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<  Design concepts  ~  Thoughts on Game Design

edenb
Posted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 3:34 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
This is a little speech I'm giving sometime soon. Feedback would be much appreciated!
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Games are in the business of selling fun. But all games have the same type of fun. If you’ve ever played a video game you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s that cocktail of anxiety, stress, and adrenaline. The frantic button mashing, the articulate strategy, the pulse of the game as you try to win. This is because all the enjoyment that we get from games is based on the classic challenge/reward structure.
Think pac-man, think GTA, think The Sims.

There’s nothing wrong with this type of fun, but it means we have a very narrow spectrum of games; and a narrow spectrum of gamers. Half the problem is that publishers don’t like risk. The other half of the problem is that most game developers aren’t coming up with new stuff; it’s the same junk recycled over and over again. Look at the Medal of Honour series. It’s essentially the same game over and over and over again. And Medal of Honour has even spawned an entire sub-genre of games just like it. It’s like JK Rowling writing all 7 Harry Potters with the same plot, and then 10 other authors doing exactly the same.

But if we get rid of those so-called “elements” of games: time-limits, having to restart a level when you die, a certain amount of lives, scores and most importantly the structured challenge/reward structure. If we get rid of these false elements we can create a far wider variety of games.

But what are we left with if we take away the things that traditionally define a game?
We are left with what Miyamoto calls a “Garden”.

Gardens are exactly what the word suggests. Compact, self-sustained worlds we can immerse ourselves in. A garden has an inner life of its own; it is a world in flux which grows and changes. A garden’s internal behaviors, and how we understand those rules, help us to wrap our heads and hands around the garden. The intricate spaces and living systems of a garden surprise, delight, and invite participation.

In other words, a game is an interactive experience. That’s what differs a game from a movie or book. And in our Garden we have a system that is in chaos- there’s all this possibility space for what are essentially stories; through these stories are very non-linear at the moment. With movies or books we’re wondering- what will happen next? And we fill in the gaps in our mind- the deathstar might be destroyed, or the rebels might be crushed. But with games we have the power to affect what will happen next. The best way to predict the future is to make it.

If we look at games this way we can think of them as imagination amplifiers. Gardens in which we can create, Gardens in which stories unravel. Gardens which are a literal extension of the imagination.

The most important thing about these gardens is that they give the player a set of tools to create with. This is where the real game design is done. We’re asking ourselves: what is the game about? What tools best serve the players needs? And how do I design these tools to be easy to use yet powerful.
You can even argue that the Garden- the basis of your game, is a tool itself- because it is the world in which the player does their creating. Therefore it inherently affects what the player does; just as earth affects us humans.

But how do we, the designers, think up what the game’s going to be about?
The creator of Katamari suggests that we look at things differently- and do what we think will be fun.
Instead of looking at the planet from a human’s point of view, look at it from a worm’s point of view.
What mechanics, or tools, spring to mind? What would be a fun thing to do with a worm?
Another way is to look at what interests you, or what you know a lot about, and create a game around that.

By creating Gardens that are imagination amplifiers we’re creating games that are truly unique to the medium of computers.
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edenb
Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:08 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
I hoped someone would reply to this, seemed liked the kind of forum that'd be receptive to my ideas. Ah well.
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Michael
Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:41 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Maybe nobody replied because you said it all. Smile
Maybe there is nothing in your essay that provokes a reaction. Maybe everybody agrees. Smile
I know I do. But I think it's easier to say what you say than to do it. And I think that when you do it, you will find that there are a lot more options than "games" or "gardens".
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edenb
Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2007 7:37 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
Thankyou, I guess someone agreeing with my views is quite a compliment Smile
I'm creating 3 games, and they're all very different. I think I'm starting to understand what you mean, when you say "there are a lot more options".
What would you say some of the other options are, though?
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Michael
Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2007 5:26 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
edenb wrote:
What would you say some of the other options are, though?

At this point in time, I would go on instinct. Don't predefine what you want to make too much. Just have a good idea of what feelings you want to invoke in the player, what atmosphere you want to create. And then perhaps you'll find that a game expresses this best, or a garden, or a painting, or a building, or a sculpture, or music, or a play. I'd suggest we try to build the interaction first, and then give it a name. And not start with any preconceptions.
It's a young medium. Let's develop it first before we define it. Smile
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edenb
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 10:42 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
Wise words. To be honest, I never think about my theories and such when I'm making a game anyway, do you? They're just sort of in the back of my mind.

I don't think we can define it [our medium], to any exact degree. It's always in flux, and there's millions of things one can do with it. I guess you can say it is "something interactive"; but that's pretty vauge.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 11:43 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I don't think it's going to always be in flux. Just now and for the next few decades. Progress is being delayed mostly because engineers in general don't understand that it is artists who are required to advance the medium. They often tend to think that either they can become artists or that the artists should become engineers. While in fact they should simply be making tools for artists to use.

In the mean time, things are indeed in flux. And while discussing them is a good thing, it would be premature to define things too strictly already. Such a thing only causes stagnation. Some people, developers and gamers alike, are very attached to the structure of a game for interactive entertainment, apparently not realizing that a) this is just one of many possible structures and b) the game structure is imported from other media and not indigenous to the digital/interactive medium. To mature the medium, we need to discover its strengths: the things it can do better than any other medium. And games are not it.
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edenb
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 12:03 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
Yet music is still in flux today. Maybe we can say there will be less flux in a few decades.

How do you define "game", strictly speaking? We can do things in games that we can't do in real life (Katamari)- that gives them an advantage over other mediums. I think there is a place for games in the world of interactive entertainment (and there will be games in this medium for a long time to come). I do agree that the "game" structure is not indigenous to realtime entertainment, though. I prefer to think that we can do a lot more with this medium than merely games.

Slightly off topic, I was reading your manifesto. I agree with it. But I do want to know what you consider "modern art". Is Picasso modern art? Is Jazz modern art? Is Beethoven modern art? These were all considered modern art at one time or another.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 12:24 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
edenb wrote:
Yet music is still in flux today.

Not as much as digital media. And as far as I can tell, any contemporary flux in music seems to be provoked by rebelling against the maturity of the medium (against harmony, against expressiveness, against traditional structures, etc). The digital medium is still far away from such maturity, let alone rebellion against it.

edenb wrote:
How do you define "game", strictly speaking?

Merriam-Webster: "a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other" or "a procedure or strategy for gaining an end", even though the same dictionary also calls it an "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement", which is far less strict.
When I refer to "game" in the strict sense, I mean an activity structured by rules designed to offer the player a challenge to be overcome, usually accompanied by some kind of scoring, to enable competitive behaviour.

edenb wrote:
We can do things in games that we can't do in real life

That sentence only makes sense in the context of computer games that offer us virtual realities to play in. You couldn't say this of a card game or of monopoly because we would consider those to be part of life.

edenb wrote:
Slightly off topic, I was reading your manifesto. I agree with it. But I do want to know what you consider "modern art". Is Picasso modern art? Is Jazz modern art? Is Beethoven modern art? These were all considered modern art at one time or another.

I guess we mean modernist art. Beethoven is not modernist, he's romantic. Though romanticism can be seen as a transition from classical to modernist. Jazz and Picasso are definitely modernist. And personally I consider most postmodern and contemporary art to be modernist is well.
Modernist art typically puts the individual above society, the personal above the shared. Modernist art cherishes originality over quality, novelty over tradition, innovation over skill. Modernism is about personal expression more than communication. Modernism tends to favour pain and conflict over beauty and joy. And shock effect over skills and artistry.
Virtually all "fine" art since the 20th century is modernist, even though "popular" art has largely remained traditional.
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edenb
Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2007 6:24 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
Actually, Beethoven is maybe quarter Classical and three quarters Romantic.
Anyway, I don't think I agree with not making modernist "games". I personally don't want to create any; but I don't see have a problem with someone else creating it. I guess the manifesto is an expression of your personal ideals.

Quote:
That sentence only makes sense in the context of computer games that offer us virtual realities to play in. You couldn't say this of a card game or of monopoly because we would consider those to be part of life.

I realized this as I went to bed last night. So virtual realities are something our medium can do well, but that's not part of the stucture of games...or something like that.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2007 7:59 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
edenb wrote:
Anyway, I don't think I agree with not making modernist "games".

Our anti-modernist stance is more directed towards fine artists. I think many game designers could do with a bit of modernist influence.

edenb wrote:
So virtual realities are something our medium can do well, but that's not part of the stucture of games...or something like that.

I think so.
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Lyrak
Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2007 10:51 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 29 Jul 2007 Posts: 1139 Location: Some Ohio Cornfield
Michael wrote:

Our anti-modernist stance is more directed towards fine artists. I think many game designers could do with a bit of modernist influence.


Influenced to make a game more like, say, Okami? I haven't played it yet but I've heard it was beautiful, very artistically done. Unfortunately I also heard that the company who made it went out of business - sales weren't big enough or something. :\ Darn kids don't know a good thing when they see it.
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edenb
Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:45 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Jul 2007 Posts: 42
Okami had a really beautiful art style, shame this beauty wasn't reflected in the rest of the game. I think we should aim for art in all areas of electronic entertainment.

On the subject of modernism; I think that we should aim for the "art value" of the old masters, while having the originality and self expression of the modernists. A balance needs to be made.
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axcho
Posted: Sun Sep 16, 2007 12:30 am Reply with quote
Joined: 11 Jun 2007 Posts: 66
edenb, I don't remember seeing your essay before, but I think Michael was right when he said that maybe no one replied because you said it all.

I like what you said, and I agree. And I like the idea of games as gardens (Lost Garden, Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons, your essay). Not all games have to gardens of course, but I'd like to see a few more that are. Smile

Thanks for posting here.
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Wildbluesun
Posted: Sun Sep 16, 2007 12:47 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 12 Dec 2006 Posts: 4266 Location: London, Land of Tea and Top Hats
From the vast amount of fanart I'm seeing online, I'd have assumed that Okami was immensely succesful. =/

But that's not exactly a litmus test. Confused

Anyway. I'm not going to contribute to the whole games-as-gardens thing, but I'm watching with interest. ^^
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