Tuesday, December 27, 2011

WRITING: Enjoying the quite season...

I am writing...

Right now - well, I am not referring to my blog, but my next tale.

It is a curious thing, as these new heroes unfold their characters and traits to me, their wishes and sorrows. They come alive with each line I am writing.

Sometimes, those things work out, sometimes not. Sometimes I have to erase a line, altering they fate, their characters, their destinies...

However, what helps me most, is the quite nature of the season between the years. Shops closed, people are more friendly. There is no rush, no pressing matters, no phone calls - except from dear friends.

Do you remember Bilbo, sitting in his study? Somehow today I feel like him, sitting at my desk, staring at maps and notes, preparing my next adventure...

Bilbo writing, Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, 2001

Well, I wish all of my dear readers to have a great season merry X-mas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

GAMES: Game Design, Simulations and 3D-Worlds

Game Design, Simulations and 3D-Worlds: Technological challenges meet Conceptual Excellence

About creating worlds and the trends of development issues
Games are a media form of their own, coming in several genres. As a sovereign media form they can be used to create and display any type of story and theme using interactive devices, formats and methods. Thus game mechanics are a structural method only – like montage in a movie – to create a recognizable system of (inter-)action.
A game developer must understand that there is more to a game than just game play. Current game design dogmas must be neglected and games must be considered as a media art form to unfold their potential, which are currently not fully used.

Games are not toys and they are not (solely) about playing. Games simulate, but as simulations they don’t display reality. Games display a system of believability by presenting methods of interaction (note that the degree of simulation exceeds the so-called game play genres of “simulation games”). They can be found in all forms of interactive experience.
To display a believable system the options sophisticated technology provides are often ignored and remain unused, as the industry’s focus is currently on casual games and AAA-core games only. Casual games provide a high ROI (return of investment), while AAA-titles focus on long-term playability. Both production lines try to present believable game worlds, from Farmville to World of Warcraft.

To create a believable world, the composition approach must be considered: As an example, in-game opponents and “cardboard”-backdrops are not independent parts. Items and level elements define a setting and tell stories about the world. Here the need for more complex and adaptable objects for items and elements in “libraries” shall provide an economic option to focus on the development of more or even true interactivity instead of “reinventing the wheel” over and over.
As a result, to create believable worlds the same dramaturgical elements apply as they do for film, TV and literature. Conflict builds the essence of story telling, be it linear or interactive. Each conflict needs to be defined (setup), driven to its highest peak (confrontation) and must be solved (solution).
In an interactive setting the uncertainty principle of time and space applies: What action will be performed by the player to what point in time? Game play and story mechanics must react to that principle to master chaos, which is a natural part of complex interactive systems of narration.
In years to come the need for more and true interactivity will have to be established and explored. Games as a form of art are a composition of all elements, thus they require a leading creator to transfer them from vision to publication.

A new role of the game designer/ director
Currently most game development companies in Germany still have “grown” structures or try to apply the matrix system of software development to the art form of game making. A more efficient approach derives from the independent movie makers of the ‘New Hollywood’ era: A structure which creates a leading and creative ‘spearhead’, defining the author as the creative mind, providing the concept from a functional and dramaturgical point of view, the producer to set up a production framework and the game director to communicate and supervise the development of the defined vision to the development team.
Thus game documents are explicit task orders, not a compendium of ideas. As programmers, artists, QA, musicians and sound technician speak their own “lingo”, game design documents must be “readable” by that specific audiences, using different techniques, from pseudo code via artwork and sound libraries to animated prototypes.

How to achieve this in three years using the bachelor course of studies?
A good director needs to be interested in every topic, be it history, art, going to theater or musical, reading science facts, researching geography or physics or biology. Therefore interdisciplinary studies are required to provide new and academic points of views to journalism, TV- and film production as well as media management.
Along with studying the theories of media and interactive arts, practical approaches must be used. Students shall develop their own experimental game projects as writers, producers and directors, while they network with the existing industry.

This is my approach on teaching game design at the MHMK, Munich.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

GAME DESIGN: The Dramaturgy of the Playground...

The Dramaturgy of the Playground – or why we can display the life of Anne Frank within a ‘game’

Games have become objects of interest not only for players, business, but also for scholars from the fields of ludology and narratology. But to be able to talk about the ‘nature of the player experience’ it is vital to understand the ‘nature of games’ as well as the ‘nature of game development’. Thus questions shall be raised like: ‘Can a game make you cry?’, ‘How do we use chaos in the dramaturgy of the playground?’ or ‘Are we willing or able to produce true interactive stories?’.

Still games are perceived as objects to play with, therefore placing a high value on the mechanics of the gameplay structure, so they provide a product which offers the emotional experience of fun. And unfortunately that approach has crippled the evolution of emotional game design over the last decade.

First we must understand that the term “games“ leads to a severe misinterpretation about the true nature of the object, because games can be more than things to play with: They are a new media form of their own (Cf. Bhatty, 1999). Thus like film, literature, theatre or TV games can be used to provide narrative interactive experiences.
Using this approach we will understand why game mechanics – though they are important for the game design and therefore for the player experience – are ‘just’ a structural element, like the montage in a film. But the narrative conflict of the interactive experience is the driving force of that approach and therefore dictates the necessities of the dramaturgy to be designed.

To bring true interactive story telling to life, the game designer must be capable of administering ‘chaos’. The ‘chaos paradigm’ (Cf. Bhatty, 1999) describes the conflicting forces of unstable and over the time expanding elements, while the ‘alpha-plot’ is the tool to control that time of native chaos in an interactive story. We shall the examples in games like FarCry (2004) or SACRED (2004).
It is vital to understand that absolute dramaturgical control in interactivity is an illusion, but using the adequate methods of ‘directing the experience’ the designer is able to provide the input of impulses to lead the player through the interactive experience. But while the player may be able to choose space or time of his actions or inactions (within the provided limits of the playground defined by the game designer), the reception of the experience of the designer-defined ‘alpha-plot’ is always linear, after all.
Using the ‘Uncertainty principle’ of space and time during an interactive game experience we shall see, that each player experiences a very personal and individual story – the projection of the ‘alpha-plot.

Unfortunately for the advancement of the interactive arts game developers have been unable to do or unwilling to do what would be necessary to create more emotional experiences, focussing more and more on ‘selling’ fun only. But like the other media forms game developers can create more emotions than just being happy when mastering the next structural challenge (Cf. Koster, 2005). That it has been possible before, we can see in the few exceptions where developers were able or willing to create emotional experiences, like Wing Commander III (1994) or Heavy Rain (2010).

To be able to create emotions in the player we need a development process which allows the production of true interactive story telling, even if this means that the player won’t see and experience every part of the developed content. Of course this requires new and economic approaches of the development process, starting from the usage of collective libraries of adjustable assets to the vital need to provide more creative freedom for the leading role of the game designer – or the game director as the author prefers the new role of the game designer as author, executive producer and director in a non-matrix development environment (Cf. Bhatty, 2007).

But to be able to go this way, we need to strengthen the importance of the story in the media form called game. Story isn’t something that shall be ‘pulled over’ an existing game mechanic – it is the driving element that influences every aspect of the game, ranging from art, character development and interactive musical score.
And like Koster (2005) showed how Tetris can be ‘dressed’ to become a game of mass murder during the holocaust – a point which proves that not the gameplay mechanics must be allowed to dictate terms of the narrative experience - , the author shall point out, how game directors will be able to provide an emotional experience on every theme and motif with the adequate ethical approach, even when displaying the life of Anne Frank.