Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Patterns in Game Design"?

Darius is asking me for a review (or at least comment on) this book. There's a sample of their first chapter up, which is evidently what he wants me to discuss, since I don't have the book itself.

Well, I'm a little short on posts at the moment (other things on my mind, but there's a doozy coming up about game notation sometime soonish), so this will make an okay post to keep the blog churning.

I hate it when people's "sample chapter" is their first chapter.

Nobody I've shopped with for books buys a book based on the first chapter. The first chapter is universally just an "orientation" chapter. And "orientation" is another word for "99% bullshit".

So, thanks to the sample chapter, we know the book is about applying various "patterns" to game design in various ways. After glancing briefly at the first chapter, you quickly flip to somewhere near the middle of the book, to see if there's any actual content to back up the lofty goals.

Flip, flip...

Wait, I don't have the book. All I can see are my fingers. Hmm. I could use a manicure.

I'm not trying to offend Darius - or anyone else. The idea of the book is fine, but I could write the same opening chapter for three book ideas I have. It's hardly indicative of the content. It's like wanting to see a trailer for a movie, but getting the FBI warning and the "rated R" logo. Why they put up the first chapter instead of chapter, say, 12? Who knows! Gross incompetance, I assume.

If anyone has the book, I'm perfectly willing to borrow it and read it. I can give an explicit, in-depth review of the book, because that's the sort of thing I love doing.

However, I do have a few things to say about their concept.

It's not my cup of tea. Their stated idea - which may be misleading, I haven't read the book - is that they offer a wide variety of design "patterns" both found in the wild and raised time right here at home. I don't know what they mean by "patterns", but I get the sneaking suspicion they mean "theories of game design". If that is true, then most of their book will be crap or obvious, because nearly all theories of game design are crap or obvious.

If they spoke more clearly and with less of a "this is my thesis" miasma, I would probably be more likely to assume they were doing something new and interesting, instead of what boils down to, in essence, assimilating other people's work.

6 comments:

Patrick Dugan said...

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060112/bjork_01.shtml

A sample chapter on Gamasutra.

I'd say they're pretty much in the obvious and/or crap category.

One thing I noticed is thier talk of "structures" in game design. A few other folk have used the term "structural game design" in their books, Bateman's 21st Century game design being a good example.

I think the essence of play is best understood with post-structural theory, and that attempts to understand game design structures results in either obtuse text theories like in that book, or the musical abortion DanC attempted to purport on his blog. What do you think?

Craig Perko said...

I think one of us doesn't know what "post structural" means, and it's probably me. :)

Patrick Dugan said...

Basically "post-structural" is a term reffering to the works of a number of people, typically starting with Jaques Lacan in the fifties, through the present. This includes Derrida, Deluze and Guatarri, Bey, and even someone like N. Catherine Hayles.

I think I can explain the gist of post-structuralism by analogy to Godel's incompleteness theorem. In a post-structural view, there is no essence to a system because the system is fundamentally incomplete, the "essence" or "utlity" or "value" of the system can only be percieved in terms of the system's evolution, deconstruction, transistasis, ect.

Some people have applied the above dead guys to game analysis, in academic papers and such, but I think grapsing some of those ideas helps one get a better idea of memetics and thus implementation strategies for things like PAC, which is actually one of the most post-structural attempts at game design I've heard of.

Craig Perko said...

I think I'm going to avoid terms such as "post-structural", simply because they mean so close to nothing. I don't think what "post-structural" actually means is anything like what you think it means, looking it up on Wikipedia.

Either way, I certainly didn't "found" my theories in such a mess, so if they happen to fit a slot, it's coincidence.

Patrick Dugan said...

I've realized in the past hour that saying we need to adopt a post-structural perspective of interaction design is about as useful as running around telling everyone to do Zen meditation, thinking that someone would make the world better.

Post-structuralism is more than anything the result of a critique of the limitations of structural understanding regarding literature and psychology. In this sense its very useful, as the limitations of sturctural game design are apparent to me, in particular the assumption of a time-driven foward causation in our simulation models. As a term however, it really is too problematic for a game design theory discourse, having all sorts of outside baggage attatched.

A better term might be "chaos theory" or "autopoiesis theory". I like the idea of the meme theory, but its as problematic as "post-structural". You get the gist, I hope.

I'd like to note that, perhaps by co-incidence, Object-Oriented prgramming is a post-structural approach to coding. Certainly the influence of the movement, if muddied, extends to the sciences, including computer science.

Craig Perko said...

Hmmmm. I think the whole type of paradigm is too muddy to be useful. But, of course, everyone is better or worse at different ways of thinking about things.