The New Generation – Part Two: Masterminds

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published by Next Generation.

Something is happening to game design. It’s been creeping up for a decade, yet only now is it striding into the mainstream, riding on the coattails of new infrastructure, emboldened by the rhetoric of the trendy. A new generation of design has begun to emerge – a generation raised on the language of videogames, eager to use that fluency to describe what previously could not be described.

First, though, it must build up its vocabulary. To build it, this generation looks to the past – to the fundamental ideas that make up the current architecture of videogames – and deconstructs it for its raw theoretical materials, such that it may be recontextualized: rebuilt better, stronger, more elegantly, more deliberately.

In the earlier part of this series, we discussed several games that exemplify this approach; we then tossed around a few more that give it a healthy nod. Some boil down and refocus a well-known design (Pac-Man CE, New Super Mario Bros.); some put a new perspective on genre (Ikaruga, Braid); some just want to break down game design itself (Rez, Dead Rising). In this chapter, we will highlight a few of the key voices guiding the change. Some are more persuasive than others. Some have been been making their point for longer. All are on the cusp of redefining what a videogame can be. Continue reading “The New Generation – Part Two: Masterminds”

The Pathology of Game Design

Originally published by Next Generation.

As I entered adolescence, my mother decided in her wisdom that I was destined to be an actor. That I showed no particular enthusiasm or indeed talent did not dampen this enterprise for years to follow. One summer, between calls for music videos and hypothetical summer blockbusters, I chanced into a tryout for a hypothetical Blockbuster ad. To the best I can recollect, the company was adding Genesis and Super Nintendo games to its rental library, and to demonstrate the premise was sending out a net for the archetypal game-playing teenager.

Thus I found myself lost across a desk from a pockmarked man with a mustache. When the man asked me to show him my “videogame” acting, I hunched over and concentrated at a spot a few yards ahead of me, miming my button presses with an imagined precision. I knotted my brow, maybe gritted my teeth or moved my lips as if to mutter. You can imagine where the scene goes from here. The director keeps asking for “more”, growing frustrated in proportion to my unease. He wants me to thrash in my chair, slam the buttons like a jackhammer, contort my face, and show him my best Beverly Hills orgasm. I am amazed; he patronizes me; I get to go home. Later I met the man they cast as the teenager; he was in his late twenties and had a habit of performing rude gestures to passers-by.

Fifteen years later, despite what seem obvious advances in technology and design, people don’t really see videogames any differently. Continue reading “The Pathology of Game Design”

Ubisoft’s Hocking Talks The Power Of Self-Exploration

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Video games are all about exploration – about living in someone else’s world for a while, learning the rules, learning the territory, and maybe taking something home with you. Ubisoft’s Clint Hocking has his ideas about what that means for the medium and anyone who might set out to explore it.

Although the virtual space of a game world is perhaps most obvious, the most fundamental aspect of a game is its underlying systems – the physical laws and properties that govern that space. Exploring those systems is in a sense the scientific method in fast forward, a series of experiments in cause and effect that forms the substance of game play.

The more immediate and tangible the results to the player’s experiments, the more readily the player feels progress, so the more rewarding the system feels. “It’s supposed to be beautiful,” Hocking said. “If you get this part wrong, the rest doesn’t even matter.”

( Continue reading at GamaSutra )

Fable is Love; Love is Puppies

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

This article had a strict deadline; I rushed to finish it so it could go live before the whole Internet had reported on the demonstration. And then… I guess it slipped through the cracks. Oh well! Here it is.

As another note, I think this was the meeting where Molyneux creepily offered his audience cookies. I was the only one to perk up. Hey, cookies.

Peter Molyneux was in loopy spirits, discussing his new game. Who knows how many times he had been over the same territory that day, though he seemed to enjoy spinning his tale, finding the right notes to highlight, the right places to pause for dramatic tension.

“Sequels are tricky things,” Molyneux started off. “Not my specialty. The sensible approach is to give you more things you like, better.” More weapons, new monsters, twenty times the land, guns! When Molyneux was asked to provide a sequel, he set off doing demographical research to see just what people wanted of him anyway. Then he opened “the doors of hell” – the online communities – only to quickly, in his words, slam them shut again. There were so many demands, so shrilly phrased – “so many people mortally offended by the design choices in Fable 1” – that the best Molyneux could do was sift out the most common complaints. Continue reading “Fable is Love; Love is Puppies”

The Crying Game

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part six of my ongoing culture column; originally published by Next Generation under the title “Can Videogames Make You Cry?”.

A few weeks ago, Bowen Research published the results of a survey, on the role of emotion in videogames. Hugh Bowen polled 535 gamers on their own views and history, with the end goal to rough some kind of an objective analysis out of their subjective experiences, and thereby maybe to shed some light on what emotional effect videogames have had in the past. The paper is well, and humbly, written; its conclusions, though, are less than revelatory: the only genre that tends to elicit reasonably complex emotion is RPGs (presumably Japanese ones), while other genres all inspire at least some basic kind of motivational urge in the player – be it rage or fear or what have you. Meanwhile, the paper is full of comments about Aeris, and the profound affect of her death on people who had never played Phantasy Star II.

The problem, I suppose, is in the question being asked: “Can videogames make you cry?”. It’s a binary question about a complex issue, much like asking whether Americans are happy and then concluding “sometimes!” And indeed, Bowen’s answer seems to be “well, yes… probably. In theory.” A second issue is the way Bowen approached the issue as a matter of statistics – and then based his analysis on the subjective responses of a skewed sample. “Gamers”, as with any obsessives, have by nature a peculiar perspective of their medium – a medium which, furthermore, is not yet refined as an expressive platform.

The question should not be whether videogames are capable of eliciting complex emotion – as, given the complex analog weave of our brains, anything can result in an emotional response of any depth and sophistication. Rather, what Bowen might have asked is how innately bound any emotion is to the current fabric of videogames (that is, whether it has anything to do with what the medium is trying to accomplish), how much emotional potential videogames might ideally hold, and – assuming some degree of innate potential – how best to insinuate emotion into the framework or theory of a videogame. Or rather perhaps, how best to cull emotion from that same framework. Continue reading “The Crying Game”