Sundays are for something productive. If you don’t decide what soon, you’re going to spend all day tootling around in Cities: Skylines with the cheats on again. Quick, stall for time by reading and watching the week’s finest (mostly) games writing.
The best games model the systems in our world—or the ones of imagination—by means of systems running in software. Just as photography offers a way of seeing aspects of the world we often look past, game design becomes an exercise in operating that world, of manipulating the weird mechanisms that turn its gears when we’re not looking. The amplifying effect of natural disaster and global unrest on oil futures. The relationship between serving size consistency and profitability in an ice cream parlor. The relative unlikelihood of global influenza pandemic absent a perfect storm of rapid, transcontinental transmission.
As simply as I can put it, using another example from Demon’s: what made exploring the first part of the Tower of Latria — a labyrinthine prison — most exciting was that it was built as a labyrinthine prison, and that the encounter design played into its dark corners, constricting spaces, and falsely lulling repetitions. Although Dark Souls 2’s Lost Bastille is among the game’s more arresting environments for its relatively digressive layout — and I can’t deny the appeal of a moonlit fort next to the sea –, its design philosophy is pretty nearly the opposite of Latria’s: it purports to be a prison, but this is not expressed by its meandering outdoor paths and clusters of vacuous, box-like interiors that seem to exist just to pad out the area’s size and store crates/barrels. In fact, if it weren’t for several celled chambers and the area’s name, it would be hard to guess what the Bastille is even trying to be. It’s caught in a spot of thematic conceit detached from structural explication.
What people don’t realize is that when you start making things outside of the convention of what is normal or good or “best practices”, you’re also shedding some of the baggage that comes with the concept of what a game “should” be. You won’t be at the mercy of design conventions that haven’t been challenged in 20 years just because they “seem game-y”. You’re starting with a truly blank canvas, and that has just as much potential to yield truly experimental work as it does to produce crap.
#altgames can be the no-fault divorce that we need where we don’t blame each other, where we even stay friends with contemporary indie games. We can still have dinner parties and share custody of the kids! However, we also have very different goals and concerns, so let’s try not being married anymore, and maybe we’ll all be happier for it.
I mean, can I point out that most of my friends are Twine devs or otherwise working in extremely niche forms? There is no money to be made in niche game forms. And every single one of us is bitter: About the lack of attention, about our relative successes, about the fact that we aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing. And that you’re a heretic if you express doubt. I remember I said, at IndieCade 2013, that “there’s no money in indie games” and three devs I’d been having a pleasant beer with suddenly snapped: What about Minecraft? What about Braid? What about Fez? It’s considered almost offensive to question the premise that anyone can be a successful game dev. But it’s a lie. Anyone can form a band, but you’re probably not going to be even a minor rock star. How many of us with creative writing degrees sold that novel? How many famous actors do you know? How many high school football players play professionally?
Music this week is Secret Songs output of introspective electronica. Start here.