Thursday, 28 February 2008

White Noise: Let Games Live

I've just been reading through a long and interesting discussion about game design vs. game implementation at TIGSource, with the designer of 300 Hundred Mechanics, Squidi, on one side of a debate and a number of interesting and thoughtful responders on the other.

Have a read - it descends into flaming perhaps in the last 20% of the discussion, and that in itself is instrumental as a demonstration of when you should walk away from an argument.

I'm really torn about what to say about the discussion as a whole. I think the 300 Hundred Mechanics is a great website concept and one that has attracted a huge amount of well-warranted publicity. But at the same time, I fall on the other side of the argument: a game concept is not the same as a game design.

A game design is only as good as the game play that it creates. And to get game play, you need to be able to play the game. This doesn't require programmers: games as a medium are not limited to computer games and you could easily say the same thing about board games or role playing games or dice games.

But you need to ensure that the rule space of a game doesn't have gross exploits, that there aren't degenerate strategies that rule out useful decision making, that the game play is sufficiently deep to remain interesting. You want to have Prisoner's Dilemmas and risk vs. reward and sufficiently unpredictable behaviour (whether that unpredictability comes from a random number generator or an opponent).

The game design succeeds or fails when the rubber meets the road.

David Sirlin has a lot more to say on the topic. But my favourite quote of his, which I've used in a short story, illustrates this concept best of all:

It takes an awful lot of effort to create a video game these days, and most games end up being played a few hours at most. A life of 6 months would be considered very long. That's unfortunate considering all the work involved. StarCraft is about 8 years old and still popular. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is about 12 years old and still played in tournaments today. Poker in its modern form is about 100 years old. Chess is about 2,500 years old. Go is over 4,200 years old. [...] What properties would a game have if it is to last 100 or 1000 years? What kind of thing could it be and what kind of thing could it not be?

Games evolve, breed, die. To evolve, they have to live. To live, they have to be played. A concept of a game just doesn't get the chance.


Worthstream said...

I was on Squidi's side in the (in)famous debate sprung around jayisgames' yin and yang platformer. It is one of those cases where a game is made mostly from a great idea and less from the implementation.
You do need both to have a game, and it is just a matter of attributing the greater part of the merit... design or concept? In that case it was "concept".

On the other hand squidi has written a long list of other useless concepts... take for example the zombie RL: it's just a compilation of the best feature ever thought up about a rl. If anyone manages to write that wonder of a game, which is to reiceve the most credits? The godlike programmer that manages to code what no one else did, or the concept writer that compiled a list of what every rl programmer wants?

As an aside: one of his latest idea revolves around a procedurally generated WORLD... anyone can immagine the scope of having a whole world created without using randomnes to "fill the gaps"?
As far as i'm aware there is no RL that manages to do that even with a simple dungeon... every dungeon you see is randomly generated, not created from the simulated actions of virtual builders.

I've been writing and collecting data on this for years... i've litterally wrote a book on the subject, and still i don't feel like anywhere near the stage where one can annouce a vapourware.
In case i manage to finally write the game... should squidi and his half-an-hour post take credits? I don't think so.

Andrew Doull said...

What book did you write? I'm trying to pull together resources on procedural content generation in my spare time...

Shoku said...

This is a lot like arguing whether the chicken or the egg came first. Designing a game isn't as cyclical but you can't get anywhere decent without both parts.

I sort of side with ideas but that's only because I see views off balance and want to swing the thinking back to more even ground.

The implementation can involve much more genius but likewise a lot of it is just the basic tedium anyone can do and it's only a tenth or so where the brilliance really goes (though that tenth takes probably half of your time, effort, and planning.)

But if you don't have somewhere lofty to aim all you end up doing is copying a game that's already been made and giving it a different coat of paint. There's no room for that important tenth that distinguishes it. The idea is the reason you have any uncharted problems to solve that haven't been pursued to death by a legion of other programmers.