Arcade Berg — MachineGames
Senior Game Designer of all the new Wolfenstein games.
What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?
I, like many, had an avid interest in video games as a kid and it just never stopped. In my teens I started making small games in tools like GameMaker and when it was time to pick a University I found a Game Development programme with focus on design. After that I started out as a Level Designer for a now closed studio named Grin.
When they closed I “had a foot in” the industry and decided to focus on pure game design instead of level design, as it fit me better.
What does a typical day look like?
It really depends on where in a projects production cycle I’m in, but I tend to always start out with a brief catching up on e-mails and possible updates since the day before. Then I tend to prioritize talking to the people I work with and often manage to see what’s needed on their end so I can help figure those things out first. I want to make sure I’m not blocking anyone before I can focus “on my own work”. With that I mean the stuff I can do by myself by my computer. What that is varies greatly.
Unless there’s a lunch meeting I usually go hit the gym during lunch as it helps me get my juices running, gives me energy for the afternoon and for me it’s a good environment to ponder things and solve problems away from the desk. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works wonders for me.
Where do you gain inspiration from?
Everywhere and everything. All forms of media like movies, other games, comics, art, internet funnies, books. Discussions and conversations. I don’t think it’s possible to not be inspired by something.
When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?
When is difficult because it all depends on what’s needed, but the sooner the better. At first I try to keep it as high level as possible and the first thing is to figure out what the purpose of said feature is. Is it a weapon? Is it an entire gameplay mechanic? Why are we doing it? For example, maybe you want the player to be able to have greater manoeuvrability in a vertical space. That’s a good start. Then there are many, many ways of solving that. Everything from old school rocket jumping, allowing flight, teleportation, double jump, a grappling hook. But if you know that we don’t want the player to have “tools”, then we can immediately remove the grappling hook. It’s just one example.
Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I was really impressed with 20XX, because it’s a good game thanks to its very concise design, tight controls, clear gameplay patterns and not because of a bunch of “new innovative features”. It’s pretty old school, but plays like a dream.
It’s a very good example of craftsmanship instead of amazing new technology and bizarre but exciting ideas.
I also enjoyed REIGNS on mobile. They basically managed to make a medieval strategy game using the Tinder interface of swiping left or right. It’s ridiculously simple but so engaging and fun to play.
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
First and foremost, that I have one. It’s a tricky industry to break into and it can be particularly difficult to become a “designer” because it’s often so vague what they actually do and it’s hard to prove you can do it before actually already having the job.
As a designer, I’m proud to having worked on both helping create new IP’s like Bulletstorm and working on huge already established IP’s like Gears of War and Wolfenstein. It helps you get perspective on making games and the different approaches you need to take.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
Ooh, tough one. It’s always easy to see things clearly after the fact. Hindsight is 20/20. I don’t think I regret anything big “career wise” – it’s more specific design choices or how certain things panned out.
I wish I would have worked at more studios abroad, because you grow tremendously both as a person and a developer. But at the same time, I enjoyed my years in Poland and I enjoy myself now in Sweden as a born Swede.
Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?
Producing the maps for in-game Journal that allows the player to see where he is and where he should go. The problem is that you can’t make the map until the level is completed, but the level isn’t completed to that degree until very late in development and by that time, ideally, you already want the map in as well to allow for fair testing. So we had to make several maps that we knew were “throw aways” because the level would definitely change, but we couldn’t not make the maps because then we can’t tell how well they work. It’s a catch 22. We managed and the game has all the maps, but at times it can be an awkward process.
How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?
In the end, there’s one person who can make the final call if there’s no other solution in site. For us, that’s Jerk. But usually it doesn’t have to go that far. Then it’s the “feature owner”. For all “my” features, I’m the owner – so while we listen, discuss and usually agree. If there’s no agreed upon solution, I choose one of the proposed solutions which can be but is not necessarily my own.
What do you do to self-improve in game design?
I keep making games.
That’s probably the best thing you can do. Keep doing it. Keep designing. Experience is one of the most worthwhile resources a game designer can have in my opinion.
But other than that, I try to keep an eye on GDC-talks, good articles, other “making of”-material and have an analytical eye when playing games. Both video games and board games.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
I stick with stuff like Blue Stahli and Perturbator. I prefer to listen to music without vocals. But I have so many Spotify playlists. Sometimes I listen to completely different music which is more mystical and how I imagine a forest with trolls in it.
If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?
Don’t bullshit us. I’ve had so many people applying to companies where I’ve worked that try to present them in a very positive light by basically lying. We notice, and it’s often very easy to pick apart. If I notice that – you’re out. If there’s something very impressive on your CV, we will ask about it.
Any advice for game designers in general?
First and foremost, I want to highlight a very common misconception amongst people thinking they want to be game designers. Being a game designer is not about being a good video game player.
With that said, my advice is: Create stuff. There are so many great tools out there today like GameMaker, Unreal Engine and Unity that allows for anyone to create content. If you can’t learn how to handle any of those tools, then why should anyone expect you to be able to learn the tools they use at that company?
It’s also the best way to learn how games actually work, and gives you a very methodical approach in thinking about features, systems and mechanics.
You don’t have the luxury of only sticking to theoretical design.
And also, learn another craft as well. It’s hard being a pure bread game designer. Learn level design, programming, 3d modelling, production or anything that shows that you’re a developer. Also, that could be your way in to later on skew more towards game design.
Lastly; enjoy it and keep designing.