Saturday, August 9, 2008

Three Methods of Game Design

The author received another positive notice from the blogs today. Dear Ms. Bauer: Thank you for your kindness. As Shakespeare wrote, “Fear not, 'till the Reese's Fast Break do come to Dunsinane” Now our kingdom is overthrown, but we can't say that we didn't have a good run. Hopefully I shall require your legal services in later life. Thank you for being a friend. Yours, Iroquois Pliskin

I was listening to the GFW radio the other day, as is my wont, and something Robert Ashley said really stuck with to me. He was comparing the game design methods of Will Wright (the creator of The Sims and head of the studio formerly known as Maxis) and Shigeru Miyamoto. He related this anecdote to raise a point of comparison: When Miymoto was creating Mario 64, it turns out that the very first thing he did was have his programmers design him an open garden environment in order to put Mario through his paces. He spent the early stages of development tuning and re-tuning Mario's controls until they were perfect, by nailing down the feel of Mario's jumping and movement.

I feel like there were few moments of my gaming youth that I remember vividly, but the very first moments of Mario 64 stand out in crisp definition against the indistinct welter of childhood games. The tactile quality of the interactions and the indescribable kineticism of the movements had been refined in a way that I had never experienced before. Everybody remembers this moment, how thrilling it was just to jump around the environment. The story illustrates the core of Nintendo's distinctive method game design. Nintendo's hallmark as a developer is the refinement of the controls; even their subpar games control well, and their greatest games (Wii Sports, Mario 64, WarioWare) transform control itself into a form of revelation.

As Ashley eloquently put it, Nintendo creates a world out of play. Wright, on the other hand, operates by making a game out of the world. His studio has always taken a complex dynamic in the world-- the social development of cities, or the course of evolution, or human social life-- and then turned the laws of that phenomenon into rules in a game. Wright's games are, in an odd way, an attempt at scientific description: each of them purport to describe how some aspect of the world works. (Civilization is like this, too, except it's offering an interpretation of the determining forces in world history.)

Having to be a game that is fun to play puts some limits on this procedure. But Wright shares this basic method with the great number of game designers that strive for realism. They just put the accent of the idea a little differently: what they're trying to do is to capture all the minute details of the empirical world and create virtual worlds that have all those features. Whatever its problems as a game, GTAIV shows that the pursuit of the detail necessary to create a more visually believable world is worth the time and hardware. It informs us that there are new things still to come from this direction.

While the other current-gen consoles have pushed the technical capacities required by visions of this sort further, the Wii's bequest to posterity is its introduction of a new form of play into the home. Nintendo's staked its empire on the joys of mere motion a few times already, and won. Now, it's funny to remember how we doubted that this was a winning proposition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny but understandable. During the genesis of the next-gen races, the 360 and PS3 were showing previews of games like Metal Gear Solid 4, Gears of War, Resistance: Fall of Man and Saints' Row. To look at the advanced, colorful, mind-blowing graphics of these and then turn around and look at something like Wii Boxing wasn't very encouraging. But you're right, once again, Nintendo proved it's integrity in the next-gen races by creating a fan base of their own.

I was going to say that I can identify with your Mario experience, in this one game I bought for the Sega 32X (remember that? lol) called "Metal Head". The controls and graphics were amazing for it's time, and I was blown away by the free way I was able to manuever around this polygon city to bring down enemies. I'm not sure it's the same though.