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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignAesthetic Layering for the Refined and Unrefined
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Author Topic: Aesthetic Layering for the Refined and Unrefined  (Read 17581 times)
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« on: November 08, 2007, 01:34:35 AM »

This is copied from my LiveJournal, but I thought it might be interesting to some of you guys too. Feel free to agree / disagree / call me pretentious etc. Smiley

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One thing Chris Crawford wrote that has stayed with me is that a sign of sophistication is smaller or more fine sensory or cognitive distinctions. For instance: kids like candy, adults like food that isn't as obviously sweet but where they can enjoy the interesting things about food tastes that kids would miss. Likewise, kids like cartoons and shows about clear archetypes, whereas adults like less obviously clear stories. This doesn't mean they're more compromising or more wishy-washy, just that they are better at seeing and knowing, so they appreciate ferreting out what isn't obvious to children. And this pattern is true of anything related to taste: the more mature your tastes, the more fine the distinctions and the more subtlety is appreciated.

This poses a dilemma to any artist: you have to create multiple levels of subtlety so that people with different levels of refinement in their tastes could all enjoy your work. There are of course works that appeal more to some than to others (and that's fine), but I think the best ones have multiple layers, where you can enjoy it as a kid and as an adult, not exclusively one or the other.

Unfortunately, artists also tend to be those with more refined tastes, simply through more exposure, so eventually they lose the ability to appeal to unrefined tastes. The better artists sometimes ignore it completely, and say things like 'well, it's not meant for beginners! only masters can appreciate my art!' (like "art-games" like The Marriage or Facade) which is an easy temptation. I think this is just as bad as the temptation to appeal only to unrefined tastes (like generic but flashy shumps or FPSs or whatever, where the focus is on clear black and whites and big explosions). Both can be done at once, through layering.

If done correctly, every element in a game should be interesting both to a 5 year old new to things like this and a 50 year old with refined tastes who has seen tens of thousands of works before yours. Every single element preferably (every character, every setting, everything that you can do), that may be impossible, but it's the goal. Classical games like Go or Chess are examples. It's fun for a kid to just move the pieces around but it also has higher levels of refinement. I know that just reflects rule-based gameplay though, in computer games this has to be done in every part of a game: the world, the characters, the graphics, the music, not just the rules.

For instance, Starcraft does this very well in terms of its rules: its rules are fun for a kid but there's enough refinement in them that people can spend years getting good at them; but that's the only part of the game that has that layering. The story is cliche, the graphics are clean but not that pretty, there's no extra-gameplay interaction worth the name, it's only the rules that are layered for the unrefined and for the refined, everything else about it is unrefined.

An alternative example is Ico: the rule-based gameplay is unrefined (basically like any other 3D platformer where you run around and hit things), but there is much more layered refinement in the story and setting and extra-gameplay interaction and all that.

My goal then would be to create something that is as layered in its gameplay as Starcraft while being as layered in the rest of it as Ico.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2007, 01:38:21 AM by rinkuhero » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2007, 01:38:19 AM »

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« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2007, 01:40:02 AM »

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« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2007, 01:42:21 AM »

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« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2007, 01:44:57 AM »

I had to look that one up.

n.
A cloth or leather gaiter covering the shoe upper and the ankle and fastening under the shoe with a strap. Often used in the plural.
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« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2007, 02:56:15 AM »

Ultimately, if you want gameplay to be layered, the controls have to be simple and your main objectives have to crystal clear.  I'm not sure that I would say Starcraft or any RTS has this quality.  Too many buttons, too many different non-intuitive concepts to understand.  Without a tutorial or experience with the genre you're dead in the water.

Something like Street Fighter, on the other hand, you can pick up immediately and start playing and having a good time.  That's a quality that arcade games are inherently good at, because there's no time to teach the player how to play.  There are no manuals.  If you have a tutorial mission in your game, you just lost them on the first quarter.  Something to think about.

But anyway, in theory I'm not sure there's much to disagree with you about.  If you can manage to make a game that's an onion on every level, that appeals to every type of person... well, you definitely have a great game on your hands.  And you might even be able to achieve world peace. Wink

What I'm more interested in is how you would actually go about layering a game like that.  Actually, what bugs me about Chris Crawford is the guy seems to really enjoy saying "THE BEST GAME HAS THIS AND THIS QUALITY" and I haven't heard much in the way of implementation.

But yeah, I'm down to discuss.  Or DISCUSS, even.
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« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2007, 03:16:49 AM »

World peace is too modest a goal! In addition should strive to cure every disease and obtain immortality and expand humanity to the stars with such a game!

I agree w/ your point about RTS games, although I did at one time show someone SC who had never played a RTS game before and he managed to figure it out. But Pikmin is much more new-user friendly as far as the RTS genre goes than SC is.

That's a good point about how to do it, I need to give more specifics.

I think one way in one area of this (exploration) is to have a game be neither linear nor non-linear, but rather have it be both: Fallout 1 and 2 do this well. There's a linear way you can play the game, people give you hints to the next area, but if you're a more advanced player also don't have to follow their directions and can explore in other directions too. This is a moderation between leaving the player completely in the dark and to make it totally nonlinear on the one hand (like some of the Ultima games where they just put you in the middle of nowhere without instructions) or having it be a jump through the hoops game on the other hand (like FFX where you had a big arrow and a map pointing out where to go next). This makes exploration fun to both experts in RPGs (finding out new ways to proceed through the game) and fun for people who are unfamiliar with RPGs (pointers to the next goal and a recommended path through it).

In characterization, one way to do it is to use characters which *are* recognizable as archetypes on the one hand, but also have some subtle characterization to them that makes them more complex when you explore them more deeply. This is a moderation between making completely strange characters that the player isn't likely to have seen their kind before or know how to interpret or relate with them on the one hand (like Camus' The Stranger or something) or on the other hand using total archetypes with no depth and who hardly even have a personality (like a lot of the Dragon Warrior games use). I think a good moderation between these two was in the Persona games: you had fairly archetypal characters (different archetypes of high school student), but they weren't *only* archetypal, they had enough unique features and interesting details to make them memorable (such as in Persona 1, Nate wasn't just a bossy rich kid, but also was mourning over the loss of his butler and secretly felt that the other kids didn't like him). This makes him both understandable to a younger person (spoiled rich kid) and interesting to a more experienced audience (not just a spoiled rich kid).

Or another way to put it is as a rule of thumb elements of a game should be understandable or achievable or doable in multiple ways: an easily understandable, obvious way and a more nuanced and sophisticated alternative set of ways.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2007, 03:24:50 AM by rinkuhero » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2007, 01:38:05 PM »

Don't you think it depends on what you are trying to express?

Maybe sometimes it's good to be blunt and clear and to make a big fat statement with not much depth. And other times, you want to deal with such intricately subtle little flickers of notions that anything too easy or too loud would be too disruptive.
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« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2007, 01:44:45 PM »

i want to express cyborgs throwing sharks at helicopters.
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« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2007, 02:30:28 PM »

Alright, lemme ask you a question... Why do you want to do this mulit-layer thing? What's your motivation in doing this? What will be the purpose of the game you want to create?
« Last Edit: November 09, 2007, 02:46:56 PM by Guert » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2007, 07:07:24 PM »

Don't you think it depends on what you are trying to express?

Maybe sometimes it's good to be blunt and clear and to make a big fat statement with not much depth. And other times, you want to deal with such intricately subtle little flickers of notions that anything too easy or too loud would be too disruptive.

It can be good to do both, but such a work doesn't have as wide an appeal as one which is layered. The first would seem propagandistic and too obvious to many people, like an Ayn Rand novel perhaps, and the second wouldn't have as large of an audience because many people wouldn't know what to make of it without a course in literature and a set of cliff notes.
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« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2007, 07:09:09 PM »

Alright, lemme ask you a question... Why do you want to do this mulit-layer thing? What's your motivation in doing this? What will be the purpose of the game you want to create?

To make something which many different kinds of people can enjoy and find value in, or to appeal to a single person in multiple ways.
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« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2007, 07:18:23 PM »

i want to express cyborgs throwing sharks at helicopters.
We all do, fish, we all do.
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« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2007, 07:28:04 PM »

Ok, good. On what topic do you want many different kinds of people to enjoy and find value in, or to appeal to a single person in multiple ways? What topic do think best fits this goal? Many topics could work, but what's the one you have in mind?
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« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2007, 07:54:52 PM »

Ok, good. On what topic do you want many different kinds of people to enjoy and find value in, or to appeal to a single person in multiple ways? What topic do think best fits this goal? Many topics could work, but what's the one you have in mind?

I think this is up to the game really. Different games have different themes. I do of course have particular topics that I want people to think about, but that's just personal, this theory applies to any topic anyone would want to use, so what I want to present through my games is not particularly relevant except to me.

But my topics that I'm personally interested in are varied, and there's so many of them that it's difficult to enumerate them here. I want to present life as a good thing, something to be savored and not decried or ignored, that life should be lived with full awareness and never on automatic pilot or out of habit. I want to present that every aspect of the world is contained in every other aspect (in ID this was represented by Indra's Net). General good-hearted stuff like that.

I also have my own set of "heresies" that I believe in which will probably appear from time to time in my games. By heresies I mean things which, if you state a belief in, people will tend to dislike you simply because you believe in it, but if you state in art, people can be more accepting of it. At the real risk of making a few people hate me, here are few: a) That we should not accept death as just a natural part of life, that people shouldn't be forced to die until they decide to do so. b) That all government is really a crime syndicate, a bunch of bandits who rode into town, steals from people gradually like a parasite, controls their minds and their lives to a strong degree, and tricks people into thinking they're necessary. c) That the artificial can be even more beautiful than the natural, and that the natural isn't superior to the artificial; or if you prefer, that there is no distinction between the two because the artificial is a part of the natural, a skyscraper is just as much a part of nature as a beehive. d) That monogamy isn't the only way to have romantic relationships, that you can romantically love more than one person at once and it doesn't make it stronger to have only one at once. e) That even 'white lies' are wrong and that someone should be utterly honest in all ways all the time, despite social consequences. I could go on, but you get the idea, I've a lot of strange ideas and I'm not shy about presenting them in my games.

But of course because a lot of the people I work with when writing games disagree with what I want to present through my games they may present their own beliefs through their part of the game, so a lot of that gets toned down. For instance Wynand (the writer of Immortal Defense) disagrees with me about immortality so some of story in that game included the negative effects of it, which I would have underplayed had I written the story. I also sometimes tone down the beliefs of others; for instance Harlock believes religion is evil so the original symbol of the Hate Point in Immortal Defense he designed as a Christian cross; I didn't dislike religion as much as he does so I asked him to change it (he chose the Caduceus, the symbol of modern medicine, which we both hate so it was okay).

Again, this is all just my personal stuff, other people would have completely different things they'd want their games to embody.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2007, 08:00:18 PM by rinkuhero » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: November 09, 2007, 08:09:11 PM »

The better artists sometimes ignore it completely, and say things like 'well, it's not meant for beginners! only masters can appreciate my art!' (like "art-games" like The Marriage or Facade) which is an easy temptation. I think this is just as bad as the temptation to appeal only to unrefined tastes (like generic but flashy shumps or FPSs or whatever, where the focus is on clear black and whites and big explosions). Both can be done at once, through layering.
Hmm, I don't think The Marriage was made such that only 'masters' could appreciate it; it seems very accessible to anyone who wants to think about it in simple, metaphorical terms.  It's not a question of beginners vs master, but rather a question of what the player is interested in doing or thinking about.  With that in mind, I don't think it would benefit the design to add elements that engage players who are bored by thinking about The Marriage.  It would compromise the experience of the truly interested players, while never satisfying the otherwise-uninterested players as well as something crafted specifically for them would.

On a similar note, I think the plot of StarCraft (to take another of your examples) was appealing to some players, and that efforts to make it more refined (by for example, removing cliches) might remove something that appeals to that group.

In general I don't think it's that helpful to look at an audience as 'less refined' or 'more refined' (except to the extent that you want to feel good about yourself and implicitly insult large groups of people :D), because it takes a very complex space of interests and tastes and rudely compresses it into an artificial 1D scale.  Some people like action heroes and giant galactic battles, some people like interpersonal drama, some people like romance, some people like horror, some people like history, some people like mathematics ... if you take a little bit of everything, sure, you could end up with something that appeals more broadly, but in practice you'll probably just have a mess that no one likes as much as they would have if you'd been more focused.

There are specific areas where you can break down players on a one dimensional scale.  Player 'skill' in particular is an easy one -- and games often do address this by offering difficulty levels, or even automatically tuning difficulty.  But even this is somewhat a matter of taste, and offering a 'watered down' difficulty level would simply destroy the point of intentionally frustrating games like I Wanna Be the Guy and the Japanese game (forgot the name / link) which inspired it.

There are also ways -- and I want to keep this distinct from any notion of 'player refinement' -- that you can appeal to multiple interest groups, such as your Fallout example, where linearity of play is player-guided.  Or in Mario 64, where you may choose levels and challenges that interest you by choosing which painting to jump in to (although 'completist' players will play them all anyway).  When you can do this, it's great, but it's generally only possible to a limited extent.

I certainly wouldn't say a design is 'bad' in any way for focusing on the group that will most enjoy it, instead of going for broad appeal.
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« Reply #16 on: November 09, 2007, 08:17:19 PM »

I don't think it's an insult to call someone unrefined, it simply means new to an art form or inexperienced in it. It's not an insult to someone who never played videogames to call them unrefined at videogames. And obviously anyone who feels good about insulting others shouldn't be making games anyway.

That's a good point about SC's plot though. But I also didn't exactly say to *remove* the cliches -- just to keep them, but make them slightly deeper. For instance, what if there were a few scenes where Kerrigan's human nature and her Zerg nature were at battle with each other? What if she had to choose between the two consciously, and chose Zerg because she was insecure and wanted power? That would have made her more interesting and probably wouldn't have alienated anyone.

I wouldn't say a less layered game and more focused game is bad either, just less broad, because it has less to it, and doesn't have as much to explore or understand about it. But certainly there's room for both; I only meant that the layered kinds are the kinds that people will remember as 'classics', whereas the games made for specific audiences could only be 'cult classics'.
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« Reply #17 on: November 09, 2007, 09:06:48 PM »

I don't think it's an insult to call someone unrefined, it simply means new to an art form or inexperienced in it. It's not an insult to someone who never played videogames to call them unrefined at videogames. And obviously anyone who feels good about insulting others shouldn't be making games anyway.
I think English has a pretty clear negative connotation for the word 'unrefined'.  But if you don't use it that way, um, good for you!

That's a good point about SC's plot though. But I also didn't exactly say to *remove* the cliches -- just to keep them, but make them slightly deeper. For instance, what if there were a few scenes where Kerrigan's human nature and her Zerg nature were at battle with each other? What if she had to choose between the two consciously, and chose Zerg because she was insecure and wanted power? That would have made her more interesting and probably wouldn't have alienated anyone.
I don't know; I think that would have bored me.  (Or, rather, it seems to simply address a different set of issues which some may find more interesting, and some may find less interesting, than the issues of involuntary zerg-ifying)

I wouldn't say a less layered game and more focused game is bad either, just less broad, because it has less to it, and doesn't have as much to explore or understand about it. But certainly there's room for both; I only meant that the layered kinds are the kinds that people will remember as 'classics', whereas the games made for specific audiences could only be 'cult classics'.
Hmm, you can add more to explore or understand in a game without 'layering' it as you've described here, so a less layered game can certainly have as much as a layered game; I don't see how you're concluding otherwise.  And you're implying that layering acts to strictly improve a game, which I think is pretty plainly not true!  I think many works that people regard as classics do not have terribly broad appeal, and changing them to appeal to wider tastes would have likely just make them 'not classics in any way'.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2007, 09:09:19 PM by Zaphos » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: November 09, 2007, 10:14:53 PM »

It doesn't have a negative connotation to me really. Unrefined sugar for instance has a positive connotation to me. I think it's neutral.

It wasn't clear to me whether it was involuntary or not with Kerrigan. I haven't played the campaigns in awhile but I think they just didn't cover it at all. It's true that it would be boring if an entire scene were devoted to an internal monologue in her head or something, but I think if it were only implied indirectly it could be done in such a way that someone who doesn't care about it wouldn't be bored by it or wouldn't even notice it. That's what I mean by layering: making each element so that it's interpretable at multiple levels, not including elements of both.

I meant that it can have as much in terms of variety; certainly it can have as much in terms of quantity of material. Sort of how a person who has only one of his senses working can experience as much as someone who has all five senses working, but the variety of what he experiences will be more limited, even though he'd be better at that one sense.

Could you give an example of something which is considered a classic which you don't think has wide appeal? I can't think of any offhand myself.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2007, 10:17:48 PM by rinkuhero » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: November 09, 2007, 10:15:38 PM »

We could probably use the synonyms experienced and inexperienced too, they're interchangeable here.
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