Friday, June 16, 2006

Evolution of Games

Every once in a while, the Ivory Tower calls to me, and it says: "Doooo game components..."

See, everyone likes to talk about game components. They like to come up with ideas, and cool phrases, and say, "this game is put together like that, and that game is put together like this!"

So, I'm gonna prattle about it myself. I'll be using the "evolutionary model". If you "don't believe in evolution" or don't understand it, then this probably won't be a very fun essay for you, so go read a different one.

Back in the good ol' days, there was Pong. Pong and Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Simple games for simple times.

These were our single-celled organisms. They were the amoebas of game. They flagellated through the cities of Japan, eating all the five-yen coins and excreting sweaty otaku.

But times advanced. Limited resources forced competition. Bigger, more powerful games were needed. Graphics were pushed. New IO doohickeys were deployed. But a single cell can only get so big. What the game industry needed was a more complex organism. Something with some guts.

Games began to incorporate other elements from other kinds of living creatures. Where before there was just a "play" cell, now there was a play cell, a save/reload cell, a high-score cell, a setting cell, and a story cell working together as one glompy bunch of symbiotes.

Soon, their DNA cross-mixed. Games following these games weren't about glomping disparate symbiotes together, they created the symbiotes while being produced. A "multicellular game" became the default organism. Specialized cells allowed these games to compete on many levels: they could compete as games, as social phenomina, as stories, as competitions.

Games continued to grow more complex. Where before things were multicellular, they were now growing organs and - dare we presume - even an occasional spine. They prospered as living things do: their success as much about the environment they lived in as their actual capabilities.

Unfortunately, game reproduction isn't quite as nicely squishy and autonomous as living organisms. Games don't use DNA: they use HNA. Human...nucleic acids... or something.

Anyhow, instead of one game waltzing over to another game and saying, "hey, let's have babies, baby!", a game's HNA is manually interpreted by people with silly obsessions and even sillier theories about what is or is not fun. The people not only manually mix HNA from one game with HNA from another game, they even manually construct and staple together the cells that HNA describes.

And they screw it up.

Especially since the need to get bigger and stronger never ended. Now we have these tremendous dinosaurs waddling the land, mooing about how it's tough being a dinosaur and raking in subscription cash. And we have a bunch of retrograde designers sending out squads of simple puzzle-game clones. Nothing wrong with that, really - a well-built insect can be strikingly beautiful, and they keep the ecology balanced.

So, that's where we are.

Mmmm. Then? To space! Extremophile games that were born in the shocking freeze of, say, Wall Street, or in the exceedingly salty heat of religion. These freaks of nature can show us more about the biology of games than we might think!

Now, how about a game which can reproduce by itself? Or with the assistance of random people instead of particular, well-funded people?

Take the next step! Species of games! Wheee!


Patrick Dugan said...

So, you're talking about taking games from an "asexual" design model to a "sexual" model, where the genitals are things like level editors and such, but even deeper. I was thinking we should start actually implementing games in a sort of GNA (Game-Narrative-Autocombination); this allows for streamlined production piplines (E3 demo due in a month? Give me a weekend!) and also allows for users to create content or modify the game itself using the exact same "medium" that the designers used. Its mecca man, a sexual revolution in gaming. The internet turns into a big orgy where the participants continue to not get laid.

Craig Perko said...

Heh. That's a good ending line.

I'm thinking of something like that, but it's still fledgling in my head, so I can't say for sure how much like that it will be. :)