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Finding my voice

Finding ones own creative voice is, as you might imagine, quite a difficult task. In all of the years I’ve been writing for this blog I’ve delved into very different subject matter every single month. Some topics always come up and it’s only now that it occurred to me that I should sit down and think about what drives me as a game designer.

Because at the end of the day, the games that I like to make and the games that I like to play are two different subjects. It’s not that they don’t have anything in common, of course, so I think that’s a good place to start since it’s always been clear to me what I like as a game player:

The thrill of the chase, the gracefulness of the movement of my character, the unexpected responses to my actions, the consequences to my seemingly unimportant actions, the feeling that the game world is alive, the atmosphere, that feeling of not having deciphered all of the rules yet (which can be used beautifully in horror games), stepping outside the explicit or implicit rules by my own volition (“cheating” you might say) and the excitement when a rule is broken exactly once by the game itself and for reasons that not only make sense but also carry a meaning behind them. There are other examples naturally, but the ones I mentioned are the most significant.

Oh, also: Numbers going up and random rewards, or in other words: I like RPGs. Yes, I know, but I can’t help it when those tactics are used well.

On the other hand I have a very clear idea of what I don’t like: Noninteractive sections that have no other purpose than to serve as masturbatory material for the art/story department (that includes exposition for more than 30 seconds, watching someone do really cool stuff that was impossible inside the rules of the game, and a load of other things), a system of rules that rewards luck over any other player aspect (skill, decision-making, hours spent, etc), chores with no other purpose than to waste my time, DIAS (Do It Again Stupid), rules that sabotage the game’s strongest points and excessive hand-holding at the cost of exploration (the latest nintendo games…) and this other thing and that one and and and…. and a motherload of other stuff that I shouldn’t even mention for the sake of brevity.

Well, all I need to do now is distill all of that into the barest essentials.

You know, erhm … it’s … it’s complicated.

I’ve written and rewritten this time and time again, going into minute detail then replacing it all with a few simple bullet points that ended up being entire paragraphs unto themselves. Going from obvious generalizations to my personal quirks, I just can’t analyze this stuff without going overboard. Nothing just clicks. I want to find what identifies me as a game designer, but I don’t know how.

Mmmhhh. I think I’m overanalyzing this. Let me try a simpler approach: I’ll start with only one sentence and then expand from that concept without bursting it all out at once.

How about this:

I like to build well constructed systems of rules that can/should be broken either by the game designer or by the player.

Heh, that’s a good start but I don’t like the focus on rule-breaking. Let’s try something else:

I’m interested in building systems of rules that permit players to experience unexpected, sometimes unscripted and yet always interesting moments.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Expanding it a bit more we get:

I like to build systems of rules that:

  • Permit the player to experience unexpected, sometimes unscripted and yet always interesting moments.
  • Are built to resonate with the context and viceversa. Neither being more important than the other.
  • Respond to a consistent logic both inside and outside the context.

Yes! That’s about it in a nutshell. Though I suspect that most of you don’t have a complete idea of what exactly I’m talking about in those bullet-points. If that’s the case, then let me refer you to a post I did back in March titled “My favorite moment, deconstructed“*. That moment is very special for all the reasons I already explained in that post, but now that I’ve narrowed down what drives me as a designer I can say that I also like that moment precisely because it’s the type of moment I would love to design and build myself. It resonates with me both as a player and as a designer.

To be specific, that moment is both unexpected and interesting, built to resonate with the context (the shopkeeper warns the player not to steal and his face seems quite … let’s say evil.) and on top of that, it follows an internal logic hinted at the player by the delay in which the shopkeeper tracks the position of Link.

It’s … it’s perfect.

And precisely that kind of moments is what I want to have in my own games.

Also, this other game called LSD seems to be a good source of ideas (and nightmare fuel) that explore the “unexpected, unscripted yet interesting” moments:

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*That’s one of the best posts I’ve ever written, though I don’t want to think what that says about me as a writer …

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