Since September 4th I’ve been trying to write a post for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table. At first, I thought about discussing why Chris Crawford said that artistic expression through videogames is mostly limited to space (the part that starts at the 4:33 mark). Which after some reasoning was true to some extent, but such thinking got me nowhere. Then I just looked at our medium and tried to identify the inherent limits that it may present. Basically, I arrived at something like “we are only constrained by our screen and our speakers”, which is frankly anything but a revelation. Thinking about space in broad terms got me nowhere, so here, let’s approach the issue from another angle, let’s try to answer a simpler question: How many game design ideas can I come up with that deal directly with space? That number turned out to be 7.
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So, yeah, this post is about me throwing ideas out in the open. Well, rather than “ideas” I’d call them “gameplay vignettes”. Please enjoy. Or not, that’s entirely up to you.
- An interpretation of how the creation of ideas work: The screen is filled with different nodes, each representing a theme in particular. Ideas are created when mixing and matching this different concepts to form something new (new nodes). The distance between two nodes is proportional to the difficulty of connecting these two themes together. The more creative the person is, the bigger is their maximum distance to relate themes.
- An interactive fiction where the main character can’t move or look at anything. The only method to learn about his surroundings is through conversation with a character.
- A blind protagonist: Third person camera. Everything in the gameworld is rendered in black and white, but only the things that are at 3 foots or less from the protagonist can be seen on the screen as black silhouettes. If it isn’t clear enough: here I’m trying to convey how blind people perceive space, or at least how I perceive space when I have my eyes closed.
- Third person camera, ground completely flat, seemingly infinite space. But the moment the player walks, she’ll notice that her footprints are repeated in the ground ad infinitum (there’s only 100 square foots of real terrain). This is just a visual idea, but a powerful one if done correctly and in the right moment. Maybe moving crates/blocks around to get to the exit? Running at incredible speeds to then use a ramp and land in an impossibly high exit door? Maybe you would just draw complicated patterns in the middle of the air, dancing, letting movement flow and create a ballet with millions of backup dancers doing the same. Mmmhhh, dancing with yourself… that reminds me of something (“paint it red” to be precise).
- A giant chess/checkers game that is played by itself (or by other players). It’s all played through the night, with only the lights of shots being fired illuminating the battlefield. The ride of the Valkyries playing in the background. Here, the player is controlling a small group of characters that are trying to avoid being squashed by the moving pieces.
- Third person camera (wow, that’s a shocker). The world deforms around the avatar of the player whenever she walks. When she tries to move in one direction, the world stretches at the sides and the things that appeared in front of the camera start to look like they are getting closer. The more the world deforms the more force the avatar has to do to keep moving until she eventually stops (rubber band like). If the player let’s go of the controls at any time, the world snaps back into position, making it look like the avatar never moved from the spot.
- A camera system for third person games: Let the camera go through the geometry, and everything that obscures the camera get’s turned semi-transparent. The concept is easy, the implementation is actually really hard. So much so that nobody has ever done it 100% free of graphical glitches yet. Still, it’s a neat solution to camera control problems, although for tight space it will probably eliminate the sense of claustrophobia, which depending on the intent of the game designer, this might be a good or bad thing.
I did have to discard some of the ideas that popped into my mind, mostly because of lack of interest. For the most part they were ideas that had already been done and that I couldn’t add anything interesting to them.
Ideas such as:
- Circular spaces (see Aether, Psychonauts and Mario Galaxy)
- Switching between spaces (see Shift, Super Paper Mario and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)
- Changes in gravity/perspective (see everything from Loco Roco to Symphony of the Night to VVVVVV)
- Space customization (see Love, Sim City and any tycoon or sim game ever made)
Of course, some games even combine two of these ideas, such as Super Paper Mario being a game about switching bewteen spaces by changing perspective, but still, I couldn’t think about anything of substance to do with these 4 concepts. That is, for now. If can come up with even more gameplay vignettes I’ll be sure to add them here.
Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for more entries on this month’s topic.