Notes on Designing Games

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Some blogposts that have been piling up recently. First Chris Dahlen who argues that games are more like music than film:

There’s an assumption in the game industry that games will get better the more they take after film. […]

And yet, every time we compare games to movies, the fit is awkward. Aren’t cutscenes static and dull? Don’t rigid plots get in the way of gameplay? If we need to give games a frame of reference and a yardstick for their development, maybe movies aren’t the one. So here’s a modest proposal: let’s try something else for a while. Instead of movies, let’s study music. […]

[M]usic doesn’t come to life without performance. […] [T]o most of us, we don’t experience music unless someone’s playing it. And the performer doesn’t even have to be a pro. Some games are easy and still plenty of fun; they’re like the two-chord folk songs of the interactive world. Other games demand, as Tracy Fullerton has called it, “masterful play” – the top kids at the arcade playing Street Fighter IV are akin to Lang Lang woodshedding on Beethoven. The performers master the piece, and their interpretation brings out its greatness.

I’m not quite sure whether that is entirely true – or that he just wants to compare today’s pop music shallowness with the shallowness of today’s games …

Second, after the cut, there is Danc, turning Microsoft Office into a game – using achievements.

When users play a game, they spend hours first slowly building up basic skills. Then they assemble these building blocks into complex stratagems. Ultimately, they expertly wield the systems of the game like a finely honed tool. By the time the game ends, the player is no longer the same beginner that started. The design of the game directly helped improve their mental model of the world in a profound and measurable manner. The whole time, the player is having fun.

To me, the rich lessons of past 30 years of modern game design are lessons about human potential. Let’s start with the assumption that people are amazing. We have built pyramids. We have created clockwork contraptions that move mountains and measure the universe. Every day, we navigate a crazy quilt work world of technology, geography, language and culture. Surely we are capable of more complex interactions than typing a word in a plain vanilla search box.

Instead of only treating our users like idiots, how can we follow a design philosophy that actively empowers our users to fulfil their vast potential? The techniques gleaned from game design are one very meaningful path worth exploring.

Another point to those that see the ludics overrunning the world …

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