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June 29, 2006

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I just read your paper on level design and it was really good. I typically build multiplayer levels so it's interesting to read about single player level design.

I agree there is much power in the way a system is "skinned", and game writing, both in terms of specific text assets and overall framing, is a sorely underdeveloped discipline. However, I think we need to innovate in terms of new mechanics. If Pong were released argument all those years ago, we wouldn't nessecarily have interactive dramas by now. Its possible that such an approach would have gotten people thinking in that direction instead of say, the best way to distribute med-kits through a 3D space, but its also possible we'd just have terribly extended metaphores with the same genuses of mechanics at root.

So this raises a question which is both fresh and very old, that of rules versus fiction in game design. More specifically, I'm wondering what the role of the design metaphore is, as you explicate in your GDC '04 talk, and if these things should be treated as writing/content creation hueristics or as something more basic.

Personally, I think combining an interesting design metaphore with a comprehensive play spec (listing all the verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs that compose the mechanics) is a good approach in pre-production.

Once we devise mechanics that catch up with all the wild design metaphors we dream up, then we'll be at a much stronger position as a medium, one which by popular groundswell will not be an easy or desirable target for opportunistic politicians.

It is good to get back to basics. I think we need to work to identify these basic games so that we have our vocabulary for game design. Of course, if the computer game industry considered itself a part of the rest of the games industry, it would have a rich well of ideas to tap. I have recently been reading Parlett's books on board games and card games. They have spurred a ton of ideas on game systems.

Pong as conversation / argument, with faces as paddles:
http://www.theadm.com/iremember/

I think that two of the most prescient points made in Understanding Comics are one you pointed out-- amplification (and identification) through simplification-- and another, related point: the idea of a person constantly maintaining a simplified image of their own actions, facial expressions, and so on, even when they can't necessarily see any of it; the way that you are constantly "seeing yourself" through your mind's eye, and in McCloud's case, how this provides resonance with the simplified character in comics.

The way I see this speaking to games is in how the player relates to his own player character. People generate this simplified image of their own actions through their sense of touch, air passing them, how their muscles are moving and so forth. Games, as almost an entirely visual medium, can't allow a player to inhabit his character using the same senses. But I think the natural process we all go through of visualizing our own actions as we perform them allows the player to bridge the gap of disbelief by projecting himself onto a character whose actions he is seeing in the third person. I think that the third person perspective is a much stronger tool for drawing a player into the gameworld for just that reason.

It seems counterintuitive, since the first person perspective literally shows the player the world through his character's eyes.. but the third person gives the player a human form to identify with, something to anchor their suspension of disbelief to. It's only a relatively short leap from "seeing ourselves" in our mind's eye to seeing ourselves in the actions of a person onscreen.

Then there's the the fact that in first person you don't have peripheral vision, and third person perspective's wider range of view does a better job of simulating that as well.. but McCloud doesn't talk much about peripheral vision in his book :-)


cheers

steve

nice

i would have to say that it was a good book!!!
i really liked it.

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