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<  Design concepts  ~  Will Wright on Emergent Design

Michael
Posted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 12:08 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
In this article, Will Wright explains, with an astounding lack of eloquence, the design process of The Sims. I'll try to paraphrase it here because the importance of what he said might get lost in his casual conversational style.

In the Sims, the player can decide what the goal of the game is. You might want to make your Sim rich or have him fall in love or build a mansion. You can track your progress and reaching the goal is its own reward. The designer needs to make sure that these different goals do not conflict with each other. Because players may want to try and achieve multiple goals simultaneously. And even when they just care about one goal only, it has to be compelling and challenging in its own right. That's why a "sandbox" game is more difficult to design than a "goal-based" game. You need emergent design* to deal with the many possible goals that a sandbox allows for.

Emergent design involves producing a lot of very simple prototypes that represent all aspects of the game, dealing with many different elements (look and feel, goal structures, pacing). Mr. Wright compares it to making a map: dropping investigators onto the area and having them report back with their findings. So rather than determining beforehand what the experience of the game should be, they build it emergently.

This is very difficult because traditionally one would decide what one would like to make first, then draw up the design specs and then have an engineer make it. Emergent games, on the other hand, need to be designed empirically by mapping the space and iteratively redesigning based upon the results. And then building more focused prototypes in a certain area to give you a sense of where the peaks are in this landscape. Then you map all those peaks to higher and higher resolutions. At some point you will able to decide which five or six simple dynamics can be put together to additively create a very complex, rich world.

(bolds and italics by me)
* note from me: he does indeed mean emergent design not emergent gameplay!
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picklebro
Posted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 2:12 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 19 Jan 2006 Posts: 110
Oh, what an awesome article! And what a challenging concept to get right! I think figuring out which pieces were the best ones to focus on would be the challenging part.
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Mooncalf
Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 6:45 am Reply with quote
Joined: 19 Feb 2007 Posts: 18 Location: New Zealand
I think we're talking about the adoption of joint-the-dot and coloring-book practices into game/art design, giving the audience parameters and blueprints rather than finished structures, and giving them everything they need to fill in the gaps. In this way, the audience connects and gains limited authorship by applying a portion of their own will and imagination. The concept of the artwork is begun by the artist, but completed by the viewer.

I write a sentence but leave a gap, and ask someone to contribute a word or two. I may require that they use particular kinds of words, and that requirement allows me to determine and shape the general meaning of the finished sentence. I may let them use any words they like, and the meaning may emerge in a form I could not have anticipated, it could be a monster!

What if Frankenstein had been created without arms or legs? It's still LIFE from NOTHING, but cautiously (perhaps ridiculously) restrained, limiting the potential for mischief and misinterpretation. No-one could find him particularly threatening, and he'd have a hard time hurting anyone, then again, he'd probably still be unhappy.

It could be said the more freedom of choice and interpretation you give the audience, the more they will like your art and a larger audience you will attract, but only up to the point at which the artwork is considered so ambiguous as to be obscure and uncommunicative, of course that point is different from person to person.


Mental Note: Shorter posts.
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Juutje
Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 1:49 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 18 Jan 2006 Posts: 55
This article continues a discussion on participatory worlds. T.L. Taylor wrote a book about it, called 'Play Between Worlds'. She says that there is no game without players, and I think that's true, designers should take the suggestions of the players into consideration and with them create the game. I think this article is about sort of the same thing. I will read it, cause it's a very interesting subject.
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Michael
Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 2:24 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Well, it wasn't the player's position that I found interesting in the article, but the designer's. Emergent gameplay is a relatively well established concept by now, even if only very few designers get it right. Emergent design, on the other hand, is often not allowed because it doesn't work with the clear design-production-release schedule that the industry is used to. It's a much more iterative process of which the outcome is not clear at the start. I like this of course because this is exactly how we're developing The Endless Forest. Smile

In terms of there being no game without players, the analogy with fashion sprang to my mind. Clothing is designed and produced in a very controlled way but only becomes meaningful when somebody wears it.
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Mooncalf
Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2007 12:34 am Reply with quote
Joined: 19 Feb 2007 Posts: 18 Location: New Zealand
Like there is no art without an audience? I don't entirely agree... Yes the -communication- aspect is not achieved without sharing the work, but that is only the transferral of an artist's creative conceptualism, clueing someone in on a vibe which - for the artist - is pre-existing.

In communication process theory, the message is composed by the sender and completed before it is sent, received and interpreted.

Taylor has a grand idea for collaborative ambitions with their inherent synergy, and this could be considered the overlap with Emergent Design. What is risked however, is artistic compromise in both a positive and negative sense. What happens when games(art) are a happy (BANAL) medium? This could be overcome by sheer volume and variety of contributors, but the meaning could become clouded in white noise.

The game developer (the artist) I believe is the creator, the guiding force which shapes...
Yes) The artist should be able to add a brush stroke or a whole new scene to his art as it unfolds into panorama, emergent design makes games a body of work rather than a standalone piece.
And Yes) It is a generous and social artist who allows other people to become artists and add strokes of their own...

But I don't want to forget, because when we forget we repeat...
"Too many cooks spoil the broth."

And I think what i'm really trying to get at here, is that player is the reciever in the communication process, and that they are neither superior nor subordinate, but reciprocal. feedback is what they bring. Feedback can be a word, a texture, a movement, it can be a whole other work of art.

Could just be how they look in that outfit Smile

Mental Note: MUCH shorter posts x.x;
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Michael
Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2007 9:57 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Mooncalf wrote:
In communication process theory, the message is composed by the sender and completed before it is sent, received and interpreted.

I don't know this theory but wouldn't it stand to reason that this message is composed with the audience in mind, though? The choice of language, e.g., depends on the intended audience.

Also, Mooncalf, don't take things to literally. To say that art does not exist without the audience, does not mean that the spectator becomes an artist. No, the spectator plays another -essential- role.

Marcel Duchamp has referred to art as being some kind of electricity that happens between the poles of artwork (sic!) and spectator. I've always found that a useful analogy.
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Mooncalf
Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2007 7:18 am Reply with quote
Joined: 19 Feb 2007 Posts: 18 Location: New Zealand
When I mention communication process theory i'm talking about the Shannon-Weaver model. In 1948 Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver published a General Model of communication in a (then) Bell Systems Technical Journal. At that stage communication process theory was a mathematical theory for signal transmission, only later was their model adopted into social science and developed to encompass interpersonal communication, resulting in the Process Models of communication.

Yes, the sender composes the message subject to any number of factors, the message is often necessarily tailored to suit...

I guess I do have a presupposition that art is essentially a communication...
Quote:
To say that art does not exist without the audience, does not mean that the spectator becomes an artist. No, the spectator plays another -essential- role.

I wholeheartedly agree, my language could have been clearer...

I'll look up Duchamp at my earliest convenience. Smile
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