Staff Introduction: Mike Lyons, Designer

Mike LyonsOnce Upon a Time, in a small (huge) forest (city) called Narnia (Los Angeles), there lived a man. We shall call him a man because, like many of that species, he had the requisite number of fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and heads.

His childhood was typical for the breed. He went to schools he didn’t like, and sought solace in the company of other Brave Adventurers (fellow RPG players). He studied the ancient arcane arts by reading every tome (novel) he could lay hands upon. It didn’t take long before he was the default creator deity of dozens of adventure worlds (games master and campaign world creator).

His apprenticeship in the magical arts (video games) came as a result of his budding career as a travelling entertainer, working various playhouses around the forest (city). One day, a sorceress friend of his called him on the magic crystal ball (phone) and said that the wizards she worked for wanted someone with experience in the live theater industry to join their cabal (company). And so our Hero went to work for New World Computing. There, he did level design and environmental audio design on projects like Might & Magic IX and Legends of Might & Magic. An early adopter of the now-ubiquitous EAX audio environment, he worked closely with the warlocks at Creative Technologies.

A summoning gone awry (studio closure) forced him abruptly from a fantasy world into the modern day, as he found himself at NovaLogic working on Joint Operations. The modern world alone just wasn’t enough for our Hero, however, and soon he moved on. After enjoying a brief stint working near animals (marketing at Hollywood Park Racetrack), he decided to see what the future looked like. He found himself at Electronic Arts, working on Red Alert III and Godfather II. It was here that he made the conscious decision to go from level design into QA in order to get a better ‘big picture’ view of game development. A mandatory six-month stint at EA turned into a regular position at Pandemic Studios, where he contributed to both The Saboteur and Mercenaries, Inc.

When the Evil Overlords (TM, pat pend) closed that studio, he decided to put his decades of experience with world building to use by becoming a writer, releasing books under his own name as well as collaborating with other authors on plot and world elements. But the solitary life of a scribe was not to last, for soon he heard, in the distance, a call for help. Once more, he armed himself with keyboard and mouse and strode boldly forth to rescue the Princess (create video games)!

I, unless you really missed the point of all of this and didn’t realize that I was the “Hero” in the above tale, am a level designer on Grumpy Witch, and lead designer on another game I’m not allowed to talk about yet.

 

The glamorous life of a level designer summed up in a single screencap.
The glamorous life of a level designer, summed up in a single screencap.

 

A designer, in the games industry, can mean a number of things depending on what other word precedes it. For example, a level designer is tasked with creating the game levels that the player encounters, the ‘world’ of the game. They lay out the physical world that the character or player interacts with, including elements created by other team members such as art and code, to make an interesting playspace. This can include placing set dressing elements such as backgrounds and trees, placing enemies and rewards, figuring out where good places to have fights or jumping puzzles or secret rooms might be, and so on.

A game designer works on the systems behind the scenes. How many attacks does it take to eliminate an enemy? How fast does the player character move? How do enemy actors perceive the player character, and how do they react when spotted? How do power-ups get distributed, and in what percentages? You get the idea.

Working closely with the artists and engineers, I do both of those things. My job is to make sure that all the various pieces of art and code play well with each other in a format that is fun, intelligent, and fun.

Did I say ‘fun’ twice?

“Oops.”

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