Design Talks


I occasionally get the opportunity to speak publicly or write articles about game design, an opportunity I am grateful for.  Preparing for these often involves a lot of introspection about my design process, and I enjoy sharing those thoughts and comparing them with others.

Here is a more-or-less complete record of topics I've written and/or spoken about:

  • "The Iterative Level Design Process" - GDC 2014
    • This talk was a in-depth exploration of how level design work is planned and executed on at Bethesda.  This process is designed very specifically around the temporal nature of game development - certain things are best done at certain stages of completion, and our process aims to maximize productivity while minimizing waste.  A transcript is available.
  • "An Introduction to Level Design" - GlitchCon Minnesota 2014
    • I appeared at the University of Minnesota as a guest speaker for GlitchCon, where I presented a talk about the core skills essential in any level designer, as well as providing a detailed overview of the iterative approach we take to level design at Bethesda.  The talk was streamed and can be viewed online here.
  • "Skyrim's Modular Approach to Level Design" - GDC 2013
    • Returning for the fourth year of Level Design in a Day, I co-presented with long-time colleague Nate Purkeypile.  We went into detail about the how and why of our modular approach to creating the kits used in level design for Skyrim, Fallout 3, Oblivion, Aeon Flux and Bloodrayne 2.  The full transcript is available on this site, and slides can also be found online.
  • "Level Design Workshop" - GDC China 2012/2014
    • I organized an all-day tutorial session for GDC China in 2012, joined by Matthew Scott of Valve and Steve Gaynor of the Fullbright Compay.  We covered fundamental topics and shared our insights regarding level design layout, pacing and narrative.  This multi-hour session was not recorded, but slides can be found here.  I presented a version of this talk with minor updates at GDC 2014 with Lee Perry.
  • "Motivating Players: Remix" - FIEA 2012
    • I returned to FIEA in 2012 and gave an updated version of my 2011 GDC talk about player motivation.  This version of the talk includes examples from Skyrim, which had only just been announced when I gave the original talk.  Slides are here, and a full video is provided by FIEA as well.
  • "Talking Shop: A Modding Panel" - QuakeCon 2012
    • I appeared at QuakeCon with Matthew Scott and Chet Faliszek of Valve to discuss the many reasons our two companies have placed a focus on empowering players through modding support.  This came after our collaboration with Valve on the Steam Workshop implementation for Skyrim, the first non-Valve game to do so.  The full video of this panel can be found online.
  • "Pursuing Elegance" - GDC 2012
    • I attempted to cover a topic that I've often struggled with - how to balance the creative and technical sides of the creative process when developing games, which what I hope are practical examples of how to walk that line.  Slides are here, and a transcript is hosted on this site.
  • "Motivating Players" - GDC 2011
    • For the second year of Level Design in a Day, I chose to focus on how we attempt to keep players engaged in large-scale, open world games like those we focus on at Bethesda.  Slides are available here, and a full transcript of the talk can be found on this site.
  • "World of Design" - QuakeCon 2010
    • In this panel talk, I was joined by designers from id, Splash Damage and Infinity Ward. I was given the chance to talk to QuakeCon attendees about Bethesda's approach to building worlds with a sense of place.  Gamespot covered the panel in a highlights video.
  • "Level Designer, Storyteller" - GDC 2010
    • The first of what became a GDC tradition, Level Design in a Day sessions collect several designers from across the industry to talk about what issues are on their minds.  My topic in 2010 was the role of level design in storytelling.  Slides are available here.
  • Fallout 3 Dev Diary: Point Lookout - 2009
    • I was the creative co-lead of Point Lookout, a large-scale expansion for Fallout 3 which took players to an entirely new land mass which attempted to preserve the strengths of the core game while looking at the post-apocalypse through a different lens.  This dev diary was written to give people a look behind the curtain.
  • Fallout 3 Dev Diary: Level Design for Post-Apocalyptic DC - 2008
    • I wrote this dev diary after Fallout 3 was content complete.  It was a post-mortem of the process we used to tackle the challenges of creating a modern setting for an open world game.  This was one of the biggest challenges of creating a game like Fallout 3 after working on a fantasy title like Oblivion.

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