In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Kim Swift is a game designer who was recruited by Valve right out of college to transform her college project Narbacular Drop into the critically acclaimed puzzle game Portal. Swift just finished her next game, another non-violent, brain-burner called Quantum Conundrum. She spoke with The Gameological Society on the floor at E3 2012.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Kim Swift: Probably Diablo III.
Gameological: Is that wise when you’re finishing up Quantum Conundrum?
Swift: We’re actually all wrapped up and done. So we just announced our ship date for Steam, which is going to be June 21st. We’re doing pre-orders right now. We’re just waiting to hear back from Sony and Microsoft to get a firm, solid, “Yes. These are our ship dates for consoles.” But those should be announced really soon.
Gameological: When did you finish the game?
Swift: I’d say about a month ago.
Gameological: Have you been playing Diablo steadily since then?
Swift: No. I’m actually working on the next thing that we can’t talk about yet. I think I’ve had only one Diablo III session. I’m very proud of myself. I have a bunch of stuff that I’m doing outside of work that is taking up my game-playing hours.
Gameological: What was your takeaway from your first sit-down with the game?
Reich: It was good fun. I played with my friend Garrett. We had a little LAN party in my living room with pizza and beer. It was a nice, relaxing game. We also played—this was last weekend, actually—Tomb Raider: Guardian Of Light. That was fun. We played that co-op and then we played Diablo.
Gameological: During the course of making Quantum Conundrum, did you only have time to play your own game?
Swift: Pretty much. Crunch time doesn’t leave a whole lot of game-playing time. Though a bunch of us on the team actually play games at lunch. A lot of people play TF2 [Team Fortress 2]. Sometimes we play Left 4 Dead. Sometimes people will play Diablo III at lunch. Actually, a bunch of us on the team are super excited about Borderlands 2 coming out. Because we loved Borderlands when it came out.
Gameological: What’s your methodology for playing your own game? How do you look at it after spending so much time with it?
Swift: At the very tail end of the game process, we playtest our own game a lot. So we end up playing our own game over and over and over again, for a month straight, just to make sure there wasn’t anything major that we missed as far as bugs. It sounds bad, but I like to detox from it—at least for a couple of months—before I’ll sit down and play it from start to finish. I guess for me, I really like experiencing the game through other people more than I like experiencing it myself. So I really love watching people play our game, because you learn so much about human behavior, and what worked and what didn’t, just by watching people.
Gameological: Did you carry over a lot of lessons from Portal and Valve’s proclivity toward iteration?
Reich: Oh yeah. For sure. They were amazing lessons. I don’t know why I wouldn’t do that. We are a very test-driven, iterative team. Every week, we have someone sit down, play our game, and we’ll watch them play to establish what we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong. The only way to keep us honest, really, is to watch people play.
Gameological: After approaching your own game with that mindset, is it difficult to play somebody else’s game and just have fun with it?
Swift: No, I don’t think so. I definitely look at it as a designer. I do try to break stuff. But I was doing that before I became an industry designer. I think that’s just me as a personality type. But I have fun with games. I really love games. That’s why I want to make them. So I have fun regardless of whether or not I’m dissecting what’s going on.
Gameological: What was the first non-gaming thing you felt the need to do after wrapping up Quantum Conundrum?
Swift: I went on vacation to Bali. And that was awesome. I hung out with monkeys. There were a lot of monkeys there. And I went whitewater rafting, ate a lot of food—they have really, really good suckling pig there. It was delicious.
Gameological: And now it’s on to the next game.
Swift: Which is good. It means we can pay our mortgages. Feed our children. All that good stuff.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.
Photograph of Kim Swift by Brian Taylor.