Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Thoughts About Genre

I hate genres in gaming. Anybody who has had a design class with me can tell you, there are few things I dislike more than genre. I have two major criticisms of the current genre system in games:

1) Design Ruts - As soon as a developer or a publisher says to themselves, "We are making an RTS" or "We are making an FPS", their heads are immediately filled with expectations for the genre. Specific little things that those games are "supposed" to have. I.E. resource management in a Real Time Strategy game.

2) Mechanical Classification - The system we currently has classifies games based on their mechanics, rather than their style or substance. As far as I can think of, we are the only medium that does this. Sure, maybe those more technically informed about films might refer to them based on the mechanics of the cinematography, but for the most part a film is referred to by its content. I.E. Drama, Comedy, Romance, etc.

I'm not going to blame the industry for this, or the game journalists, or anybody else associated with the medium. Traditionally, games have only been about the mechanics. Stories, characters, and context were so abstracted that they didn't really matter or could be summed up in a quick sentence. Truly, mechanics were the king.

Chess is about a war between two factions. Super Mario Bros. is a game about a plumber rescuing a princess and so on and so forth. It made little sense to categorize these things by their visual style or their thematic elements.

But now, we do have a lot of these things. Games have themes and visual styles, and I would call for a move away from the genres of yesterday. Naturally, that's an easy thing to say and much harder to do. I don't have a ready made list of categories to classify different strokes of games ; Ian Bogost at Gamasutra wrote this article about a style he would call "Proceduralism". I agree with many of the things he says, and disagree with some of them, but this kind of thinking will be an extremely useful tool for us designers as we go forth in an effort to make something new.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Thoughts About Dissapointment

Hey everybody, I hope you all had a good vacation, I finally got the chance to do some concentrated effort on my mod, but that's not what this post is about.

Instead I want to talk about disappointment in games. Friends of mine and critics alike constantly harp on the fact that they are disappointed with a particular new release. The reasons vary from the game was too linear, or it wasn't realistic enough, or it was too unrealistic, or it's story wasn't very good. I've done some pondering, and I think it's safe to say that almost all of these sort of complaints stem from a player's expectations of a game. They expect the game, either from previews or screenshots or just hearsay, to perform in a specific way which it does not. Subsequently, they are disappointed with the title and move on.

The problem with this is that you may miss the entire point the designers were trying to put in front of you. It's like walking into a steakhouse blindfolded and expecting lobster, then being upset that they give you a delicious juicy steak. Sure, maybe it isn't a lobster, but gosh darnit it still tastes great.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best analogy, but you get the idea.

I know a number of people disappointed with Left4Dead because it wasn't enough "Survival Horror" and was too actiony. Valve never set out to make a survival horror game, they set out to make a great co-op game. An equal number of people were disappointed with Mirrors Edge because it didn't do the sorts of things you'd expect a first person game to do. And I'm sure there will be a number of grumpy real time strategy fans when we get our hands on Dawn of War 2 come Febuary 23rd thanks to its bucking of RTS tradition.

What I'm trying to say here is that as players and designers, it is crucial that we go into a game playing experience with a clean slate. I don't think every time you sit down to play you should be analyzing and critiquing constantly, that negates the point of experiencing the game. But you should at least give it a fair chance to stand on its own two legs.