Monday, September 14, 2015

The Making Game

By mid-October, I hope to be free of some of my more annoyingly time-hoggy hobbies so I can take up some additional creative stuff. With that in mind, it's time to talk about creating games and game-like things.

Creating worthwhile games is extremely difficult.

Of course, "worthwhile" is different for everyone. I've seen people who think that short Twine stories are worthwhile, and they're not wrong. But that's not what I want to work on when I think "game".

Games can do a lot of things, but very few of them are interesting to me. I'm not interested in making a horror game, or a shooty game, or a puzzle game, or a CYOA game. There's nothing wrong with them, but they have no meaning to me. Every time I think of something to "say" in a game like that, I realize it would be better as a comic or a short story.

The only thing games can do that I really want to explore is giving more power to the player. Calling it a "game" is restrictive, but it seems like a game would be the best form, since most people want to play games and few people want to play Maya or Photoshop.

The problem with giving players power is that is requires a tremendous amount of work. You can let the players doodle their own custom figure, but that's just decoration intended to trick the player into thinking they have power. In order to properly give the player power, you have to allow the player to fundamentally access the core systems of the game, which requires a complicated balancing act and a lot of custom tools. Moreover, in order to make it worthwhile, you have to insure their work is properly integrated and shared with all the other players.

This is what I'm interested in.

Basically, tools.

This is a really difficult thing to do, but there are some ways we can leverage stuff that already exists.

A) There's no need to create very many tools inside your game, at least not if you're working on my kind of budget. Instead, allow players to use existing tools - Blender, Photoshop, Unity. Offer access to the pipeline. Unity is free: distributing a version of the project that can be opened in Unity will allow players to use your editing add-ons and assets.

This is a prickly issue. First, you have to make sure you aren't distributing anything illegal - IE, assets or libraries you bought a license for can't be redistributed like that. Second, most players won't use those tools. They're great for power users, but 99% of players are going to stick strictly to in-game stuff.

B) We can use in-game mixes and substitutions to allow those basic users more power. When they create a character, we can let them use sliders, swap out clothes, customize their character in a variety of ways. We can let them customize houses or ships not by editing them in Unity scene view like an advanced user, but by clicking on hot-spots and swapping in whatever chair they want into the chair hotspot.

C) We can allow the players the freedom to imagine things by keeping irrelevant simulation out of the picture. Things like character personality don't usually matter: it's better to let the player choose an aesthetic that seems to suggest a personalty, but then let them dictate what the character does and imagine what the character's personality is. This is also a powerful tool to allow multiplayer jam sessions.

D) Recording and playback are underutilized. Allowing players to act out a scene and then embed that into the shared version of their world is incredibly powerful. If they build a spooooooky castle, let them act out snippets of what the evil vampire lord does, and let them wire those snippets up to metagame triggers (door events, sensors, etc).

E) Integrating creation into the flow of everyday play is a powerful tool nobody uses. For example, games like Animal Crossing or Rune Factory allow you to refurbish your house and grow a garden. If we gently expand on these ideas, it is possible to create meaningful context within your house or garden, and therefore make it interesting for other players to visit or build from. (This is a really interesting idea that could use a lot of expansion.)

F) We need to leverage the power of each player against each player. Not in a competitive sense, but in a cooperative one. Synchronous and asynchronous cooperation, passive and explicit cooperation, there are a lot of tools we can use. Most games do not use these tools.

You'll notice that none of these things are really "game" related. None of them are about gameplay or game feel or anything like that.

Anyway, those are the things I'm interested in. Now you can see why I create so few games.

Let me know what you think.

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