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Steve Swink
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« on: February 16, 2007, 06:02:50 PM »

I'm moderating a panel at the Independant Games Summit this year "Innovation in Indie Games."  Would love to hear from the community: what would you like to ask Jenova Chen, Kyle Gabler, Jon Mak, and/or John Blow? More info here:

http://www.steveswink.com/posts/innovation-in-indie-games/

Thanks!
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Steve Swink
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2007, 02:15:02 AM »

I'd like to ask Jenova Chen, "are you the jammiest bastard in history?" for somehow getting flOw on PS3 despite it being utterly unremarkable. Wink

I'll be honest, it's not a panel that wows me outside of Kyle Gabler who's obviously vomitted out a number of interesting ideas. But while Braid sounds interesting enough as an extension of ideas from Blinx and the recent Prince Of Persia games, I've yet to play it (like most people as there isn't a widely available demo) so I can't say whether John Blow is a great designer or someone who's taken an interesting idea and then ruined it.

And for all the luminaries* on the IGF judging panel, they don't half seem to have been bigging-up stuff which is pretty unplayable but which they consider new-and-shiny, so I don't think of anything which is listed as "IGF-winning" or "IGF-nominated" as particularly worthy.

Still, I guess its all about what kinda' things you want to ask people on the panel and as you say its about innovation in games. I guess I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Smiley



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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2007, 05:51:02 AM »

John Blow is super awesome. I got a build of Braid a while back and it was a very refreshing brainfuck of a puzzle game, playing with time in ways I wouldn't imagine. There was also an interesting backstory that culminated in a really cool twist at the end. It well deserved the award last year. Plus he does the Experimental Gameplay Workshop and I don't know if you ever read his articles, but he knows his shit. And his business cards are metal!

Steve, I think I met you at the GDC last year after Chris and Chaim's talk on prototyping, and later at Will Wright's talk. I was going to say you should ask the panel if and how they used prototyping in their design process.

Also maybe ask if they directly interact with their greater player community and whether that ever effects their design decisions.
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Jeff Lindsay
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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2007, 08:58:04 AM »

Plus he does the Experimental Gameplay Workshop and I don't know if you ever read his articles, but he knows his shit. And his business cards are metal!
Dude. That's hardcore. Is his neck also really buff from constantly headbanging?
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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2007, 02:48:28 PM »

Plus he does the Experimental Gameplay Workshop and I don't know if you ever read his articles, but he knows his shit. And his business cards are metal!
Dude. That's hardcore. Is his neck also really buff from constantly headbanging?

That's nothing!  My business cards are ninja stars.  And if I offer one to you, that means you're going to die.

...just kidding, I don't even have business cards. Cry
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2007, 05:10:49 PM »

Maybe we weren't cool enough at places I've worked to get Ninja stars for business cards, but we certainly used them as ninja stars.  A couple of the guys got pretty good at getting them stuck between the ceiling tiles, and every so often a card would zing past your head.
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Mike Kasprzak | Sykhronics Entertainment - Smiles (HD), PuffBOMB, towlr, Ludum Dare - Blog
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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2007, 06:15:34 PM »

My startup's logo is a ninja. We're definitely going to need ninja stars...
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Jeff Lindsay
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2007, 09:31:34 AM »

Does anybody have any questions?

I haven't played Braid yet, either.  Embarrassed
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2007, 09:51:21 AM »

Does anybody have any questions?

I haven't played Braid yet, either.  Embarrassed

Jonathan B's been onto me and kindly offered me a version of it in a few weeks, so I shall be able to have a play soon enough and pop my thoughts into the podcast. Aw crap, I suppose its about time I started thinking about writing the next one. Sad
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2007, 10:26:27 AM »

Nah, just leave it another six months.

I might actually finish G-Force by then Wink
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2007, 10:31:57 AM »

Nah, just leave it another six months.

I might actually finish G-Force by then Wink

Haha! I know for a fact that's a lie. Wink
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2007, 05:32:07 PM »

The only game I really recognize off that list is Gate 88.  Huh?

I see flOw mentioned by PS3 fanboys, and Braid mentioned a few other times, but neither of those games compelled me to try them.
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Steve Swink
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« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2007, 12:30:15 PM »

Does anybody have any questions?

Hrm, guess not. It was very interesting to see what other folks think of Jon, John, Kyle, and Jenova, though.  I don't really feel the need to defend my panelist choices; if you come see them speak, you'll see why.  That said, if you are inferring things about Braid without having played it, or played flOw for a few scant minutes and haven't read Jenova's thesis (http://www.jenovachen.com/flowingames/thesis.htm), I'd reccomend witholding judgement. 

For the sake of stimulating conversation, here are a couple of the questions I'm interested in hearing these guys answer:

o   Do constraints breed creativity? If you had unlimited resources, what game would you make?
o   How much can you innovate inside the context of a game people want to play? Not fun, per se, but just something that people want to play
o   What are the metrics of success for innovation?


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Steve Swink
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« Reply #13 on: February 25, 2007, 01:56:36 PM »

Well I had a few, right? Again, I'd like to hear about prototypes. But here's a few more...

Is there such a thing as bad innovation? How would it be defined?

Are there techniques to achieving innovation? For example, taking established ideas and applying them in a different context.

Besides setting an example, what are some ways we can further encourage innovation in the industry?

How would you define the role of indie in regards to innovation? What about the rest of the industry?

One might consider innovation to just be one of many tools of the designer. In that case, when and where should it be used?

How would you define experimental? Does it imply merely an attempt at innovation?

I'd also maybe change "Do constraints breed creativity" to "How do constraints breed creativity" because it seems like accepted wisdom that they do. We're interested in the explanation.

I'm sure you'll ask, but as an introduction, "Why is innovation important?"
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Jeff Lindsay
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« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2007, 02:13:06 PM »

o   Do constraints breed creativity? If you had unlimited resources, what game would you make?

Yes, I think constraints breed creativity.  Given unlimited resources, most people would make "Life: the Game."  Either that or a game that just combined every other game into it.  Tony Hawk's Grand Theft Halo Wars or something like that.  Limitations can provide a kind of "spark" for the creative mind.

That said, it really depends on the person making the game, right?

o   How much can you innovate inside the context of a game people want to play? Not fun, per se, but just something that people want to play

I don't think this question really has an answer.  As much as possible?

o   What are the metrics of success for innovation?

How many clones your game spawns? Wink

No, but really, I would say a measure for success for innovation would be how much did you change people's conceptions of what a game is and how a game can be played.  Which, of course, is not something you could measure easily.
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Steve Swink
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« Reply #15 on: February 25, 2007, 03:17:30 PM »

@progrium: ah yes, I remember Smiley.  Shame about the horrid room crowding.  You (and anyone else here who's going to GDC) should swing by our Flashbang/IGF party on Tuesday night.  I'll post details when they're finalized. Should be *gonzo*

@Inane: he is a man-mountain, neck as thick as two bears.


Anyhow, thanks for the question suggestions!

I think that a question about interaction with players would be great...it's an issue that seems to be very contentious with those who consciously try to innovate. For example, Alex Austin has said that he believes playtesting 'dilutes the creative process.' or some such. Word.

Identifying techniques for generating innovative ideas was kind of the impetus behind the whole panel.  A hobby of mine is collecting brainstorming and creativity tools, things like Von Oech, DeBono and so on.  After guineapigging on my students for more than a year, it seems clear that anyone of reasonable intelligence can be highly creative given access to the right tools and if prompted properly.  It's all about getting access to the mental resources.  For example, in my Game Design class, I have students create board game prototype a week for eight weeks.  Invariably, the first game they make is a "race" game, similar to Monopoly.  I start applying constraints (no dice, create a game with three unique choices each turn etc...) and feed them ideas like generating creative stepping stones by introducing random quantities (random words in the dictionary, random article on Wikipedia, or whatever.)  One of my favorites for game design is role shifting.  A student comes in with a design about fantasy armies fighting on a hex grid. They have castles to capture, unit triangulation, movement points, all the really boring, really standard stuff. If you have a setup like that it's easy to start asking questions like this:

•   What if the player played as the castle instead of the army? What would the goal of the game be then?  To become the largest castle, regardless of which army inhabits you?  How would the armies factor into it? 
•   What if the player played as the weather and the goal was to erode the castles or to make everyone so cold and miserable that they stop fighting.
•   What if the player were a Valkyrie sweeping over the battlefield, trying only to cause the most death and bloodshed regardless the outcome.

At a more general level, you can simply brainstorm things to play as:

•   A thought
•   Time
•   Trends
•   A disease
•   Gravity
•   A librarian who hates books

You can get a delightfully fresh perspective this way. Tying it in with the concept of stepping stones, you have to be willing to entertain some ideas and notions that at first seem lame or to have no bearing on your present design problem. There are numerous brainstorming tools like this out there that can be drawn on, so a focus of mine will be the "how" of creativity. How do John, Jon, Jenova, and Kyle generate ideas? Are there any lessons and tools to share and use?   

What’s cool is that tools like this are as applicable to framed problems like “create a game with three unique goals” as they are to “What is a type of interaction that hasn’t been tapped yet?” or “What is a completely new type of gameplay?”


Well I had a few, right? Again, I'd like to hear about prototypes. But here's a few more...

Is there such a thing as bad innovation? How would it be defined?

Are there techniques to achieving innovation? For example, taking established ideas and applying them in a different context.

Besides setting an example, what are some ways we can further encourage innovation in the industry?

How would you define the role of indie in regards to innovation? What about the rest of the industry?

One might consider innovation to just be one of many tools of the designer. In that case, when and where should it be used?

How would you define experimental? Does it imply merely an attempt at innovation?

I'd also maybe change "Do constraints breed creativity" to "How do constraints breed creativity" because it seems like accepted wisdom that they do. We're interested in the explanation.

I'm sure you'll ask, but as an introduction, "Why is innovation important?"

There's some good stuff in here.  The concept of bad innovation is interesting…the first thing that leaps to mind is Trespasser.  I guess to be innovative something must be successfully different. At least, enough so that others are interested in following your line of inquiry.  That's what my question about innovation inside the context of a game anyone wants to play is about. 

I don’t think the questions about how indies and innovation fit into the industry really need to be covered – that discussion will be raging through both days, I’m sure. 

I have a question in there asking ‘do we really need innovation?’  The question is mainly intended to get at what the nature of innovation is and how people think it applies to game design.  Because, honestly, when I think of innovation I tend to think of product design, innovation as buzzword.  It seems like what we really want is for the medium of interactivity to expand into places never visited, dangerous places, away from the safety of current genre conventions.  The stuff about why it’s important is, in my mind, a foregone conclusion.  Maybe not, though. What do you think the answer to that question would be? 
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Steve Swink
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« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2007, 03:38:39 PM »

It might be a foregone conclusion, but usually the main point of something needs to be repeated quite a bit with the assumption that there's still people that don't get it. And you want those people to get it because it could be one of them that ends up making a big change for the better.

I didn't know you teach, where is that?

I'm interested in the idea that playtesting can be bad for innovation. To me it's basically surveying, and the philosophy I've always used with surveying is to use it to collect data, not make decisions for you.

It seems like you could be able to collect valuable *objective* data from usage patterns in prototypes. For example, instrumenting the game and seeing what people do most. That could help determine what people are enjoying most so you can elaborate on it.

I had some more thoughts on this as part of a talk I wanted to do, but was too late for submissions. I might be bringing some of it up at roundtables, and Justin Hall is doing some sort of posted speaker thing... we'll see.

But I'm really looking forward to this panel. Sounds like you've got the important stuff covered.
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« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2007, 10:29:31 AM »

Agreed, "repetition is the mother of skill" and all that.

I've been teaching Game Design and Level Design at the Art Institute of Phoenix for almost three years now.  It's the best kind of fun - I can't recommend teaching emphatically enough. For more ranting on the subject check out my long winded blog posts:  http://www.steveswink.com/articles/the-teaching-game-1-of-3/

Make sure you have some good audience questions lined up...see you there Smiley.
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Steve Swink
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« Reply #18 on: March 02, 2007, 06:34:03 AM »

I quite enjoyed reading Edward deBono on the methodology of creativity... the idea that, yes, great ideas can come about rather by chance, but there are ways to increase the chances of something coming along.

Creativity, to me (and to deBono, and to Michel Gondry incedentally), is about finding neural connections between ideas that previously seemed unconnected and/or disparate. It's similar to comedy in a way, like if Paul Merton managed to, I dunno, create a connection between Michael Portillo and a Girraffe with no legs and no neck in some clever, sort of funny way.

Perhaps that sounds a bit dry.

I see ideas and programming as two circles of a venn diagram. In the ideas circle, I deal with emotions, and think of the experience I want to create, or the system I want to portray. I don't restrain these ideas. I let the come thick and fast, and they can be bluesky as you like. The programming circle represents my abilities at coding - all the possible pieces of code within my skill range.

The ideas I actually try to make are at the intersection of the venn diagram - ideas which seem unrestrained and creative, but which rather luckily fall into my programming ability range. The game I'm working on happened this way - I very luckily figured out a technical solution to problem which made the game mechanic (which was a very separate idea) possible.

I think it's important to look outside games a bit for inspiration, but I don't think that's saying anything special. Me, I took up parkour for a while (and should really get back into it). The philosophy behind it is very jeet kun do - make your own style and your own path. Make it work for you, and adapt to all obstacles with as much efficiency and elegance as possible. That definately works its way into the mechanics I've designed recently (not that it's a platform game).

I just realized I don't have a question, and was fantasizing what I would say. Turns out, it wasn't very interesting.

Here is a question for them:

Do you take more inspiration from things inside games, or outside games?

Games are said to import much more culture than they export (e.g. Evil Dead quotes in Duke Nukem, endless lazy Giger Aliens). Do you think this is fair, and if so, do you percieve that as a problem, considering how young the medium is?
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