The Pivot

Okay, yeah, I can hear the groans already. The word pivot has recently been a bit maligned as one of those trendy new management terms. Or perhaps it’s an old trend by now, living alongside terms like “synergy”, and “thinking outside the box” and “paradigm shift”. The list is endless.

But annoyingly, this curious expression adequately describes what happened to the initial design of “Alien Avian Attack”. Being primarily a VFX geek, I’d be the first one to admit that I was the least knowledgable person on the planet regarding game design, but I will also happily submit that I’m willing to try most anything in an effort to discover new stuff. And that’s just what we had with the first version of “Alien Avian Attack”, the version that no one ever saw.

I remember the day it happened quite vividly – the game programming had been going well, I’d just begun to see some really nice stuff coming out of the software side, with some kick ass particles, and lots of nifty glowy stuff, the works. The trouble though, was that as radical as the initial design was, and the idea was quite radical, it just… wasn’t… er… fun.

The pivot itself happened during the middle of a lunch time review (I had set meal #23), where we were looking at a version that had the user turned into an immortal who couldn’t be killed. For some bizarre reason, it was just plain fun and satisfying to warp the player ship into the oncoming paths of the avian spaceships. No really, it was just darned fun. And thus, in a fraction of a second, the game changed.

Well, it didn’t change all that quickly, as there was one thing that we didn’t have: buy in from the designer. So shortly thereafter, I sent a letter that one of my partners refers to as the “Telling James Cameron that he’s wrong letter” (if you haven’t tried this activity with the real James Cameron, I suggest you try it. It’s heaps of fun. No really.) The designer was on the other side of the planet at the time, and I was worried about the emotional investment that he had in the previous design.

The trick being, that although we could simply force the issue, I really wanted buy-in (another potentially dodgy management term) from everyone on the team. And if you believe that you can’t have an emotional attachment to a design, I’d ask you to think again. When you pour your soul into a product, it really can be a difficult thing to see the problems in your work. Standing back and taking an objective look is trouble to say the least. Telling someone else you don’t like the work is also difficult.

Luckily, the designer took the letter all quite well, and poured himself into the new focus with enthusiasm. So yup, we pivoted, and the game ended up all the better for it. But then again, that seems to be the name of the game now.

Pivoting. And the “telling James Cameron he’s wrong letter”. Two important skills to master in the game of life.

About Lance Lones

Chief Rocket Scientist in the Chilli Burn Adventures Platoon.
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