter- Keeps management at bay, solves project related problems quickly. Hand holder, ass kicker, cheerleader, etc. This is usually a management representative who reports directly to the publisher. Often has to yell at and argue with publisher also. For some reason, I like this particular job.

In the commercial computer wargames industry it is currently fashionable to use job titles borrowed from the movie business. Most of these companies are in California, although largely northern California. Lifestyle envy? Anyway, the the head of a computer game project is the "producer," the chief programmer is the "director." I have not confirmed this, but the sound specialists may now be called "Foley editor." Given that all the "actors" are electronic, where does that leave the casting couch?

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  Hardware for Computer Wargames

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