Finding Inspiration and Sharing Ideas – Connor Fallon

Connor Fallon is the man behind the video game Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher which had over 300K game plays, making the somewhat boring subject of Philosophy – fun and interesting. Connor is an extremely insightful resource when it comes to the world of video games, having graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and now working in a game development company called Schell Games

Over to Connor –

Connor-Fallon-265x3501. Its interesting how you combine philosophy and gaming into one experience. Was this a conscious approach to make the subject matter more interesting and fun? What was the journey like for creating the game?

I talk a bit about the journey in this old piece I wrote for Gamasutra. As I mention there, it was the gameplay that came first — after playing Ace Attorney, I started thinking about what are some other subjects that the basic game-play of examining statements would apply well too, and one that immediately came to mind was Philosophy. The subject came to mind because I had always been excited about it, and at the time I was taking a Critical Thinking class with Andy Norman, the philosophy professor who would become one of the main collaborators on the game. So I’d say it wasn’t so much a matter of making philosophy “more interesting” or “more fun,” but making what was interesting and fun about philosophy more accessible, if that makes sense.

2. The game had more than 300K plays last year, any stats on this year? What do you attribute this popularity to?

Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher is definitely still chugging, though much more slowly this year. We haven’t really done anything on the game to continue to push it besides translating it into new languages, but people still share it around rather frequently. I have often heard about a student showing it to their philosophy teacher, or a philosophy teacher using the game in their classroom.

I think the game strikes a chord with people for at least one of two reasons. For some, it’s the personality of the game, with it’s Ace Attorney-style gameplay and tongue-and-cheek humor scratching an itch for them. But for others, it’s a way for them to engage in a subject matter that can often be intimidating. Even though, as I said, I was inspired by the game-play style first, every once in a while I get a message from someone who played the game and found – surprise! – that actually really enjoyed philosophy and found the different thinkers presented in the game fascinating. When you find something new that you like, it’s exciting, and you want to share that excitement with other people.

Whatever the reason though, I’m just glad people enjoy it. The game has wildly exceeded our expectations.

3. Is philosophy or spirituality a subject area that you enjoy? What’s your take on it?

Philosophy is a subject of interest to me, though I would hardly call myself an expert. Ultimately, the reason I wound up making this game is that I found the field to benefit me personally, and my excitement about philosophers like Kant and Hobbes is what propelled me through writing the game. My own views probably align most closely with Kant, though I do not subscribe to quite the degree of absolutism he does.

As for spirituality, I’m a humanist. There is a certain amount of faith that comes in the notion of believing that people are capable of being good on their own, and they can learn to be better, but I don’t personally believe in any deities. That said, I don’t deny they could exist, and that they can provide meaningful guidance to a lot of people.

I firmly believe in the conclusion of the Euthyphro argument, that if there is an absolute right and wrong it would be supported by gods, not originate from them. Even if they do exist, and provide guidance, we cannot stop with their judgments- We must always question, reexamining and reaffirming for ourselves in order to become better.

4. There is an interesting take on life being similar to a game. A game where you have players, skill levels, leveling-Up, etc. Do you find inspiration to create games from life itself? Or is it just a random mix of thoughts and ideas that gives rise to a game?

I absolutely thing it’s important to look to your own life, and the lives of people around you, as a source of inspiration. Ultimately no ones lives are the same, and so if you can find a way to take your own experience and make it understandable to anyone you are inherently offering something fresh. Famously, Miyamoto came up with the idea for Pikmin while working in his garden.

It is true, however, that games often come from a mix of influences and ideas. A good approach, especially on smaller projects, is to find one key thing that forms the “Core” of your game, and build around that. It could be a mechanic, a theme, or an emotion, but picking a core will help the various things you draw into it remain focused.

5. Why Game Designer? Why did you choose this career path? Did you always know that you were going to be a game designer growing up? What do you love about games and game design?

I realized I wanted to make games in late high school. I had always enjoyed creating, but my medium of choice changed over time, I dabbled in comic art but mostly focused on film. I settled upon games when I realized that making games was fundamentally about creating experiences for people, in many cases experiences that they could never have in real life. I think there are certain things that are best understood through experience, after all.

I also think that, because of the range of forms that interactivity can take, games are one of the most diverse forms there are. The possibilities of the medium are very much still being explored, and that is incredibly exciting as a creator.

6. What tools do you use to Design Games these days? Any tips for upcoming developers?

I use all sorts of tools! I would be remiss if I didn’t plug the Deck of Lenses, which was created by Jesse Schell, and presents many different perspectives through which to view development and can help with brainstorming. As for what we actually make our games in, a lot of my projects use Unity these days – if we ever make a second Pro Philosopher game, we might make the jump to that platform. But tools are diverse and shifting, ultimately you will have to experiment with what works best for you, and with different ways to use any tools you settle upon.
For upcoming and aspiring devs, breaking into the industry is hard, and even once in it isn’t always easy. The industry is going through some turmoil right now as it grows and becomes more inclusive. If you want to make games, it’s important that you push forward and stick with it, but it’s also important you support those around you trying to do the same. You never know who will bring the next great innovation to the industry, but whoever it is will benefit all of us. As for becoming a better developer: Make games early, find friends who are have greater and different talents from yourself, and get creating. Never stop learning, there is always someone radically different from you who can show you a new angle. I realize those may sound like cliches, but they are how I have managed at all.

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