Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Game design and authorship

This post is a response to February's Round Table:

About the Author: This month’s topic turns the literary focus from the medium, to the author. If you submitted a post to either the January or February topics, feel free to write about the process you underwent in converting literary themes into gameplay. Did you struggle with anything in particular? Are you satisfied that your game design(s) communicated what you intended? Have subsequent comments or idea made you wish you could go back and start he process over? And how much does your design say about you and your own interpretation of the themes of the source material?

Alternately feel free to turn your focus to another game designer, or to game designers in general. In literature we frequently “hear” the author’s voice in their work. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Tom Robbins–these are excellent examples of authors whose voices are quite recognizable. Through reading their works, we feel we come to feel we know them, to understand their philosophies. There are a handful of games where the “author” can clearly be heard through the work. How closely tied is this to the thematic content of the games and how exactly did they communicate these themes to their audience? And should they have, or should video game designer try to remain out of their work, allowing the player to establish their own themes through gameplay?

A lot has been said about game videogame authorship, the role of the player and the interplay between them. I don't suppose to convey something new here, but rather comment briefly on the topic, hopefully making itself clearer to myself and the ones reading this.

Calling a game designer an "author" is usually a way to acknowledge the originality and excellence of his body of work. Will Wrigth, Peter Molyneux, Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima and Sid Meyer are example of designers who have a very distinctive voice and whose style can be identified within any game they have produced.

Now, I believe two branches of game design have become increasingly popular lately: auteur art-games and (for the lack of better term) user-creativity-centred games. These art-games are not necessarily made by high-profile studio game designers (with few exceptions), but rather by newcomers attempting (and succeeding)to approach game design in a more artistic way. For instance, think of The Passage, The Marriage, The Majesty of Colors and Graveyard. Their games discuss subjects that are usually distant from mainstream commercial game industry - and they often involve a very clear storyline (or sorylines). This kind of authorship is, I believe, truly artistic and very welcome.

On the other hand, as it has been discussed many times, we should not imagine that game authorship should only gravitate around its story. That's where, I think, user-creativity-centred games come in to complement the scenario, as they allow the player's artistic expression (as well as the designer's). Both game styles, as I see, are great and complement each other. But maybe it should be said that both styles are authorship-friendly. The point is: in game design, the author's voice has more than one way to be heard.

Will Wright is probably the most popular example. The strongest aspect of his authorship is how he allows players to exercise their own sense of authorship. Players are free to create their visions and that doesn't leave Wright "out of his work". In fact, his presence as an author is even stronger. Molyneux, about whom I have written more extensively, is another good example, with his "The Movies".

Ok, so how does that fit within the game I described in my previous post for BOTRT? Well, when "designing" The World of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I was worried about building the game as a tool that could be used by players to create their own stories, where a player called Robert Pirsig would come up with his book, not by re-writing the game into prose, but using his experiences, notes and impressions of it.

The game would be, genuinely, a setting. The story would be the player's own. In fact, that notion facilitated my design, which I felt to make justice to the book it was based on, expressing much more of it than a direct translation would.

Comments I got about that post included a very good suggestion to something that could be added, rather than changes to the design. So yes. To answer the original question proposed by this Round Table, I was satisfied with the game design and the way the it communicated the books message.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tiny remark on Spore Mobile

I haven't got the time to post, lately, but here is a quick impression on Spore for mobile phones.

Although I've been struggling with the lack of "Save Game" (I have to play the game from the start every time), I really enjoy one aspect of gameplay:

In order to survive, you must eat smaller creatures and escape bigger ones. As you eat, your character gets bigger and bigger, and there is a point - and that's the part I like - you are not so sure the creature next to yours is prey or predator.

This transition (prey -> predator) is, I believe, rare within the same game level, and most of the cases I remember involves power-ups (as in Pac-man) or some kind of warning, letting the player know that he has changed his role. The "transparent" transition we find in Spore mobile is, I think, much more elegant and interesting all around.
Copyright, Chico Queiroz