Noir games?

What we’ve got left is a huge gulf between popular, full-experience 3D action/adventure games that need to be financial blockbusters to survive, and marginalized casual/handheld/movie licensed games that don’t register on the mass consciousness radar.

We need our B films. We need that freedom to explore truly meaningful new avenues of interaction, quickly and nimbly, without the pressure of an eight-figure budget and multi-year dev schedule weighing down on the whole enterprise. Noir already scouted this territory for us.

Noir begs game developers to reign in the scope of their production budgets, and the conflicts they depict. The noir approach promises games wherein the player isn’t saving the kingdom, world or galaxy; wherein the ubermensch doesn’t mow down a thousand men; wherein we can experience familiar settings in a new way, and infuse the everyday with the extraordinary.

Steve Gaynor on Gamasutra

I’m glad the writer isn’t satisfied with what somebody in the comments calls “indie/mini/flash/casual (whatever) games” but is calling for a kind of game design that is still ambitious while finding budget-friendly ways of using the technology. I also like his suggestion of certain themes, popular in film noir, that are easier to portray than epic, massive war stories. And I share his belief that this type of production can lead to revitalizing the medium and lifting it up to a higher artistic standard.

More resources for prototypes

Senior producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America Santa Monica, Rusty Buchert, in an article about game pitching by Brendan Sinclair, GameSpot on Gamespot:

The biggest change [Mr. Buchert would] like to see is more resources given to developers to create functional prototypes for their game ideas.

“That’s where we’re hurting,” Buchert said. “Somebody needs the time to test out this new idea and see if it pans out without committing to a full development process and discovering halfway in that it isn’t going to work.”
Such an outcome is bad for the industry, Buchert believes, because it winds up producing bad games that don’t deliver on their early promises. This hurts gamers because it both produces a game that isn’t as good as it could have been and makes them more apprehensive about buying games in the future because they don’t want to get stung twice.

Makes sense to me. And it seems that Sony is taking a leading role in this, especially via the Playstation Network. We’ve talked with Sony people over here ourselves, and they seemed quite interested in investing in prototyping.

I can sympathize with publishers being uncomfortable with taking big risks. Developing and marketing a game can be very expensive. Greenlighting the entire project in one go, based on an idea, a design document or even a preliminary demo, would make me quite nervous as well. Taking one step at a time seems like a much more sensible approach.
Greenlighting every step of the process separately, starting with the prototype, makes the initial investment much smaller. As a result, publishers will be much more comfortable with taking risks. And they also won’t run the risk of missing out on an opportunity that they didn’t recognize in a first round. The developer, working through the process with a publisher, will also understand much better why a game is ultimately considered a good investment or not.
Developers also would get burnt a lot less frequently if the greenlighting process was more gradual. Now we are expected to be enthusiastic and passionate about our ideas from the onset. And while that’s easy from an artistic point of view, it’s quite difficult from a commercial one (since developers obviously know less about about the market than publishers do).
A tight collaboration between publisher and developer in the production of a commercial game, sounds like a good idea to me.

The editing of games

When looking for the essence of a medium in order to exploit it and create the best possible work with that medium, it’s easy to make mistakes. When movies came about, I’m sure people considered the fact that the image moved to be the one thing that defined the medium, its tool that should be used for expression. Now we know that this is incorrect: the real crucial aspect of film making is editing. Editing the flow of a film is unique to the medium and is the ultimate tool for expressing its content.

Film editing, by definition, is the only art that is unique to cinema and which defines and separates filmmaking from almost all other art forms. The job of an editor isn’t merely to mechanically put pieces of a film together, nor to just cut off the film slates, nor merely to edit dialogue scenes. Film editing is an art form which can either make or break a film. (Wikipedia)

I bet nobody saw that coming in the early days of film. It was something that needed to be discovered through trial and error and inspiration.

Games may face a similar problem. We are all very quick to assume that interactivity is the most important aspect of this new medium. But is this correct? Is designing interactivity to games what editing is to film?


Right, so MTV’s Multiplayer blog has been posting interviews with women in the game industry all week. Today, they interview Brenda Braithwaite. She’s awesome! She’s been working on games for 26 years. Interestingly, she has a very uncommon focus.

She’s written the book on Sex in Video Games.

….. (a) massive overview of everything there is to know about sex in games, from this whole detailed history of the “Hot Coffee” incident in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” to the detailed history of early sex games to the modern history of sex games.

from the interview:

…I want to make sure that we have the full range of the human experience to choose from. And the one that people go after the most is sex. That’s not true. I shouldn’t say that. That’s just in my experience because that’s what I’m always defending. People go after sex and violence in games, and while we may never need either extreme, we should have a right to have them. When our storytelling gets to the point where we can do our own “Sopranos,” we can do “The Godfather,” we can do “Sideways,” we can do a “Brokeback Mountain.” We should have the full range of human experience. It’s an art form like any other art form. For me, that’s the importance of preserving it.

Excellent 😉
A very long good read.

Entering the post-gameplay era…

The games medium is on the treshold of maturity. Maturity, for me, is defined by variety: variety in experiences, variety in the audience. When there’s a game out there for every single person on the planet looking to be entertained, the medium will be mature. I believe that the major thing standing in the way of this happening is what many consider to be the core of the medium: the high priority put on gameplay and fun. And I think we are about to abandon it.

The reason why I think so is because of the growing discrepancy between the narratives that games deal with and the things that their gameplay expresses. In the past, stories in games were simplistic. There were only so many pixels to paint a picture and children were the prime target audience. The gameplay was equally simplistic, so the whole thing felt together. This is why Mario and Zelda continue to convince.

How different are these really?

In the past years, however, we have seen an enormous growth in the kinds of stories games try to deal with. Gameplay, on the other hand, has not evolved (or it may have achieved its absolutely perfection and there is no room to evolve further). In fact, I would argue that in essence, the gameplay of virtually all AAA titles is the same, even though their stories are vastly diffferent. Tomb Raider plays the same as Bioshock plays the same as God of War plays the same as Gears of War plays the same as Assassin’s Creed. Gameplay has become a standardized formal layer on top of narrative worlds that vary greatly.
This is probably one of the reasons why the true hardcore gamers have turned away from commercial games in favour of independent games, where stories and gameplay often still form a consistent whole. One could definitely argue that, in terms of pure game design, independent games are often superior.

But pure gameplay holds very little appeal to the majority people. People don’t play Halo because it allows them to shoot things and score points. You can do this in any game. I believe that it is only a matter of time for game designers to understand that what their gameplay is expressing has nothing to do with what they are really trying to talk about. And then they will be forced to take the next logical step: to rid themselves from the archaic concept of gameplay and step into the broader realm of interactive entertainment. When this happens, the doors to the medium’s maturity will be wide open.

Subtractive vs additive game design

Arthur Schopenhauer (image from Wikpedia)

There’s something that has always stayed with me from my philosophy classes in high school. In my memory the idea is attributed to 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose work I still admire. But it could have come from somewhere else too.
Anyway, they idea goes something like this:

Happiness does not exist. There is only suffering. Sometimes the suffering is reduced a little. When this happens, we call it happiness.

This idea often comes to mind when I’m playing a video game.

It seems like most game designers’ strategy works through the same principle: they start by making life hard for you, and then they remove the problem. The relief that you feel at that moment is experienced as “fun”, “joy”, or “happiness”. While in reality, all the game did was take away the misery it had caused to you in the first place.

It strikes me that this method, while effective, is very different from how Auriea and I design games. If one would call the method described above as subtractive, then our method could be called additive. At Tale of Tales, we try to start from wherever the player is at the moment when he or she starts playing. And we build up from there. We like to think of our games as things that add something to your life, that become a part of it, rather than replace it temporarily. We expect the player to bring something to the game. We expect a human being, who knows what it is to love and to desire, who knows how fresh sheets feel on skin and wet grass between bare toes. We need you to be somebody, not an empty shell, or a shadow without memories. But a strong core around which the game can wrap itself.