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A day in the life of a game designer

Ji Yong-chan, Design Team Leader

Watching Lead Designer Ji Yong-chan around the studio, it makes you wonder if all game designers are so constantly on edge. Do they all drive themselves to exhaustion simply through thinking?

Although Ji is the ‘leader’ of the design team for Aion, his workload is just as demanding as any other member of the team. Ji used to start work at 7am every day but that was before he collapsed from fatigue. Since that incident he has been restraining himself to a 9am start. When he gets to the office there is already a pile of tasks sitting on his desk awaiting his attention. Unfortunately these cannot be taken care of right away, he is needed in a meeting.

At 9am Ji holds a meeting with team leaders from various departments. By the time this production meeting ends it’s already lunchtime. For Ji, lunch is just a quick trip to the basement cafeteria – and by quick I mean quick. Back from lunch, and Ji would normally be pulled into another meeting, at the very least there would be someone calling him for something else. He's a busy man.

Before having this chance to follow Ji in his day, we thought game design just meant sitting at a desk and dreaming. We had the cynical notion that the real forces behind a game were the artists and programmers. Game lore, combat, quests… these just seemed to come easily. Having followed Ji, we realise that a game designer does far more than we first expected. In fact, the job of ‘Game Designer’ is now first in our list of jobs to avoid. So, why does he do it?

“I want to make a game that people will remember decades from now... they will reminiscence with their friends about how much fun they had in the game. That’s the kind of game I want Aion to be.”

For Ji his most memorable games were Virtual Fighter 2 and Everquest. These are the games he continues to talk about to this day. He’d like to see Aion be that calibre of game for everyone that plays it.

Once the barrage of meetings is over and the sun’s gone down, he finally gets a chance to work on the files sitting at his desk. Once all that is done it’s 10pm. He would like nothing more than to go home to his wife and kids, but there is still work to do.

“At this point in development, our biggest enemy is time, there just isn’t enough of it,” Ji says. “There’s only 24 hours in a day. I would do anything for a few more hours.” Inundated by work, he looks exhausted (he freely admits this). This is the kind of pressure I suppose all designers are put through.

This stress will be lifted once the game launches to success, but before then the anxiety of a successful launch just makes their job harder. Despite this we are all guilty of asking to see more and more of the game. I imagine we must appear as the grim reaper in his dreams, or perhaps as a 5 year-old pleading for more presents at Christmas.

“I want to create a game with depth. Instead of having fixed play patterns I am trying to add game elements that are always changing, or ones that are hidden for players to discover. I want players to find fun in unexpected places.”

These words should have been enough for us to leave Ji alone, but our skills in pestering developers has now reached Grandmaster status... we don't leave so easily. We ended the day by taking some pictures of his workspace. This is not as easy as it may sound, we nearly had our cameras taken away, and at one point, we were even accused of being industrial spies!

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