Okay, here goes nothing. Games can tell stories, they can elicit responses, emotions, they can give us all sorts of experiences. There is no doubt games can include art and often do, but what about the games design itself, how does that manage to be artistic? How can the mechanics of a game themselves affect us, how can interactivity itself be used to affect us? Everyone has their own answer to this question, as far as I can see here is where we need to found a new (well, fairly new) discipline. The answer to those questions isn’t simple; the answer is an entire new field of study, an entire new subject to research. All games designers are always answering this question in their own way, there are whole disciplines actually contained in this larger one. While books have been written on the subject and it’s the theme of countless blogs, I’ve yet to see a truly compelling account of the new field of study as a whole. Setting aside theories on how to actually make games that can affect us, what are the different tools we have available, at the most abstract? What paradigms can we work within? I’ve come up with a list of things only games can do, the classic examples of what we can do with interactive media. There may well be some I’ve missed (hopefully!), though it is intended to be as all-encompassing as possible. Here we go!
Posts Tagged ‘gaming
Well, not really. Obviously the process of actually making a real game is laboriously difficult and beset with more problems than you could ever presuppose (which is sort of the point), so difficult that any project of any size will find it hard to ever estimate how long their game will take to make. If we are talking man hours to actual end content making games is ludicrously difficult.
So maybe we can say finishing a game is hard, but actually making one? As in, getting out a tech demo/general proof of concept and letting it evolve? Now that, well that isn’t that hard. Getting the basic skeleton out of a game – if we are talking about indie games (and right now I’d like to) then we are probably looking at a clever variation on an old gaming trope. “Mario-but-with…” is the standard, and everyone knows how to make Mario. Actually getting your Mario+Variation to be a fun, challenging game (or a game that elicits an emotional response or -gasp! both) is trickier but experience has shown us its a manageable task. Hundreds of these things come out every year, all of varying quality, but with a little application any small team can release their own Mario-with-a-quirk game. Maybe we’ll never know the blood, sweat and tears that went into making all these little gems, but we can observe that right now the indie scene is damn good at producing them.
The New York skyline, The Grand Canyon, Mt Fuji, The Alps, The Acropolis, Cueva de los Cristales, The undergrowth of The Amazon Rainforest, Delphi (or the mountain path that leads to it!), the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
What do these places have in common? They are stunning to experience. More than that they are exciting – sheer drops, cliff-faces, dangerous dark passages, precarious paths nature or architecture it its most brutal and constricting it is often at its most beautiful. This places excite the senses, spark the imagination, leave us with a sense of wonder. It follows that these are the most exciting settings for games too, right?
Well, no, not really. Not at all, to be honest, the opposite tends to be the case. These sorts of locations are probably the most common in games, for obvious reasons. A restrictive environment that channels the player through a certain path but is still beautiful has always been the ideal choice for games designers. We’ve seen these sorts of settings time and time again – narrow passages, precarious mountain paths. Apart from when they are really, REALLY pretty (see Uncharted 2) these settings no longer excite us. A good explanation would be that this is just because they are so common gotten used to pyramids and cliffs and tiny, ornate passages. They were fun the first time but now? We focus on whatever is meant to be going ON in these locations (normally dealing with whatever is trying to kill us – and generally killing it back). I have another explanation for why these settings are so impressive in real life – and in film, yet not in games.
Here follows the first essay I ever did write on gaming philosophy. Its a bit angry, though in mind it was written long before Bioware’s Dragon Age or Mass Effect 2 so probably goes a little harsh on the ‘ole developers. Since I wrote this article it seems games actually have moved slowly in the direction the younger, angrier me wanted them too. Still works as a rough manifesto, though.
The Nature of the GRG, and that it is better known than the RPG
First, a disclaimer! This essay looks at the term “Role-Playing Game” and seeks to explain that really the “Role-Playing” has been lost along the way. That is not to say that the modern RPG is any worse a “game” for it, any less fun, just a different beast. If you happen to love Bioware RPGs I apologise if any of this seems confrontational or, more likely, patronising. The point is there was once something called “Role-Playing” in RPGs and that it was lost somewhere along the way. I personally think this is a shame, others may not.
Computer RPGs have had a bit of a bad rap. The embarrassing gap between their real world ancestors, most notably their closet relative the pen-on-paper RPG, is well documented. If such documents have yet to pass under your nose, here is the basic gist of the problem: