Game talkProject Horseshoe: Influences

 Posted by (Visited 52192 times)  Game talk
Nov 102006
 

My talk at Project Horseshoe was called “Influences.” And here it is, transcribed for your pleasure, with occasional audience interjections.


Howdy, y’all.

[“Howdy!”]

I reckon I left my hat under the table there, but… I got a stuffed head and I think the voice goes with the hat.

You know, I’m not gonna do slides [“Sweet!”]. There is some stuff I wanna show you later, but we’ll set it up later.

You know, I went back and forth trying to think about what exactly to say here, because I spent the last, oh, maybe three years working on understanding fun, and on thinking about how games work at a really fundamental level, like an atomic, tiny, game system, how things tick and stick together kind of level, and you know, I concluded games were mostly about learning. And if you wanna know more about that, you can go read the book, right? And that was good. It was useful, it helped me a lot.

Around the same time that I was doing that, you know, I gave that initial talk (PDF) back at the Austin Game Conference in 2003… and I started working on game grammar stuff in 2004, and then I wrote the book. So there was a whole bunch of game grammar stuff that was in the book. And this whole game grammar thing was about common elements that are in all of the game systems, and how if some of these little elements are missing, then the game system won’t be fun. It was about how some games are symmetric, and some are asymmetric, and how all games happen within a topology, and you always have assets to maneuver, and you know… a whole bunch of stuff like that. You know. How games are structured around… I have it written down. “Solving statistically varied challenge situations presented by an opponent who may or may not be algorithmic within a framework that is a defined systemic model blah blah blah.”

I’m not the only guy doing this, OK? I mean, when Mark Terrano shows his graphs [of measuring user experience via metrics on input channels and outputs provided by the game at any given moment], I go, “Funny, I saw that same graph on Dan Cook’s website [LostGarden.com] about six months ago.” And for that matter, I saw something very similar on Ben Cousins’ website about a year and a half ago. A lot of people are working on basically the same stuff. Right? I mean, I put up a very similar graph to that one arguing that socialization in multiplayer gaming requires downtime because you need attention troughs, which look exactly like the troughs that were in Mark’s graph.

Ben Cousins, Stephane Bura who’s been working on game grammar, there’s all the work that Eric [Zimmerman] and Katie [Salen] did in Rules of Play, you know – we’re all getting results that seem to work. But we’re finding is that there are essentially grammatical rules, or physics rules, or whatever, under this stuff, that can be found and that are helpful.

I could talk to you for hours about that crap.

I learned a lot from it, right? It’s had a huge impact on how I see games, and Ironically, I haven’t hardly gotten to work on any games since I came up with it. [laughter]. But it has actually had a huge impact, and I think it can have a huge impact on the industry as a whole, right? You can see how tools like what Mark proposes, or gosh, if we had something, if you could have a notation – this is what I argued in the Game Grammar talk – where you could sketch out how the pieces of a game system fit together, you could actually see where the balance would go out of whack, or why a system wouldn’t be fun, before you started implementing. It’s just another way to play test.

But honestly, I don’t want to talk about that. For one thing, it’s kind of dry and technical and full of diagrams, and you know, for another, sometimes it seems a little stupid and pointless. Like you’re caught up in the theory and where is the fun? And arguably, it breaks the wall between science and art, which is a wall full of holes already, but…

I really want to go a little further into the future, actually, and just take for granted that all of those efforts aren’t stupid. That they are actually showing us something about games. Because of the conclusion it led me to.

I concluded that just about all games were about math.

They are not about arithmetic, unless you’re playing an RPG [laughter], but about all fields of math. In fact, they tend to be about – I’ll go all geeky on you – NP-hard or NP-complete problems. They tend to be about, I actually went and looked up on the Web a list of NP-hard problems, and they sure as hell sound like our games. Motion planning on a plane with polygons. Yeah. There goes every single platformer ever. [Laughter]. Isomorphism. All matching games. Traveling salesman problem. Packing problems – Tetris is a packing problem. Almost, well, a lot of puzzle games are packing problems. Cover problems, the knapsack problem, blah blah blah. A lot of them are about NP-complete problems. In fact I actually started the exercise: on Wikipedia there’s this wonderful list of Karp’s 21 NP-complete problems, and I started at the top and started designing a game for each one of them. [Laughter.]

Besides those classical problems, games rely heavily on estimation of probability, which isn’t actually even complicated [laughter] but the human brain sucks at it, and appears to be hardwired to suck at it [laughter], and therefore we rely on it in our games a lot, because we know that we can sucker ‘em every time. [laughter] Just like Vegas.

So the more I dug into grammar and all of this stuff, the more I kept thinking, crap, it may be that games, by nature, are inherently math.

And I think that sucks. It makes me really unhappy.


A game about flapping

I wanted to actually show you something. I was recently working on a game about flapping. This sounds like a really odd thing to make a game about, but I wanted to try anyhow. I was working on this game about flapping, and it’s actually up on the blog, and you know, it’s basically a little game where one key controls one wing, and the other key controls the other wing, and the longer you hold them down, the longer your downstroke goes. When you let go, the wings slowly returns to where they are supposed to be. But because you have independent control of each wing, you can start doing this [slides sideways], turn this way, and if you give long strokes, you move in a different way than if you fold them slightly, and if you beat on a regular pace you actually rise in the air, and if you hold them tight, then you stop flapping and gravity starts taking you down. A flapping simulation. It was keyboard input because that’s what I have on my laptop.

So the thing about this little flapping thing that was y’know, it wasn’t about flight, it was about flapping, which is an important distinction. I built a little model here, and I even made it so that the keys were on opposite ends of the keyboard so that you had that sense steering like that. I was thinking in terms of, you know what, a lot of games are driven by interface, and that experience, so if I completely change up the interface for how you think about flying something, maybe I’ll head to something that feels fresh.

Just flapping the bird around on the screen actually turned out to be compelling for me. Other people, however, bounced off of it instantly, because they just didn’t get it. And they asked for mouse control, actually [Laughter], which I resisted mightily, because, well, then… the game was about the flapping. If you can’t hack the flapping, then tough shit. [laughter].

But the thing about this was that it ended up being compelling enough that I posted the prototype to the blog. And it actually got on BoingBoing, which meant that it “sold” a few thousand “units,” because a bunch of people downloaded it [laughter] and it got reblogged all over the place. So it was compelling enough that I added islands and scrolled down below, and a blue background with sparklies in the water, and color-shifting clouds and a day/night cycle with beautiful pastel colors, and a motion blur across the screen, and all this other stuff.

And that was cool, and lot of people – those who could hack the flapping – started commenting about how Zen it made them feel, particular once I added a little DADGAD-based soundtrack on acoustic guitar.

So it was a toy, right? It was designed for you to flap. If you successfully made it to the top, you were rewarded – I built a tiny little dynamic music system, and if you made it to the top, basically, I recorded lots of little chopped up riffs, and you had different riffs depending on where you were on the screen, and what angle your wings were at, and stuff. You know, really basic, and people said it was really Zen. But it wasn’t what I would really call a game. You know, it was a toy, an amusement.


The “Zen” version: Win32, Mac (11MB)
The “game” version: Win32, Mac

So I put a game into it. I made a 3d path in the air that went up, went down. Now, keep in mind, this is an overhead view game, so 3d means it got bigger or smaller. And you could see this rollercoaster path wending around. There was wind blowing you from side to side that you had to cope with as you flapped. You were scored, and you had to stay on the path, not too high, not too low, you know. Basically, an overhead version of flying through rings. If you got off the path for too long, you croaked. Game over. Which was really frustrating, because the main attraction was getting further so you could see what noon looked like, because of the color ramps on the clouds.

And pretty much, all the charm that the prototype had went away. [laughter] It ceased being fun because the math came in big time.

So here I am, and I’ve been looking at all these games in terms of the math. I’ve been looking at how you make these games and you work with them on this systemic level, but lately I’ve been dreaming about making games that make you feel what’s it’s like to be a wolf living in the winter scrounging scraps from a nearby mining town. A game about the sensation of a kaleidoscope. A game that exudes “treeness.”

And fuck! Math doesn’t tell us anything about that. It’s really really bad at it.

I think that these aren’t things that reduce down to math. As designers, we’re really trained from really few sources, overall. When I really dig into the sources and influences – we already saw this, even with the talks today – we point at other games, and we point at movies. And that seems to be the total extent of what we… [sigh]

When a designer adapts the sweep of history like what Sid [Meier] did with Civ, and the development of civilizations, he builds a spreadsheet. History is a spreadsheet. It’s represented by pretty icons, but it’s a spreadsheet. When a designer tries to capture the inner soul of a person, what forms the inner core of someone, Will [Wright] makes eight bars, and they can be raised and lowered by doing dishes, watching TV and peeing at the right time. [Laughter] It’s a spreadsheet again. All of human aspiration, and it’s eight variables moving up and down. When we try to represent a mystic moment in life, what Lorca called duende, you guys ever run across this word? It’s a wonderful world, it’s that elusive moment of transgression of the unreal into the real, you could almost call it magic.

It’s a mana bar and a list of spell about glowing missiles.

And I think we’re prisoners of our math.

It’s ironic, because we keep chasing story, right? We chase after story, and we suck at story. I’m sorry, but we are really really really fuckin’ bad moviemakers, people [laughter]. We really are. We’re just no good at it. So what we do is we make bad movies, and we stick in some gameplay which we mostly stole from five years ago [laughter] and we say, “in order to get to the next episode, you must do this…” Right? That’s advancing the medium. That’s what we’re doing. It’s like, great, so in order to get to the next page of Gone With the Wind I have to play with a spreadsheet, and then you get the next chapter. [Laghter]

So… just to broaden our sense of influences a little bit. You guys all know that I came out of academia before I was a game designer. I was, to my everlasting dismay, I was mostly studying modernist literature while getting a creative writing degree. I really hated modernism, which was why I took so many courses in it, so I could argue with the professors [Laughter].

When you look at the modernist movement, and I’m actually going to broaden Modernism a little bit… really talking about everything from the Impressionist period on forward, because all of that stuff is kind of influenced by the modernist ethos. What was going on there was… There were artists and writers and musicians who got tired of showing things as they are. The height of craft before that was to say look, this is what it is. So, when you listen to Mozart’s Requiem, he is representing as accurately as he can with his medium, a certain set of emotions. And when you look at a Rembrandt portrait, he is showing you what is. It’s not strict realism, but it’s showing you what is. And the same in the realistic novels – oh God, the Victorian novel, ugh. [Laughter]

Instead, once Impressionism kicked off and as we move forward, we start getting people who wanted to talk about how they showed what they showed, with what they used, if that makes sense. So we got paintings about color theory. Or paintings about how light reflects. Impressionism is about, in pretty much all the media, Impressionism is not about what’s there. It’s about how what’;s there is perturbing everything else. This is why I say that Minesweeper is actually an Impressionist game, because you never actually see it, you see everything around it and how it’s been bumped and jostled. So Impressionism isn’t painting the lilies, the water lilies, it’s painting the light bouncing off the water lilies. It’s about what isn’t there.

Virginia Woolf wrote a book called Jacob’s Room, about this WWI soldier named Jacob who is dead. He’s the main character in the book, and he’s not in the book. You learn about Jacob only through what everybody else says. Gertrude Stein wrote an autobiography of herself from the point of view of her lover who was real, so it’s called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, who is a real person, and she wrote it from her lover’s point of view and she’s a character in the book – it’s actually her autobiography but she’s not IN it.

And the next step after that, and Picasso did most of this in painting, it they start saying, let’s do paintings about perspective. Let’s do paintings about facial recognition. Let’s do paintings about color weight. Mondrian? All of Mondrian’s body of work is what they make you do in the first three months of the visual design class in an art major. It’s about “how heavy is red,” which isn’t actually a stupid question if you study art theory. How heavy is red, and how big is empty space between two very narrow lines, and stuff like that.

It’s all about itself, and in music we got music about harmony, or about how a melody works. Which is why eventually, once you get to the postmodern, you start getting stuff like John Cage, who will actually do a recording of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence in order to make you think about whether there actually is any such thing. And when yo go to perform 4’33” you walk to a stage with a piano, you close the lid, and you sit there. And after about ten seconds what you are listening to is the concert of fidgeting, coughing, sneezing, wondering what the hell is going on.

There’s so many examples of this… you end up getting writing about writing, painting about painting, music about music, and lately I’ve been wondering if all game design isn’t modernist. By its nature.

Whether at its core, it may even be postmodernist, or deconstructionist, by its nature. Because it’s all about the models. It’s all about the math. It’s all about looking at this stuff as a bunch of little moving parts, as a system. It’s always about reducing something… you could even say trivializing something. It’s about saying, “here’s this wash of complexity, let’s talk about how it works and break it down into this little spreadsheet.”

What that means is, is that you are always simplifying these complicated things, like the inner core of a person’s soul and turning it into eight bars, and reducing it down to something that is always inaccurate, and always oversimplified, and often frankly kind of Manichaean, good versus evil. Black and white. I think that ends up getting reflected in our stories, which are almost always simplistic Manichaean good versus evil stories too, because that’s all the game can support. Even what we call analog games, tend to be binary when you look into them.

I’m finding this incredibly frustrating and ironic, because people like those in this room, game designers, have some of the most varied sets of interests of any people on the planet, certainly that I’ve ever encountered. I mean, you go to any university, you talk to the specialists in each field, and frankly, they know nothing about anything except whatever it is that they study – which they know in such excruciating detail that you don’t want to hang out with them. [laughter]


Will Wright getting programmed

You get a group of us together… in the car on the way here we discussed the scientific underpinnings of astrology. At a design workshop I was at recently we were trading book recommendations… what’s the latest good hardboiled detective novel versus what’s a better history of America pre 1492… you look around at designers, even the ones who occasionally, well, I’ve got this wonderful photo of Will Wright… they have a version of Façade there which is a full version room. They actually make you put on your little VR headset and goggles, they actually mount a keyboard on your back, so an operator can come and fiddle with what’s going on while you are in there. I snapped this wonderful photo of Will Wright being programmed [much laughter] But even people like Will, who sometimes seem cybernetic to some degree, you talk to him and he’s got interests all over the map. I mean, he liked to build robots, but he likes to build robots in order to leave them piteously mewling on the street in order to see what people will do when they come up against a dead robot saying “Help me!!!!” [laughter] And he videotapes them, so…

So as a group we’re really well-read, we’re interested in all kinds of different stuff… but when I look at the industry, our influences, they’re… I guess the word I’d use is “paltry.” Pathetically small.

Who was playing Cooking Mama yesterday? Yeah, the industry’s reaction is “A game about COOKING?!@!?” And then you play it, and it’s actually WarioWare re-skinned. And it’s another little spreadsheet about reaction times. And… yeah. Grrrr! So frustrating. I mean, we reduce it down to the same little set of reductionist almost deconstructionist mini-games to become a parody of cooking. But at least it exists. And there are those that… we played Werewolf last night, and there are things there that aren’t just statistics, although you play Werewolf, and think “You know there’s am algorithmic approach to this…”

[“And that’s why you were killed first!”]

I know…! [Laughter]

And I guess the question is, I look at the game about cooking and I go, why stop there? I mean, there’s an easy step to the game about winemaking. And I can see you right now, let’s make a game about winemaking and in your heads you immediately start thinking, dry season versus wet season, acidity of the soil, there’s all kinds of things like that. SO let’s go a step further, how about the game about wine tasting.

Yeah, I don’t enough about wine tasting to figure out even how – yeah, you wanna play that game don’t ya. Live action. [laughter… “The ARG”]

And I go, wait a minute, what about a game… I just learned that all of the peach orchards between Parmer and 35 and Round Rock are gone. Which sucks. [“It’s all WalMarts now..” “It’s the pits” Laughter] Yeah… and why is there no game about the taste of a freshly picked peach, straight from the tree, with the smells and dust of the working orchard? How do you make a game about that?

[“Because my monitor tastes like crap.” “It’s a human interface problem.”]

It isn’t just an interface problem! It isn’t just an interface problem! There are probably poems about the taste of a fresh peach.

The game about the dynamics of a coral reef, and destroying the coral reef, you know, when you think about that, you immediately go “oh yeah, a serious game, and we’ll teach people about global warming,” and it’s not the same thing as really a game about coral reef-ness.

And why isn’t there a game about silk-screening t-shirts? What is it that makes us go, yeah, that just doesn’t come up, let’s go for the orc slaying instead? AT this very moment, there are probably more teenagers out there interested in silk-screening crap onto t shirts than there are in slaying orcs, and yet it doesn’t come up.

The game about the difference between the warp and the weft in the art of tapestry making… Hey, can we make a tapestry making game? Shit, that one’s even math, right? [Laughter] But it doesn’t come up, just doesn’t come up, because our influence set is so small.

Even those areas where we do have control, where we could go in and say, hey let’s broaden our set of influences, let’s draw from more sources: just look at art styles. The styles that we have are Japanese anime, grey-brown photorealism [laughter] and the cartoons that we loved as kids and still love because we’re geeks who won’t grow up. And that pretty much sums up the entire videogame art style.

Why isn’t there a fucking pointillist videogame, dammit? Why isn’t there an Impressionism renderer? And it’s just not there… why has no game gone, visually, where Picasso went? It’s not because it doesn’t work. Once upon a time, Picasso was shocking. Nowadays, you walk into generic hotel on the road, and you’re just as likely to see something Cubist as you are to see a watercolor landscape. We take it for granted., Everyone knows how to read that now. It’s no big deal. But we don’t even scratch the surface on these other art styles and influences and sources of inspiration.

We do rhythm games, and we can’t fuckin’ do melody games. We just don’t do them. There are no melody games! We kind of have Guitar Hero, but it’s really a rhythm game with five drums [chuckles]. We’re so caught in this little rut…


Flapping as math

The challenge is, I don’t have any answers. When I wanted to know what it felt like to flap, you know, it’s a little wireframe bird, and up in the corner you get to see all of these floating point variables scooting around, with your angle of the wind and angle of each feather, all swirling by in this haze of numbers. And you know, flying and flapping is not rotation and angle of wing bones and force of air propelled. And yet when we put something into a game, that’s what it turns into.

It’s not that there aren’t mechanical activities that do just fine in this. Flying a plane is flow of air over the wing and blah blah blah, and we’ve managed to mimic that pretty thoroughly and well and at this point, it’s damn close. We have the sensation of flying in a plane pretty good. But I wonder how we take in all of the influences that are not systemic, taking in the games that reflect non-systemic reality without quantizing it.

You guys know the word “quantize”? The musicians, particularly the ones who work in electronic music in any form will know it. This is where you take the music that you play, and don’t quite nail the timing on, and you tell the computer please noodge the notes over by fractions of a second so that everything is lined up with perfect rhythm. That’s called quantizing. Fortunately, there is an opposite process which is to take something perfectly played, and noodge the notes slightly out of place so that it doesn’t sound like it’s being played by a robot… which is called “humanizing.” [laughter] That’s the pull-down…

One of the questions I end up asking is “Have I been trained?” Games are about learning to my mind, and you learn about models from playing games. You learn to understand that model of what the game is presenting you. That’s the learning exercise. What is the shape of the spreadsheet, what are the rows, what are the columns, what are the math operations I can perform on it. That is what games teach you. So I wonder, because I have been playing videogames since I first got that Pong console from Sears. Whenever that came out in the mid 70s, one of the knockoff ones. I am of the generation that has been playing videogames, well, since, basically.

Have I been trained them? To only see the world as something that can be quantized? Have I been trained by them to come to Werewolf and immediately say, “so the algorithm is…?”

That’s a little scary, because there is a big difference between shades of gray and a byte’s worth of grayscale. [thoughtful silence] Right? Big big big fucking difference.

When my wife and I were first dating, we were at one of the Apple campuses, when they just got the color Macintoshes. And if you remember that time period, all of a sudden the games had these beautiful color gradients in the background. We would go outside and look at the sunsets over corn fields on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and we’d say “hey look! Mac colors.” [Laughter]

Long ago, the whole Deist philosophy… the metaphor for God was “the watchmaker.” And I’ve started to wonder whether games make the world into clockwork. And whether this is honest.

It might be that games, and us as designers of them, we’re just filling a role. I mean, there is a huge amount of value in seeing the world as clockwork. A huge huge amount of value. Arguably, it’s a very progressive way to look at the world, because it takes out a lot of frankly, stupid shit that has killed millions of people throughout history. Being able to approach the world in this very scientific way and deal with it in terms of algorithms and so on, it can help, because it makes you see the stuff that is just blatant superstition or false pattern matching, or the real reason why two groups hate each will actually be about calories intake and not about religion…

So seeing the world as clockwork and doing those spreadsheets, it’s an incredibly valuable exercise. This clockwork world has to be in the picture, along with all the other ways of seeing the world. Our worldview has to become, over time, and it inevitably will, right, like lots of layers in Photoshop making up one picture. We will see the world in many many different ways. And the clockwork way is a very good one, but I sometimes wonder whether we’re stuck in our layer, and whether we can participate in the broader side of things.

And when we go to this broader side of things, the world where there is a game about treeness, or the experience of being bark, or whatever artsy-fartsy thing I can come up with – when we bring it back with us, will we always be pixelating it, paletting it, building low-poly versions of reality? Will we always be turning it into something mechanical.

Do a thought experiment right now. Shut your eyes. [Silence]. Good, they’re all doing it.

Imagine something that you dream about. A moment of experience. It could be, I dunno, God, laying on your back watching the clouds shake around, it could be the first time that you and your boyfriend or girlfriend, whichever it was or both [laughter] snuck out in the middle of the night and went for making love under the stars. It could be the first time you ever saw the ocean. It could be that moment… you know, I keep pulling nature examples, how Romantic poet of me. But it could be almost anything. The first time you realized that the computer would jump through hoops and do your bidding. Those moments of wonder that Nicole Lazzaro references.

And now here’s the thought experiment. Build me the game system right now, in your head. And tell me if that dream didn’t just blow to bits.

[silence]

And that’s the challenge that I guess I want to leave you guys with. Because it’s not that this way of looking at the world is bad. It’s not. The challenge that I leave you with is whether or not games are irredeemably spreadsheets in this sense. And I don’t mean the stories we tack on top of them, the pretty art. Because the art and the stories, we know they can do this. The challenge is whether games can do it on their own, without being propped up by all this other stuff.

It might be the answer is no, and if it’s no, then the question I leave you with is, OK, then, what does that mean? For those of us who make them, are we all watchmakers? OK, watchmaking is a noble profession…

And think about what does that mean for all of the kids whose brains we currently control. That what we’re doing is teaching them to see the world as clockwork orreries. And what that means.

That’s the challenge I leave you with.

  61 Responses to “Project Horseshoe: Influences”

  1. you don’t know that he’s telling the truth. Plus he’s got pink topped boobie ladies to reinforce the message. More high brow maybe, but Raph Koster was off to Project Horseshoe, an invite only ubergeek head banging session, at which he gave a talk on Influences. Once again, go, read, inwardly digest, then find a quiet corner to meditate in and think “how do we game the experience of the taste of a peach…” Game News Of The Week Well they’ve been busy bunnies over at the SOE Temple Of Fun, what with

  2. [“Because my monitor tastes like crap.” “It’s a human interface problem.”] It isn’t just an interface problem! It isn’t just an interface problem! There are probably poems about the taste of a fresh peach. Raph Koster, at Project Horseshoe

  3. last year at Project Horseshoe. I told him as much, brilliant, I said. THAT WAS LAST YEAR! he bellows amusedly, and I can’t help but think he’s got something even better on the way. There you go, Raph – pressure. ;o) Raph’s Influences: It’s ironic, because we keep chasing story, right? We chase after story, and we suck at story. I’m sorry, but we are really really really fuckin’ bad moviemakers, people [laughter]. We really are. We’re just no good at it. So what we do is we

  4. “So the more I dug into grammar and all of this stuff, the more I kept thinking, crap, it may be that games, by nature, are inherently math. And I think that sucks. It makes me really unhappy.” – Raph’s Website » Project Horseshoe: Influences

  5. and demos to try, and just generally soaking in a flow of information that organically led from one node to the next. I started at Clint Hocking’s blog, which led to Jonathan Blow’s blog, which led to a great rundown of interesting indie games, thetranscript of a Raph Koster talkon the spectrum of subject matter in current games, actionbutton.net which is a kind of nauseous Tim Rogers endeavor but had interesting game reviewing from other writers at least, the Realtime Art Manifesto

  6. s Website has a Technorati authority score of 467 at the time of this post. It also has 24 Technorati fans. Mention (and link to) the two most interesting posts: 40 ways to be a better (game) designer andProject Horseshoe: Influences. 40 ways is interesting because it not only offers advice for budding designers, but it enumerates said advice as well. I saw Influences cited somewhere (I can’t for the life of me dig up where, and I wish I knew so that I could cite them in turn, as

  7. Raph’s Website has a Technorati authority score of 467 at the time of this post. It also has 24 Technorati fans. Mention (and link to) the two most interesting posts: 40 ways to be a better (game) designer andProject Horseshoe: Influences. 40 ways is interesting because it not only offers advice for budding designers, but it enumerates said advice as well. I saw Influences cited somewhere (I can’t for the life of me dig up where, and I wish I knew so that I could cite them in turn, as

  8. grind that most MMOs encourage might be tying in to a basic human compulsion. Uptake’s Elliot Ng was there for (almost) the full panel, and has the complete write-up on his blog. Raph has his own take on the panel, and points out the similarities toan earlier talkhe gave at Project Horseshoe. There’s a natural desire to justify the games we love by insisting they will give us an edge in business, or that we are merely expressing natural human behavior in a new way. Is this the case, or is this just wish

  9. […] I have posted my talk from Project Horseshoe, for the curious. […]

  10. Here is my attempt at what you might be looking for:

    - A machine which lets you play with emotions or experiences which are commonly out of reach.

    This is not a game, it is a toy with which a higher understanding of things can be made accessible. A Game is by the definition of its word not this machine. A game is if I remember correctly a system which determine some winner between two or more competing actors. Of all the emotions you can sense only a tiny amount will be stimulated by competition.

    Many toys which we grow up with turn into games, things that bounce… Things that represent wealth or knowledge and so on become part of game systems which we live with. I had a lot of wierd toys as a child, very few of them were not toys which allowed me to “play at being more adult” or training at the “game of life”.

    On the other hand my guitar is an example of this magical machine, through excessive play with it I have the ability to use it as a machine which gives me access to emotions otherwise hidden out of reach. I dont game with the guitar very often, altho having a rock faceoff is fun it dosnt very often elevate any winner. (Unless the winner is everyone involved which would appear strange by the definition of game.)

    I know that “Game” as word has at least two meanings which convey different messages, maybe try separate the side of the word which represent an “interactive product based on code, art and so on” from the word meaning a “competition between two or more actors which determine a winner”. They are not very often well represented by the same word.

  11. […] Comments […]

  12. There are so many ways to go with this. But it’s pretty deep stuff.

    All things are clockwork. The laws of nature, and all that. It’s the combinations that add interest, and working those combinations are fun, usually.

    If you bounce a ball, it’s not a whole lot of fun past the basic stage of funness. If you realize that, given enough force, the ball will bounce off multiple objects, you can then bounce it at an angle, off the floor, off the wall, and back to you. That’s more fun, and it kept Steve McQueen sane in “The Great Escape”. Pong is still fun.

    So, it seems to me that the issue is the oversimplifications. Of course, you can’t build all of the physics of the universe into a game, but pertinent ones would be great.

    But really, it goes beyond that. The laws of nature in a game are not neccessarily the real ones, and they don’t have to be. But if they can be recognized, and used for expected or unexpected results, it just gets more fun. Remember the UO player who brought a slime to a city and brought down the server? The slimes would split into two when hit, and the NPC city guards would attack “monsters” if they entered the city zone, and if more guards are required they “teleported” in. This went on and on, the slimes splitting and more guards comming, untill the server supernova’d. Say what you will, but I wish I could have seen that, hehe.

    Exploration is high on most gamer’s lists of fun. But it’s not the act of exploration, it’s what you might find. In WoW, exploration is almost completely predictable, there’s simply nothing to find. But they’d beg to differ (at least offcially), because of the “new places” art. That’s oversimplification. Remember in UO how many players collected teleport runes to unusual places, usually gotten to through bugs? The laws of the UO universe came into play (teleport spell, bearskins, targetting) for both predictable and unpredictable discoveries. Discoveries are fun, especially when it’s the result of something you did.

    Again to UO, players found out that they could stack crates inside dungeon entrances, blocking off MOBs, and wail away with ranged attacks. That’s fun. But it was deemed unfair because players without ranged attacks couldn’t do anything, and because the poor MOBs didn’t stand a chance. So they oversimplified and made it so MOBs destroyed crates when they walked into them. Bleh! They could have made pole arms that reached over crates for attacks, they could have made MOBs actually attack the crates to destroy them (taking the attack round, and leave broken pieces), they could have given MOBs AI to flee out of range when taking damage and not dishing any out, and they could have given players the ability to build actual fortifications to use like this (and MOBs too).

    I also remember once at the scene of an event encounter, I was checking things out for any possible discoveries. Another player said “they don’t do things that way” (

  13. Ach! Lost the last part of the comment. Picking up there….

    I also remember once at the scene of an event encounter, I was checking things out for any possible discoveries. Another player said “they don’t do things that way”

    (

  14. Hmm, a bug is stopping the comment. Trying again.

    Pointing to the last comment by the other player, and referencing Raph’s Quote “That what we’re doing is teaching them to see the world as clockwork orreries”.

  15. […] Raph Koster posts a transcript of a talk to Project Horseshoe.This is REALLY well worth a read and a hard think.  Published Friday, November 10, 2006 3:22 PM by Almagill […]

  16. I could wax, but instead I’ll give you an example of the cultural resistance to the dreams you speak of: Click

    So you don’t have to dig through all the negative comments if you don’t want to, here’s my response.

    This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system…

    Future reviews will be of better games, but I wanted to see where the line should be drawn.

    But hey, when she says “oh wait, I have a chemistry test next week, so uh, can we still be friends?” I cracked up. You kinda have to let go of your expectations and take Alexis for what she is, though thats a challenge when she clearly would never do the same for you. Maybe thats a different kind of challenge than getting a high score.

  17. Sometimes there’s a difference between “can you make it” and “can you sell it”. And it’s not clear that a lot of these ideas can be made anyway. We aren’t very good at analog, whether we want to be or not.

    There’s not a “melody” game, for example, because there isn’t interest in one. People interested in melodies would rather create real melodies with actual instruments or devices. And they can share those around with each other on the internet quite well (which is what they actually want to do). Their market is YouTube and MySpace and lots of recording software and electronic-music creation software. Those who aren’t that interested in actual “melody” are really interested in approximations/simulations of feeling like a rock star and things that are the right kind of challenging and that they can still accomplish. Enter Guitar Hero. Rhythm is used not because they couldn’t think of anything else but because it is accessible, challenging and fun for the right audience. You get nice artsy “games” like some Flash-based drum game I saw the other day where you could move the mouse around and hit different drums to “play” the drum but there isn’t a group of people who want to play that for more than 5 minutes. And when you’re talking about concepts that would take millions of dollars (because analog is really, really hard) to develop, you’re not making them if no one wants them.

    When talking about why we don’t have certain art styles in our games I thought of Okami. Which also has some cool gameplay behind it. But honestly it doesn’t appear to have sold that well and I don’t think it would have sold at all had it not had some decent backing gameplay of the standard puzzard-solving variety. There are lots of other examples of experimentation but generally the game didn’t do well or did well more because of its backing gameplay.

    Players want challenges of certain types. We go back to those challenges not because we aren’t creative but because when we stray too much our audience loses interest. Sometimes we do hit a challenge that hasn’t been thought of before. But the fact that these challenges that we hit upon tend to come from the systemic/mathy/quantized world isn’t myopic or coincidental. It’s because these are the hooks that work.

  18. Also:

    Isomorphism. All matching games.

    Not really. Isomorphism itself isn’t NP-complete (just, for example, sub-graph isomorphism, which really says more about graphs than it does about isomorphism).

    The algorithm for finding all matches on a match-3 game board is actually linear. The reason these games are interesting has nothing to do with an underlying NP-complete problem. Instead they consist of a challenge to visual recognition. Whereas the algorithm may be linear, you need to build some heavy-duty recognition skills to optimize to where you can solve it quickly enough to finish in time.

    I think it’s an interesting example exactly because it isn’t that challenging algorithmically and yet still engages players.

  19. Raph wrote: Other people, however, bounced off of it instantly, because they just didn’t get it. And they asked for mouse control [laughter]…

    I understood that what you created was a simulation of the mechanics of avian flight. I suggested mouse control because the mechanics of an action are not what make performing an action fun. It’s the feedback that you learn from peforming an action that is fun. When you walk, you’re not thinking to yourself, “Oh, my goodness! I’m having so much fun raising my ankles, bending my toes and knees, and swinging my arms to balance myself as I control my fall!” You’re thinking, “I’m moving to Location B.” The experience of reaching Location B is the feedback.

    If you walk a long, rough distance then undoubtedly you’ll find that the trek was tiring and difficult. The same thing happens with your simulation. Your fingers get tired from constantly pressing keys to flap, and then you find the performance of flapping difficult, or at least boring. I showed your simulation to several people who I was certain would appreciate the New Agey “Zen” feel. After several minutes, they were bored. They were tired of performing the same repetitive keystrokes. Yet, they did appreciate the New Agey “Zen” feel for as long as it lasted—several minutes.

    The same principles that apply to the art of conversation apply to the elicitation of fun.

    For example, suppose, gentlemen, you want to ask a colleague, Jill, if she would like to join you for dinner. So you say to her, “There’s a really good new Indian restaurant in town. Will you join me there for dinner tonight?”

    Before answering, Jill is thinking to herself, “By ‘good’ does he mean the food or the atmosphere or both?” Her reverie continues, “Indian cuisine, I’m not sure. He says it’s good. However, will I like it?” While thinking, Jill hesitates. You probably take her hesitation personally, and the joy of the exchange diminishes.

    Suppose, instead, you had said to her, “Jill, you will really love this new Indian restaurant. Will you join me there this evening for dinner?” Phrasing it that way, you’ve already subliminally answered Jill’s questions and she’s more apt to give you a quick “yes.”

    — Leil Lownes, How to Talk to Anyone

    This principle concerns doing the thinking for the recipient of the message. Games and toys, such as the “Avian Aztec”, should embrace this principle. Put the mechanics in the background, and enable players to receive feedback from their actions.

    The reason why your avian toy isn’t as fun to as many people as it could be is because the mechanics are in the foreground. The context is all wrong for what you’re trying to achieve. As it stands now, the toy is all about movement. Players intrinsically see movement and think, “Where am I going? What is my destination?” That’s simply ingrained in our cognition from the time we learned to walk, with one parent at Location A and another at Location B.

    Since the mechanics are in the foreground, “Avian Aztec” forces players to think about how to move (mechanics) rather than how to get to Location B (experience). Since there are no locations—no goals to achieve—I bet most players give up thinking, “Ultimately, I’m not achieving anything. I can be doing infinitely more important things with my time than sitting here all day performing the same repetitive actions going nowhere.” That’s the hesitation… and the joy of the exchange diminishes.

  20. I can think of a couple of instances where I was playing a game and was filled with the kind of wonder than transcends little bar graphs and spreadsheets… I played “Shadow of the Colossus” recently, and the long, lonely rides across that desolate landscape filled me with a kind of melancholy dread no other game has ever give me. But then you’d get to the thing to fight and it was all figuring out the system again.

    I also remember from a couple of years ago a Quake plugin that would render the game as scratchy line art, as if you were playing through an artist’s sketchbook come to life. It was a striking effect, although it would have been more interesting in a different game.

  21. As a side note, reading this might be of interest.

    Anyway, it sounds to me that you want a game without logic, or at least not about logic: a game of expression and feeling.

    There arises a conflict. The very act of constructing a game imbues it with logic. If it has rules, then it has a defined logic.

    Music, art… They’re intrinsically linked to mathematics, defined by physics and adherence to patterns. Major chords and minor chords differ in the ratios of the frequency in their notes. Color, lines, shape, motion are all physical and mathematical concepts. Abstraction does not remove the connection to math, it deconstructs familiarity. It provides an alternative view, a more general view, applicable to non-abstracted things. Art and music can’t make you feel. Your interpretation of it and your experiences and relation to it make you feel. The coincidence that many experiences and interpretations are shared between people allows for an idea to be intentionally conveyed through art.

  22. This principle concerns doing the thinking for the recipient of the message. Games and toys, such as the “Avian Aztec”, should embrace this principle. Put the mechanics in the background, and enable players to receive feedback from their actions.

    Except the point of the Avian game was getting you to think about how to flap your wings in order to speed up, to turn, and to gain and lose altitude. The point was to experience the flapping, so it made sense to move the mechanics of each wing to points on the keyboard for each hand.

    Putting the controls in the mouse — in one hand — takes away from caring about the flapping. It does fix your concern about having the player focus on the mechanics (and it probably would make the gamey version more enjoyable). But if you’re trying to remove the mechanics of flight, why even have an input for each wing, why not just have the program handle wing control and you point out the direction you want to go?

    I think the problem instead was that by adding a clear path to fly in, it was trying to combine what you are saying (move the focus on mechanics and to a focus on getting to Location B) with the original point of the game (experience flight as a bird). I’d suggest that maybe it wasn’t the choice of a path to make it into a game that went wrong, but how it was presented. What if instead of a path to follow you saw a flock of birds on the screen and your goal was to stay in formation. You could see how the other birds were flapping and your goal was to be in step with them. Then instead of just another game about following the best path around the screen (whether that is clearly defined or inferred from avoiding enemies), it is a game about “Being a Bird”.

  23. I understood that what you created was a simulation of the mechanics of avian flight. I suggested mouse control because the mechanics of an action are not what make performing an action fun.

    Morgan, I wasn’t saying that people didn’t “get it” in terms of what I was trying to do. I meant in terms of mastering the controls. They were simply too hard for most people — in terms of muscle fatigue, as you mentioned, and also in many cases just plain old cognitively.

    However, I think your overall statement that it’s always about the getting to location B aren’t globally accurate. For many, the mechanics of movement ARE fun.

  24. […] echolocate chocolate (chocorisu) wrote,@ 2006-11-10 14:28:00      Entry tags:games, rambling academia and influences Enjoyable transcript of a talk by Raph Koster on influences in game design, touching on academia and games as art.Koster is an interesting figure in games. He has a very academic background, has studied the medium of games in great detail and published several books on the subject. However, to date, the only game he’s actually released was the somewhat disappointing MMO Star Wars Galaxies. I’m not about to be judgemental about that, because I see first hand all the great ideas that never get into finished games. Everyone has to share a vision, which is why most games are variations on old patterns: most people have no vision or imagination.I find myself wanting to play less games and enjoy more real experiences. Koster talks about more influences making for better games: I think it also works the other way. The more interests and influences one has, the less appeal games start to have: their limited palette becomes very apparent.This is why I’m getting interested in creative writing again, wanting to read more, catch up on films I haven’t seen, visit museums and galleries: I want more influences. Not because I’m sick of games but because I want to make better games. I think games can do something magical… but right now, they don’t.It’s like comics vs graphic novels. I wonder if we need another word for games that aren’t so goal-oriented and more about an experience, an exploration. Something you could sell at coffee shops and art galleries, rather than Toys R Us. Chris Crawford thinks it’s “interactive fiction” but I think that’s too narrow a view. There’s a pretentiousness there that suggests, for example, graphics don’t matter, that because games can be fun with minimal graphics, they’re irrelevant. IF is just one aspect of deconstructivist games.So anyway, rather than waffling any further, there’s some motivation for bettering myself. That and being happy, but I work better with extraneous motivation… :o)(Post a new comment) (Anonymous) 2006-11-10 09:53 pm UTC (link) Actually, Koster also made Ultima Online, and worked on a bunch of other titles at SOE.(Reply to this) […]

  25. Why isn’t there an Impressionism renderer?

    http://www.mxac.com.au/m3d/NPR1.jpg

    It’s not exactly what your talk was about, and not exactly impressionist because there’s no brain behind it, but it gets close.

    I’ve tried using non-photorealistic renders in my game (and still have the option enabled) but the NPR gets in the way and creates an unsettled feeling… which is fine for nightmares, but not something you want to experience for too long.

  26. […] happened around me. add comment   |  0 trackbacks   |  permalink Henny Penny  Friday, November 10, 2006, 11:22 AM – Mike – MMOs (many props to f13to the future. add comment   |  0 trackbacks   |  permalink dot com boom, part 2  Friday, November 10, 2006, 08:54 AM – Mike – Other Gamesfor games, eh? add comment   |  0 trackbacks   |  permalink de_blackout development entry #5  Thursday, November 9, 2006, 05:33 AM – Mike -make some sketches. add comment   |  0 trackbacks   |  permalink de_blackout development entry #4  Tuesday, November 7, 2006, 08:52 PM – Mike -whatever. 1 comment ( 11 views )   |  0 trackbacks   |  permalink Next […]

  27. I have a lot of reading to catch up on with all your books and blogs, but I do want to ask a quick question:

    Do you believe the grammar of games tracks with the deep structure of language (Chomsky stuff) or do you feel there is anything “hard-wired” about it in the human consciousness or brain?

  28. Trin said: Except the point of the Avian game was …

    That’s like saying “the wrong market is buying our product. The product was designed for a specific market, so any criticism from the wrong market is irrelevant.” Guy Kawasaki would say, “Take the money.”

    Raph wrote: For many, the mechanics of movement ARE fun.

    For some, at least. Children who learn to walk (i.e., first timers), casual gamers proficient with point-and-click interaction, and perhaps those of personalities that focus on discovery and experimentation… The mechanics of movement are only fun to a certain extent, measured in time. They’re patterns, after all.

    One of the other problems with “Avian Aztec” is that the mechanics of flight become stale. They do not evolve. Once the pattern is mastered (or exploited, in my case) the actions become boring.

    I suggested mouse control because you said the simulation was a prototype. And what do you do with prototypes? You experiment. I never said that mouse control would solve the problems; rather, I said mouse-driven flight would certainly provide more information about the design problem you were facing.

    An element of roleplay would be wonderful. If I wanted to learn about the mechanics of avian flight, I would prefer to play a game that involved me in the role of a bird who can perch atop a mountain for a grand view of the landscape, lay eggs and defend the nest from scavengers, whip through forests dodging branches with uncanny reflexes, chase prey scurrying about the land or flopping in the ocean or flying in my airspace, avoid predators on the ground and in the air, and live out my days as king of the sky. That would be fun, and I could learn the mechanics of avian flight through the need to survive and prosper.

    However, I think your overall statement that it’s always about the getting to location B aren’t globally accurate.

    For clarity’s sake, “getting to location B” is a process. It’s the experience of moving to a certain location, which includes all the turbulence between one point and another. I would agree that this feedback isn’t always the goal of players, but that’s why you need to know not only who you want to use your product but also those that are using your product. I’m going to a wild guess, but I think you probably received more criticism than you did praise, and those critiquing and praising “Avian Aztec” are probably split into identifiable player segments.

  29. Why on earth has this thread turned into a discussion of the bird game? :)

    “the wrong market is buying our product.”

    There was no intended market for it, which I think is important to point out.

    For some, at least. Children who learn to walk (i.e., first timers), casual gamers proficient with point-and-click interaction, and perhaps those of personalities that focus on discovery and experimentation… The mechanics of movement are only fun to a certain extent, measured in time. They’re patterns, after all.

    I think you’re being somewhat dismissive here. After all, everything else in a game is also just a pattern. The entire genre of racing games, for example, is about movement. On a circular track, no less. All patterns are going to become stale, measured in time. The question is how long it takes.

    When you comment that “Andean bird” (not Avian Aztec!) got stale — there weren’t really very many challenges there to meet, frankly. So I would expect it to grow stale rather quickly, from a gamist perspective.

    I suggested mouse control because you said the simulation was a prototype.

    Yes, but here’s a crucial point. It is not a prototype of a game about birds flying over islands. It is a prototype of a game about flapping. The whole set of stuff you wish for, with the forests and the eggs and the nest and the prey and all that, that is your game that you are superimposing on top of this one. It’s a game designed from a given experience’s point of view.

    Whereas if I were to make another prototype, it would be of an alternate flapping mechanism — do you see the distinction I mean? I am not making a game about being a bird, or about flight. I am making a game about the flapping, and that means that mouse control basically is beside the point. I’d be far more likely to make a prototype using the 360 controller on the analog triggers.

    I’m going to a wild guess, but I think you probably received more criticism than you did praise, and those critiquing and praising “Avian Aztec” are probably split into identifiable player segments.

    Of course they are split into player segments. But I am not designing to a segment; the whole point was to see if there was a segment out there that would try something completely different. And the result was that there was. The little bird game was in fact downloaded a few thousand times, (and overall, there was a lot more praise than criticism, not that this matters for my purposes anyway).

    Of the criticism, there were basically three main comments made:

    1. “I don’t want to fly this way, I want a different game, but with the bird dressing.” This is the mouse control contingent.
    2. “Flapping is too hard, I can’t manage to do what I want, and I don’t care too much one way or the other about some other game with this bird dressing.” This is the group I mentioned as “bouncing off.”
    3. “I liked it, but my fingers got tired. Oh, and then what? So I am flapping… nothing happens.” This is the group that actually responded to what the prototype is, as opposed to what they wanted.

    For some reason, when I mention the whole mouse control thing, those of you who wanted it take my rejection of it as an implied criticism of you, and then I get this defensive tone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “not for me,” and I do not blame anyone for it. However, group #3 is the one whose feedback was interesting to me. Chasing after group #1 is like presenting a prototype toaster and being told “I like the baby blue color, but a fridge is more interesting.” Perfectly valid feedback, and should I go do another bird game, I’ll take it to heart. :)

    Given that I am not doing this for any commercial purpose whatsoever, catering to group #1 is just not something interesting to me. Were I actually seeking larger audiences, financial reward, etc, then the story would be very different.

  30. Someone let this guy a make a game or something, Raph I think all that studying is driving you batty, go have some fun bro :)

    Oh yea… twiddling your thumbs, theres a game for ya, try it… twiddling your thumbs the same way successfully never letting them touch skin. A thoughtless task made into a complex effort after about 5 to 10 tries. Game over? they run into each eachother and they will everytime after a random amount of rotations. Fun? probably not once you realize there is no endgame since its impossible to do. Realization? sometimes trying is enough, it just depends on how long you want to spend trying and looking past the frustration of repetitive effort. :)

  31. Weekend Design Challenge: Sensory Experiences

    Humans have five traditional senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. (I’ve used my sixth sense to know that some might want to talk about the sixth sense or other “senses”, but let’s leave those aside for now.) Games traditionally focus on t…

  32. Raph wrote: There was no intended market for it, which I think is important to point out.

    That’s a problem, in my opinion, but I think you were merely sharing one of your games rather than creating a game for others to play. I’m sure you’d agree that design needs to be user-focused, especially in light of your praise of Norman.

    Raph wrote: The entire genre of racing games, for example, is about movement.

    In a racing game, there is certainly movement involved; however, the experience of racing involves every event between the Start and Finish lines. The mechanics of movement take a backseat when the player is driving.

    Raph wrote: It is a prototype of a game about flapping. … I am making a game about the flapping, and that means that mouse control basically is beside the point.

    A criticism that I can make about games designed around a mechanic is that they are not focused on the player. If the player is not the focus, you’ll just embark on an uphill battle. The experience of the game should be that of the player and not that of the mechanic. The player should be more than simply the momentum for the character. Otherwise, you really do just have a simulation. It’s not even a toy at that point. [Note that the prototypes I’m referring to are the iterations before Andean Bird became a scroller.]

    As for mouse control, I think you are being dismissive here! :) You can definitely use the mouse to execute the same mechanics. The mouse could be moved horizontally to effect horizontal movement, and the left and right buttons could be used to flap the wings.

    You could have also went one step farther by modifying the flapping function in a way where one press of a button completes a single flap of one wing. Holding both mouse buttons, or the scroll-wheel button, could do whatever else such as flapping both wings simultaneously to accelerate and increase altitude. That would eliminate a number of tiring, repetitive keystrokes while retaining the need to use a pattern of button presses to move.

    Raph wrote: But I am not designing to a segment; the whole point was to see if there was a segment out there that would try something completely different. And the result was that there was.

    If that was your objective, you succeeded, but I thought the goal was to create a game about avian flight. That said, I don’t think you needed to create a game about flapping. You could have created a game about something else entirely, and there would have still been people out there who would try that “something different”. Why? Because you created that something.

    Raph wrote: Were I actually seeking larger audiences, financial reward, etc, then the story would be very different.

    Understood.

  33. There’s not a “melody” game, for example, because there isn’t interest in one.

    Well, there’s Electroplankton. I suppose you could argue it’s not a game, and there wasn’t that much interest in it. Following on the joke that MySpace is just a big popularity game, for bands it would mostly revolve around a music (or melody) game. There’s certainly the possibility for someone to make a MySpace-like online game focused around creating melodies and then having them judged by other players.

  34. […] Millions of Peaches Raph gave a fun, mildly inflammatory talk called ‘Influences’ questioning if games are fundamentally limited in their capability to explore the human experience. Such angst makes my geeky heart beat faster. What follows are the random late night thoughts jotted on the airplane ride back.My heavily editorialized version of the talk: What if games are only spreadsheets? You can reduce a game into mechanics, stimulus, inputs and lots and lots of numbers. As the game is played, the player immediately strip away the initial sensations of wonder and end up with mechanical tools, a debug console of symbols that represent the ticking, clockwork heart of the game. But, but but…how can we expand our influences beyond the math? How could you evoke the taste of a peach? You can do it easily with a poem, a novel or a movie. But no one is doing it with games. […]

  35. Morgan wrote:

    As for mouse control, I think you are being dismissive here! :) You can definitely use the mouse to execute the same mechanics. The mouse could be moved horizontally to effect horizontal movement, and the left and right buttons could be used to flap the wings.

    Ahem. =) SOME of us only have one-button mice, would we only get to flap one wing?

    *sigh* Mac people are ALWAYS screwed out of games…. don’t automatically dismiss Mac users by insisting on convoluted interface contraptions. =)

  36. […] Millions of Peaches at December 31, 1969, 11:00 pm (cached at November 12, 2006, 9:15 am) Raph gave a fun, mildly inflammatory talk called ‘Influences’ questioning if games are fundamentally limited in their capability to explore the human experience. Such angst makes my geeky heart beat faster. What follows are the random late night thoughts jotted on the airplane ride back. My heavily editorialized version of the talk: What if games are only spreadsheets? You can reduce a game into mechanics, stimulus, inputs and lots and lots of numbers. As the game is played, the player immediately strip away the initial sensations of wonder and end up with mechanical tools, a debug console of symbols that represent the ticking, clockwork heart of the game. But, but but…how can we expand our influences beyond the math? How could you evoke the taste of a peach? You can do it easily with a poem, a novel or a movie. But no one is doing it with games. Games are limited as a medium. So is everything else. Suggesting that each medium lends itself to certain human experiences better than others should not be shocking. For example, you can create a deep understanding of an individual relationship with a novel. A painting on the other hand may only be able to capture a single emotion associated with a particular moment in that same relationship. Both are powerful experiences, but each medium still has obvious strengths and weaknesses. There are lots of mediums that have difficulty dealing with ‘peachness’. You could certainly shave a cat to look like a peach, but it is quite the tricky exercise. From this perspective, of course certain peachy topics stump all but the most skilled game designer. At the very least we can say that games are poor at exploring experiences that require input and output mechanisms that are undeveloped either technically on the game’s execution platform or culturally in the game’s audience. For example, games right now lack a taste output apparatus. They also lack widely accepted stimuli that the audience will recognize as a metaphor for taste. So part of it is an interface problem and part of it is a cultural problem. Limits to the medium exist. We should recognize them. We should also attempt to be insanely clever in getting around them. The strength of games as a medium The mildly inflammatory bit is the suggestion that games have no superpowers. What if no matter how many steps forward designers make, we will still end up with shallow clockwork toys? Perhaps, if someone wants to create a meaningful experience, they should skip games all together. There are at least two obvious counter arguments to this fear. […]

  37. […] http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/RaphsWebsite/~3/47479313/http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/11/10/project-horseshoe-influences/My talk at Project Horseshoe was called “Influences.” And here it is, transcribed for your pleasure, with occasional audience interjections. […]

  38. Hey, Mac users can buy two-or-more-button mice, too! ;)

  39. […] The panel’s moderator, Adam Singer of the MCPS-PRS Alliance started on a provocative note, asking why gaming “is so reluctant to pick up the mantle of a true medium.” He even suggested that the game industry was analogous to that of Hollywood and the film biz in 1913 …yet to develop the major entities that would drive it forward”. Raph Koster explored this in detail recently (see also). […]

  40. Ya know, if you could hook up two mice and use one for each wing, it would be alot more fun.
    {Pictures a sandy haired business man sitting at his laptop in a motel room, moving two mice around to stretch wings while left clicking to flap them, and gowing “Caw, Caw”, while two tall and thin business men stand behind him flapping their arms and going “Caw, Caw” too.}
    (Excuse me if you haven’t seen the whale song commercial)

  41. My thought on this is that one of reasons those moments you got people to imagine in the thought excercise were so special is that they are moments when the model of the world you have formed in your head is changed.

    You thought you knew what it was to be happy and then BAM, first kiss whatever and its changed.

    For most games you form a pretty accurate model of the game world in your head within 5 minutes and it pretty much holds true the entire way through. There are no moments when you are suddenly hit with an experience that changes the model in your head, causes you to re-assess your whole way of thinking about the game. Games are so damn consistent.

    For me thats a small part of the answer anyways.

  42. […] All right, exploration of the definition of grammar aside, Raph recently posed two very interesting grammatical puzzlers at Project Horseshoe (link) . First he laments that games are basically complicated spreadsheets. And I think we’re prisoners of our math. […]

  43. […] There are a few posts around the web reacting to or riffing on or vastly extending some of the discussion in my Influences talk from Project Horseshoe […]

  44. For starters, thank you for this amazing text, there is so much insight in this speech and many ways to follow up on it. I will resist to present my thoughts on this, there is so much to think about in the article and the previous comments already. I just want to try to outline a theorem that i believe is connected to what you are saying in game design. It is found in the third Critique of Immanuel Kant, which includes his aesthetic theory. He introduces a term that I will translate here as grace. Not as in forgiveness, but undederstood as a benevolent action towards you without any motive behind this action, or without you deserving this benevolent act. It is somewhat related to a feeling of revelation of prestabilized harmony, between the productions of nature and our sense of beauty or generally the wonder of the convergence of two subjectivities (Persons). Kant makes an argument for the necessary lack of economy in works of art (and economy is something that always comes into play when numbers are involved). He gives an example: He talks about a group of tourists who are on vacation. They are led out of their rooms at the beginning of dawn to witness one of wonders of nature, the beautiful song of the nightingale. They listen in awe, but when a guest finds out that there is a servant hiding in the bushes who can perfectly mock the birds song, all the enjoyment turns sour. Now Kants point is this: For all they can tell, the original and its imitation sound exactly the same. But they can enjoy it only if they experience it as the grace of nature, not if it is something that is done as a service to them. I think that a look at modern culture, especially in the music industry, shows that there still is a great need for the performers to signal, that they are indeed mockingbirds, true artists that just reveal what they ‘naturally’ are and not mere entertainers catering to their listeners. I still remember that in the old interstate 76 game, you could press a button and you were presented a poem. Some of them were really nice, to boot. That was an act of grace, that poem did not need to be there. Of course, it was also not a part of the gameplay mechanic, of the speadsheet, and if the mechanic sucked, no poem in the world could have saved that game. Anyway, I think Kants concept of grace seems to me to be a interesting read for you, although this book is a really tough nut to crack (especially since it builds on concepts presented in his first Critique). Now i have written too much already, and i have presented Kants Concept on a very low level still. So i will shut up now

  45. These last two posts are extremely interesting.
    So, if you’re playing a game where dragons are really nasty, and there’s one living in a cave near your home port (I know, that’s another idea that seems to be off radar for the benefit of level grinding) and the dragon is causing all kinds of havoc giving you a need to get rid of it (yes…another idea that’s lost, that of need due to inconvenience).

    So, you and others get together, and you go out and slay the dragon outside it’s cave. You hope another one doesn’t spawn for quite some time, and post repeated complaints on the message boards about the game because th dragons are so nasty.

    Then you go into the empty cave, and find the broken shell of a hatched dragon egg.

    Does your perception change? Does it make a difference? Like all questions, the answers are going to be different for different people. But damn, where’s the other half in the production cycle of MMORPGs? I know where it is on the player side, you can see them mingling quietly near the exit door.

  46. […] Raph Koster, at Project Horseshoe. (1 Comment |Comment on this) farah_sf […]

  47. […] But i think it’s a mistake to perceive the ordinary daily play of games as being the only way to engage with games. In the book I presented a grid of engagement that was derived from this old post to MUD-Dev. I think that even though games may primarily teach you to, well, mvoe through the game, they also encourage engagement in other ways — these days, often explicitly. So I don’t have nearly as negative a takeaway here as the author of this piece does, though I do think that it’s important to consider what limitations games have in terms of how and what they teach. […]

  48. […] Attendee Dan Cook, on Lost Garden, said of Horseshoe, “Sparks were flying. And hay. Don’t forget the hay. … It gave me faith that if you just get the brightest people of our industry off their isolated islands and give them a chance to talk, amazing ideas are inevitable. Experience shared is multiplied, not diminished.” And Raph Koster’s Horsehoe talk, “Influences,” attracted much post-conference comment. […]

  49. […] Raph’s Website » Project Horseshoe: Influences — "I actually went and looked up on the Web a list of NP-hard problems, and they sure as hell sound like our games." Raph Koster hitting lots of nerves with me. Lots, and lots, of nerves. Tagged as: design play games influence mechanics math computing […]

  50. […] I was reading Raph Koster’s “Influences” speech at the Project Horseshoe, where he showed his Andean Bird Demo, a sort of Jonathan Livingston Seagull game. He explained that he wanted to make a game about flapping. Not a simulator, fighting, strategy or any kind of challenge. […]

  51. […] as Art: Project Horseshoe 2006″ on Amped News. It goes into more depth about not just the “Influences” talk I gave, but about many of the broader issues as […]

  52. […] you’re a game designer, this transcript of Raph Koster’s talk at Project Horseshoe 2006 is good to […]

  53. […] Blow’s minimalist elf-ninja homepage, I stumbled across this nothing-short-of-brilliant piece that Raph presented last year at Project Horseshoe. I told him as much, brilliant, I said. THAT WAS LAST YEAR! he […]

  54. […] So, for more on the whole "games that aren’t just numbers" thing, I’d recommend you read the speech I gave at Project Horseshoe: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/11/10/project-horseshoe-influences/ […]

  55. […] of Peaches Raph gave a fun, mildly inflammatory talk called ‘Influences’ questioning if games are fundamentally limited in their capability to explore the human […]

  56. […] I’ve talked in the past about whether games are, because of their inherently mathematical nature, limited in conveying certain types of information. But I think it is also worth asking whether the scope of their models is effectively misleading, or even actively lying, about how the world works. […]

  57. […] what else games may let us explore and understand. As a piece of homework, I recommend you read the transcript of a talk given by Raph Koster. In it, he speaks about the nature of games, and asks what might be possible […]

  58. […] More and better about the topic. Raph Koster “Influence”. […]

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