The Scoop - Duncan Foster

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in game design, and are there any specific games or experiences that influenced your decision?

At first, I didn’t know about game development as a career. My only relationship with Gaming as an industry was exclusively as a consumer.

Had my computer at 5 and I played games from 6. Goofed around with the scenario editor in Age of Empires. That inadvertently got me comfortable with games. I then started drawing soldiers and characters from those games.

Fast forward to my first year at college. I wanted to be a graphic designer and took 3d animation by chance because everyone said it was really hard.

I enjoyed 3D animation but I loved drawing too so I was conflicted. Fortunately, I made great friends who were advanced in the subject and knew a lot more than I did. They told me why don’t I just do concept art. Best of both

Where do you work at the moment?

Laguna Games they’re based in San Francisco but our art team is here in Rosebank, Johannesburg

Could you share details about a game design project you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What aspects of the game’s design do you believe contributed to its success?

I’m not sure if I can say too much about my favourite project as I’m still under NDA but it was associated with the Game of Thrones IP. It was predominantly R&D but it pushed myself and the team to a new limit. We had a lot of fun and seeing the team grow made it enjoyable. A lot of challenges doing realism on mobile but I think we all found a nice balance.

Game design often involves finding the right balance between mechanics, narrative, and visuals. Can you discuss a game where achieving this balance was especially challenging, and how did you approach this challenge?

Well, gaming has such a range. I have only been involved with games that have minimal narrative emphasis. I’d love to be involved with projects that prioritise that more and I think I’ve personally tried to push that. However, there is a large business aspect that sets the priority. Sometimes gameplay is paramount or we don’t have the budgets to accommodate multiple aspects like creating a narrative-centric experience.

We currently have a project undergoing at the moment where I pitched a narrative-centric experience. I guess I can speak to some of those challenges.

Showing not telling is a constant battle with writing for games or films.

Using the limited time you have some cutscenes well. Isolate what you’re trying to get across because you don’t have the luxury of a 90min movie or 30 min episode

However, a major benefit of the medium is that a player has more interaction with the game and this can help inform the story. For example: how you decorate a level equates to dressing a set. Placing props, items and even damage to a scene can impart valuable narrative information.

From a design standpoint, our Characters’ briefs start with the story. Who are the characters, how do they move, and what’s the significance of their chosen outfit or weapon? Their build/body type. All the fundamentals you’d find in classic film and animation play a fundamental role in story-based game development.

How do you prioritize user experience in your game design process? Can you share an example of how you incorporated user feedback to make meaningful improvements to a game’s design?

Our most recent title explored the 2nd major crypto boom and the games in that space boast a new consideration for crowd-based game development. With that title, we have a very active discord and I must say there are pros and cons to having a truly uncurated engagement with a consumer base. Especially over the internet.

Pros include real-time feedback. We can see on launch day how the game is received and funny enough we very had some incredible suggestions and even some design balancing done by the community across all disciplines. Programming, development and art.

Cons. The community contradicts itself or can’t align on certain points. Ever watched Twitch plays? The internet is very clearly the place where order and chaos meet. So take everything with a pinch of salt.

Game development is a collaborative effort. Can you talk about a project where teamwork played a pivotal role in bringing your design ideas to life? How did you navigate creative differences and ensure the project’s success?

EVERY… SINGLE ….PROJECT. The degree to which a project is deemed successful can be attributed to how well the teams function together. When there are creative differences you can always fall back on relationships. I find it’s been very helpful to maintain a healthy relationship with the members of your team. Things are going to get tense. Tempers will flair when the pressure builds. If you’ve hired well, and the team members build respect with one another.

Top 3 Podcasts?

JRE, YMH, College or University talks

Favourite bands?

All over the place. I’ve got a wide range and recently I’ve been filtering my music through time. I’d rather listen to playlists from different eras than single out any one specific band, group or artist.

The gaming industry is known for embracing new technologies. What emerging technologies do you think will have a significant impact on the future of game design, and how do you envision integrating them into your work?

The hot topic is AI right now. I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for both production and consumption of games. In regards to consumption, we could look at RPGs and how we interact with NPCs having a large output of experiences thanks to procedural engagements. Whereas a product design guide manages larger quantities of content dialogue etc instead of brute forcing each engagement. There are of course pros and cons to these approaches but I’m sure there will be a great many examples of it done right. Game Design is one of the most reactive industries to new tech. It’s a challenging industry to keep up with. The graphics will improve and there are new technologies that help us interface with them a bit differently but you can be sure there will be things that we cannot imagine on the horizon. AI is a hot topic right now too. I’d engage with the tools to get a better sense of what’s going on in that space if you haven’t already. From a commercial standpoint, I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for now as there’s still a lot of legislation required before we understand the new usage rules and what’s officially deemed ethical. Do NOT neglect your fundamentals. Practise classical art training. That’s still invaluable.

Storytelling in games has evolved considerably. How do you approach integrating narrative elements into your designs, and how do you believe storytelling in games will continue to evolve in the coming years?

I recently worked on a pitch where we as a team prioritised stories more so than any of our other titles.

Nuance in storytelling games has improved in resolution throughout the years. The first games we played were low-level signifiers, almost icons representing elements in the real world. Much like chess has representative pieces. As the resolution/fidelity improves it allows for a more delicate approach to representing very complex ideas more accurately or exaggerating abstract ideas into new phenomenal avenues.

Personally, this is close to home for me. I struggled with the 2d diagrams in maths class back in the day. With strides in 3d animation even in TV, we can interface with this knowledge in more efficient ways and hopefully grow all manners of learning across large populations. The most recent episodes of Cosmos the series cleared up a lot of confusing ideas for me personally thanks to the strides in visual tech. The same could be true for gaming.

Do you have any favourite free resources you can share?

Yes! Very important to note that anyone wanting to get into game design professionally can do so exclusively with internet resources and strategic networking. Firstly one needs an introduction to the overall industry and what specialisations exist in the space. Art production and game development. Then which ones inspire you because it takes a lot of work. Years to master. Once you have that locked down you can then look to resources on the web to begin your learning. To find good resources you can stick around for the credits of any game you’ve played and google the names of the specific professional(concept artist, 3d production artist, animator) you’d like to work for one day. Most of these professionals will have a Gumroad or Artstation page with tutorials. I’d spend money on those workshops or tutorials. As for coding and integration, I’d go straight to the source. Unreal Engine and Unity both have massive online documents covering just about any current mechanic or process. I’d use those as the backbone of my studies.

What’s your go-to creative snack?

Kit Kat/TV Bar

Any favourite hobbies?

Football, gym and swimming

What advice would you offer to students who aspire to become game designers? Are there any lessons from your journey that you wish you had known when you were starting?

This career is a marathon. You don’t earn a qualification and stop learning. It’s a tech field and tech has a very short shelf life. The next best thing is just around the corner so continue to study and keep up to date with whats happening in the industry.