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Reminds me of the term "ludonarrative dissonance" that Clint Hocking coined to describe the way the story and game mechanics are out of sync in parts of Bioshock. It's worth reading up on if you get the chance; I find just about anyone who mentions the term tends to have interesting thoughts about games.

Good post as always Jonathan.

It feels as though you very much answer the question of focus yourself when you consider core experience in games which exhibit a relatively grand scope but seem to offer a very targeted goal.

Much of this kind of dissonance between the vision and its implementation in my own career (in games and outside) has, I would argue, risen from conflicting views of what the 'product' is (whether a game or something else)and how it is allowed to exhibit itself - to communicate the terms of its own experience .

As new elements are introduced throughout the development cycle, the vision itself is usually modified at each iteration to come to terms with new elements introduced into the mix.

Let's assume that in terms of production most companies have two kinds of resources:

In group A you have people responsible for making the product (be it a game, chair, television, or mobile phone..) function. In the video game industry there are programmers, designers, artists, animators all working towards some type of harmonious result - an execution of the vision set before them and hopefully influenced by them.

In group B you have administrators and executives. These are the ones who actually have the burden of defining the overall feel - the 'vision' itself. They set out the requirements and inevitably also the flexibility of the overall product.

These two groups are constantly interacting by way of multiple lines of communication.

On a basic level, the problem usually arises when a variable is introduced into the transmission of the core vision between groups A and B. In an ideal scenario, there is only one interpretation of that transmission.

But inevitably, the less binary each function of the vision is (in other words the more creative it is), the more opportunity there is for a new element to be introduced into the loop.

Each new element added means that we've now added a positive feedback element into the loop.

I.e. Feature 12 now has 5 variables instead of 4, therefore the sum is different then it was when there were 4.

There are several ways in which this new element seems (to me at least) to be dealt with in most places.

The product is either modified to bring it back to the original specifications (element is removed in the next iteration) or the product is allowed to continue along a new, slightly modified creative trajectory (element is harmonized into the specification and its effect becomes amplified in the sum of its parts).

At each iteration (for us this would be the milestone, delivery, etc) this process continues, analogous to the multiplication of a cell in an organ. At each iteration new elements are added and the cycle continues.

I would hazard a guess that many of the teams responsible for the development of the games you've mentioned haven't had an effective way of dealing with positive feedback which over a large number of iterations simply got out of hand.

Great post!

I'm interested in knowing which board games are respecting their aesthetics better than video games.


Wordsmythe: Yes I remember that post and also quite a few discussions on Bioshock with Clint. It is definitely the same concept I am talking here but focused on the split second decisions player makes.

Scott & Martin: There are a lot of board games out there but one that comes to mind is Scotland Yard. This is a game where every decision you makes are fundamentally related to the cops & robbers chase concept. The fantasy of outsmarting your enemies is shining in that game. But to be fair, I should say that simple video games also do a better job at it. As Martin points out in his reply, complexity and misunderstanding often are the cause of this disconnection. Pac man is in many ways a better fugitive game than any other of this genre done today. The more you add, the harder it gets to keep track of what you are doing.

I think the real challenge is to keep things simple but deep and focus around a core experience. It is so tempting to add what sounds immediately cool on top of foundations that are taken for granted by every game. I actually believe the secret is in defining interesting challenges in those redundant foundations because most designers do nothing there.

An example of that would be GTA IV, when we walk around in that game it is pretty boring. There are no challenges or meaning in walking, but there are a shit load of stuff on top of it. I think simple mechanics like walking and running are rarely done well and are often meaningless. If they were better and deeper less additional stuff would be required and potentially less would be asked to designers from all directions. That would certainly help to maintain focus on the original vision.

Side note, if you guys can gather six players and play Scotland Yard I recommend it. It is always refreshing to go back to those old school board games...

One has to ask: why does a book like Georges Perec's "Life : A User's Manual" become a more meaningful and relevant representation of emotions or even drama than GTA4 with all it's soundtrack, interactions, and life-like visuals? Surely this game with it's powerful cultural images & archetypes we have been ingrained with from television and such should have more resonance than mere words on a page.

It seems there's alot to be said for non-interaction which is suggestive or reflexive, and current day blockbuster games completely fail to provide these nuances and really resonant [ and common human ] experiences. And it's not just to do with there being guns either, as somebody like Michael Mann is smart enough to layer in cross-references and a certain richness even in something quite pedestrian like Collateral. It's Tom Cruise for fuck's sake, but the backdrop of LA, the framing of the city, the lights, in darkness, against the skies, like constellations is a rivetting and poetic turn.

From my little experience in the industry, games creators or those with real creative control are also reluctant to take risks because the heady affirmation of success in the industry supplants any dreams or ideas of reaching farther. Money does buy happiness, and Metacritic is enough for now, without looking further to undiscovered [ and quite scary ] territories. To do so would be to admit shortcomings which just would not happen given the hard graft of production.

Social gaming seems to be another one of those buzzwords doing the rounds with publishers at the moment, however perhaps one way of escape from the closed systems that we design is to be able to integrate more user-created content and leave the design open enough for players to make their own emergent [ oh I said it ] fun. APB comes to mind, and it will be mighty interesting to see how it fares. Dave Jones is pretty bright, after all people are still meticulously copying his designs from 10 years ago -- here's looking at you Prototype ..

-- Chuan

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Ahn: No problem you can use it and if you want you can send me extra question related to the article...

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