Hollywood Game Design
Making Video Games is a tricky business. While they're most often compared to other forms of media, they have both their own culture and a much stronger technological element. In addition, TV and movie writers have very little in the way of first-hand experience with their sister industry (even game writing, which arguably overlaps the most with "normal" scriptwriting, requires the writer to make the gameplay and narrative complement each other and can end up quite specialised). The result is this trope; other media tend to misunderstand the process of making a game (for more on this process see Video Game Design). Generally you can expect the team making the game to be composed of Hollywood Nerds (with the odd Corrupt Corporate Executive who may or may not get along with them) surround by screens full of code or rotating 3D mesh models. Positive portrayals might gush about how they have to be "artistic" and skilled at the same time (nevermind that artistic and technical tasks tend to be done by different people). Negative portrayals might show them as lazy Manchildren at best (because who could take games seriously, right?) and something akin to The Aggressive Drug Dealer (pushing Murder Simulators on kids) at worst. They will be far too small to be making an AAA title (usually in the single digits) but their studio will still likely be far larger than an indie game company could hope to afford (and have a mocap studio, even if they appear to be working on 2D games). See also: Pac-Man Fever, Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 (for misconceptions about games and gameplay) and Small Reference Pools.
- Commercials for West Wood College and Collins College follow this trope, as seen here and here. It's a good thing that guy was there to notice the graphics need tightening up.
- The 2001 horror movie How To Make A Monster was based around the premise of a monster from a game killing off its creators. As a remake of a movie which originally used a movie monster, it makes some mistakes. According to the typically vitriolic Something Awful review, in it, a team of three people (responsible for AI, sounds and weapons, respectively) is given a month to make a computer game. No wonder they manage such an Epic Failure that the game actually starts killing them.
- The live action version of 101 Dalmatians had Roger's profession updated from music composer to games designer. The process of making a game apparently involved him taking a game (which he presumably made on his own) to a group of suits who let an obnoxious child review it (apparently having played it for a few minutes) and give him feedback. (Unkind people might suggest that this is Hilarious in Hindsight with the rise of the indie developer scene and Steam Greenlight...)
- The eponymous game of Stay Alive was apparently made by one guy drawing creepy pictures in a notebook. Over the course of the movie we see almost his entire house and he doesn't even have a computer.
- WarGames: The Dead Code uses a similar premise, with the added WTF that the MMO in question is (pre-cancellation) Stargate Online.
- The David Cronenberg film eXistenZ depicts Allegra Geller as the world's premiere game designer of the eponymous game. Aside from egregious playing straight of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, none of her associates even seem to have the slightest idea what eXistenZ is actually about. Justified, as none of the people playing transCendenZ are professional game designers.
- The chick-lit novel Lucy Crocker 2.0 by Caroline Preston. The heroine is a housewife and one-time artist who helps her programmer husband make wildly successful computer games. Unfortunately, Preston can't even accurately describe a woman checking her e-mail, much less what goes into designing a game. The process seems to consist of Lucy Crocker painting something with watercolors, and her husband scanning the image into his computer.
- Averted in John Sandford's "Prey series" where Lucas Davenport only comes up with the storylines and rules (he started out doing wargame scenarios) and leaves the coding to first, one expert, and later an entire building of them. He started out trying to do all the coding himself, but quickly realized that it was beyond him.
- One episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent featured a game designer as the murderer of the week. It portrayed him as being only one of two people working on a game, asking whether the lighting on a level he was designing was OK (a designer places lamps in a level, and the engine uses them to light the level) and a review apparently not only mentioned him by name but criticized his programming as being "sterile". As anyone who's read a review will know, an individual programmer won't be known by name, nor would a programmer be criticized for the graphics (that would be the job of the designer). But it turned out that the level had an Easter Egg of the designer's name, and the designer was one of the owners of the company, making him an uncredited producer as well.
- CSI: Miami had an episode where a game executive built hype for a Grand Theft Auto clone by providing some teenagers with TEC-9s and encouraging them to act out events. And to add insult to injury, made him much more of a Jerk Ass than even the most hated of real game industry suits.
- There was an episode of Veronica Mars where two geeks make a world-class video game in their dorm room, all by themselves.
- Grandma's Boy is essentially this trope layered over a Stoner Flick.
- NCIS: Los Angeles had Calen go undercover as a game tester. It quickly becomes apparent that he is horrible at it so the team cuts the power to the building before the real testers in the company can discover that he is faking.
- In addition to this, it ignores the fact that a mixed pool of testers (and thus less skilled players) would be quite desirable for QA purposes.
- NCIS episode "Kill Screen" has the lead programmer for an online game insert a sophisticated piece of code into the game with the intent to create a botnet supercomputer able to hack into the Pentagon. The company he works for is portrayed as a fairly large and successful organization and it is quite implausible that he would be able to sneak something like that into the program without it being detected by other programmers and testers (particularly since it ignores the fact that the software would be tested as above).
- Perfectly possible in reality, especially for a lead programmer. Programmers are usually responsible for a distinct part of the app and are too busy to check what others are doing. Of course, the ideas that a) the Pentagon would be vulnerable to such a botnet and b) an MMO would be the best way to create one are... dubious at best.
- That said, code reviews and similar processes are becoming more and more common as well as complex source control tools that track changes and contributions, more elaborate testing suites and requirements, etc. Nevermind the increasing complexity of games themselves (especially an MMO). A developer saying that they're too busy to check other people's code or to have their code checked is generally not going to get particularly far...
- The children's series Crash Zone revolves around a group of kids who have a wonderful, fun, glamorous job: video game testing. Not only that, but the company's president specifically hires brilliant game-testin' kids in order to help her struggling company. If the company hadn't had a quality assurance department until now, no wonder their games were failing!
- In an episode of King of the Hill, two nerds at the community college make a full-length Grand Theft Auto clone, with Hank as the protagonist, just to mock him. After giving Hank the only copy (which naturally works perfectly), they apparently just get bored of it and never release the game at all.
- It could be a mod of an existing game, which would be much more believable for two people to produce. And Hank is shown playing online with at least some other people.