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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Comments

Ben

Wow.

This should be submitted as a ChangeThis manifesto.

...I think I'll read it again.

Kevin

o May whine and grovel, which the hero isn’t allowed to do.

George Lucas must have skimmed over that part.

"But I was going to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!"

Billy

You can get the Campbell PBS documentaries on Netflix.

Matt Forbeck

Great stuff, Scott. It's all based on material I've read before, but nicely synthesized and applied to games. Congratulations on the Prey announcement, by the way. I'm glad the world will finally get to see all the great work you and your team and my old pals at Human Head have been at for so long.

Scott Miller

Thanks Matt (on Prey). I'm preparing a new blog entry called The Making of a Franchise: Prey, that'll go into all the key decisions we've used so far to ensure, as best as possible, that the game is a hit. I did this with Max Payne over a year ago here, but that was after the release. Should be fun to examine our decisions this time around prior to the game's release.

Robert Howarth

For a second I thought I hit the wrong url when I saw the update. ;)

Eric Lulie

Two asides:

One, my browser (IE 6) says that this one article essentially doubled the printing size of your blog: this one article takes up 16 of 33 pages. Wow...:-)

Second, I wonder if you really even need to release DNF at this point. Prey is imminent, Max Payne was yours, I'm fairly sure there are others that 3DR has released or developed that I'm not cognizant of...other than satisfying the hardcore DN fans, Scott, do you even need to finish DNF at this point? If Prey's successful, and you are able to launch a new franchise, I would think now it would be more profitable for you to explore creating and marketing new IP...

Scott Miller

Eric, we could have shown DNF at E3 this year, and it would have been a very strong showing -- but, we wanted to keep the spotlight on Prey. Duke doesn't need the press. Prey isn't established yet so I think it's a lot smarter to focus on it right now, and Duke's time will come later.

After Duke is released, we already have designs on a new IP, that we believe can be very successful. Our model is based on the idea that we can team up with quality third-party studios -- studios who don't have the clout and financial means we have -- and create original games that help both studios achieve our goals.

This is nothing new for us, we first started doing this with Id in 1990, funding their first game (Commander Keen) and guiding the design and marketing process. Many other studios got their start with us, such as Parallax Software (Descent), Terminal Reality, and Remedy.

Robert Howarth

Scott,

That sounds like a pretty cool biz model. How much input are you guys planning on doing towards the actual design and development work of said games?

Tim Agen

The paragraph on "identification" reminded me of a recent episode of NOVA scienceNOW. Research on the human brain accidently discovered a featured named mirror neurons. The content is watchable here, for free:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3204/01.html

When watching a human do something familiar there are systems in the brain that very closely mirror the chemical reactions that would occur if we were doing that same action. The show applies it to sports fans. They suggest that fans get excited for their sports because systems in the brain can't differentiate between watching and doing and yer tricked into feeling like your doing it.

They also talk about these systems in relation to storytelling, going as far as to suggest that it's a powerful reason behind our rise to domination on the planet.

PaG

An interesting article on the most stereotypical story pattern, but I fail to see its relevance to games beyond saying "game stories work just like every other story". Following this pattern can create great work when done well, but it's also why so many Hollywood all feel the same.

There are valid story types other than the 3 acts myth -- covered in Robert McKee's book "Story" which I believe was mentionned on this blog before. It would be hard to apply the myth pattern in this article to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for example...

Moreover it doesn't apply to a whole lot of games out there. I never liked articles on game design that try to say "good design is like this" while giving some theory according to which Tetris, Doom, The Sims and Katamary Damacy would all be failures. If making games like myth was that important, why didn't all these games suck? The article even mentions Tetris, but then proceeds to completely ignore games that aren't story-based.

I don't think that Tetris, Doom, The Sims, or Katamari Damacy would be failures by this model. Tetris, like the author states, gives players the ability to bring order out of chaos, which is almost universally resounding. Doom, while shallow in storyline, provides a metaphor for a struggle for victory over evil. The Sims IS socialization into our society, that's all there is to the game! Well, that and socializing people otherwise, to view the comedic results. Katamari Damacy is the story of a tiny person starting out small and facing the challenges of the world until the world itself is wrapped up neatly in a ball under the player's control.

To see a "myth" as a legend, like the stories of King Arthur or Buffalo Bill is much too narrow a view. A myth in the sense the word is being used is not a fanciful story, but a parallel to peoples' lives through people can vicariously gain "wisdom" or fulfill goals that we are all given by virtue of our being in society.

Scott Miller

PaG, the hero's journey is merely the recognition, by Campbell, of a familiar pattern of storytelling throughout human history. He then proposes that it's so widely used, by so many cultures, because it's inherently satisfying. It's still satisfying to us today, though we've been exposed to it in many otherwise bad movies, but these movies are not bad because they use the hero's journey.

Likewise will be true of games. The original Max Payne used something close to the hero's journey, while the second one didn't. The second one sold half as much as the first one, and I think the story was a large factor in the drop in sales. Also, the first Half-Life has Gordon Freeman taking the hero's journey, at least parts of it.

Prey uses the hero's journey to the letter, much as was done in Star Wars. Prey stars a reluctant hero who refuses the call to adventure, but a wise mentor teaches him, and sends him into that dark cave, and so on. I'll cover this in more detail in a coming blog.

Remember, this only applies to games with stories, so games like Pac Man and Tetris don't apply.

PaG

I agree that the hero's journey is a very interesting theory of story-making, and one that's quite applicable. As I said, if it's well applied it can lead to great stories (badly applied, it leads to clichés). It's an interesting article on storytelling -- it applies to all sort of storytelling including stories in games -- but its whole presentation seems to be saying "this is how you make great games", which I disagree with. If the point of the article was "this is one great story pattern", then I'd agree with it.

The author says "I believe games are essentially myth-reinforcing activities. And I believe that players tend to choose the kinds of games that reaffirm their own personal myths." He's clearly making the point that since the hero's journey pattern creates better myth, then the better games are those that use the hero's journey. I disagree with that, because there are many great story-less games and even myth-less games (I don't buy his argument about Tetris -- by that line I could claim that scrubbing a toilet reinforces a myth by bringing ugliness back to beauty and chaos to order). Moreover the author seems to say "the hero's journey is the one best way to create stories", which I also disagree with because there are great stories that don't fit that pattern (Romeo & Juliet certainly doesn't).

Is the hero's journey a great pattern for writing stories? Yes, definitely. Is it essential to creating a good game? No, absolutely not. Is it essential to creating a good story? Not at all. I don't disagree with the hero's journey theory -- what I disagree with, I guess, is the author's enthusiasm for it.

Gavan Woolery

Although I thought the article was excellent, it raised some questions in my mind. I think the hero's journey is an excellent formula for any story, but does it translate smoothly into all genres of games? Most importantly, what about interactivity? It would seem in the current generation of game development, you can either have a very high level of interactivity (in terms of the storyline), or a really well written storyline. For example, let's say you could control the characters emotional stance (say, through conversation options). What if you make your character to not fit the profile of the typical hero? Does that change the storyline? How would you handle the hero's journey in a MMORPG? Can everybody be a hero? I actually have a solution to this problem (far from perfect, but definitely innovative) that I will talk about more once the MMORPG I am working on goes into public beta a few months from now.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Remember, this only applies to games with stories, so games like Pac Man and Tetris don't apply."

You're overlooking the relationship between stories and strategy. Everything is strategy, and stories are merely another way of conveying strategies. This includes Pac Man and Teris, despite the fact that their story quotient is low. If you consider the topic, game design, and psychology in purely strategic terms, it throws up a number of interesting perspectives, as well as simplifying many issues.

Blake Grant

"The original Max Payne used something close to the hero's journey, while the second one didn't. The second one sold half as much as the first one, and I think the story was a large factor in the drop in sales."

This is of course only one person's point of view, but I disagree here. Everyone who played Max Payne 2 absolutely loved it, and the story was a big factor in that (for me anyways). My guess in the reason for the drop in sales was that every single review pointed out how short the game was (6 hours or so). Most gamers aren't willing to drop their hard earned $50 for 6 hours of fun. For me it was worth every penny, and I actually prefer shorter games (that way I can play more games!) but to people who need to watch their finances a little more, they feel they are better off with something they can get a lot more playtime out of it.

Scott Miller

Blake, there were many factors in the fall of Max Payne 2, and the convoluted story was just one factor (one that Remedy itself acknowledges could have been improved). Others were the really poor pre-marketing for the game, the game was mis-positioned, and of course the shortness was another critical death blow, as people could rent the game and finish it within one or two days.

A lot of these problems were the direct result of losing control of the IP after it was sold to Rockstar. Once that happened, there was no stretchiness to the development timeline, and the game had to be released on a rock solid date, leaving no room for correcting problems we knew existed, even though we tried.

Tadhg

Mr Campbell, we meet again.

Here's the thing about Campbell:

"The Hero's Journey" is simply a school of literary criticism, that's it. It is one of many such Ur-theories in that it attempts, through observation of material, to collate into some sort of structure that thing that we call story. It is not the only one to do so. There is also the Marxist ideology model (that all stories are an expression of power struggle), feminist ideology (that all stories are an expression of gender struggle), structuralism, post-structuralism, Freudian etc.

(Here's a short list: http://search.looksmart.com/p/browse/us1/us317834/us317898/
us56342/us1147510/)

There are also a variety of theories on myth and act structure, such as Aristotle, Barthes, Robert McKee and so on. The Hero's Journey has two useful advantages over most of these theories, however. One of which is that it is well written as opposed academically written, and the other of which is that George Lucas likes it.

As a literary analysis technique, The Hero's Journey is very useful, helps you to draw out observations etc. However, it is a *technique of analysis*, not a *technique of creation*, as Campbell himself admits well enough. Much as the others are.


Now here's the thing about geeks and their relationship to Campbell:

Star Wars is pretty much the Ur-myth of geekdom, and there are many layered reasons for this, some of which we can suggest are to do with childhood charm, toys, special effects, Wookies, Alec Guiness, whatever. It is therefore understandable that when George Lucas, the creator of the Ur-myth, plants his flag in one theory, many have listened.

In practise, what this has resulted in is a generation of creators and audience members alike who have bought into the idea that all stories are composed of "must have's", and this is because they have committed the cardinal sin of taking Campbell's word as law, even when Lucas, in his second attempt to create another heroic cycle, ends up producing the most horridly formulaic cycle of 'films' in a decade based on his Campbellian thinking, the allure of the Hero's Journey remains intact.

I think that the reason for this is that sticking with the Hero's Journey allows for three things:

1. It's easily referenced in meetings and such because everyone in the room is well versed in the basic ideas.

2. It abrogates responsibility from the creators when it comes to the actual pacing and depth of their work by allowing them to use the 'The audience expects this' defence.

3. It keeps people away from having to actually do the difficult work of teasing out an actual story by relying on formula.

In otherwords, the Hero's Journey is a license to make crap. And what crap it has been put into, especially in recent years. To make the mistake of attempting to apply the formula rather than observe the results has produced some pretty awful films.


By all means we should be aware of it as a story structured device. We should also be aware of other schema, like Robert McKee's. Ultimately, knowledge of these ideas helps, but relying on one heavily is an utterly foolish mistake. George Lucas, for example, produced a blatheringly simple film in Star Wars according to this monomyth, and the reason that the film was such a total success was all visual. It was only latterly when he hired decent writers that Empire became the better film. Writers who could think a little bit beyond the Hero's Journey.

The secret to great stories is simply in great writing, but great writing is ultimately an intuitive affair. For every critical theory that exists, there are books and stories that break the rules, and for every rule there are a thousand contortions that attempt to bend the rules to fit the work. It is simply the case that no amount of meetings or studious study of the text of Campbell, Barthes or anyone else can replace good writing, or systematise it, or explain it in any great depth. Storytelling is ultimately an instinctive activity.

My message?
If you want to make games with great stories, forget the Hero's Journey and it's attendant shortcuts and formula-inducing thinking. It will breed nothing other than stereotype and tokenism. Forget the meetings.

Just hire a really good writer and trust him to do a good job.

Blake Grant

"If you want to make games with great stories, forget the Hero's Journey and it's attendant shortcuts and formula-inducing thinking. It will breed nothing other than stereotype and tokenism."

I agree completely here. The problem with Hollywood movies is that they are overly dependent on using a "tried and true" formula instead of going for any degree of originality whatsoever. Games have a similar problem, but I don't see it as big of an issue as the real purpose of most games is the game aspect rather than the story. A great story will help a game immensely, but considering how few games there are with great stories, people just come to expect them to be mediocre and not pay much attention to them (how many people do you know who just skip cutscenes?).

I do think it is worth knowing the formulas however because some of the best stories come from those that break the tested formula. I can think of a few ways of taking the basic Hero's Journey, but twisting it around into something different which I think would make for a great story (actually, I got a pretty cool game idea from reading that article this way).

Tadhg

"I agree completely here. The problem with Hollywood movies is that they are overly dependent on using a "tried and true" formula instead of going for any degree of originality whatsoever."

Absolutely. The problem is that the scale has tipped too far. In the late 60s and early 70s, the level of cinematic intelligence and polythematic storytelling achieved a rare golden age with the likes of The Godfather, but the scale also slipped too far into the obscure, the director-centered and the ego-centric, so when straight-up fare like Jaws and Star Wars reasserted the primacy of visual entertainment and ushered in an age of simplicity. Both Lucas and Spielberg come from the idea of the Saturday morning serial, the movie-as-spectacle, and they went with it, producing a series of monothematic films like Indiana Jones, Rambo, Aliens etc in the Campbell mode.

However, as with the director's ego's before them, the mainstream cinema of latter years (and games too) has slipped into a series of complicated, almost ritualistic formulae of what makes a film etc (the have-to-haves) and produced some really awful films (and games) in the process. It is as though we have lost touch with actual storytelling, and this is directly because of coming to believe too strongly in one model, the Campbell model, any not facing up to the fact that a different era requires different ideas. Campbell-style structure has lost its relelvance in a politically and emotionally complicated world.

A good example: I was watching one of the documentaries from the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films. These films are to me a classic example of formula mythmaking gone wrong, in that they are wondefully shot, well acted, beautiful effects etc etc, yet they lack any sort of genuine coherence or pace. It was in watching the doc that I understood why. Essentially, the script of the film was being re-written by everyone while the film was being made. There were two main writers, and them everyone was invited to make constant submissions. Rewrite after rewrite after rewrite changed and re-ordered everything while it was shooting. The most interesting moment was when John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) admitted to not reading man of them because there were just so many.

I thought to myself that that was very telling. How could they ever hope to produce an effective structure or narrative with that kind of thing going on? How could they ever hope to create anything other than a de-centralised mish-mash that looks like a classic yet is replete with nothing but a vastness of cracks and gaping holes.

It also made me think of game development, where the same sort of group-think and constantly-changing focus has become a bane of many studios. Too may cooks spoil the broth, as they say, and never has this been truer than in modern times. Where once we had swung too far into the autocratic director model, now we have swung too far into the blandness of democracy, or worse, the autocracy of momentary pragmatism and producer pleasing.

What we need, in a sense, is a move toward constitutional monarchy, and to find a new model. We are seeing the return of the director through independent film, and a return to the complicated polythematic film as opposed to the monothematic. So there is hope.

Now if someone in games could get their head around that idea as opposed to resurrecting the ideas of the 80s one more time, we might actually start to get somewhere.

PaG

Well said,Tadhg.

I think having separate roles for game designers and game directors -- in that the designer only makes the design document and the director takes that design and creates it (much like the screenwriter/director relationship in movies) -- would help in getting new ideas and better games out there. Nowadays it's too common to just drop the actual design phase because it's not profitable to have a whole team waiting while the designer does his thing, so studios end up just taking the latest hit (or ideas of the 80s as you say) and adding a few obvious enhancements.

A separate designer (he doesn't have to come from the studio, he could work for the publisher or whatever) could work independantly on an original, detailed and high quality design document. Since he's working independantly on this, he's not delaying a whole team and can work well in advance of actual production starting. When they're ready, the developers would get a well thought-out design straight away and could start working on it -- it increases the quality of the game and makes development safer (it's much easier to plan your development if you know what you're developing...).

Would developers like this? Or publishers? I'm not sure... I see plenty of advantages to this method of development, but developers may feel they're losing creative control over their game.

Tadhg

"Would developers like this? Or publishers? I'm not sure... I see plenty of advantages to this method of development, but developers may feel they're losing creative control over their game."

I guarantee they'd hate it.

Part of the problme with that, though, to be fair, is that the process of design, and especially design documentation/writing/etc is really really bad. If you've ever sat down and read a 'professional' design document you'd see what I mean. Unbelievably dull, dry affairs, full of useless detail and no focus, for the most part.

Robert Padbury

As you explore the hero's journey and how it relates to film, virtually every single film uses the hero's journey. From good to bad, from Hollywood to Independant to Anime. The bad writers are the ones who stick exactly to the journey, even taking some of it litterally. How the writer differentiates between the stages determines the dynamics of the story. Bad writers also stick very close to the archetypes, instead of having dynamic characters. You go from 'Star Wars', to 'The Wizard of Oz', to 'The Matrix', to 'Run Lola Run', to 'Pi' and you can break apart the films into the hero's journey.

At the end of the day, a game has to be fun. You won't see mythic storytelling structure in 'Madden 2006' or 'Katamari Damacy'. But games that do have stories still need to use this structure (Final Fantasy 7 - which many people reguard as the best story + characters of any videogame uses the hero's journey), thus game designers still need to understand this structure in order to create more sophisticated stories - which was the original point of the article.

Tadhg

But the point, robert is that as you examine stories through any of the main critical models, they can all be broken down into some sub-structure. It's not just a matter of wishful thinking, ALL stories can be broken down into a power struggle motif of marxist theory, for example. The Hero's Journey holds no special place in that regard, and treating it as elevated wisdom does on good.

As a schema, it is just as incomplete a viewpoint as any other, and requires just as much bending and contortion to accomodate some films or books as any other. Where does Network fit, or Monty python and the holy grail? Sure you can make them fit. You can make any story fit any model if you push hard enough.

In the end of the day, such contortions serve to show the limits of all such models, and show they are only really useful as critical analysis tools. That some types go in and out of fashion at different times merely reflects different concerns of the time.

The Hero's Journey is very much a reflection of the post Vietnam era, for example, of ideas of certainty and assertion of identity. It is no more truly timeless than any other model in that respect. nowadays, such assertions seem false, increasingly hollow in a difficult world, and so we see introspection on the rise through documentary and reality based viewing. We are turnin away from these false heroes and their false journeys.

Or so it seems to me.

Eric Lulie

Tadhg, I'm curious: what role do you see game developer-driven or -targetted sites serving in the creation process (I would guess this, and most other, game dev blogs would qualify)? It's not a criticism, but it seems to me your posts on this topic are more-or-less summarized as "Don't follow formulas; go your own way." (I'm most likely oversimplifying your point-of-view too much; I do apologize if I'm misconstruing your view.)

That would seem to imply that most, if not all, of the game dev sites or blogs out there are doing the wrong thing. Creating a common language out of anaylses of different areas of game design leads to the creation of patterns that can be applied to game design in some fashion. These same patterns, though, tend become implicit guidelines that, over time, get followed with less and less forethought (by which I mean, determing which guidelines would or would not apply before attempting to use them), and become unconscious "rules". And those rules would seem to be what you're arguing against.

I think that you probably have a good argument against following those "rules"...but at the same time, that would seem to also argue that you really shouldn't be creating the rules in the first place, or attempting to lay the foundation to create those rules in the first place.

Personally, I would like to make computer games someday, even if the projects ultimately don't get farther than my friends or an interested stranger or two; I'm trying to get as many diverse opinions on design and other aspects of game creation as I can so that I can be relatively well-informed about what issues can arise. I would be grateful if you could further discuss where you think models and schema belong in the game creation process, and what you feel the weight or importance is that should be given to game dev sites and blogs.

Thanks,

Eric

PaG

"I guarantee they'd hate it. Part of the problme with that, though, to be fair, is that the process of design, and especially design documentation/writing/etc is really really bad. If you've ever sat down and read a 'professional' design document you'd see what I mean. Unbelievably dull, dry affairs, full of useless detail and no focus, for the most part."

Then that's a big problem with game design. If people don't read design docs because they're unreadable, then there's a serious problem with the document. If designers were separated from game directors so their job depended on writing a design doc that's useful (rather than just writing one because the publisher requested it) then that would probably improve the matter, if only through natural selection.

It's not like it's impossible to write design doc that are readable. I'm no genius writer and the design docs I wrote were read by the people who implemented them. It's really simply a matter of caring about the people who read the doc: using a nice layout with fonts, colors and pictures to make the document prettier; making sure the whole thing is organised in a logical order so it's not a pain in the butt to read from start to finish or to refer to it; avoiding useless details (not everything should be in the design doc) but making sure every important question has its answer; etc. A design doc doesn't have to be thrilling, but it should be bearable enough to read through if only out of respect for the people who read these things.

I'm getting more and more surprised at the gaming industry's general disdain for quality design. You'd think that, with millions of dollars hanging in the balance, the publishers would insist on having each project carefully planned before even starting, but no -- I've seen contracts being given based on Powerpoint presentations.

Anyway, I'm starting to be way off-topic here.

Kristian Joensen

"Would developers like this? Or publishers? I'm not sure... I see plenty of advantages to this method of development, but developers may feel they're losing creative control over their game."

If both the game designer and game director is working for the developer then I don't see how the developer would loose creative control.

PaG

I was thinking more of an outside designer, one who doesn't work all of the time for the development studio. If a game takes 24 months to develop, but the next game takes only 8 months to design then it would make more sense to have the designer be a contractor who moves from project to project and thus isn't really part of the development team. Just like the screenwriter works independantly from the studio when making a movie (then again, movie directors don't seem to be too annoyed at having the script written by somebody else).

Greg Findlay

The most important thing you can get out of the Hero's Journey is the reasoning behind the structure. That is to say why, for example, the hero refuses the call. It's not important that the hero refuses the call, but it is important to know that realistically, no one would really want to go fight that six headed dragon, so why would the hero. The Hero's Journey is simply an analysis tool which can provide insight on what you, as a story maker, can do to write a story people can relate too.

Scott, I bow to your forethought (or luck as the case may be) in developing a business model to encourage new developers to develop new IP. I only wish more publishers were aware (and capable) of its implementation.

Michael Dragojlovic

Scott, did you go into the woods with Prey? If so, did you get scared or depressed?

Tadhg

>> "Tadhg, I'm curious: what role do you see game

developer-driven or -targetted sites serving in the

creation process (I would guess this, and most other,

game dev blogs would qualify)? It's not a criticism,

but it seems to me your posts on this topic are

more-or-less summarized as "Don't follow formulas; go

your own way." (I'm most likely oversimplifying your

point-of-view too much; I do apologize if I'm

misconstruing your view.)" <<


I'm not sure that they do have a role in that sense,

Eric.

I view most of these types of sites and blogs (my own

included) as adding to the critical discourse and

process stories of videogames, both of which are very

valuable activities in their own right. However, I do

believe that if someone is coming to sites like these

with the intent of learning the Tao of Game Design,

then they are in for a long and protracted

disappointment. There are lessons in the experience

and opinions of others, don't get me wrong, but game

creation is ultimately like any other creative form

in that it is only really learned through the

experience of doing.


>> "That would seem to imply that most, if not all,

of the game dev sites or blogs out there are doing

the wrong thing. Creating a common language out of

anaylses of different areas of game design leads to

the creation of patterns that can be applied to game

design in some fashion. These same patterns, though,

tend become implicit guidelines that, over time, get

followed with less and less forethought (by which I

mean, determing which guidelines would or would not

apply before attempting to use them), and become

unconscious "rules". And those rules would seem to be

what you're arguing against." <<


Sort of. Again, it's like Tao. Tao (or The Way) is

like a philosophical system of interpreting,

understanding and acting in the world, but which is

inexpressible. "The Tao that can be explained with

words is not the Tao."

What I find objectionable (nee dangerous) in this

context is the efforts of some parts of the

development community to provide engineering

solutions to what are creative problems. So, for

example, the 400 rules of game design project, or

Earnest Adams and his bloody Bad Designer No Twinkie,

and so on. It's efforts like these, and the ones

suggested in the essay above, which essentially breed

a rigid view of 'What Games Are' and 'What Games Are

Not'. These efforts seem at some level anti-creative

to me.

Or, more specifically, they seem intent on

reinforcing an engineering-style solution. Beneath

the twinkies and the rules lies the unspoken

assumption of the 'perfect game'. The reasoning goes

that if we can sort out all the bad from the good,

add in only the good, make it all function, add

'character involvement', and so on then we can

achieve the perfect game. It's a rational way of

looking at the problem, like the hunt for the Theory

of Everything. Simple, elegant, applicable,

objectively perfect.

I, on the other hand, don't believe in the perfect

game any more than in the perfect novel, the perfect

movie or the perfect song. I don't see games as a

gravity model which functions with imperfect

equations that can be made 'better'. I come from the

artist school of thought rather than the scientist.

I'm an art-Taoist. To me, each games is a success or

failure based on itself, and while there are lessons

to be learned and understood, the very interaction of

art and our unconsciousness render the very idea of

the 'perfect game' meaningless. There is a hidden

understanding underneath these games that makes them

function or not, but like the Tao, it cannot be

either fully expressed or entirely understood.


>> "I think that you probably have a good argument

against following those "rules"...but at the same

time, that would seem to also argue that you really

shouldn't be creating the rules in the first place,

or attempting to lay the foundation to create those

rules in the first place." <<


I question the assumptions under which these 'rules'

are being laid down. I think in all the rush to grab

the critical land of the medium, there have been

several huge assumptions made by the main two camps

(lud and nar) which are both massively narrow and

unhelpful. In a sense, both are symbolic positions

more than anything else, and neither is particularly

useful in my book.


>> "Personally, I would like to make computer games

someday, even if the projects ultimately don't get

farther than my friends or an interested stranger or

two; I'm trying to get as many diverse opinions on

design and other aspects of game creation as I can so

that I can be relatively well-informed about what

issues can arise. I would be grateful if you could

further discuss where you think models and schema

belong in the game creation process, and what you

feel the weight or importance is that should be given

to game dev sites and blogs." <<


By all means read them and absorb what they say. But be aware that the picture presented in these sites and in various design books is very very far from complete, and that it is only really by doing that you'll get a glimpse of the Tao.

Tadhg

Apologies for the formatting. Don't quite know what happened.

Scott Miller

Great discussion, all. And more than anything, that's the purpose of these blogs, IMO.

Patrick Johnson Jr.

Scott,

I personally recieved a gift from my parents recently which was a book called Rules of Play. It talks about some of the concepts of game design rules both video games and non-video games. I haven't gotten too far in yet, as I've only had very little time to look into it, but I've read the first few chapters, and it seems like it has some signficance. Have you ever heard of this book, Scott?

Michael Dragojlovic

I think I'd rather create a story out of how I feel at the time and then possibly adjust it to suit the Hero's Journey later. From what I gathered it could be emotionally risky otherwise. Hmm...

Scott Miller

Patrick, I've read Rules of Play and recommend it to everyone. I think I talk about it in one of my earlier blogs about book recommendations.

Kristian Joensen

Scott, was that last post made by you ?

It simply says "Posted by:" Instead of "Posted by: Scott Miller".

Bjorn Larsson

I would argue that the whole point of interactivity is that the player gets to tell "his" story within the framework, setting, and concept offered by the game. It was ME in that game of football, ME leveling in WoW, and ME popping those whores in GTA. Obviously, there is great need for good balance to "ME" vs "story", so with full appreciation to Greek philosopher, don't forget old Yin and little Yang =) Just my 2 cents...

Scott Miller

Bjorn,

GTA has been one of the better series lately as far as the yin/yang balance between the designer's story and the player's story. The designer's story for that game is in fact quite linear, yet the freedom of interactive expression allows for near countless player stories. The nice thing is that both stories can peacefully co-exist in games that allow enough personal creativity to problem solving and pacing.

Tom

Scott, on a somewhat offtopic note, what do you think about Microsoft trying hard to push the Halo IP into the movie business?
http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=upsell_article&articleID=VR1117923988&categoryID=13&cs=1

Scott Miller

From Microsoft's viewpoint, it's the right thing to do. And I think it was smart of them to fund their own script. But, I'm a little disappointed that the movie industry will make movies based on games without much story or character meat to them. It seems like the only hurdle to leap is how well the game sold.

Still, Halo does have some interesting elements that could be fleshed out into a good movie, I guess. But seeing what has happened with the coming Doom movie dampens my hope. For those who don't know, the Doom movie script changes demons to virus infected baddies, relocated the action to Earth (makes the movie budget a lot cheaper, I suppose), and made other Jar-Jar-like mistakes, like making the BFG stand for bio-force gun (why even explain the letters and ruin it for fans!?!?). So, my questions is, what does this movie have to do with Doom anymore?! I'm simply shocked that Id let Hollywood mangle their most valuable IP like this.

I will have a related announcement within weeks I hope. One of the IPs we've been involved in creating is about to be signed with a major studio to begin immediate production. It took so long to get signed because we were unwilling to compromise on any of the IPs key qualities.

Tadhg

"I would argue that the whole point of interactivity is that the player gets to tell "his" story within the framework, setting, and concept offered by the game. It was ME in that game of football, ME leveling in WoW, and ME popping those whores in GTA. Obviously, there is great need for good balance to "ME" vs "story", so with full appreciation to Greek philosopher, don't forget old Yin and little Yang =) Just my 2 cents..."

How exactly is playing a game also telling a story?

I've read this sort of 'be the hero of your own story' sort of idea come up up before, and I've come to the conclusion that iyt's basically nonsense (sorry Bjorn) for three reasons:

1. Stories are essentially an account of a chain of events, and so the thing that makes them a story as opposed to a history or a chronicle is their structure. Drama is structure, as much concerned with when something is said or done as what actually happens. Stories are edited, meaning that things are removed from them, and the art of storytelling is as much concerned with hiding key information (to generate mystery) as with revealing. With stories, structure is everything.

2. Interactive entertainment is, by its very nature, not structured that way. Everything happens in real time and everything happens at the pace that the player dictates. So while a game may interrupt this flow to present 'story bits' that change the landscape or provide new goals etc. Playing may therefore provide a wonderful experience, but how is that experience a story at all? It lacks most of the key ingredients of basic drama, although an account related by the player at a later time to someone else where he leaves out the boring bits would be a story.

3. Playing is not the same thing as telling.
This is the really tortuous one for me. How does one tell a story to oneself, and where exactly does one delineate the point of where experience becomes telling, or back again? It sems a paradoxical concept, like trying to remember the future, and also one that is applicable to life. Am I, by sitting here typing away and working, telling myself the story of my own existence as it happens. Or is life just happening and my stories will be the ones that I tell my landlady later about what a tough day I had, what interesting events happened etc.

Greg Findlay

I think your analysing the use of the word story a little too much Tadhg. They just mean that your playing experience, is YOUR playing experience and not someone elses. A story is a retelling of events (editing has nothing to do with story, that's just what happens to make a story better; histories and chronicals are particular types of stories) but for simplicity, at least for me, what happens while a player plays the game I usually called the players story.

Patrick Johnson Jr.

Creating a great story is an essential part, whether it's a player story or a gameplay story, or both like GTA. Also I feel that the best stories are the untampered ones. I agree with you Scott, why id allowed Hollywood to trainwreck the Doom IP is beyond me...

I feel that a story if it changes hands loses something in translation, much like when a different writer is brought on to write a sequel. Most of the time the story gets dragged into a different tangent that is unnatural for the story in the first place. Sometimes it works to the advantage, but most of the time it gets watered down when someone else gets involved.

Just a mild observation I've seen in many entertainment forms over the years of my life...

Tadhg

"I think your analysing the use of the word story a little too much Tadhg."

Not so much. You read any books about writing and storytelling and they'll tell you the same thing. Structure structure structure is where it's at.

Besides, I see no harm in nailing things down a little, because loose understandings cause more than a handful of trouble in gameblogworld to begin with. A million and one understandings of the term 'gameplay' for example.

PaG

I think stretching the word "story" to include everything the player does in a game makes it lose all of its meaning. If doing something makes whatever you're doing a story, then what isn't a story? If I go to the supermarket to buy some milk, I don't think while I'm going there that I'm in a story. While I'm writing this I don't have the faintest impression that I'm "in the story of writing a comment on a blog".

The dictionary definition of "story" is quite right, precise and complete: "An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious". For a story to be a story, it has to be an account or recital. As such, what the player does is not a story because it's what he's doing, it's not an account or recital of what he's doing.

Let's keep to the existing definitions of words instead of extending them to the point of meaninglessness...

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Besides, I see no harm in nailing things down a little, because loose understandings cause more than a handful of trouble in gameblogworld to begin with. A million and one understandings of the term 'gameplay' for example."

Tadhg is absolutely correct to include every game element within the definition of story. Indeed, I would, if I could be bothered, expand this into a full length post on how story and gameplay are, essentially, two perspectives on one thing, strategy, which explains my earlier comment. Understanding this also has the additional effect of unifying the game, player, and surrounding cultural context. At the risk of slipping into la-la land, it's the GUT of gaming.

PaG

I can't even begin to fathom how story (" An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious") is a perspective on strategy ("The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business." or "The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations."). Unless you redefine the words I don't see how the two concepts are related, much less the "GUT" of gaming.

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