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1055112 Posts in 42843 Topics- by 34762 Members - Latest Member: killend

October 20, 2014, 01:44:10 AM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingLudo-literacy: the value of being being "well-played".
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Author Topic: Ludo-literacy: the value of being being "well-played".  (Read 1655 times)
Evan Balster
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« on: February 19, 2013, 06:51:19 PM »

...but just going into the topic of new and great ideas I want to put a reminder here of citizen kane. What does citizen kane have to do with anything!? Well, citizen kane is referred to as using what is known today as modern techniques in cinema and also known as the first feature length film of Orson Welles. Even though he did have some help much of it came from "sheer ignorance" in the rules of film making. "It's only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful." So let's all just forget the rules of writing and design and just make the citizen kanes of video games!

The above quoted remark alludes to something I've been thinking about a lot lately -- my literacy in games.  I'm not talking about literature or being well-read here; I'm talking about the experience of playing good, intelligent, well-designed games, and its relevance to being a game developer.

I don't game a lot these days and that disturbs me -- I'm dismissive toward the state of the art when I look at big-budget games like Skyrim, but I know there's a lot out there that I'm missing.  People talk about Dark Souls, Kentucky Route Zero, Dishonored, Fez, Antichamber, and a thousand other things.  I have a queue, and I neglect it entirely.  I got a good start on the latest Jonas Kyratzes title -- I love his work -- but I haven't gone back to it.  The same for Fez.  I feel as though I'm becoming an illiterate gamer.

At the same time there's some arrogant part of me that has always liked the idea of ignoring conventional wisdom and teaching one's self.  This has a wisdom of its own -- I teach myself to play instruments, and so my acquaintance with them is intuitive.  A metaphor I like to use:  If being taught to play is being given a map of the paths through a forest, teaching one's self is wandering off into the underbrush and getting lost.  There is a wilderness of possibility that the classically educated are taught to ignore, but the autodidacts learn first and become intimate with.  Each may cross into the other's domain in time, but I prefer the latter as a starting point.

That said, I'm a self-taught game designer and developer.  I know the wilderness, though my wanderings are more focused than in my youth.  And it's my belief that once such an intuitive acquaintance is mature, the best course is to do something akin to "classically educating" one's self, so as to have the best of both worlds.  But to play more is -- hilariously -- difficult for me to work into my lifestyle.  I've contemplated structured game-time on a regular schedule.  Should I force it, though?

I remember when I had a habit of writing, and I became much less capable of it when I quit reading.  Why doesn't the same apply to making games?  Or does it?
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2013, 10:32:35 AM »

Answering the question about forced gaming... I have a theory about the way multiplayer will be played in the future, from my experience it was introduced by demon souls/WAY and made popular by journey and now games like Destiny will make it their main focus. So I don't like the idea of forcing myself to play video games, but at least being informed on how games are evolving. My opinion on this also extend to triple AAA as a learning opportunity to see what makes these games a successful/enjoyable experience to a large audience. I would like to game more because of this but I honestly just watch let's plays while I work and have the youtube videos do all the analysis for me. It will never be the same as experiencing it myself but its a start.

I really like the wilderness analogy as well. I'm not very familiar with the proper rules on design and writing for games but I have seen this article http://www.designersnotebook.com/Design_Resources/No_Twinkie_Database/no_twinkie_database.htm and it shares some interesting thoughts. But the Orson Welles idea makes me wonder if all this just needs an unconventional approach to make these practices work.
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2013, 05:49:15 PM »

Since games are such a young medium, we don't have as many pre-established rules about what makes a good game as we do with other mediums. So, I don't think that game literacy, while important, is necessarily too big of a deal at this point there's still a lot of untapped potential with games that we haven't accessed yet.

If you're making a military FPS, for example, it would be important to play lots of military FPSes and learn what makes them work and what doesn't. If you're making some weird art-game thing, on the other hand, and you're forging relatively new ground, then literacy isn't crucial. There might be a handful of work that's similar to what you're trying to achieve, but there isn't enough so that the particular works are at all indicative of how your game should be.

I've been having trouble playing new games too, lately. I've started Deus Ex: HR and Portal 2, and while I really appreciate both of them, I've been having trouble finishing either of them. Most of what I've been playing are visual novels, interactive fiction, and similar stuff - stuff that's not really representative of the medium as a whole.
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Alec S.
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2013, 06:23:34 PM »

I think game literacy is a big deal, and it's one of the reasons I think games being so long is harming the medium as a whole (in fact, I wrote an article about it here)

I would say that I'm much more film literate than I am game literate.  Just this year so far I've watched ~20 movies, an only beaten about 4 games.  I've probably started fewer games than I've watched whole movies, and this is with a conscientious effort to play at least a little bit of each of my unplayed games backlog.

I could be considered something of a film buff.  I've seen a good portion of the classics, a number of artsy foreign films, and a shitload of more obscure genre films.

It's so much harder to be a "game buff".  In the time it takes to play through one game, you could get a watch a strong primer in Film Noir or Hong Kong Action Comedies, or get to know the French New Wave.  

I'd say I'm more game literate than a lot of people.  I've played many of the classics and a lot of more niche games, but there are tons of important and interesting games that I haven't played, or haven't played enough of.  When a game takes a month of your time to beat, or even longer (I'd really like to have a better understanding of the JRPG genre, but I've been playing Persona 4 on and off for about 5 years now) it becomes really hard to become any kind of knowledgeable about the medium unless you are specifically paid to play and review games.

And the problem is people often end up playing only a very narrow portion of games.  They find a genre and stick to it, which creates a lot of creative inbreeding in videogames.  So many game developers are the equivalent of a film maker who has never seen a Humphrey Bogart or Jean Luc Godard or Stanley Kubric movie.

My advice as a player is to find a genre that you don't play as much, and find writers who really get that genre.  For traditional PC genres (Strategy, cRPG), Rock Paper Shotgun is a good source.  For Primarily Japanese console action games, ActionButton.net (or at least the articles written by Tim Rogers) is pretty good.  Then play the games, at least enough to get the idea behind it.

My advice as a designer is to make shorter games.


EDIT:

As a response to the quote about Citizen Kane, there are many many counterexamples of truly classic films that show their influences from films that came before.  The French New Wave from Film Noir and gangster movies, the Hollywood New Wave (Kubrick, Coppola, ect...) from the French New Wave and other foreign cinema, Tarantino from everything he can get his hands on.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2013, 12:29:26 PM by Alec S. » Logged

Evan Balster
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2013, 07:03:40 PM »

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Alec.  <3

There's a very narrow category of games that I hold to be extremely relevant to me.  Games with deep ambience, a focus on storytelling and exploration-based gameplay.  Some titles I suspect I need to make the time for:  Dear Esther, Fez, (the rest of) Sword and Sworcery and Kentucky Route Zero.
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2013, 11:37:42 AM »

I heard Jon Blow describe Braid as a 'very games-literate game.' What that means to me is that, as a designer, you're able to take certain conventions as being understood by the player.

Nintendo usually does a good job of handling games literacy. Rather than making knowledge of these conventions mandatory, they'll make most levels passable for anyone. However, if you are very familiar with the conventions of Mario, then you are greatly rewarded! This also has the effect of teaching games literacy very effectively.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Metroid. Especially the first one, which is funny, because it was totally unique at the time. I had to look in an faq to find out how to open the first kind of special door, because I didn't think to shoot it with ALL of my missiles. However, anyone who had played another Metroid game would have known it right away. (I had played other Metroid games, but it had been a while, so I lost some of my Metroid-literacy.)

Martine (mchapuis here) watched me play Super Mario Bros. U for a while, and I kept finding all these hidden secrets. She'd ask, "How did you know that was there?!" and I said, "Because, it's Mario, and that's how they do," or something to that effect.

This can be a powerful tool for a designer, but also a dangerous one... it's undesirable to turn players away by assuming they know something they don't, which makes them confused and sad. On the other hand, this could be used to limit your audience if that's what you're looking to do.

Hmm...
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2013, 12:26:22 PM »

Games are too diverse and, yep, too long to realistically expect anyone not to have missed mountains of well-designed and intelligent ones. And there are too many. (I believe there are film critics alive who have seen every commercial film ever released, but there has to come a day when even that won't be possible any more!)

Alec, where is the article you wrote? I'd like to read it and hear your arguments because I can't bring myself to view the long length of games as a bad thing. (provided the length of a game isn't artificially padded, which in fact it often is)  Rather, it's one thing I like about modern gaming. I don't mind at all that Dark Souls ate up hundreds of hours of my life instead of some other game(s), because I was having a blast. Just that long games makes it hard to be a game buff isn't a compelling enough reason to me. If one can't be knowledgeable about the entire medium, one can be knowledgeable about a subset of it. Any professional has to admit that his profession ends somewhere.

It takes a long time to read through a book series or to watch a TV drama series, but as long as the reader or viewer is getting value out of it, I'm not troubled by the book buff or TV buff's dilemma. Or let me put it this way...I'd point the blame for creative inbreeding due to sticking to a genre at sticking to a genre. If you played this Call of Duty you don't really need to play that Call of Duty to have a feel for the genre. (In fact, I want to say that if you've ever paid money to own more than one Call of Duty game, you're a sucker. But I won't Tongue Oh wait, I just did)
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Alec S.
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2013, 12:35:19 PM »

Here's the article:  http://renegadesector.com/2013/01/why-i-like-short-games/  (I also fixed the link in the original post.)

The tl;dr version:  Aside from the literacy argument, there's also the fact, like you mentioned, that a lot of games pad themselves out because game-length is viewed as a "feature", and also because long play-times kill an incentive for replaying games and can lead to game burnout.

« Last Edit: February 21, 2013, 12:41:43 PM by Alec S. » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2013, 12:55:58 PM »

Personally, I prefer games that are finishable in the 2-5 hour mark, i.e. Portal or Braid. Then again, I'm a very literate puzzle gamer... I'd love to talk about the length of games, but that seems like the subject for another topic. Oh, writing forum, thou art a fickle mistress.

But, speaking of Braid, I think that game did something wonderful with written text. I'm sure you all know about this, being literate and all, but JB's text works on multiple levels to complement the rest of the game. First, all of it is optional. You don't even have to press a button to skip it. Those books are genius. If your attitude is 'GIMME PUZZELZ' then that's the option for you.

On the other hand, if you're in the mood for a more abstract puzzle than the one the game overtly offers, the texts themselves ARE a puzzle. They're disjointed, seeming-random, and beg to be deciphered. And, of course, there is no 'correct' solution as there is for the other, more literal puzzles. Here, they are open to interpretation. You can use as many or as few pieces [of text] as you want, but they're all part of the puzzle in some way...

Lastly, in the final level (the End, like, where there's the little castle made up of level icons), the books hide another puzzle. If you just waltz through, the text there might seem incomplete in a manner of speaking, but you also might not give it another thought. If you mess around with the room some more, you're rewarded with more text. For someone seeking a puzzle of interpretation, it's a great reward...
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Alec S.
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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2013, 01:19:21 PM »

I've started a thread on game length in the design forum, so we can continue/split off this conversation there.

Back to the topic of Ludo-literacy, I think another problem is there are a lot of classic games that have fallen out of common playing.  This is particularly true about PC games.  Whereas console classics like Mario, Sonic and Zelda hold places in the "gamer" culture, PC classics like Freespace, Baldur's Gate and Ultima have fallen by the wayside.  There are a lot of ideas being developed in PC gaming that have been dropped over time which could really benefit from a modern take (just see how well it went with XCOM), but these ideas are just not in most gamer's vocabularies.
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2013, 04:35:42 PM »

i think the mistake people make is thinking you have to finish a game to know it.
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2013, 05:45:16 PM »

i think the mistake people make is thinking you have to finish a game to know it.

A comforting thought, but for the games I consider most important to me -- narrative ones -- it doesn't seem viable.  Watching the first ten minutes of a bunch of great films wouldn't teach me the art of telling a story, just certain facets of it.
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2013, 08:58:13 PM »

You should really only play games that you like, that you want to play. There is no point in playing games you don't like since 1) you won't learn anything and 2) you will lose faith in good games (this, however, isn't to say you shouldn't explore genres you haven't explored before.) That alone should make it possible for you to play all of them (: Finally, if you don't have time for games you'd really like to play that means you don't really like them.

And that's all I have to say. Now, seriously, is there anything else to be said on this topic? It's all crystal clear to me (: I don't really buy into this "I don't have time" argument. Everyone needs to relax and, well, if you like games you'd relax with them (:
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2013, 09:32:13 PM »

I'm not fooling myself, haha.  I have time, I just don't make time.  I've got two projects I'm working on, two more I really should be working on, and part-time school, but I more or less define my own schedule.  These are excuses, but none of them are legitimate.

I've gotten really good at structuring myself to do work, and I never manage to commit after I start playing a game.  Little Big Planet, Fez, The Sea Will Claim Everything -- all way up my alley but I've only sat down for one session with each.  And those are only the recent ones.  At this point I'm wondering if the same structure would be good for me as a player.
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2013, 09:38:37 PM »

I don't know. If you did that to your girlfriend would you still expect her to love you?
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Alec S.
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2013, 10:32:25 PM »

There is no point in playing games you don't like since 1) you won't learn anything and 2) you will lose faith in good games (this, however, isn't to say you shouldn't explore genres you haven't explored before.)

I actually would disagree with that.  There's plenty to learn from games that you don't enjoy.  This article makes an argument about learning from bad movies that can also apply to games (As a note, the author of the article says this was said to him by Quentin Tarantino):  

"And I mean if you want to do this for a fucking living and you're absolutely serious, then never hate a movie. You can learn so much about the craft from bad movies. I man you can't like fucking look at Kurosawa and be all "Oooh just do what Kurosawa did. You know, it's easy!" Fuck no! Bad movies teach you what not to do and what to correct in your process and that's way more helpful. You know how many feet of film I burned on this thing [MEANING KILL BILL] when I was trying to be like something else that was great? Like fucking Pole Fighter, like what you said? No, all the best stuff came out of me just trying to avoid mistakes."



Also, if you want to play all the way through games, my advice would be to pick a game (or a few, depending on how much time you can dedicate) and play it at least a little while each day.  If you are playing multiple games in parallel, try to play all of them each day.  This works pretty well for me (as well as for reading books).
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« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2013, 09:25:50 AM »

This would explain all the continuing sales with Colonial Marines... But yep, a pretty interesting design exercise is to get two games similar to each other (preferably one you consider good and bad) and note what this game did right compared to the other. Or vice versa knowing what the other game did wrong.
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« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2013, 04:02:02 PM »

There is a lot to be learned from mistakes but if you can make mistakes yourself -- and you will be making them! -- why should you  bother with other people's mistakes? The only reason to bother with other people's mistakes is to see how they dealt with them and even these should only be those which are relevant to you. Further, it's impossible not to play a bad game while it's quite possible to never play a good one. In other words, good games are rare and bad games are plenty, so I don't see why I should actively seek out bad games, especially if they are in no way related to what I am making (e.g. different genre).
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Alec S.
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« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2013, 11:11:14 AM »

It's easier to see other people's mistakes for what they are than it is to see your own.  It's easy to ignore bad gamefeel or a stilted difficulty curve in your own game because you can become immune to it over repeated testing.  However, in someone elses game it'll be readily apparent, and will teach you things to avoid in your own games.

There's also the class of "This could have been cool" games, where it tried some really interesting things in some aspects, but made major mistakes in other regards which dragged down the whole experience.  Mentally trying to fix a game like this is a good design exercise, and you can learn from the bits of the game that they did right.
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