Sunday, October 15, 2006

Game Reflections - Creativity

Imagination. New ideas. A theory of motivation. Elaborate problem solving. The mind's capacity to generate new mental tools. All in all, a deep notion. So deep in fact that it has troubled the mind of man since the birth of consciousness, creativity; the second biggest mystery after consciousness itself. Where does it come from? Ancient philosophers stressed ex nihilo - creating "out of nothing". That you pulled it out of thin air, out of empty space. But according to the quantum physicist David Bohm there is no such thing as empty space. He claimed that everything in the universe have a property. All lifeforms, inanimate objects, energies, time and space, thoughts and aspirations - everything. The property he saw occupying everything was and led back to; consciousness.

So if there is no emptiness, if your creativity is a product of some boundless primordial intelligence that is occupying the very same space you would like to think of as your mind then do you ever think your own thoughts? Do you have an individual mind? Where does your originality come from? It would be from all kinds of things but one of the biggest contributors would be your culture. Rich cultures and encouraging upbringings foster creative mindsets. Isolation is also a common attribute of very creative people. To protect themselves from distractions, from influence of other people and ideas, from criticism and from revealing their work too early they shelter themselves. This way they become creatively self-sufficient, self concerned and culturally complex but can render them socially disadvantaged.

This is apparent even when looking at the game industry. One isolated culture that has been creatively a cut above the rest from the get-go is Japan. A historically rich and intriguing culture where long lasting rural traditions walk side by side with cutting edge technology. A country that once closed its borders from the outside world. Most Japanese developers has always done games for their domestic market first and foremost, the other markets, the rest of the world has been secondary. The heritage of the isolated and creatively wealthy culture that has molded the mind of Japanese developers make them create games the way they do. They have their own motifs, goals, traditions, logic, feeling, systems, conventions, quirks and expectations. This very cultural aspect is something that many open-minded gamers across the world is fascinated by. Even when Japanese developers try to commuicate with the outside world, interpret or commenting on other cultures and ideas of them, something they're not great at (yet), it's still quite charming and fascinating.

Creativity isn't exclusive to rich cultures or specific persons though. As long as you are eager to learn, accepting of other cultures, hungry for life, willing to work hard and really immerse and dedicate yourself in your work you can increase your creativity. Sky is the limit. But sometimes you might need limits. Sometimes you might need to restrict yourself. To be be creative within a limited space, time and budget. Great and unexpected ideas can come of this! A good way to adapt to these conditions is to apply methods used in Industrial Design, "Function drives Design" - where you look at the most essential part, the function and design to fit that. In game development this can be a very useful technique when dealing with technical, political, time and economical restrictions.

Little Big Adventure 2. A action/RPG with a interesting gameplay mechanic which allowed you to alter the behavior of your character between 4 different modes: Normal, Athletic, Aggressive and Discreet.Your actions differ depending on which behavior you are in and lets you solve puzzles and fight enemies in clever ways.

Magic Pengel. A quirky game with a primitive drawing/3D modeling engine. You draw shapes that come alive as creatures that you train and fight other "doodle creatures" with.

Creativity and the appreciation of it vary from person to person. And so does the creativity in games. Some developers simply have no intention doing anything creative for various reasons, being creative is a risky endeavor that can end up hurting their production, sales and putting gamers off. You cant blame them for wanting to stay operational. Being innovate yet maintain successful is a delicate dance. The game industry as a culture would benefit from ending the navel-gazing, if it could stop drawing inspiration mainly from other games and if it could stop mimicking that other great entertainment medium; film. Video games should embrace its traditions, be proud of its own history and achievements and let itself be more inspired by other things that aren't games or movies every once in a while.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Monday, February 6, 2006

Game Reflections - Solitude

Walking among remnants. Mingle with silent relics and memories. Alone. Unaccompanied. You are the only movement in a frozen world. You stand out like a fire in the night. The lack of others and the conventional interaction they usually brings can enhance the experience of your presence in the world. Your awareness of self is increased. Intrigued by the scenario of being singled out and placed in a world that has moved on, fascinated of being an observer, eventually after a time in this environment you might start question your own existence. After all, aren’t we caught, objectified, only by confrontation with others? Aren’t we taking form only when we are being looked upon?

Solitude can be an exceptional powerful experience.

Metroid Prime. Brilliant for the immersion of for the first time seeing the world through Samus eyes, of becoming her by making it an FPS. But also brilliant for defying genre-conventions and turn it into an FPA (A for adventure). This way the game could stay true to its world exploration roots but also deliver a more intimate, immersive and secluded experience. There are moments when you examine temples and shrines of lost civilizations, their artefacts and scriptures, when you read their ancient ghostly words that you become increasingly self-conscious. And the feeling of true solitude forces itself upon you.

Shadow of the Colossus. You are never really all alone. You have your horse. Your sense of loneliness is not the issue here. It’s the eerie emptiness of the vast and isolated land you’re exploring. It’s the reclusiveness of the disturbingly beautiful land and its lack of life (forms) that gets to you. As you ride at the edge of a valley you can see for miles in any direction but there isn’t a single indication of anything living. Anywhere. There once were, judging by the monuments and architectural landmarks that are left behind. You´ve entered a arcane and holy land, a land in peaceful and rightfully earned slumber. Your presence in it is not welcomed and you know in your heart that it should be left alone.

Solitude might not be a theme or emotion developers want or can pursue these days when multiplayer and social networking games quickly is gaining more ground. And as an emotion it might not rank that high compared to fast excitement and cheap thrills. Perhaps you see loneliness as something bad and not a suitable ingredient for entertainment. But aren’t all emotions worth exploring, worth understanding, worth experiencing? Even the ones you shy away from and avoid?