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Hollywood Game Design

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Making Video Games is a tricky business. While they're most often compared to movies and television, video games 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 Geeks (with the odd Corrupt Corporate Executive who may or may not get along with them) surrounded by screens full of code or rotating 3D mesh models. Positive portrayals might gush about how everyone needs to be "artistic" and technologically skilled at the same time, which while possible, is only seen with the occasional indie game: just like in any other industry, if the team is big enough, you'll find that the artistic and technical tasks will be delegated to different members, some of whom will have little skill outside their specialty. Negative portrayals might show them as lazy Manchildren at best (they're just games — how hard can they be to make and who'd take them seriously in the first place, right?) and something akin to The Aggressive Drug Dealer (pushing Murder Simulators on kids) at worst. Either way, they will often be far too small of a team to be making the type of games the writers are describing, having employee numbers in the single digits, while still having a studio space far larger than any indie game company could hope to afford or even need.

See also: Pac Man Fever, Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 (for misconceptions about games and gameplay) and Small Reference Pools.


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  • 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.
    • Deconstructed in a comic of Three Panel Soul, where the creators point out that video games aren't programmed by randomly mashing the buttons on a video game controller. Also, the last panel has one guy lamenting that his friend's mother's dementia is growing worse and worse every month.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 2001 horror movie How To Make A Monster is based on the premise of a monster from a game killing off its creators. It depicts a major AAA video game being made by a total of three people, (responsible for "AI," "sounds" and "weapons,") who are all competing with each other in isolation rather than working together. This bears basically no relation to the way actual video games are made.
  • The live action 101 Dalmatians (1996) 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 (2006) 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. Then again, the game is supernatural, and it's likely that the Blood Countess herself was its real creator.
  • 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.
  • Grandma's Boy (2006) is essentially this trope layered over a Stoner Flick. One particularly weird example comes when a manager congratulates a QA tester for "finding all the bugs," which seems to misunderstand the entire concept of QA.
  • Free Guy does a better job than most trying to avert this trope — one of its main protagonists, Keys, works at a AAA company appropriately housed in a large and sophisticated office building staffed by dozens if not more, and its crew is realistically depicted as wide-ranging and not just relying on stock geek tropes. However, Keys is also privy to multiple tasks at his job where he would most likely be responsible for one, and anyone with access to the game's code or server room can impossibly alter the in-game Free City architecture in real-time.

  • 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.
  • REAMDE gets a lot right about the concept of MMO games, but some of the details are pretty implausible. For example, the defining trait of T'Rain, the most popular MMO on the market in the story, is that its game world is designed using real-world science on plate tectonics and biomes, something that would get in the way of good game design rather than help it.
  • One of the characters in The Golden House is an autistic man, apparently able to program and release several smartphone games and make good money (and fame) despite hardly ever leaving his room.
  • "Slay" by Brittney Morris takes this to an almost comical degree. Not only does a 17 year old girl manage to make a AAA virtual reality MMORPG all by herself, she manages to do so with no one figuring out she is even a developer. Said game not only outcompetes all its AAA competition, while only being available to those who have been recommended by current players, but also contains technology that none of them can match, such as full body motion capture. There is no mention of servers to house the game on, quality assurance teams, advertising, or any other staples of such a large online game. The only other person involved in the game is a moderator who moderates the tens of thousands of players when the main character is asleep. And she did all of this in her spare time

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 Jerkass 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.
  • 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 by QA).
  • 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!
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid features Kuroto Dan, the CEO of a large and successful video game company... who apparently does all the coding for the company's games himself. Once he outs himself as the Big Bad and goes underground, the company starts being depicted closer to a real-life one with multiple dev teams; it's possible they were the ones who made most of the games, but Dan still hand-codes a number of pet projects himself. He's also shown to have been part of AAA game development since he was a teenager (though as part of his father's company, so there's a little leeway there). Plus, game development on the whole seems to be portrayed as unreasonably fast, though there's really no telling when any of the projects began. Then again, these games include computer viruses that manifest as biological viruses, and the Kamen Riders use special game cartridges to take on the powers of the games' heroes, so inaccuracies like a one-man dev team aren't the most implausible things about the situation by a long shot.
    • Emu turns out to be a carrier for a special strain of the aforementioned biological virus, and on two occasions he uses an unfinished game cartridge that reacts with that virus to create an entirely new game for him to draw power from. Keep in mind that while this is a whole other level of ridiculousness when it comes to game design, activating some "inner power" like this is more or less par for the course when it comes to creating new Kamen Rider upgrades.
  • Dexter has a subplot in which a programmer is creating what is supposedly a AAA title on his own, and his biggest concern is getting a crime scene investigator like Dexter to check it for accuracy. This doesn't bear much relation to how games are made.
  • The X-Files: The episode "First-Person Shooter" tells a supernatural story of a killer video game character and portrays a purely fantastic version of the game making process. The game itself also seems to lack design, as Scully is shown defeating level after level by standing stock still and holding down the trigger on her gun.
  • Mythic Quest features a massively popular MMORPG developed by a handful of programmers - the director is emotional and obsessed with masculinity, the lead engineer fights to add features against his wishes, a head writer seems to be in charge of the story and trying to create a cohesive plot without any of the characters' interference, and one character's job seems to be simply finding new ways of getting players to spend money through microtransactions.

    Western Animation 
  • 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. It's possible that it actually was just Grand Theft Auto mod rather than a full game, as it's only ever seen played on a PC and Buck later claims they can't sue the developers for using their logos (or rather that there's no money in doing so) because they're not actually selling it. This would make significantly more sense, but it still stretches belief that two guys could create as much content as depicted in at most a few weeks, especially since they have day classes.
  • An episode of Dino Squad claimed their resident geek came up with an entire dinosaur-themed MMO/Skype hybrid all by himself.
  • South Park's Emmy-winning episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft" may be one of the most acclaimed episodes in the show's history and was produced in collaboration with Blizzard Entertainment, but it takes numerous liberties with how World of Warcraft is actually played. Most can be forgiven due to Rule of Funny, though the scenario in the episode—the boys being unable to play the game due to a malicious high-level player constantly killing them—would be impossible for the following reasons:
    1. It's impossible to be killed by a player character on your side. The griefer, being a human, would be unable to attack other human players as they're all Alliance.
    2. Even if the griefer was Horde, all the boys would have to do to get away from him would be to switch to a PVE (player-versus-environment) server rather than PVP (player-vs-player) if they prefer to just quest together and not fight rival players.
    3. The boys' plan to level up by killing low-level creatures would quickly stop working. Once enemies are more than 5 levels below you, they stop giving experience points upon death.
    4. While not vital to the story, it's worth pointing out that at the time the episode aired, humans could not be hunters like Randy's character; that wasn't allowed until the expansion Cataclysm, released four years later.

    Real Life 
  • This happened with Art Data Interactive, the company who bought the rights for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer version of Doom. According to Rebecca Heineman, the programmer for the port, ADI's CEO Randy Scott had promised to distributors that the port would feature new monsters, new weapons, and new levels — which would be created simply by scanning sketches into the computer:
    And [Randy] was saying, "Why isn't this game running at 60 frames a second? Where is my new weapons? Where is my new stuff?"... Because he truly believed all you had to do to put a weapon in a game is to draw it.
    He did believe that if you drew a weapon — you just gave me the art file — I would put it in the game and it would magically fire bullets. It would do all the effects animations and switch and — he thought that was just me putting the art in there, hit "compile," and I'm done.