Skip to content

Looking for Innovation in the Same Old Places

June 5, 2008

I watched this guy play Gears of War. It’s a beautiful game, and it plays really well. He was studying it to get ideas for a game that he’s working on at present. I was reminded of this when I talked with another industry friend of mine who was studying yet another industry level designer and his writings to get ideas for his own levels.

Though I’ve just signed a new NDA for another video game gig, I’ve been doing a lot of studying on stuff that is seemingly so far removed from what I actually work on. It’s not in the same genre. It’s not even the same medium. In fact, one of the books that I’m really looking forward to reading was written and published and out of style before Miyamoto was even born. It’s Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. I read it a long time ago, but I read it like a game designer in crunch and didn’t really digest.

Anyway, all this is the lead up to this thought: I think we go to the known – the things that are doing what we want to do already – because in doing so, we cut through the crap and are able to save time. But at what cost and is that the best way to really go? If you want to learn about how to make puzzles, why not look at some really interesting sources like ancient Chinese puzzles or North American Indian Games or 10 centuries of puzzles.

If I make RPGs and all I do is study other RPGs, my games will therefore have a much better chance at being derivate than they will at being innovative. I need to look at other genres, other mediums of games, other forms of fun, other things that teach me, the ways that we make decisions.

I knew of level designers that went to Ikea to see how they set their stuff up and what things they did to lead people through a level. Grocery stores are urban exercises in cultural and demographic level design. Great architects are level designers, too, and even if it all sucks and just reinforces your own ideas, then something was learned (or missed, possibly).

What could be learned from the History of Prison Architecture? Would you learn more reading that than by reading another article that probably reinforces the same stuff you’ve already read and played 200 times?

Advertisements
5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2008 7:04 pm

    Amen!

    I’m a big James Burke fan (of BBC doc fame). He argued endlessly about the cost to society of increased specialization in education and profession. The renaissance man/woman served a function: they cross-polinate.

    It’s a shame we don’t recognize that and do more of it. Seems like the best designers certainly do take this to heart (folks like Raph and Clint come to mind, when you think of the breadth of some of their talks)

  2. Chris permalink
    June 7, 2008 1:10 am

    I also think that game design requires more than just playing video games. I hear developers give advice like “play lots of video games”, but if that was all I ever did, wouldn’t I just be making derivative content?

    I found that little blurb on IKEA gallery designs to be interesting. If I think about it, it presents a linear path, but the path is not too constricting so you can take shortcuts backward or forward. And at the end there’s the cafeteria. Come to think of it, it also reminds me of the mice who have to find the cheese at the end of the maze, too…

  3. Lee permalink
    June 7, 2008 9:49 am

    Bravo Brenda,

    I have always been a fan of reading different and neat novels and it really adds a new element to design when you consider things as far out side of the box as store design or the barricades in Les Mis….. it just lends itself to creative thinking…

    Cheers,

    Lee

  4. June 9, 2008 10:32 am

    “If I make RPGs and all I do is study other RPGs, my games will therefore have a much better chance at being derivate than they will at being innovative.”

    Love this sentiment. Too often developers really do just play all the “greats” that came before them. Wanna make a shooter…ok, then play GoW, Mass Effect, CoD4 and you are ready to make your own multi-million selling product. Well…no, its not that simple.

    To Chris…yes, actually playing games is still good advice, but you are right that you need more to be innovative. Remember, don’t just play the games that did things right…check out the games that did things wrong. They have lessons as well.

  5. June 9, 2008 12:22 pm

    Mundinator says:

    “Too often developers really do just play all the “greats” that came before them. Wanna make a shooter…ok, then play GoW, Mass Effect, CoD4 and you are ready to make your own multi-million selling product. Well…no, its not that simple.”

    Well why isn’t it? Each game has its own strengths and weakness and if teams take those to heart then any game that results would be successful. Saints Row is a really good example of standing on the shoulders of “greatness”. The developers at Volition took a lot of the things that were fun about the Grand Theft Auto series and ensured that their title wasn’t plagued with many of the same gripes of the series and managed to add a few things here and there to make a standout title for the 360.

    I am not saying that playing lots of games makes someone an expert and qualifies them to develop games. I am saying that talented qualified people who study games and understands what makes them successful will be successful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: