Pattern Repetition

Yesterday, some friends invited me to see Bodo Wartke. If you haven't seen him, check him out: he's really extremely funny, very witty and totally charming. Be warned, though: You should have a pretty firm grip on the German language, otherwise you will miss 80% of his jokes ...

For me most interesting to see was his repeated use of repetition. Not exactly an easy thing to pull off in today's world of 30-second-Youtube-clips. People (including me) are easily bored; when I see the fourth repetition of something, I'll immediately go into moody mode, muttering under my breath "Yes, I know where you are going".

The thing with Bodo Wartke's songs and text is: you actually don't know where he's going. He establishes that repetition, and as soon as he's sure that everyone's got it, he starts to turn it into endless variations: he changes words; he makes the words change their meanings (!); he changes the tempo; he drops it completely, because he knows the audience will add it on their own:

have a look. It's not unlike Bach's music.

So, to quote Nicolas Nova: Why am I blogging this?

Repetition is an important design element, not just in music, but in graphic design, and, of course, in game design as well. The human mind is very good at interpolating information and anticipating certain results. Repetition exploits that by setting up expectations that either can be fulfilled or thwarted, and by this create suspense, surprise and humour. This is something I tried to create in A Young Ladies Illustrated Primer to the Most Curious Thoughts of Adults, where I deliberately broke with my own rules.

Also, it is the main ingredient to create rhythm. Computers do excel at repetition, and computer games exploit that to a great deal. As such, computer games can be seen as rhythmic score. And just as Bodo Wartke does in his pieces, so could computer games thwart the expectations of the players: repeat a set of (highly rhythmical) actions in a 3D environment – and then shut off the light, so the player has to repeat them "blindly". Change the pace. Make it end differently than before. Add variations.

It should be possible just by adding repetitions and variations thereof to manage the pace of a game, slowing it down or letting it gain momentum – something films have no problem in creating by cutting and pasting the material together. In computer games this is not possible, and as such, they must find other ways to create rhythm and tempo. Repetition must be one of the tools that can achieve that.

(Thus ends my rambling ...)

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