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<  Design concepts  ~  Non-game interactive fiction

Posted: Sat Apr 09, 2005 10:06 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
When I think of designing a game, I'm always most interested in creating an environment and the emotional effect of this environment on the player. I tend to think of the activities within this environment as just a way of keeping people busy, keeping them in the environment. In this sense, strictly speaking, I'm a horrible game designer.

I don't dislike playing games, really. Though I do not like very challenging gameplay. Playing a downloadable game like Feeding Frenzy the other day, started me thinking whether it was a good idea to try and marry my desire to create immersive and meaningful environments to games. Feeding Frenzy is a perfectly fine game. It's fun, even for me. There's no need to tell big stories or evoke deep emotions in this experience.

And when I play a game that does have more ambition in terms of storytelling, I easily get annoyed by how artificial the gameplay feels. It feels like it was tacked on "because it is a game". I often wish that the designers had included a "skip game" button, so I could get on with my emotional involvement in the world and the story.
I'm not particularly interested in the plot as such. And I do like to interact wth the environment. And I can spend hours doing so. But don't give me any goals or challenges or obstacles that are obviously thrown in to stop me from progressing too quickly. They irritate me.
This irritation does not occur when I play "shallow games".

So perhaps the more narrative and emotional types of "games" would be better served with less gameplay and more other types of interactions. And the "real" games should not bother with narrative and emotional depth. I guess I am longing for another type of interactive fiction than games. And I guess this is unexplored terrain. And therefore commercially problematic.
Even the less traditional games that became very popular nonetheless (The Sims, Eyetoy, Singstar, Katamari Damacy, etc) are all very shallow in terms of content. They are very toylike and offer people a superficially enjoyable experience. A game experience.

And while I enjoy playing these games, as a creator I'm not interested (or even talented enough) in creating them. I like the websites that we've made with Entropy8Zuper!. They are playful, have lots of interaction, they don't have extreme challenges and they can be very meaningful to the user.

So the question is, I guess, shouldn't we applaud the current trend in the games industry of "making games for gamers" rather than lament it. Maybe this is a sane choice. Let them have their games. We can even play them once in a while. But without high expections of emotional depth and meaning.

Next to this, of course, a new medium/market/industry needs to be developed. One that uses the same technology and often similar systems to create new types of interactive fiction.
The disadvantage of breaking with the games industry is of course that we will need to start from scratch. We can't count on investors when we haven't proven the commercial viability of this project. At first, we will need to produce pieces that are ambitious in terms of emotional effect and narrative depth, with very little means. And they need to become commercially succesful if we are to develop this industry.

Next to that logistic problem, we need to figure out what people are going to do in these new interactive environments. And design these activities so that they enhance the experience, rather that erode it (as is the case in current games with similar ambitions). So we'll probably need lots of research. Contrary to the games industry, there is nothing here that we can fall back on, really. This is completely new territory that doesn't build on an age-old tradition of gaming. It's probably not going to be easy.
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Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2005 12:08 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Apr 2005 Posts: 3 Location: Southern California
My favorite question: when is a game not a game?

To be honest, I don't have a lot of experience with single-player video games; now and then the odd one will hold my attention for a few days, but it's rarer and rarer anymore. I much prefer the interaction of online multi-player games -- not the achievement-oriented games like Everquest, but much more intimate environments that encourage the development of characters and actual stories. The appeal of roleplaying is that I can actually be a part of the stories, instead of just reading them.

But even with the most story-centered environment I find the attachment of the word "game" (e.g. roleplaying game) alters the expectations of what the players hope to achieve, because "game" suggests something that you can win. Whether it's a traditional RPG where you increase levels and skills, or a more social game where you can improve your status in other ways, it adds a competive edge that damages the potential developing storylines.

Erasing the "win-lose" or "success-failure" mentality is something I am trying eliminate in my current development work with But I fear that as long as my projects are designated as "games" that's how they'll be played.

What I'm getting at here, rather the long way around, is that I agree that there needs to be a divorce of the computer-based narrative forms (of all stripes) from the arena computer games. The problem is that, even though the purpose (and entertainment value, as you point out) are so very different, they look and feel very much alike, and are built using the same tools.

I do think there is a potentially vast audience, separate from who we usually think of as gamers. If developers can reach that audience who isn't interested in playing games, but likes to immerse themselves in a good story, then I don't think finding investors will be hard. The problem is that computer-based narrative as an art form is still in its infancy, exploring the limitations of structure and style, trying to figure out how things work. There are no defined standards and no qualified resources to direct interested but casual users to the best work. Like you said, it's all new territory: it's always good to find others trying map it out!
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Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 12:43 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 05 Nov 2005 Posts: 69 Location: Israel
Never. And the sooner we all understand this, the better. You are trying to separate yourselves from the whole of the fabric of gamism, and that can only hurt the long-term prospects for art. If you demand that your experiences be taken as something other than games, it reinforces the idea that games themselves are only simple, shallow, goal-oriented experiences. You also create a social environment which is just as rigid and close-minded as the current one. Instead of having a large group of gamers which ignores storytelling, we'll have a large group of gamers which ignores storytelling and we'll have a large group of gamers which ignores everything else.

Imagine an artist, some time in the future, who would like to dedicate his life to the choreography of works which are performed through a platformer. Using his game design skills, he invents said engine, and spends the rest of his career writing great compositions (for use with this engine) of all types -character studies, duets, a whole "symphony" composed for many players and a conductor, narratives, etc.- and releasing them over the internet to a group of fans who appreciate good platforming. Surely this scenario is the ideal: an environment in which any artist can find his own unique voice, even if the medium he is searching for has not yet been invented, and release it to a public with no prejudices.

Let's contrast this with the future you're unwittingly promoting: two wholly separate cultures, divided by their disagreements over the ideal usage of interactivity. The platformer choreographer would have no outlet in which to sell his works. The mainstream entertainment addicts will completely ignore it, because a lack of exposure to more artistic and experimental works will make them more introverted and resistant to new ideas (such as the idea of having the target of the game not the player but the observer). The "passive art" crowd will also ignore it, because the basic structure of the game demands that the player improve his skills with dedication, just as in any other platformer, before he can play any art. The great artist wouldn't have anyone to turn to with his art, and the great potential of his personal art form would never be discovered.

If we were to place the concepts of "passive interactivity" (no offense intended) -which are clearly where Michael's personal voice lies- as a separate entity to games, the pervading "meaning" behind all attempts at art within this new art form would be the effort to stand apart from games. It would inspire a community which looks down upon anything which they perceive as even remotely game-like. New artistic movements would not have any way to gain appreciators, and we should all realize that interactivity allows for a virtually infinite number of artistic movements. The only way to ensure that every one of these movements, even if it is only led by one artist, will have a place is to unite all future art forms under the label of "games".

The convergence of the art forms under gamism is already beginning to take place. Animal Crossing, while not entirely a new type of gameplay, expanded the definition of "game" to include worlds which a person can play in. MMORPGs continue this push, whether or not you like the core gameplay, and big things will eventually come there: Square-Enix said that from their perspective it embodies the future of art, and that they will push to drive new experiences which are built on virtual societies. Fahrenheit could have expanded the definition of "game" to incorporate adventure-movie hybrids with less interactivity still. Metal Gear Solid pushes the definition of "game" to include experiences which are only occasionally interactive. Electroplankton is set to expand the definition of "game" to include creative experimentation with no goals whatsoever. Nintendogs has expanded the definition of "game" to include experiences focused on emotional attachment.

As you can see from these examples, gamism is slowly but steadily growing in the minds of the mainstream. If this innovation continues, eventually the public will understand that there should be no restrictions on what a game "ought to do". Eventually they will be ready to accept games which are almost completely noninteractive, and games which use new types of interactivity, and any other techniques which artists and entertainers may choose to use. Your fragmenting of gamism jeopardizes this bright future. Please stop.
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Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 2:10 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I had written a long answer to this. But I lost it by accident and I don't feel like writing it again.

The gist of my argument was that I agree that it would be desirable to see games evolve to embrace more artistic issues but that in practice this is not realistic.

The games that you use to illustrate a positive evolutions are exceptions. And I don't think they will ever be anything but that. Also, all those games are made by huge corporations with tons of money. Those are not environnments were artistic considerations flourish.

It is near impossible to get into the games industry based solely on artistic vision and talent. It's easier for a bookkeeper to publish a game than for any designer. And if we can learn anything from other entertainment media, the evolution, if it exists, goes the opposite way (Silent Hill, Black & White, Prince of Persia and even Ico all have sequels that artistically inferior to the original...).

But, don't worry about the split: how much does Hollywood have to fear of Hal Hartley and Pedro Almodovar, really? If anything the latter give more credibility to the medium.
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Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 5:59 am Reply with quote
Joined: 19 Feb 2007 Posts: 18 Location: New Zealand
A note on sequels: Edvard Munch's scream painting has brother and sister paintings of the same scene, but for the most part only one (the general nucleus of the series) is remembered.

There is an idea in art that is exhausted almost the instant it is employed. The grand "THIS" of an initial release risks becomming "This and that." upon elaboration as in a sequel.

Realtime art, such as that seen in computer games (of any variety however neutered by commercial interest), is similarly afflicted and yet shares the potential to transcend.
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