We want to showcase the massive talent here at Demiurge, so after a long hiatus, we’re starting up the Featured Employee column again. This month’s feature is Game Designer Dave Guskin, who combines the powers of tremendous good cheer and ultra-clever thinking in his superheroing about the office. (No capes, though given his boundless volunteerism we suspect he might have an extra arm or two.) When he’s not dreaming up the next cool thing for one of our games, he can be found running Magic tournaments or singing karaoke. You can join him sometime, if you dare.
How long have you worked here, and can you briefly describe your job?
I've worked at Demiurge since June 2014, so nearly two years now. I’m currently working as a Game Designer and Co-Lead Designer on Marvel Puzzle Quest. That means I help guide the design vision for gameplay and characters, I work with engineering and art to make the game's player experience as good as it can be, and I tinker with and perfect our game's economy and other behind-the-scenes data systems.
What’s your favorite thing about working here at Demiurge?
Pies when we get a new hire. Ha, I kid! (Pie is delicious, though.)
I love the passion of each team member. It's one thing to collaborate with a bunch of smart people, but it's something entirely different when everyone on the team cares deeply about making a quality product that players will enjoy spending their time on. We feel like a stronger-knit team.
What was the first game you played that let you know that you wanted to be a game designer? What was it that hooked you?
Unsurprisingly, it was Magic: the Gathering. I had played a ton of console and pen-and-paper games that had puzzle/design elements like Zelda, Dungeons & Dragons, and Metroid, but it wasn't until I was exposed to Magic's modular nature and the strategy of comboing cards together that I dived into brainstorming my own card ideas, my own mechanics and systems, and eventually my own variant games.
What’s the most interesting (or boring!) other job that you had before you got into game design?
I worked as an analyst/researcher for MIT Lincoln Laboratory on ballistic missile defense. Mostly modeling some physics-y trajectory stuff, and working in Matlab. I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you. Ha ha... ha! Ha. Seriously though. It's classified.
You worked on the Magic: The Gathering series. How did that inform you when you came to work here?
I had two major components to my job at Wizards when working on Magic -- I worked on making the cards awesome, and I worked on making the events in stores (where the cards were released and sold and used in tournaments) awesome. Those led nicely into character design for Marvel Puzzle Quest -- each character is a collection of abilities, just like a complicated Magic card. And I've used my learnings on player experience to inform my work on events in both Marvel Puzzle Quest and P&G - especially focus on upfront fun, sweet prizes to work toward, and appropriate challenge.
What is your favorite game that nobody’s ever heard of?
Loom, the fantasy adventure game by LucasArts. One of the few games that I starting playing at a friend's house and then refused to leave until I had completed it hours and hours later.
What’s the worst idea for a game that you can think of?
Oof, this is a tough one, because any game design I start to come up with naturally tends toward "playable," and the worst ideas are going to be the unplayable ones! Generally, I feel the worst games are ones that reflect reality too closely and don't provide a promise of why YOU will be awesome playing the game.
Maybe a survival game on your phone where survival is measured in dollars, and it uses the environment (through camera, GPS, etc.) to simulate real-life challenges that cost money to overcome. So you know, a life simulator. Boring!
You make no secret of your love of karaoke (though arguably you might think about your choices…). What makes it so compelling?
I am confident in my life choices, especially with respect to karaoke. It's this amazing combination of the terrifying fear of crowds + the achievement of executing a script + the open-endedness of adding your own flair. It's sing-by-the-numbers, with crowd feedback and artistic expression (within a limited range) to make it an awesomely fun and welcoming experience.
What’s something that very few people know about you?
I really enjoy driving at night (late, late at night) with a group of friends, with a cool breeze, and then finding a diner and eating breakfast-for-late-dinner.
What, to you, is the most surprising thing about the world we live in now?
It's surprising to me that we still stick to old antiquated things like fossil fuels and paper mail, etc. I think humans just have a hard time paying upfront for (even high chance of) dividends later when there's a right-now solution that's been "proven," even one with obvious issues.
Do you believe that games can change the world? How?
I do! I think the best avenue to change the world is to change hearts and minds -- how people think about themselves and and the world, and what sorts of beliefs they carry with them, often unexamined. When what they see in reality clashes with their beliefs about reality, that discomfort should lead to more people taking action.
Games can change hearts and minds in a lot of ways -- let you see the world through a new lens, immerse yourself in a different kind of reality, and even create and sustain communities of people with shared purpose in a more stark way than the complexities of "real-life" communities.