The crud is amazing, because it will not go away. 🙁
Today brings a brief mention on Gamasutra of the Grammar of Gameplay talk as one of the highlights of GDC–well below Will’s Spore talk and the “Burning Down the House” session, of course. 🙂 There’s also a mention on Slashdot that says “probably my most amused moments during the conference” (along with Daniel James’ talk on Puzzle Pirates).
There’s a tiny, tiny bit of discussion there as well:
I find this stuff incredibly interesting. The presentation there tries to reverse-engineer the concept of fun. In one of Terry Pratchett’s recent books, the Auditors reverse-engineer everything to atomic level to attempt to gauge appeal, and it gets lost. Although Raph’s talk is trying to break things down into atoms, there is also an insight from realising there’s certainly more there than just atoms and associated verbs – the atoms in themselves are pointless. You can press a button, you can move a mouse, you can get the timing right. But it only begins to matter when you make atom-agglomerates – molecules – that it begins. His timing sequence for a quake gib is a molecule. It’s a sequence of events where each atom is connected in a particular order and in a particular way. These molecules can all add up in his parallel – multiple occurences of sequences, some work, some don’t; the target there is to get as many viable molecules as possible, and from that ‘win’. Or they can go in series – a polymer molecule, where the win comes from how long you can make your molecule; the argument there is then whether a beautiful molecule is a pure chain, or a branched chain, or sheet, or however. We’re going a little deep into this analogy, but it still makes sense. He says in the presentation that he hasn’t got a clue what to do with it. I wonder if I could get hired by the first crew who do, because I bet it’d be an incredibly interesting way to make a game.
and the reply:
I’ve been an admirer of Raph Koster for a long time, because he’s one of a very few people (like Will Wright, Dr. Cat, and JC Lawrence) who are actively thinking about our assumptions related to games and gaming. Raph’s particular angle at the moment is to examine what exactly we mean when we say a game is “fun”, so the idea of breaking a game into its component atoms isn’t so much an end in itself as a mechanism to identify the larger patterns of the game.
Up to the present point in time, when we’ve examined games, we’ve done so in macro-fashion: the field of play, the player, the enemy, the avenue of advancement. However, when you start breaking things down to their atomic natures, Raph seems to think (and I tend to agree) that these macro-elements of the game will resolve themselves to a few repeating patterns. Once you have those patterns, you can then examine how combinations of those patterns make a game fun, and how much fun they produce.
I also think Raph is after this for the right reason — to make games more fun, as opposed to the industry’s goal to make more money by determining the “formula” for a hit game. There are some people I *won’t* name who are geared in that direction, and while I appreciate the need to look at this angle (the game industry advances by trial-and-error, with each successful game paying the bills for several failures)… I think the question of “what will make more money” is much less interesting than “what will be more fun”. I also think “more fun” is more often attached to “more money” than the other way around.
As it happens, I know of at least one effort to try to run with the game design atoms idea with a small designers’ gathering to try to take a whack at expanding on it. We’ll see if anything comes of it–I’m invited, but might have to be out of the country that day… 🙁