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Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Developers Creating Unhealthy Experiences?

There's a piece on the Develop website, which covers a keynote speech by Jonathan Blow at the Montreal Game Summit. It's a perfect example of how a person can be so right and so wrong at the same time.

While he's right that there is a need for deeper, richer games, the way he puts it gives me the impression that he's losing sight of the fact that we're in this industry to make games, which are meant to be fun to play. So who cares if he thinks that collecting coins is a poor way of developing games if the player has fun doing just that?

I have still to play Bioshock (shame on me) but I thought his comments on the game were unnecessarily harsh. If players are looking to first person shooters for a meaningful commentary on the trials of modern life then I'd be very surprised. No matter how good Bioshock might or might not be, there will always be limitations on what you can do with an FPS without changing it altogether. If people bought that game and found it wasn't a cool FPS then I think the players would feel rightly aggrieved.

There seems to be a fashion at the moment of people making speeches and slaggin off other peoples' games, particularly games that are doing well. Is this some kind of resentment on their part? Some kind of professional jealousy? Is it the plan to be controversial for its own sake just for publicity? Perhaps I should give it a go? Except that I find I'm loving a lot of very different games and wish I had the time to play a lot more.

So, going back to where I think he's right - it would be great if we could broaden the spectrum of games in lots of rich and rewarding ways. But the key word for me is "spectrum". Blow talks as if all current gameplay styles should be done away with and replaced with something more rewarding, something on a higher plane. The way I see it, though, is that you don't get rid of the current gameplay styles and genres but add to them and create a base which allows the discerning game player to choose exactly what suits his or her mood.

Half-Life 2 is a wonderful game. As is Super Mario Galaxy. And Zelda. And Psychonauts, Day of the Tentacle, Final Fantasy...

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Blogger Ninja Dodo said...

Hey Steve,

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Blow. It's interesting how differing coverage of the same thing can colour your perception. Gamasutra gave the speech a somewhat more thorough transcript. Blow's comments make more sense in context.

His point regarding rewards is that it's not really *fun* collecting stuff; it's obsessive compulsive disorder that should at most support compelling core gameplay. If you're only in it for the coins, then it's not a very good game.

If players are looking to first person shooters for a meaningful commentary on the trials of modern life then I'd be very surprised.

But why not surprise players looking for an fps with some meaningful commentary?

Regarding Bioshock - I'm playing it now, and really enjoying it - but I think Blow is right about the Little Sisters. The fact that the game makes it clear that you will be rewarded whether you save them or not cheapens the moral dilemma. What weight does deciding to save them have when Tenenbaum literally informs you she will "make it worth your while"? At that point are you just doing it for the reward?

I really don't think there's any resentment in the harsh criticisms so much as frustration with the general lack of experimentation and emotional depth in games. He's got a pretty cool looking game in development himself.

- Christiaan

8:12 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Hi Christiaan,

Yes, I may have been a little harsh, but having read the Gamasutra piece I still think most of what I said still stands. It's this idea that all games should be designed more deeply which bugs me most. Most games will only ever be mere entertainment, but that doesn't mean we should love them any less.

Certainly, the article I originally saw misrepresented what he was saying about Bioshock and in the context of his discussion he was absolutely right about that. It does seem that the moral choice is non-existant. However, you could argue that the designer is trying to be completely impartial and leaving the decision making to the player. Punishing the player one way or the other is like forcing the designer's morals on the player.

The thing that struck me about his ideas of scheduled rewards is that we practically never have them in adventure games. Most rewards come from solving the puzzles or the solving of the puzzle is the reward in itself. You could argue that an adventure is closer to his ideal than most other games. :)

You were right about Braid - it certainly looks intriguing.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Ninja Dodo said...

When I looked up the link to Braid I noticed Blow had actually posted an audio recording of his lecture.


Explains a lot better why he felt Bioshock didn't quite work (while for example Portal did). Makes some very good points.

There's a couple of older lectures on his blog as well. Some are pretty cool, like the one on prototyping...

11:58 AM  

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