for your tea break...
Well, the pattern emerges. I pontificate and people bring me back down
There are three truths to me:
1. I theorize.
2. It matters.
3. Sometimes it creates problems.
That's what I was afraid of, that I would describe any good
game. In some ways my game is a lesson on what every other game does
wrong, in the general case. At least that might shed some light on
why I am always so abstract, or vice-versa.
Most games aren't really about the player. "Games" are about the
player, but a particular game is not. Take some arbitrary example,
like Arkham City. In that one you can make choices (as the
player). You can fly around the city, fight goons, progress the plot,
do side-quests, solve "riddles" and so on. But the game is also about
being Batman. You can't fight any way you want. You have to follow the
structure of the game. There's kind of this slo-mo kind of thing when
you fight, and there's chaining. A lot of the combat is about
crowd-control, positioning, and predicting where the next attack will
come from. That design is pretty specific. You get control within that
realm, but you are still forced to live within it.
My game is about you getting actual control. There are limitations
certainly. I have my pages of characters and combat system aesthetics
and what-have-you, all the "gamey" stuff that's personal to me. I like
Final Fantasy, and Star Trek, and anime, and shooters, and Prince of
Persia. So there will be influences from those things in the game. I
think of the first third of the game - abstractly - as being the "play
within my perfect game game." In it the player plays what is
effectively what I consider to be the perfect game for me. It is my
dream game, the perfect mashup of my life experiences, favourite
movies, books, and tv (and games). But those are just the training
wheels for the real experience, which is self-defined.
All the while, from the first button press, the system learns. It
learns about you, the person at the controls, and immediately starts
tailoring the experience to drive you to a point where the game
becomes a meditative center: you enter it and hit the zone as fast as
possible. There is a place where we are at our most creative, most
capable. The game will take you there. It will work constantly to find
that place, and reconstruct itself so that you can find it too, so
that you can get there, and stay there, and do whatever it takes to
never leave. The game exists as a toolbox for you to re-arrange it as
you see fit to create the experience that you want, that you don't
know that you want, because you haven't figured it out yet. That's why
you need the game.
Ok. So here is a simple example. Shooters are complicated. They are
very, very complicated. Let's say I took Modern Warfare and rebuilt it
to make it more accessible, without losing depth, so that any player,
just by putting time into the experience, could progress steadily
towards being an expert, engaging at a level comparable to a pro. You
could do this just by re-arranging levels and enemies dynamically to
slowly build the player's skills.
Skip the bits where I actually do this. You have to do some serious
level slicing... the whole game needs to be reconstructable in a
procedural way... and that's actually super complicated. Assume I
don't change the story, or "feeling". All I want to do is ensure that
a player is given challenges in such a way so that he can get a
balanced experience and always, in an obvious way, improve. The game
identifies skills that the player is lacking, then re-enforces them,
without ruining the experience.
"Flow" in a game is largely about balancing difficulty. To produce it
you have to deconstruct all the things a player "has to think about"
to be successful, then arrange challenges in such a way so that each
skill is honed, but the experience of play isn't disturbed.
Let's assume we did the same thing for turn-based combat, fighting,
exploration, platforming, environmental puzzle solving, whatever. Then
we mixed it all together. Then we explained to the system, "please
teach the player how to be good in all of these things, but in such a
way so that he is always steadily growing to understand the game more
deeply, so that his engagement is growing in the long-term." Then we
throw in dynamic story lines, and the ability for the player to affect
the world, and you would have my game.
The game in a way is literally about, "getting good at games," without
ever saying so. Realizing such is true is something that might happen
eventually to the player, but probably not for a while. Savvy players
might get it earlier. It will not be obvious, at all.
Maybe a good analogy is this. Minecraft is about building stuff, and
mining stuff. Focus on the building. In the game you explore what is
reasonably possible using gravity, a single laborer, twisted rules of
construction, an array of blocks, a couple of tools and other objects,
and lava/water. There are monsters too.
Minecraft is like this exploration of what can built using
blocks. That's what it is. The mining and stuff just helps drive that
experience: it is the "seeing construction from a new angle, the
'world's angle.'" My game is like the Minecraft for interaction
primitives. I want the player to be able to explore as much as he can
in a world defined from movement, camera work, building, geometric
puzzling etc. The beginning of the game trains him - more formally
than Minecraft did - in the ways of the world. Then the game slowly
transfers him into the "open-ended" area where he sets his own
goals, but instead of being creative and building, he is doing
If you break-down a Modern Warfare level into its functional
components you get simple stuff. There are walls, they have
heights. There are stairs and ladders and doors. All of these things
are positioned relatively to one another to define a set of
sight-lines and auditory "spaces" for every possible position a player
could be standing in. The enemies wander around in this area. The
player is pushed through it one general direction. There are some
scripted events. There are guns and tanks and ammo and so on.
You could manipulate these primitives to create the MW experience
without losing anything, and make it effectively endless, and tuned to
what the player needs, by listening to his needs. The idea runs
parallel to the generated worlds of Minecraft, except that Minecraft
worlds don't change themselves dynamically. Minecraft has general seed
values that act as "DNA" for worlds, that have been tuned to create a
good experience for the player, in the general case, but these seeds
are static (semi-random), and the world doesn't change. Also I don't
like the story-less free-roam aspect of Minecraft (for my
game). Pretend there is a more guided structure.
Imagine two states: that represent, say, the first 2 thirds of my
game. At the beginning of the first state (the beginning of the game),
the player is in a narrow corridor of play. There is very little
control for him, like in how MW actually is. Then imagine that over
time this control grows. The player develops his skills, because the
world adjusts to develop them - without breaking narrative continuity
- and gains more say in how things develop.
For example, every shooter player "finds his voice" the more he
plays. Every writer writes differently; every shooter player plays
differently. Only amateur players play the same, and even then they're
pretty diverse. The more experience you get shooting the more personal
your play becomes. The game - my game - adjusts to embrace this
diversity. Players are given increasing freedom so that they can grow
in the way that best suits them.
Think about choosing a development path in Skyrim for your character,
or your talent tree in Diablo II. In both cases you are leveling in the
direction that satisfies you. I am proposing something very similar,
but more granular, and directly integrated into the world. The player
grows in the way that he chooses.
There is this awesome implied system in Minecraft that allows you to
set your own goals. The game silently forces you to cycle between goal
setting and construction by limiting resources, forcing
encounters with enemies, and having a day/night cycle. But it
is a game about setting your own goals and reaching them. It is
very similar in this way to Skyrim, except in it your goals are
declared implicitly. You have to set them, you just don't have to say
My game will be something in-between. The player will earn increasing
rights to set his own goals. The game will guide him so that he
doesn't set poor ones. If he sets good goals that engage him then the
system loosens and gives him more freedom. It will do this largely
through implicit means. That part is a little harder to explain.
The second state of the game is the player having complete
freedom. (Remember the first state is the player gaining skills). The
player can enter into a shooter level that suits his desires. He can
control its construction down to whatever detail he likes. He can even
influence it in broad strokes, like, "more hectic, with shorter burst
of high-intensity, long stretches of dawdling, less team reliance,
longer ranges, more aggressive enemies." But the interface for
specifying these things will be in-game and natural, the way the
Minecraft world is the interface for "choosing what your house
looks like." You don't get a menu like you do in Farmville or The
Sims, you just get the game.
The first part of the game is one long training session in how to
handle oneself accordingly in the second part, in which you can
control what your experience is in extreme detail. In it you can sit
there and compose music if you want, or master arbitrary platforming
skills, or improve at number-crunching battle prep for turn-based
The player transfers slowly, gradually, from the first "state" (part)
of the game to the second, from a place of no freedom to complete. The
third part of the game involves other players, and I'll talk about
that some other time.
So imagine playing MW but slowly gaining control over the kinds of
levels you are playing. In fact, much of the control is expressed
fluidly by moving down a path that gives you the kind of experience
that you want. In RPGs I can "control the story output" by choosing
who to talk to. Such an interface is a very simple one for defining my
experience. In my game I can control any aspect by doing things just
as naturally, and having the world re-arrange itself around me to suit
Ok, now imagine combining all my favourite games into one game and
doing the same thing I did with MW. The world stays continuous - it
holds together - and the player, slowly, gains influence over it, so
that it becomes like a home. A home is a place where your most
developed relationships are, and all the things that reflect who you
That might be a little long... hey! ... that's me. I don't think I
explained it very well either. There are all these pieces floating in
my head, and at any given moment I can only capture one angle of the