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Jamie Cheng interview

Designer Notes 13: Jamie Cheng - Idle Thumbs Network

Cheng’s company, Klei, made Mark of the Ninja and Invisible Inc. This interview has some great stuff about how the company designs games.

Don’t Starve

Cheng: “[Don’t Starve] is about intrinsic rewards. We’re not going to do extrinsic rewards. We need to really double down on that. And what does that mean? So it was all systemic. We would never tell them what their goal is.”

Interviewer: “Kevin talked about how, at one point, there was a tutorial with five things to do. And the players would do the five things and they would just stop. That’s the thing with games - you have to commit to some extreme paths. If you don’t do [extrinsic motivation], that’s fine but you shouldn’t do it at all.”

I love this as an example of extrinsic motivation killing intrinsic motivation. It focuses on the idea that the death comes not from a corruption of character, but from a misguiding of expectations.

Invisible Inc.

Cheng: “That’s what the game was back then. You need to play the game for five hours and then you understand it. But that’s way too much.”

Interviewer: “How did you change that? Did you take stuff away? Did you make it simpler?”

Cheng: “It’s a lot of feedback. Why did I lose here? What could I do?”

Interviewer: “How did you communicate the alternatives?”

Cheng: “A thousand little things. Like, if I go up diagonally beside a person, I can’t take them out, but I can right behind them. So I pop up the take out button and when you hover over it says you can’t do it diagonally.”


Cheng: “How do we get good at design?”

Interviewer: “It’s simple to say, but what does that mean exactly?”

Cheng: “It’s a good question. I don’t really know. This is a thing you have to care about. That meant people coming in every week and playing your game, even though it sucks. That meant trying to break down design and think about the whole experience, instead of little bits. That meant reading the shitty reviews, and instead of being defensive about it, trying to understand what it really means underneath.”

Interviewer: “That to me is the key to separating out who’s going to be a good designer. Being able to read that stuff and do something with it, instead of being hurt. And it’s super hard.”

Cheng: “Even now, it’s like, I’m going to read your feedback, and then I’ll get mad and go and cool down for while, and then I’ll come back and ask you some more questions.”