Jonathon Blow challenges the need for “contrived” game design

blog_jonathan_blowIn my article From Nothing: Why It’s Okay to Question Everything (Especially Metal Gear Games) I discussed the fact that games are contrived experiences, planned out by a game designer in order to create an illusion and guide the players along an enjoyable path.  My thinking was that games are designed with an end in mind, and that the work of creating the game essentially boils down to manipulating the player into taking the next necessary step.

Well, recently I watched this video, in which Jonathon Blow (creator of Braid and The Witness) confirms that many games are indeed designed this way.  However, he argues it doesn’t need to be that way, and in fact limits the potential hidden inside “systems” of the game.  Systems, he says, can easily be greater than their creators’ ambitions, and answer our simple questions with something profound.  It’s the responsibility of game designers to allow these systems to reveal “truth”.  He analyzes a hypothetical game premise: generic men shooting each other with rocket launchers.  He steadily deconstructs the systems behind that concept until it reveals the more fascinating aspects: fast objects overtaking slow objects; the nature of first person views; and parallaxing.  In the end, the setting and theme of the game becomes a side consideration, and the systems are free to be explored more deeply.

It’s a fascinating insight into the importance of designer-as-explorer, as opposed to designer-as-contriver.  The game development community is stuck in a swamp of contrivances, when they could be taming the frontiers of interwoven systems.

What this means, to me, is that there are certainly different types of game design philosophies, and we should be careful to acknowledge them in our discussions.  I want to thank Jonathon Blow for articulating the other side of the coin.

Not much truth behind this video

My Point of No Revengeance article was well-timed, I guess.  I forgot that Geoff Keighley was going to be releasing a video expose on the development of Rising, but now it’s available, as you you can see for yourself:

Aside from padding the video with 10 minutes worth of pretentious scenic shots, the video itself reveals little that I didn’t deduce before — at least not concerning the turnaround of the Rising project itself.  The video makes it seem super-duper serious, if not emotional, through its choice of editing and shot selection.  Almost like somebody died and they’re trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.  But the actual content of the interviews is really straightforward and basic.  I figured all that out without needing to fly to Japan.

What’s worse is that the video never digs down to the true reasons behind the choices made.  Kojima gives some flimsy excuse about choosing Platinum Games because they’re Japanese, and understand what a katana is; and we’re just supposed to accept that at face value?  This is one of the most ridiculous answers I’ve ever heard from Kojima, but I’m not surprised he kept his cards to his chest.  It’s the interviewers job to go deeper into the motivations of the people they interview, but we don’t get any satisfaction here.  Keighley wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of the people who grant him exclusive access.  He’s a guest. It would be rude to ask harsh questions.

I’d like to hear about the other reasons for Platinum Games being chosen.  How about choosing a Japanese developer because it makes the communication process easier?  That’s pretty logical.  Or what about the fact that Platinum Games is an small independent company, not major competition like Capcom, who make the Devil May Cry series?  Konami can’t ask Capcom for help.  Platinum Games doesn’t have many hits under their belt, and still doesn’t have much recognition in the world, so for them this is probably an honor.  But most major developers would be insulted at having some failed concept project dumped on their lap and a deadline to go along with it, so it makes sense to pick one which is young enough appreciate the opportunity.

But do we get any hint of the truth from this “truth behind” documentary?  No we don’t.  This is a promotional video: a 25 minute commercial dressed up as serious, even artistic journalism.  Better than a traditional press release, right?

Just from watching the interviews, we see that Platinum Games wants to half-ass the project in order to meet the deadlines, but Kojima Productions is protecting their own reputation too much to accept this.  This makes the high-flung “Let’s make Japan the best in the world again!” rhetoric an obviously empty gesture.  This is still an awkward, confusing partnership, and the project still has time to fail — if Platinum Games fails to meet the “impossible” demands of their producers, Kojima Productions.  That, or it will be delayed repeatedly and be released as a compromised piece of shit.

If you want the truth about Rising, read this.

I should also mention I don’t know how involved Keighley was with the actual interviewing, but I’m going to blame him anyway.