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.

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