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Games: technical or creative?. #1 Games are technical Technical support costs everyone money Many games platforms have technical standards Same development tools as everyone else Development logistics inevitably gets technical #2 Games are creative

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Games technical or creative
Games: technical or creative?

  • #1 Games are technical

    • Technical support costs everyone money

    • Many games platforms have technical standards

    • Same development tools as everyone else

    • Development logistics inevitably gets technical

  • #2 Games are creative

    • Duplicate an existing game, and you’ll sell 0 copies

    • Like books/films/music, constant need to innovate

    • Layout of a game forms an implicit language

The technical creative hinterland
The “Technical-Creative Hinterland”

  • #3 Games are “technical-creative”

    • Devise solutions to hard technical problems

      • Consoles aren’t expandable, so have hard constraints

        • …but games need to improve year on year!

      • PC’s aren’t much better - a viciously competitive market

      • So: a constant supply of technical innovations needed!

  • #4 Games are “creative-technical”

    • Technical constraints restrict creative expression

      • memory, speed, tools all act as glass ceilings

      • 3d modelling needs to work with existing tools

      • These limitations do not kill us, they make us strong!


  • So, Creative and Technical are not either/or...

  • ...but are separate interacting dimensions.

    • Many other dimensions of expression, including:-

      • Tactile/Input

      • Interactivity/Responsiveness

      • Story/Backstory

      • Milieu/Genre

      • Licence/Brand - using or originating

      • Financial

      • Publicity/Promotional

      • etc

Technical reuse vs creative reuse 1
Technical reuse vs Creative reuse #1

  • Technical reuse = Design Pattern!

    • Pros:-

      • Excellent for team-working - teams are larger now

        • Our previous project needed 5 core, now needs 10

      • Best for new architecture - reengineering is painful

        • Some Antipatterns you can’t fix, regardless of resources

    • Cons:-

      • Not a magic bullet!

        • Needs collaborative framework & good communication

      • Only a short-term fix: 0-5years, then will be orthodoxy

        • Long-term complexity curve will kill us all & all our tools

      • Engines need to be reinvented every few years

        • Techniques have appropriate life-spans

        • We should be sensitive to the time-scale of reuse

Technical reuse vs creative reuse 2
Technical reuse vs Creative reuse #2

  • Creative reuse = quotation/cliché/plagiarism!

    • Pros:-

      • Developing an implicit visual language is a major issue!

      • Visual expression help make games a rich experience

    • Cons:-

      • “Seen it / Done it” = biggest criticism of games

        • #1 Antipattern!

      • Using someone else’s visual language is plagiarism!

Technical reuse vs creative reuse 3
Technical reuse vs Creative reuse #3

  • Conclusions:-

    • Engineering and innovation interact

      • ...often bringing conflicting interests to the table

    • The two overlap in a technical/creative hinterland

      • …where reuse is a very double-edged sword

    • The two need managing in separate ways

      • Different type of risks, different type of activities

    • Where they overlap, what is your strategy?

      • Prioritise? Integrate? Infight? Thrash?

Tales from the hinterland 1
“Tales from the Hinterland” #1

  • Design Patterns: aggressively anti-innovation

    • So are they applicable to content integration?

  • Users know when media reuse content

    • Films are often the worst offenders

    • Music too has ultra-short-term bandwagons

  • Games take longer than most CDs and films!

    • Was 9 months, now is 18 months and rising

  • Difficult to build in innovation over long period

    • Long-term development, but short-term sales

    • Development lengthening, shelf-life shortening

      • Obviously there’s a bit of a paradox going on here

Tales from the hinterland 2
“Tales from the Hinterland” #2

  • Similar structural problem with middleware

    • (My company sells a middleware movie player)

  • You pay licence fees for technical reuse

  • But this locks you into a particular process

  • So: you’re paying money not to innovate

  • High risk when innovation is part of your business!

  • Antipathy towards middleware is natural

    • Design patterns are collaboration middleware

      • …they just happen to be free (well: GoF = $49.95).

    • Less development risk != less publishing risk

  • Tales from the hinterland 3
    “Tales from the Hinterland” #3

    • Innovation != ‘Perceived Innovation’

      • Innovation can be promoted, regardless of size

        • A small innovation is now as saleable as a large one

        • Many end up as bullet-points on unsold boxes

      • The illusion of novelty is the story of the ‘90s

        • See 95% of Internet companies, for example

      • Overlap of technical and promotional dimensions

        • Spin is the new rock’n’roll, allegedly

        • Games have become areas of dense spin

    Games technical or creative

    Development perspective...

    • Games are becoming like movies

      • Comparable budgets and time-scales

      • Involving the work of many professions/talents

        • Art/Music/Design/Animation... “Content”, for short

        • Integrate well to get more than the sum of the parts

    • Integration used to be the programmer’s work

      • Back then, it was assembly rather than integration

      • Integration is the same, but with more bugs

      • Now we have specialist jobs devoted to integration

        • Producers, Content Engineers, and Level Designers

        • Content engineering is as risky as software engineering

    • The rest of this is about Level Designers.

    Level design patterns 1
    Level Design Patterns #1

    • (and about time too)

  • 3d Level Design is halfway between:-

    • software development (GoF territory); and

    • architecture (Christopher Alexander territory)

  • …so (like me) you’d think it would benefit from Design Patterns. I have three words for this:-

    • Wrong…

    • Dead wrong!

  • Level design patterns 2
    Level Design Patterns #2

    • Most Design Patterns we identified were:-

      • 1. Deep storytelling patterns (AKA Hero’s Journey)

        • Allegedly deriving from myths and legends

        • Joseph Campbell “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”

      • 2. Overused pre-existent motifs (AKA cliches)

      • 3. Pre-existent structural problems (AKA gotchas)

      • 4. Ways to get it really wrong (AKA bad design)

    • The Hero’s Journey is as close to a Design Pattern as we got.

      • All the others are basically Antipatterns.

    1 storytelling design patterns 1
    1. Storytelling Design Patterns #1

    • Some well-known examples:-

      • Hero / Shadow / Threshold Guardian

        • Functions played by people/elements within the story

        • Roles can be duplicated, overlapped, or shared

      • Character Arcs

        • The idea that each participant should develop

        • Should be comprehensible from each point of view

      • Call to Adventure / Return With The Prize

        • Functions for the overall arc of the story

        • Again, lots of overlap possible

    1 storytelling design patterns 2
    1. Storytelling Design Patterns #2

    • The “Hero With A Thousand Faces” set of ideas has now virtually taken over Hollywood

      • Many similarities with Design Patterns

      • Disney were (supposedly) first to use this

        • cf Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey”

    • However:-

      • Screenplays are now utterly formalised

        • …a lot like 3-Act 120-page haiku

      • Just as many bad films coming out as ever!

    • Many analogies to spread of Design Patterns!

    2 overused motifs
    2. Overused motifs...

    • An example: “Crate Puzzles”

      • You need to give the player an item...

        • A self-timed goo bomb, or whatever

      • …but you don’t want to make it too obvious...

        • Sitting around on the floor is a bit cheesy

          • ie, that’s what we were doing two years ago

      • …so you stick it in a crate for them to blow up

    • This ‘puzzle’ has been done to death

      • Games will still use crate puzzles in 200 years time

      • …because all the alternatives are time-consuming

      • We used a few! (not too many, though)

    3 structural problems
    3. Structural problems:-

    • An example: “Kill The Scientist”

      • The game “Half-Life” is where this came up in

        • …which has many similarities to our current game

      • If a character dies who shouldn’t, what to do?

        • “how to reconcile narrative continuity with free movement”

      • Half-Life solution: stop the game and fade out

        • irritating, but there’s no easy fix for the problem

    • Usually a manifestation of a deeper problem

      • Here, the problem is really “how to build top-down narrative with bottom-up design tools?”

    4 ways to get it really wrong
    4. Ways to get it really wrong:-

    • An example: “Crazy Quilt”

      • AKA “Texture Diarrhoea”

      • Too many different textures in close proximity

      • “Quake” is full of this! (IMHO)

      • It’s not a victimless crime - my eyes hurt!

      • Too many other perpetrators to name

    • Underlying problem: no clear stylistic lead

      • Similar to when programmers design levels

      • Often happens with programmers’ websites

      • Many portals exhibit the same symptoms

        • “It’s not brashness, it’s just bad design.”

    Level design patterns conclusions
    Level Design Patterns Conclusions...

    • Level design is:-

      • an expression of ideas via a novel visual language

      • a frozen moment of time in the evolution of games

    • In level design (and in creative projects):-

      • If you can identify design patterns really early...

        • …you’re probably doing something wrong.

      • Design patterns should be your target...

        • ...not the starting point!

      • The lifetime of a set of creative design patterns should be exactly 10 minutes!

        • …the 10 minutes after you complete it, before it becomes a set of cliches for other people to avoid

    Deep structure
    Deep structure:-

    • Structure of Patterns

      • Design Pattern= a pattern that works

      • Antipattern = a pattern to avoid

    • Structure of Ideas

      • Cliché = Last year’s idea

      • Anti-cliché = Cliché, with a fresh coat of paint

      • Ironic cliché = Two year-old idea, freshened up

      • Novelty = Today’s idea (next year’s cliché)

      • (Similar to patterns, but with a time dimension)

    Summary i ll be brief
    Summary (I’ll be brief)...

    • Did we identify Level Design Patterns?

      • Not really - but we gained a lot from looking.

    • The underlying story is that projects - of all types - are getting larger and more complex.

      • So: the future is increasingly one of collaboration.

    • IMHO, design patterns are simply one way of coordinating effort and language to improve teamworking on such large projects

      • Many other technologies and ideas will emerge

      • Using patterns as a target helps team coherency

    • Absence of patterns != lack of communication!