Whenever I hear about game’s systems or content, I usually consider what I would do in order to build such a thing myself. There’s usually always a few major troublesome sticking points that will stand out as a result - tough choices where sacrifices would have to be made. These are the kinds of questions I like to ask about - what were the concerns the candidate had going into the decision? Why did the candidate make the choice they did? What were the results? With the benefit of hindsight, would they make a different choice if they had the opportunity to do so again? What have they learned after making those choices?
What I really want to know is how the candidate thinks when faced with a problem without an obvious solution. I want to know that they think about the various important factors like the new player experience, the reward for the player’s effort, the development resource cost, the technical pitfalls that potential solutions might carry with them, potential difficulty in testing, scheduling limitations, the ability to work with a team, creative ways of working within existing constraints, dealing with setbacks, understanding where the design fits within the greater whole of the game and franchise, and so on. There are a lot of qualities that good designers have, and it’s important to see both that the candidate can exhibit some of these qualities and see which of these aspects the candidate will prioritize over others.
This means that red flag answers tend to be those which show that the candidate hasn’t thought about any of these issues at all. If the candidate can’t answer questions about their past work, it doesn’t look good for the candidate. If they built the content, they should be the foremost expert on how it was made. Game design documentation doesn’t spring fully-formed from the brow of Shigeru Miyamoto. If a candidate can’t answer questions about their decision-making process for the thing they built, I find it difficult to imagine them working well within a team where they would have to communicate and collaborate regularly with engineers, artists, and other designers. A good candidate has the skills to articulate and defend their reasoning. A bad candidate is lacking those skills, so they have trouble articulating or defending their choices.
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