Five Years and It's Time for a Change

Five Years and It’s Time for a Change

This issue closes the fifth year of publication of the Journal of Computer Game Design. I must say, it is surprising how the years have flown by. After five years, the time has come to re-evaluate the fundamental purpose and content of the Journal.

This Journal was founded with a clear purpose; I stated it forthrightly in the very first editorial:

"The purpose of this Journal is to foster the development of the art of computer game design. It is a forum for game designers to talk to each other and the world."

The emphasis was on the art of computer game design. From our comfortable position here in 1992, that seems natural and obvious. Back in 1987 things weren’t so simple. The truth is, five years ago computer game design was a field without an identity. "Computer game designers" didn’t exist in any significant numbers. Our industry was populated by a random collection of programmers, graphic artists, writers, and other talented people who somehow slopped games together. There was no community of game designers, no sense of identity, no common terminology, no shared outlook. We were a mob, not a community.

I therefore embarked the Journal on a clear course with the declared intention of founding a social and intellectual community. Every issue shouted loudly, "We are NOT programmers! We are computer game designers!" The emphasis was on the positive side of that declaration, but the negative side was there, too. For the first five years of its existence, this Journal has been dedicated to the goal of community-building. This dictated much of the editorial content of the Journal: articles defining the fundamental terms of our craft, characterizing the roles of the various artists who work in our industry, arguing over the basic terms of business under which we work. After a rocky first year, the readership caught on and began submitting articles that staked out the territory with increasing precision.

But now, five years later, the situation has changed. The community that I sought to forge with the Journal (and later, with the Computer Game Developers’ Conference) has come into existence. The basic terms of our field have been defined. True, there remains room for argument, but at least we have framed many of the questions over which to argue. Most important, we as game designers have a clear identity. We know who we are, perhaps not with Jungian clarity, but almost as well as many other professions. We are not the kid brothers of "real" programmers. Game design is not a temporary stage that real programmers go through between college and their first serious job. It is a tough, demanding job that is widely recognized as one requiring talent, and we have identified a class of designers who have that talent. We’ve come a long way.

It is time for this Journal to recognize those changes. Accordingly, this Journal will undergo major changes, some of which begin with this issue. Among these changes:

New editorial approach
Henceforth, this Journal will shift its emphasis away from community-building efforts and more toward the nitty-gritty of game design. It’s time to pull this Journal’s head out of the clouds and focus on more down-to-earth issues. The change will not be cataclysmic -- hey, I’m still Chris Crawford and there will always be a bit of Blue Sky in this Journal. But Blue Sky will henceforth take a back seat to Olive Drab.

Let me be specific with a prioritized list of articles that I’d like to see you the readership submitting. In order of desirability they are:

Great Articles
Discussions of algorithms or computational strategies or techniques that solve problems of particular interest to game designers. Good examples are Evan Robinson’s and Hal Martin’s articles in this issue, or some of my technical articles from previous issues, such as "How to Build a World," or the article on combinatorial methods in creating province names.

"I just finished a game project and here are some of the interesting problems that I encountered and the solutions I devised." (Example: "Lessons From Patton Strikes Back," this issue)

Good Articles
Articles on how to use a new and interesting piece of hardware. Now, I have to be careful here. I don’t want to turn the Journal into a dumping ground for technical notes from every hardware manufacturer in the business. I also don’t want the sound card wars fought out in excruciating detail in these pages. In general, I’ll cast a jaundiced eye at articles emanating from manufacturers. I’d much rather see a real live games programmer talking about hardware.

Fair Articles
Opinion pieces presenting hot air about what’s right or wrong with this industry. Henceforth, I’ll be evaluating each article by its information content. Opinion pieces, by their nature, don’t have much information content. I’ll print one if it presents some really interesting and well-reasoned opinions. Besides, editorials are MY territory!

Bad Articles That Won’t Be Printed
Hate pieces about publishers. Sorry, folks, but gripe sessions just aren’t appropriate in this Journal.

Anything for beginners. This is a professional journal and I will not patronize beginning game designers. The best way to help beginners is to let them in on how we perform our craft. Talking down to them doesn’t help them.

Technical articles covering material that’s covered elsewhere. If you’ve got yet another sort, hashing scheme, minicompiler, or floating point routine, take it somewhere else. I want technical articles of special interest to game designers covering material that they won’t get in any of the hundreds of technical journals out there.

Submission standards and rules
I keep getting article submissions from people who don’t read the masthead. Six months ago somebody sent me hardcopy of an article with a cover letter promising a diskette in a week. The diskette never came, so I trashed the article. I am not a typist, and my fingers have finite capacity, so if you can’t get me machine-readable source, I won’t print it. I would prefer to receive everything in Macintosh MicroSoft Word 4.0 format, but I can take flat ASCII on either Mac or IBM diskettes. You can send me the file via GEnie mail or even MCI mail. I will no longer take submissions by custom modem transfer; those operations always consume far more time than just dropping a diskette into the mail.

If you need to include illustrations in your article, please format them in PICT format on the Mac or TIFF format on the PC. Gregg Tavares and I pulled our hair out trying to find a format that would work. It took nearly a month of trial and error. If you send it in a strange format, I probably won’t be able to print it.

I experimented with advertisements a few issues back. I printed three ads and it appears that they failed to generate a single response. I therefore decided not to permit any more ads. However, I have received requests from readers for ads. They believe that there must be products of special interest to game developers, and they have no ready means of locating such products. Accordingly, I have decided to try again. However, I do not have a sales force to hit the phones, so I’m going to leave it up to the readership. If you know of a vendor with an interesting product, why don’t you call and suggest that they advertise in the Journal? For my part, I’ll keep the ad rates low (I’m not paying for a sales force.) The policy is simple: $50 for a quarter page (3.0 inches wide by 4.5 inches high.) I’ll take camera-ready copy or simple ASCII. One color, nothing bigger, no discounts for smaller ads, payment with submission. I reserve the right to reject any ad that fails to meet my lofty standards of taste and refinement.

New layout and pricing
Another change coming will be a new layout. I haven’t decided on all aspects of the design, but the changes will be mostly cosmetic. It’s time to rework some of the layouts in this Journal.

Also coming: a price increase. I’ve held the line at $30 for five years, and inflation has slowly eaten into my margins. It’s time to bump up the price. Starting with Volume 6, Number 1, the subscription rate of the Journal will be $36 per year in North America, and $50 per year outside of North America. The price of a single back issue will climb to $6. All you people whose subscriptions expire soon, get your renewals in before October 1st and you’ll get the old rate.