Here I am listening to a panel and taking notes, and I figured, hey, I can share some of these with you. These are just my rough notes, not really a transcription. The talk had pretty heavy overlap with some stuff Will’s presented before.
How other fields can inform interactive design
Games exhibit “film envy,” taking too much inspiration from linear media. We shouold be looking at more fields to draw learning from.
Will moved through several other fields, which I’ve bolded here.
Used to be a model of apprenticeship, switched to a professional model (schools and theory). Two modes here: craftsmen who represent unself-conscious design, changing into professionals using self-conscious design. Craftsmen learn thru failure, whereas professionals are protected from failure by theory they learn.
An anecdote: a pottery teacher split his class into two groups. One group was told they would be graded on quantity of pots they made. The other was told they would be graded on just one pot. In the end, the ones that made zillions made better pots from an artistic point of view.
The balance between the two approaches is important.
The chair as the basic design object that designers test themselves on, a tree of requirements from different domains: sturdiness, affordability, aesthetics, etc. Games have a tree of basic requirements too: fun, aesthetics, etc.
Industrial designers do prototypes very well. you want 2-3 days iteration time. It is important to sit back and ask “how do you use this? can you guess how it works?” The “let me try” test means the user built an internal model of how it works. Testing at a deeper level: do they want to save what they have done?
Space planning. a field that is self-aware about design process, from pattern language to feng shui. Pitfalls we can learn from: at high levels it’s too much about critics; the parallel is making games for hardcore gamers.
Emotionally evocative, elaborate grammar of symbology. (Will referenced a book about “the 48 kinds of rocks” — symbols with mythic, historical, and religious significance.
Irregular paths with odd shaped rocks force you to look down to expand your concept of space, or play with foreshortening. The gardens are designed to work over time — seasons, etc, and include an aspect of humanity.
Simplicity: the garden is not complete unless there is nothing else you can remove. In games we often do the kitchen sink.
Also meant to help mental processes: zen gardens.
The Russian space program:
Similar to the gardens: simplicity. The Soyuz navigation computer was literally a globe with mechanical controls. Very simple stuff, but they’ve lost less people in space than the US has.
Has a heavy engineering component (like games), lots of art, lots of usability concerns. Spends a lot of time on interfaces, doing heatmap analysis of UIs.
We could do similar things in games: how often are buttons clicked on? Which are hit near each other? This was used to balance out the Sims UI. Which verbs are in the game and what controls should be prominent?
Games are like auto racing: invented problems, like the DARPA Grand Challenge, power tool racing in San Francisco, etc. Concept cars: not practical today, but by collecting elements, very useful for future development.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams
Volvo formed a team of women to create a concept car. in order to recapture the soccer mom market. They got lots of configurable cargo space, headrests that supported ponytails, no gas caps needed, etc, seat inserts for customization. Toyota did a project with Sony to mix in Aibo to a car… it displays emotions externally to other drivers with an antenna that wags. Interior has vid displays per seat.
Cars are also vehicles for self-expression, like many games are becoming.
Art hit photorealism 400 years ago and didn’t stop; it kept going into abstraction again, from whence they came. Games tend to be externally representational right now…
Stage magic is about building a model in the audience’s head — getting you to build the wrong model, actually. Games do the same thing. AI is also like magic — misdirection, building a player model of intelligence, not about actually building intelligence.
There’s no such thing as AI, it’s really just a collection of tools we use.
You need to help the player build a model, or they will build the wrong one (they always build one).
Consider the story of the Mechanical Turk…
Fitness landscapes are the basis for the Sims AI model. You can use it for market analysis as well.
After release we go listen to players to see their stories, what verbs they use, what nouns matter. In The Sims the dominant word was “dollhouse” at first, then the language shifted as people started telling stories.
Designers have a different language from players, under the hood. This is semiotics. The sender is going thru a medium to send a message to a receiver. There’s noise in it, and the receiver decodes it all, which may result in a different message.
There are also different levels of symbolism: symbolic, iconic, indexed (representational). Most of our intelligence is about filtering.
A computer mouse had “do” and “point” as its language, originally: do on the button, and point on the mouse proper. Then “do” and “ask” (right mouse button) and “point” was the next step. Thyey then added “browse,” via the mouse wheel, then “next” and “last,” and these days it’s confusing.
In terms of display, meaningful nouns in games tend to get saturated in the artwork, to call them out. Verbs tend to be spectacular, and limited. Exaggerated adjectives.Most games have one verb: kill. In the industry, there are not too many more: race, manage…
People are good at interpreting verbs, as in shopping browsing and infer the verbs… independent of culture, age, and gender.
There’s too much inspiration drawn from this in games. Storytelling has a very evolved structure, emotional ride, arcs, etc. The claim is that film deals with rich emotions, and games with crude ones, BUT that’s not fair– it’s just a different.emotional palette. Games can give guilt, pride, accomplishment, expression, which movies cannot…
Rather than linear, games are like giving players a vehicle to explore the possibility space with. The interesting stories are the player ones.
From the player point of view, there’s a fine line between complex behavior and randomness. It’s all about seeing causal chains: what caused something to happen? If you can’t tell, it comes across as random.
Toys and models:
Some are creative, where you create models as you play, like Legos. Some are loosely representational like dollies. Then there’s models, which are directly representational.
Models strip out the irrelevant. Many toys are scaffolding for imagination — Lego. The less detail, the easier it is to edit for people.
As designers we are working with two processors: the CPU and the brain. In interactive fiction it was 80/20 to imagination, today it’s 80/20 to CPU. But we could feel empathy for 20 pixels in Choplifter…
Some trends he sees in the industry:
When picturing game devleoper job roles, we think of artists, programmers, designers, producers. But he’s seeing more value in programmers with design skills, artists with programming skills (particularly for procedural art), and designers doing more programming, which a lot to do with prototyping. Designers need to be fluent in process. That’s our medium. Also producers more fluent in design, understanding iteration and process, which helps them manage better. Basically, looking at more interdisciplinary teams.