I’m super busy today, so I need a post I can write quickly. I write quickly about things I’m feeling fired up about. Today I’m feeling fired up about game design! I hope this topic is still interesting to some of my readers, even if it isn’t exactly puzzle/mystery-related. (Maybe I should just formally extend the genre of this blog to include games and game design in general…)
I have never designed and built a game, but I’ve been thinking about it more and more. Games have always been a part of my life to a certain extent, growing up with an older brother who loved games and now being married to someone who loves and works on games. I majored in Media Studies in college, and the current conversations in game design have really appealed to me in a Media Studies sort of way. Even though I’ve never made a game and I don’t even play that many games, things like the Extra Credits series and pretty much anything written or spoken by Jonathan Blow present the challenges and creative potential of game design in such a fascinating way that my interest seems to be growing all the time.
Recently, indie designers Jonathan Blow and Chris Hecker gave a great Q&A session over at Kotaku. One that stood out for me was the following question for Chris, and his answer:
Q: What do you guys think is the biggest lesson indie games could learn from more mainstream titles (and vice versa).
A: The biggest lesson indies could learn from mainstream games is to sit down, shut up, stop posting on forums, and type code into the game.
Mainstream games need to learn how to take creative risks and make games that are about something.
I’m pretty clearly violating his first lesson (it’s hard to shut up a Media Studies blogger!), but the second one keeps echoing around in my brain. I read about “art” games, and serious games, and the potential of games to be treated with the same respect as other art forms like film and literature, but sometimes it can be hard to get a grasp on what that really means when thinking about designing a game. Chris’s “about something” line kind of wraps the idea up nicely (or at least one aspect of it anyway) in a way that’s easy to understand, remember, and apply.
So what are some games that are “about something?” We can look straight to Chris’s own game for a first example, it’s right in the tagline: Spy Party — A Spy Game About Subtle Behavior. (The extended tagline also includes deception, performance, and perception.) You might say Heavy Rain is a game about self-sacrifice and choice. Maybe Ico is a game about dependency. (I won’t pretend I know what Braid is about, though I feel pretty confident saying it’s about something).
Whenever I’ve entertained the idea of making a game, I’ve had trouble thinking of an idea that I like. I think that’s because whenever I have thought “Okay, what will my game be about?” my mind has immediately jumped to mechanics, gameplay, and genre. Not only are these areas that I don’t have a lot of experience to draw from, they are areas that don’t have any intrinsic value to the player. Instead, I can think “What is something I care about?” or “What is something I want to make the player feel?” and work from there. I can say I want to make a game about leadership, teamwork, group/team dynamics, and roles within a team, and work from that point to design gameplay and mechanics that allow the player to experience those things. It feels like a much more natural and authentic process, and it makes perfect sense. After all, isn’t that the way other artists create their work?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these concepts!