FOLLOWING ARE UNEDITED TRANSCRIPTS FROM "COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAMES COM E OF AGE, A NATIONAL CONFERENCE TO EXPLORE THE CURRENT STATE OF AN EMERGING ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM," HOSTED BY THE PROGRAM IN COMPARATIVE MEDIA STUDIES AT THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY ON THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY AND FRIDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2000. WE ARE IN THE PROCESS OF EDITING THESE TRANSCRIPTS AND WILL REPLACE EACH ONE AS THE REFINED VERSION BECOMES AVAILABLE.
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FRIDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2000
MODERATOR: I appreciate everyone coming out so early in the morning for what we hope will be an exciting day of conversations. This first panel this morning is called Aesthetics of Game Design. Now let me just set up for you the way we're going to be conducting these panels. We are going to. Each speaker will have seven to 10 minutes to make an opening statement in response to a series of questions submitted to the speakers in advance. And if you look in your brochure, page 9, we have the questions, they were sent for the Aesthetics of Game Design. And that will allow you to get a sense of the context they are speaking to. After each speaker speaks we will then, I'll try to ask a question that will get the other two panelists to respond to something that speaker has said. And then we'll open it up to the floor for 10 minutes or so of Q and A. And we'll do this back and forth so that we keep a kind of dynamic flow of conversation here. Our first speaker is Bruce Shelley. Shelley has been a professional game designer and developer since 1980. He began working with board games and switched to computer games in 1987. He helped start or worked for five game companies. Prior to the start of Ensemble Studios in 1995, Shelley is best known for assisting Sid Meier on the design of the original editions of Railroad Tycoon and Civilization, when they were colleagues at Microprose. He is a senior designer at Ensemble Studios, where he helped organize the company and evolve their development methodology. He contributed to the design of Age of Empires and Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. Thank you.
SHELLEY: Thank you. Morning. What makes a good game? I want to talk about that a little bit. It's important to Ensemble Studios, because our first game was a big success and we wanted to understand why that was true and carry forward the reasons that was true to our future products. So we have given this some thought. I'm going to outline here like 10 features that we think are either part of why the game was good or how the game should be developed. We think we're important to the success of our first two products. I don't have these in a particular order and I'm just go through them quickly. And I think that there are reasons why our games are successful. My first number is like choose a big topic. For a strategy game, I think a big topic, the idea is reach for a wide audience. If you choose a niche topic for your game, you're already limiting how successful your game could possibly be. I would say to know who you're designing for and why they're going to like your game. And be the best game on your topic. Being second-best in a particular topic is usually the spell of doom. We start with a vision statement. After we have our topic, we start with a vision statement for what our game is going to be like. It's a simple statement. And all the decisions about the design should flow from your vision in your vision statement. An example would be Age of Empires I was, a simplest vision of that game was the economic and the history aspects of the turn-based game Civilization merged with the real-time strategy aspects of Warcraft and Command and Conquer. And that was the vision for what we were going to see in our minds, on the screens in play. Another important element here is, my third item here is prototype early. Great games are designed by playing. Designers are largely guessing, I believe, until their game is actually being played. You're just guessing until you can actually try and play your game, and then you find out what's working and what's not. That leads to my next point, which is the evolutionary development process is how we develop our games. We test, we adjust and we retest, continually, on a daily basis, new versions built every day and changed every day, based on the experience of our test. We test and we talk about what we've done and we move forward on a daily basis. We rely on our instincts as players when making development choices. Albert Einstein said that science was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I think that applies to the kind of games that we develop as well. We only have a few inspirational ideas. The rest of it is based on playing and replaying and finding out what works. And we're not, I don't think of ourselves as artists or something like that. I mean, we're just game players. We're designing the games we want to play. And we rely on our instincts of what is working and what is not to shape the games as we go for it over a, in this case, usually a two- or three-year process that game is played. And if we know what we're doing and we represent a large enough share of the marketplace, then the final result will be a successful product. That has been the case so far for our two first games. Polish your game. When you're done with it, you're probably not done. Keep working on it. Polish it. We have had the luxury, working with Microsoft, they have given us the time and the resources to make sure our game is taken that extra step, it's polished. It's got to be an extraordinary product. A couple of phrases I use are that a great game that ships late makes its money up in the long run. A mediocre game that ships on time is a critical and a financial disaster. I think if you look at all the games that come out in the marketplace and so many don't succeed, I think they were not finished. They were not polished. They were incomplete. They were rushed to the marketplace. I mean, you have to be extraordinary to succeed in this industry. It's very competitive. We talked about a hundred games in that video yesterday were demonstrating. But maybe 1,500 were in development at any one time. I mean, over the course of this industry in 25 years, I don't know, 10,000 games were made and most of those sank like a stone. You want your game to float to the top. And to do that, you've got to make it extraordinary. And that comes, that's the polish I'm talking about. Interesting, well-placed decisions provide game play and fun. This is the rocket science of game design, in my view, that interesting decisions is what is fun and makes the game. I go back to a definition that I use of what is a game, real quick, and that is, a game is a series of interesting decisions in a competitive environment, leading to a satisfying conclusion. Interesting decisions are game play and fun. Competitive environment is competition. And the satisfying conclusion's your [victory?] conditions. Games that don't have. You could be. Oh, well, I won't start about that, but. Interesting decisions, I think, it was Sid Meier's definition of what game is. I've added the competitive environment and the satisfying conclusion. The player should have the fun, not the designer, not the programmer, not the computer. I think so many of those games that sank like a stone, the wrong entity was having the fun. The designer had the fun making it. The computer has the fun grinding all the numbers. Keep in mind that the player's supposed to have the fun and that is your job as the evolutionary process, as the designer, to play and replay and test, and make sure that your game is fun. Provide a great first 15 minutes. You have, we judged that you have 15 minutes when somebody boots up your game to get them involved and excited about your product and wanting to know more about it. If they're not interested and absorbing your game out of 15 minutes, you have probably lost them as a customer and they may be returning your game to the store, in the worst possible case. So we think you have first, the first 15 minutes of your game have got to be great. We rely on a, what we call the inverted pyramid of decision making. Hope that's OK, in terms of jargon. [LAUGHTER] But, you know, basically when the player sits down to play, he only has a few, or he or she has only a few things to think about and decisions to make. And those decisions lead to more. And they lead to more and lead to more. If you think of Age of Empires I and II, if you've played those games, there's only a few people on the map. You have to do something with those people. But when they start going to work, you start getting more things happening. And so the decision-making pyramid is inverted and you're sucked in. If we've done it right, after 15 minutes, you're solely in that game and you're not worrying about anything else that's going on in your life. And maybe hours go by and [LAUGHTER] then you've done your job as a game designer. When people complain to us about my marriage is in difficulty, we know we have done our job. [LAUGHTER] Let me move on quickly. I'm not sure where I am in time. Stunning graphics, sound effects and music. You need that. In today's environment, you've got to be good. It's got to be attractive, enticing, inspire inquisitiveness in your player. It's not a mistake that the sun shines in Age of Empires, that it's a bright, inviting world. We think people like that aspect of our games. They want to know more about what's going on in this place. It looks like a real environment, a digital [terranium/terrarium?]. Graphics, sound, music set the mood. And those effects need to convey information quickly and without player effort. Three goals of the interface, now this is probably nothing new, but give player access to information and controls needed, be intuitive and minimize player frustration. Get out of the way of the player. I mean, as a designer, you're doing two things. You are making, giving people positive things that are enjoyable. And don't forget to remove the negative things that are causing frustration. You have to work in both directions as you work, as you go forward in your game. You're trying to make this is smooth, fun process. And if you put roadblocks in people's way, that gets in the way of all the positive things you're trying to do with the game design. The last thing I'd say, and this is not, shouldn't be the last, it's something you do up front, is analyze your competition. You need to be playing a lot of games. We get our ideas from what other people are doing, a lot of them. And when you analyze the competition, you need to meet and beat them where they're doing things really well. You need to exceed them where they're weak. You need to identify what they're doing well and what they're not doing well. Things the competition is not doing well are your opportunities. That's where you distinguish and differentiate your game in the marketplace. And real quickly, Age of Empires I, we looked at what Civilization as turn-based game was doing well, what Warcraft was doing really well, what Command and Conquer was doing well. And we also had a list of proven game-play features that we had seen in other types of games. And from those lists, we built the feature list of what Age of Empires would be. And most important to us in the long-run were the things that the other real-time strategy games were not doing that we could take from other product. And I think, let me give you a couple of examples. Randomly generated maps. No other real-time strategy game is doing that right now. And we've been out now two years, our first products were released, we think that's a key piece to the success of our products. No one else is doing that. That was something we identified as an opportunity. Let me give a couple of other examples. Multiple victory conditions, different ways to win your game. All the other real-time games you only conquest, you've wiped everybody else to win. Our game allow you other ways to win. We think that helps broadens our audience. Levels of difficulty. Some of the other games, you only play it against the computer at one level of difficulty. There was no way for you to adjust how difficult it was for you to play. No, there was one challenge. If you couldn't meet that, you were out. And if it was too easy, you weren't having any fun. By providing levels of difficulty, we think we helped people feel comfortable with our game. Those are examples of how we looked at our competition and identified places where our game could be better. And that's the sum of my general remarks. But I think those are the things we identified that make good games and have distinguished our game, and part of the reason why our games have been so successful.
MODERATOR: OK. Well, Bruce, in describing this process, spoke rather a lot about the player's experience, the player's goal, as you might expect in a game industry. How do you make an assessment of that during the design process? Is it intuitive or are you relying on other, the people in your company as experienced game players to make that assessment? Or are there ways you measure it beyond the company level?
SHELLEY: Well, I'm not sure I understand the question. The player's experience?
MODERATOR: Yeah. How do you measure what players want out of a game? What --
SHELLEY: Well, what players want is what I want and my colleagues want as players. We are all game players. And the first level is that we decide. We're doing, I mean. I didn't go to school to study game design, I just played games all my life. And I got in this business because I wanted to do the games that didn't exist. This game doesn't exist. I want to play it. We're going to make it. And it's been fortunate that we've made a career out of doing this kind of thing. We're making the games we want to play and we've made a living doing it. So our first role here is that what we want to play. And then we've learned that we have to expand that audience. We have a large group at Microsoft as well who plays our games and tells us. Then Microsoft does some massive Beta tests, thousands of people are playing our game at some Beta. And they're telling us more about our game and what's working and not working. So there's another level in there. We've been through several levels now of making adjustments. And along that way you hope you've touched a number of different groups who have played differently and that you haven't left something out or made a big error in your game. By the time it's been through all those people's experience, hopefully it's been shaped into something that will reach a large audience and make a lot of different people, kinds of people happy.
MODERATOR: OK. We'll be turning to the audience for questions in a minute. If you want to line up next to the microphones, we'll get started. But I'd like to get Eric and Warren's response.
MAN: Well, I don't have a question, but it's just an observation that, while I have very much enjoyed your games, I think maybe they're, in this particular audience there may be people who don't know Age of Empires is or even what a real-time strategy game is. Do you think it'd be helpful if Bruce could just describe it a little bit?
MODERATOR: Yes, could you say a little?
SHELLEY: Real-time strategies --
MAN: When you say like a randomly generated map, maybe people don't know what you mean.
SHELLEY: OK. What distinguishes our games from some of the others like I know that Warren works on and other people you talked about, are story-based games. Like Steven Retsky in the audience with his graphic adventure games. Our games we [call them?], they're like blank map games. The game opens and there's like nothing on the map. You have a couple little characters and instead of the story being outlined for you and you follow it along, you write the story as you play. So in our particular game, it's a multi-player experience usually. You start up with a few little resources and your goal is to build an empire, put people to work, gather resources in the whole economic side, you build an empire. And then you work toward victory in competition versus other empires that are at work at the same time. So the map is essentially empty when you begin and by the time it's, somewhere in the middle of the game it's full. And then by the time it's over, it's almost empty again, because you've destroyed each other, but. [LAUGHTER] There's this whole idea of building up an economic phase and we find that different groups in the audience like different aspects of that particular game, so. Real-time strategy means that there's no turn. It's just a clock starts, the game goes on and you just play, do as much as you can. And managing your own mind and your own hand is one of the resources you have to deal with. It's not like you can take all the time you want to make your move. Did that make it pretty clear? [LAUGHTER] The first game was about ancient history. The second game was about the Middle Ages.
MAN: Yeah, well, I wanted to ask Eric, [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, to respond to your question, you ask, how do you know what the player wants? And Bruce is right. If you're not a gamer, your odds of being a successful game developer are, well, zero. And as developers, we all start with this arrogance that, you know, we know what's going to work and we know what's right and we know what's cool and fun and all that stuff. And we draft these wonderful designs, or at least I do. I mean, I could show you the 550-page version of the Deus Ex design document, about a third of which actually ended up in the game. Because what you do is, you make this wonderful plan so you have a target to shoot for and a road map to get there. And then along the way, you know, you start playing it. You prototype early. I mean, that is, I wrote down two things from what you just said. Not that it wasn't all wonderful. I mean, that was a graduate course in game design. [LAUGHTER] But prototype early is critical. And to be frank, we didn't do it on the game we're working on now. We didn't prototype early enough. And what you end up doing is finding out that game design is a hugely organic process. And you play it. You go, wow, that thing that I thought was going to be so cool just didn't work at all. Let's fix that. And, you know, players aren't getting this aspect of the game at all as they play it, once you actually get it working. And that's where the game really comes into focus and becomes a game. That's, you know, I say, there are two fun parts of game development. There's the preproduction, where you're just sort of making stuff up, you know. And then there's the end game where you can actually play the game and find out what just sucks, and fix it. That's the fun part. And then there's this amazing part in the middle, which is where most people fail, because you just have to grind it out every day and night, and every day and night, and every day and night to get to the point where you can do what Bruce was saying.
MAN: Well, we've heard yesterday about the diversification of the game audience, bridging out to women, bridging out to older players, bridging out to casual players. Does that have implications for the design process you're describing in terms of tapping into player desire? In terms of figuring out what players want?
ZIMMERMAN: I don't think I'm smart enough to predict what certain groups are going to like to play. I've had this conversation with my wife. Why don't you design games for women? [LAUGHTER] And, you know, men design clothes for women, but that's because we want them to look a certain way. [LAUGHTER] But trying to design a game that's going to appeal to them is like a different animal, I think. Because that's what intrigues a woman, so. I tell my wife that good games for women are going to be designed by women, I think, not by me. I design the games that I want. We design the games we want to play. At the same time, I think we can make some, from our experience, we can make some judgments about what to include in our box to try to approach a wide audience. I mean, one of the things I talk about is when you sit down to do a game, let's say for the PC, your potential marketplace is a pie that is everyone who owns a personal computer. And when you start making decisions about your topic and other things, you start throwing pieces of your pie away, you know. As soon as you decide I'm going to have a lot of blood and a lot of gore and a lot of curse words, you know, the pieces of your pie are flying. [LAUGHTER] And when you get done, you may have a small segment. Our goal at Ensemble Studios was to try to hold on to as much as that pie as we could. So we emphasize the economic side of our game, which some of the other real-time strategy doesn't. We have the bright inviting world. Most of the other games are gloomy. And we do, we have, certainly, the hard-core multi-player aspects, but we've tried, between our. I talk about a three-dimensional space with [UNINTELLIGIBLE] conditions, different types of [UNINTELLIGIBLE] conditions. And another axis could be the levels of difficulty. Another axis is the map types that you can play on. Another axis. I'm getting in four-dimensional space here. [LAUGHTER] It could be the types of game, like a death match or some other kind of, you know, conquer the hill game. And what you end up with is a volume of space. And one, inside that space are points. Each one of these is a different type of play experience. The hard-core multi-player game on the zone, death match. Down here is easy level, single player with like no interaction from the AI at all hardly. And in that volume of space there's all these different game experiences that come in the box. And that was our goal. We think within that volume there is a game for almost everyone, so we're ambitious. It was expensive. We did a lot of work. But I think the sales figures are showing us that women, children, older people, nontraditional gaming audiences are finding something within that volume of spaces that we provided that they enjoy playing. So maybe we took a different, we took a shotgun approach. We tried to appeal to almost everyone and so far that's working. Targeting your game, I'd feel very uncomfortable trying to do that.
MODERATOR: OK. Any comments from the two panelists? And then we'll get to some.
MAN: Yeah. I thought it was kind of depressing, actually, because I always go for like the geek audience and [LAUGHTER], you know, I've never sold a game. [LAUGHTER] Never had a game sell as well as Age of Empires, and now I think I know why. [LAUGHTER]
MAN: You know, I mean, Henry, the other side of your question is that people who are specifically creating games for demographic markets like Brenda Lorell, someone who had Purple Moon, did a huge amount of demographic research and created her game designs based on what her research findings were. You know, I'm sort of two minds about it. On the one hand, I think it's great that people are seeking out new audiences. On the other hand, in thinking about games as, you framed them yesterday as sort of experimental, really vibrant mode of pop culture. As a designer myself, I'm uncomfortable creating designs that are, that have been created through a marketing process. In other words, it's hard for me to think about creating an innovative game that people haven't seen or haven't experienced before as a result of pandering to what they think the game is that they would like to be playing. So that there's sort of a double-edged sword. In seeking out new audiences and creating innovative game play. I mean, the encouraging thing to me is always to remember that many of the most popular games ever that have reached an incredibly broad audience, like Tetras, Sim City, Mist, were also unbelievably innovative and genre-defining games.
MODERATOR: OK. We've got two people waiting in line for questions. If you give us your name at the beginning?
GOODMAN: My name is Rick Goodman. And I have a question for Bruce. Bruce --
MAN: OK, wait a minute.
GOODMAN: -- real-time strategy games are transitioning to 3-D, from 2-D to 3-D. And two-part question is first, what benefits do you think that provides to a strategy game? And two, what are some of the design challenges involved in 3-D, real-time strategy game development?
SHELLEY: Let me point out Rick Goodman to you. Rick was the lead designer on Age of Empires I, so, I know Rick. [LAUGHTER] 3-D is an interesting, I think, prospect. We're thinking about our next game being 3-D. I think what 3-D can do for you is, our game is traditionally 2-D and you're looking, stuff gets lost behind large objects. When you have three-dimensionals, you can rotate around and see things. That's one thing that 3-D does for you. You can go under water, you can go up in the air very easily in a 3-D world. So there's new possibilities there for a real-time strategy game. The challenges are, I think, you get new game play options, but the challenge in my view right now is an artistic side, because we can [rig?] fantastic looking art. If you've seen Age of Empires I, there was a little clip of Age II in the video yesterday. I mean, the art is stunning and that's still, it's still 8-bit graphics, you know, 256 colors. In 3-D, you know, you don't get quite that definition of your object. So it's a challenge to make our game look as, if we do 3-D next, to make it look as cool as these two games. I've got people in the press telling me, don't go 3-D. Don't do that, you know. And, but then certainly our technical people are saying, we got to. I love 3-D, I want to do 3-D. I have not met a programmer who doesn't want to do 3-D. So, you know, you have that issue with the morale and motivation of our own people who want to go out on the edge, do stuff that no one else has done before. But, I mean, actually I just think that 3-D gives you some new game play options and it's going to be a challenge to make it look as good as some of the, you know. It'll be a while. Maybe this new stuff that Trip Hawkins was talking about will give us the capability that we can drive the graphic looks that we want to see in the future 3-D. Did that answer your question there?
GOODMAN: Yes, sir.
MODERATOR: OK. The second fellow up there. Give us your name.
THERIAL?: My name is Chris Therial. And the question I have is, are we already getting to a point where the business side of game developing is in danger of killing a lot of great games in the womb? For instance is, is a great game defined by only how many copies it sells? Or is it defined more of if only one person bought it, is that the only game he thinks he's ever going to need to buy, because he's that happy with it? I mean, if the companies only start looking from the perspective of, well, I don't want, I'm afraid to make this game because it may not sell as well as this other idea we have, you know, is the whole market gone out the window because that market is not considered big enough? I mean, what is the ultimate goal of the game? Is it only money or is it just trying to make a game because the game itself is a good idea?
ZIMMERMAN?: The mission statement for Ensemble Studios is to do great, extraordinary games. Live comfortably. [LAUGHTER] Have fun. And, you know, we are going to go forward in that way. I mean, we are lucky. I think we feel very fortunate that so far, the games that we have wanted to do and enjoy doing, had a lot of fun doing, have been very successful. So, I mean right now, I don't know, I'm really on top of the world. The things we want to do are making good money. Making money for us. You know, I mean, there is that artistic business side, you know, there's a trade-off there. And you have to make a judgment about that. I mean there are, I'd like to do another railroad game. I don't think the final railroad game has ever been done. I mean, I'd like to do that some day, but I'm not convinced yet that something, we're not convinced it's something our company should do. We need to pay the bills. I mean, we've created 50 top-paying jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the last five years. We've gone from five people to 50. And, you know, I feel good about that, certainly. And we've done games that seem to have made an awful lot of people happy. We get, people enjoy our games, so I'm. Right now we're doing, we're doing the best of both. We're making money and we're making a lot of people happy. Now maybe you can make a case that our games are not particularly innovative. You know, I don't know. I mean, I think we will be in a position someday where we have the wherewithal to try some more innovate stuff. In the near term, I think it's, we need to be making more practical business decisions. I mean, I'm a free market economist, you know. I studied economics for a while. And I believe that, you know, the socially responsible corporation maximizes profits. But I also want to have fun and I want to, you know, I want to do games that I want to play. So, the innovative stuff will come from smaller groups who want to take, who are especially young and are willing to take bigger risks and try some stuff. I think there's always going to be a place for a small team to do something new and fresh. And the example of that is staring us in the eye today is Roller Coaster Tycoon. There's a game that was developed by three or four people in Scotland. And that game is like in the top 10 charts for strategy games in 1999. And one of the top 10 PC games now. They're certainly a small team who did some innovative stuff. And that's wonderful. I'm happy that that is still possible, that kitchen-table games can still be done. I mean, I don't think that's going away any time soon. There's going to be small movies and there's going to be blockbuster movies. And for the near term, my company wants to be making games that really make a lot of money, because we spend a lot of money making them. So we need to make money back. Otherwise we're out of business. And if we don't do a couple more, if our next couple of games aren't really successful, I may be, you know, looking for work in a couple of years, so. That's an interesting trade-off, but I think that the industry is still in a situation that innovative, small teams can still try crazy stuff. And that's where Eric talked about the next big blockbuster game is probably not, you know, in terms of new genre creating game is probably not going to come from a company who is trying to. Like my company, we're happy where we are. We may not be trying something like that in the near term. But somebody's going to. And it's probably going to happen. I think we can feel comfortable about that.
MODERATOR: OK. We've got several other people in line. However, I need to introduce the second speaker. I'm hoping your questions will still be pertinent after we've heard from Warren. I apologize, but we've got to keep the time running here. Warren Spector started at Steve Jackson Games, a small board game company, where he worked on Space Gamer magazine, and developed or designed several board games and role-playing games. After rising to editor-in-chief at Steve Jackson Games, he moved on to a position as a game developer for TSR Incorporated, best known for Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. After five years in the paper game business, Spector made the leap to computer gaming, taking a position as associate producer for ORIGIN Systems Incorporated. Spector was the producer for the award-winning Ultima Underworld series, with project director Doug Church. Ultima VII, Part 2: Serpent Isle, Wings of Glory, among others. In November of 1999, Spector accepted a partnership position and seat on the board of directors of ION Storm. He and his teams are currently working on an action role-playing game entitled Deus Ex, scheduled for release later this year. Take it away, Warren.
SPECTOR: All right, thank you. Well, first of all, I want to thank you all for coming out so early, because obviously you're not game developers. [LAUGHTER] Man. And I want to thank Henry for actually coming up with these five questions, because right now I'm in that fun last stage of a project where I don't have enough creative brain cells left to think about much of anything. So what I did was, I took those five questions and just pretty much came up with answers for them. And maybe there will be some sort of over arching message that comes out of this. I don't know. We'll find out. But before I start on this, I mean, I hope I have enough time to get through this, but I wanted to address that last question, too. I've always made the games that I want to make. I actually don't worry much about whether they're going to sell or not. And, maybe that's the problem. [LAUGHTER] But, you know, so far I've been lucky enough that I've managed to live up to one of my mottos, which is, you know, sell one more copy of the game to get somebody to give you the money to make the next one. And when I signed on with ION Storm, I told John Ramaro, who's obviously, you know, made or worked on games that have sold way more copies than I have. I told him, don't expect, you know, Doom or Quake level sales out of me. I mean, you know, if you get 400,000 copies out of me, you're lucky. And he said, go for it. You know, that was one more than I need to sell to convince him to give me way too much money. Budget on the game, right. Anyway, OK. With that little preamble out of the way, what makes for a good game? And is it meaningful to speak of an aesthetics of game design? There's a bunch of questions implicit in that and I'm sure they're actually the ones we want to be asking here. I think there's, you know, bigger game to be going after than good game/bad game. We don't study Shakespeare to determine if he was good playwright. We don't use the tools of film criticism and theory to determine if Buster Keaton was a better film maker than Charlie Chaplin. You know, and we would never think to say, well, let's create an aesthetics of literature that will explicate the works of Shakespeare and Jacqueline Suzanne. Or, you know, Rembrandt, Rockwell and Warhol. We have to focus our thinking a little bit more, I think, in any medium. But, you know, in gaming in particular, I mean, I can't think of a single set of aesthetic principles that would define a populace or explain the workings of a populace a Half-Life, a Super Mario 64 and a Tetras. And does that mean I don't think it's meaningful to examine the aesthetics of game design? Well of course not. I mean, I wouldn't be here if I felt like that. I think it is absolutely vital that we start to build a vocabulary that allows us to examine, with some degree of precision, how games evoke emotional-intellectual responses in players, obviously. It's vital that we begin to identify the creative tools available to designers and game developers so we can see how those tools are applied by the people working on a Half Life or a Thief or an Age of Empires. It is vital that we determine how games make meaning basically. I think that is what I'm trying to say. Our quest I think has to be more than just a search for good and bad, or for quality I guess. We need to be talking about significance. There is cultural significance in games as much as there is in books, movies, art and all that sort of stuff. There is historical significance. One of the things that is most exciting to me, mostly because I'm just sort of a academic history geek, I guess. It is amazing to me that I've been around the birth of a new medium. I think back to film. I was like a film scholar when I was in college and graduate school and stuff. Scholar, wow what a word. [LAUGHTER] I just remember thinking, Linda Arbason Griffith, D.W. Griffith's wife, wrote a book called When the Movies Were Young. The first page of that book is, someday there will be a plaque outside 11 East 4th Street, the site of the Biograph studios, proclaiming this as the birth place of the movies. You know there is a high rise there now. No one remembers that. No one cares. It is because the people who were making the movies back then thought they were engaged in a trivial enterprise that no one would ever care about. We have an opportunity here. I'm on a soap box now. We have an opportunity here to actually record the history of this new medium that I think, as many people said yesterday, will have the same kind of impact on our culture. We have the opportunity to record it while the people are still doing it. While they are here, around to talk to us. That we've got to take advantage of. Getting back to the original question. I think we need to start looking at how game zoners work. I think we need to identify principles that do cut across zoners, if they exist, so we can really see how games are constructed and how they make meaning. So I do think it is significant but I don't want us to stop at good game bad game sort of stuff. So that was my answer to the first question. The second question was, the games industry is 25 years old. Compared to cinema at 25 we had seen D.W. Griffith make birth of a nation and in tolerance and all that stuff. We had seen Charlie Chaplin come along and Sergei Eisenstein try to explain an entirely different way to make meaning in movies. Fritz Lang was making all his German stuff. Have video games achieved that level of accomplishment? Implicate in that question is the answer no, which is wrong by the way. [LAUGHTER] It seems pretty clear to me that we actually have reached a level of accomplishment comparable to movies in the 1950 to 1925 period. We have our Chaplins and our Griffiths and our Eisensteins and many of them are here today. Let's leave aside the whole issue of one of my pet peeves which is the, we ascribe credit for games to individuals when in fact there are these huge teams of people who really do the work. Right? We'll leave that aside for now. Get me later and I'll tell you all about it. That aside, it is an indisputable fact that you can play [Asagerami Amodo?] game or a Peter Mulaney game, again bearing in mind that stands for a big team. Right? And know within 30 seconds who made that game. If you play any game that Doug Church has worked on you know it in 30 seconds. Sid Meier, Richard Garriate. Any medium that allows that level of creative expression and that variety of creative expression and that easily identified level of creative expression is a medium that is pretty sophisticated and has reached a pretty high level of accomplishment. The rest of the question is, what are the landmark accomplishments over the past 25 years? I have seven to 10 minutes and I'm a very wordy guy. Just to hit some of the high point, what are the things that we are good at? I don't want to get into individual games really. We are really good at a sense of, you are thereness. Some people call it immersion, whatever. We are really good at making you think you are some place you are not and we are getting better all the time. Star Raiders. You're really in that spaceship. Even 15 years ago. Underworld, I think, did a wonderful job of convincing you that you were in a dungeon. Half Life, you're really there at that research complex. In some case we've really managed, this is one of my [UNINTELLIGIBLE], get ready, your going to hear it a lot if you ever talk to me, we've managed to put power in players hands. We've seeded a level of authorial control over stories and situations that people in traditional media find appalling and which I find absolutely exciting. At our best we don't make games that put us on rails. We don't ask them to guess what some wacky designer had in mind. We offer genuine choices with genuine consequences. We don't do that often enough by the way but we can do that. In the rarest of games, as far as I'm concerned the ones that are the best, we've actually managed to introduce some moral and ethical questions of the sort that mankind has explored for centuries, into our games. The coolest thing about gaming, the number one with a bullet, coolest thing about gaming is that instead of what traditional philosophers do which is say, here is what I think about this. See if you think it too. Which is an interactive processes I admit. We actually allow players, or we can anyway, allow players to explore those issues for themselves and we can show them the consequences of taking one ethical or moral position as opposed to another. I think some of the ultimate games have done a pretty frighteningly good job of that. Certainly the God games that Peter Mulaney has made I think do a pretty good job of that. So at our best, to get back to the original question, I don't think we're D.W. Griffith writing history with lightening. I think we are Peter Mulaneys, Dave Knowles and Bruce [UNINTELLIGIBLE], whatever, saying here is the lightening players, go write the future with it.
MODERATOR: You've got about two minutes.
SPECTOR: Oh God. Your kidding. [LAUGHTER] What have games learned from cinema, television, theater, and the other arts? We've learned a whole lot. No, I won't do that. I'm sorry, I won't do that. [LAUGHTER] Sometimes I think we've learned way too much. I'll post this on the Net somewhere. Anyway, we've learned a whole lot. As I've said, sometimes too much. The key for me is not what we've learned, though we want to be open to things from other media. I think it is important for us to look at the ways in which we are fundamentally different. Alongside all the imitations of other media, there have been some incredibly innovative and original things going on in gaming. We've created things like Tetras, which could not have been done in any other medium. We have created Populous and Sim City, games that I guess you could do. I mean certainly in the board game days we could have done stuff like that but we couldn't have done it at that level of complexity or with that level of sort of mass market access. It's amazing to me that people actually want to run a city. I think the future lies with those games. That was the 30 second version of that part. What are the properties of game design that are most fully realized? The day we fully realize anything is the day I am going to retire. We can create that sense of you are thereness again, we do pretty well. We can get ordinary people involved in some really rigorous intellectual stuff that you wouldn't believe they'd want to be like, as I said running a city. We're really good at adrenalin rush. I mean, I hate how good we are at adrenalin rushes. [LAUGHTER] What do we not do so well? Where is the opportunity for growth here? Real choice. We do a decent job of creating the illusion of choice without the actuality of it. Most games offer choices that are as sophisticated as pull the trigger or don't pull the trigger. Smile at that character or frown at that character. Anytime you try to get beyond that particular constraint you're up against, you're reminded that your just playing a game. That's the bottom line. We talk about seating control of the story to the player all the time and we don't do it. That's a crock. We need to do a lot more of that. Having five possible outcomes for a 40 hour game is all well and good but that's not really sharing authorship in any significant way. We are terrible at creating characters who really matter. One of the coolest things about the game I'm working on now and I'm not going to turn this into a hype thing but there are a couple of characters that I just really wanted people to hate and people are really hating them. It is really neat. But still they're just cardboard cut outs. It's pathetic how poorly we recreate people. Since simulation we blind you. I mean, you have sight and sound. You don't have any of the other senses which is really limiting. I'm almost done, really. In creating human emotion it is sort of the grail for me anyway. Making you believe that you're interacting with real people and evoking laughter and tears as opposed to just adrenalin. We have to be better about that. Last question. Critics have described games as formulaic and repetitive. Sure, I agree with that. It's like any other medium. Every single other medium, I mean Star Wars spawned how many really bad SF films. Tom Clancy making a success of something spawns more male action adventure hacks then I want to think about. Scream II, Scream III, what are they up to? How many Halloween movies have been made? Games are the same. I think there actually is a little bit less innovation now than there was 10, 15 years ago when I started making computer games. I think it is because we are a more mature medium. There is just a little bit less room to experiment. Now having said that, I'm going to skip over all that stuff. The thing is there are a lot of folks who say we need an independent game movement. Frankly I've said that but I've been thinking about that recently. I'm just not sure we need, or we need a Blair Witch Project kind of thing, or that it's even possible. The barriers to entry in this business are huge and I just don't see them changing. So where is the innovation going to come from? I was thinking about that too. I think there is lots of innovation and there will continue to be but where it is going to come from, if I can overstate to make my point for just a second, it's going to come from brand name developers. There are a handful of folks in this business who can pitch the wackiest idea in the world to a publisher and have them go, OK wait a minute. That doesn't have a number, it's not a sequel and it doesn't have a license, but it has that guy associated with it. Chris Roberts can go to Microsoft and say give me more money than God and get it because of his track record. And Peter Mulaney, whose going to tell Peter, I don't know if he's here yet, whose going to tell Peter he cannot do some wacky thing? There is plenty of room for innovations but I think where it is mostly going to come from is the people who can convince a publisher. Richard Garriate, if I'd gone to ORIGIN and said, let me do Ultima online, they would have laughed me out of the building. Richard Garriate gets to make Ultima online, which is a generally innovative, well we'll get back to that later. [LAUGHTER]. Anyway. The plight is, I think there is plenty of innovation, there is plenty of room for innovation, and there will be plenty more. That's all I have time for.
MODERATOR: First let me remind audience members, we will go to your questions as soon as I have people lined up at the microphones and if the people who had questions before want to get in line first, I give you [LAUGHTER]. It looks like they're racing to the microphones now. Go ahead. Fire.
MOORE: Good morning. How are you doing? My name is Eddy Moore. I'm from Irrational Games. Both Mr. Shelley and Mr. Spector, you've made points that you want to create games that you want to play. Have, we all know how much time and blood and sweat and tears that we all put into the games that we make, has there ever been a situation in your careers where you've made this game and you have no desire to play it whatsoever after you've completed working on it?
SPECTOR: Sometimes they don't work. Let's put it that way. There have been games that I've been less inclined to play. That is a really personal thing. I'm not sure how relevant it is to the rest of the crowd here. Sure, I've made some games that I think are kind of stinkers and I play them and I go, wow how did I let that happen? But on the other hand there are games like Ultima Underworld which the guys at Looking Glass that are Blue Sky at that point did such an incredible job. I play through that game so many times just for fun that you wouldn't believe it. But yeah sure, of course there are times when I look back and I go, wow, I was just on crack. [LAUGHTER] Bruce?
SHELLEY: The four games that I'm most proud of I'm happy to play today. I still think they are great. I started off as an employee and a small low level guy and I became Sid Meier's assistant and we worked on a game together that I didn't like. I thought it had some weaknesses. A game called Covert Action. It's probably the worst game he ever did.
MAN: I've seen it.
MAN: It had some potential.
SHELLEY: I said, Sid there are things here that are working and there are some things that aren't working. I think we need to beef up the stuff that is fun and get rid of some of this car chase around town. It's not working out. He says, look, I've got to, that Bill Stanley wants this game delivered at the end of the month or the end of two months and we are going to give it to him and I don't want to have any more discussion about that. We are just going to get this game done and out. It turned out it had contractual obligations so I worked on something I wasn't particularly happy with when it was done. I've never played it since. We'd get it and I thought it was competently done. When I've been more in the driver's seat as a co-owner of our company and a founder and one of the lead designers, we haven't done anything that I'm not happy with and that everybody in our company is not happy with and we are still happy to play our games.
MODERATOR: Eric, do you have anything to add?
ZIMMERMAN: I'll pass. [LAUGHTER] Warren raised a lot of questions, some of which I am going to be answering in my own upcoming speel so I'll let the audience talk.
MODERATOR: Alright. Next person.
KIM: Hi, this question is for Warren. My name is Ty Kim and I'm a graduate student at Harvard Business School. I'm fascinated by your analogies to the film industry and I wonder if you could just kind of shed some light on the issue of convergence. When will we ever see a game that is truly a film, an interactive film, as these platforms are converging or if they can, I wonder what you imagine the future will be and what we will be doing to entertain ourselves?
SPECTOR: Convergence between film and games? When will we see the first genuinely interactive movie? If I have my way, never. They are two different media and I think the game industry has spent a lot of time and money. I've spent a lot of time and money. One of those games that I was on crack, I was working on a thing called Fire Horse, which was going to be an action adventure John Woo style cinematic thing where you actually get to determine when the shots change and you can interrupt shots in the middle. It was a total disaster. It was a waste of money. I threw millions of dollars down the drain. You've never heard of it and there is a reason for that. [LAUGHTER] There are two different media and I think all you have to do is look at the trail of Hollywood types who said, they've got a screen, we've got a screen, they've got sound, we've got sound, this is the same medium. [LAUGHTER] Let's go show those guys how to do it. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the dead from Hollywood. Conversely, there are some folks I know, who will remain nameless, Chris Roberts [LAUGHTER], who are insanely talented game developers who want to, who see, OK, I'm going to name him. Chris Roberts told me the day I met him that he wanted to be a movie director. That was his goal in life.
[END OF SIDE A]
[BEGINNING OF SIDE B]
SPECTOR: It will be interesting to watch his career in Hollywood. The two media are different and to be honest it was weird because I came into gaming as this, I was a total game geek. I've been playing games all my life. I love them. It is what I do for fun. It is what I do for a living. That's a whole other story. I was planning on teaching film studies. I taught film production classes and film history theory crit and all that sort of stuff. I came in thinking, I've got this game background, I've got this board game background, I've got this file background, I'm going to show these guys how to do it. I had to unlearn all that stuff. There really are not that many points of similarity as you might think. Jettison the whole film thing.
KIM: So what do you imagine the next form of entertainment will be if you can kind of share the vision of future with us?
SPECTOR: There are so many different kinds of games. I think something interactive is a large part of our future. I hope the future isn't online, though I think a future is online. I think we're finding ways to give players actually more control and more significant choices to make than pull the trigger or not. At some point someone is actually going to start creating recreations of human beings that feel real. There are just a hundred little things that are going to add up to a far more immersive interactive experience. Again, what is the future of puzzle games? That has nothing to do with anything I just said. What is the future of real-time strategy games? That has nothing to do with what I've just said. We just all have our areas of expertise. I don't think there is a future, I just think there is the future.
MAN: Plastics. [LAUGHTER]
SPECTOR: You're not old enough to remember that.
MODERATOR: Do either of you want to speak to this interactive cinema question?
ZIMMERMAN: The question really had two parts. One is what is the relationship between games and film and another is what is the future of interactive entertainment? I think that if you look at the development of games there is a sort of series of technologies that have driven visual games. Primarily the graphics technology as we saw in the --
SHELLEY: Graphics suck. [LAUGHTER]
ZIMMERMAN: video yesterday, get more and more complex. Right? And a higher resolution. Another technology that has been significant and have a slightly later, or maybe not so much later, but slightly slower curve, is communications technology. The ability for people to communicate to each other and have multi-player experiences. I think that one possible, I'm really bad at the future pungent stuff so I have to couch it in --
SHELLEY: We all are.
ZIMMERMAN: One possible kind of technology that you see beginning to emerge and maybe is a third track of things that are really going to influence and digital entertainment is technologies that have to do with complexity. So technologies relating to artificial intelligence, artificial life, sort of bottom up systems of emergent complexity. That is a kind of technology that is much more [UNINTELLIGIBLE] to computing. The computer as something that is not a fancy VCR that allows you to play back cinematic pre-rendered sequences but using the computer to combine and recombine small local elements whether you are talking about fragments of a narrative, whether your talking about units in an army, whether your talking about little pieces of conversation, whatever they are. I think that what we may see is a development of new forms of narrative, but I think that maybe they will be more hybrid and really less indebted to cinema. They may superficially borrow some of the languages of cinema such as lighting, editing and shots. As Warren says, it really is a totally different kind of storytelling.
SPECTOR: Can I use this, the bully pulpit, just for one moment? For the last two days, a day and a half, I've heard so many people say graphics this and graphics that. PlayStation II is the future. We are going to put PlayStations in the hands of 6 billion people and stuff. At some level I hope that happens and I am salivating at the prospect of working on a PlayStation II. I cannot tell you how much I want to do that and yet the whole idea terrifies me. There was one guy in the really wonderful video yesterday, it was really very cool by the way whoever made that, where somebody said, soon the games are going to look just like the cut scenes. I just died a little bit inside because there is such a risk here. I don't know, maybe you do, I don't know how the ensembles or how the Eric Zimmermans or how the Warren Spectors of the world make games that compete with Square Soft and the people who can really afford to throw 50 artists at. I mean DVDs is, wow, great. How the hell to fill that DVD? Ask that generation. I'm just really worried that that is going to drive a lot of medium size, forget about small developers, medium size developers out of business. I honestly don't know how I'm going to compete with those guys. I am making right now, to rap this up, I'm making a fairly complex pretty good looking, lots of assets, really sophisticated game right now and we're looking at it going, if we port this to the Playstation II or even the Dream Cast we are going to get laughed at. The minimum level of graphic quality required before people pay any attention to your game play is so high now and it is going to get even higher. Playstation II is not just rah rah everything is great. It could result in a consolidation of the kinds of messages we are communicating and the kinds of games we are making in the hands of even fewer people than there are now and there are way too few now.
ZIMMERMAN: I completely agree. This follows up on Bruce's comment about the sort of small gorilla game developer outfits, which is the scenario that I'm in. The new technologies, particularly the new console technologies, really work against that possibility of experimentation innovation from that quarter.
SHELLEY: When you tell me that Zelda has 250 hours in a $30 million development budget, sorry, that's a lot of dough. We don't have that.
MODERATOR: This woman up here has been waiting and I'll take her and I'm afraid sir that I'll have to move to the next speaker.
LINDEN: My name is Dominque Linden and I have a question on this whole issue of that game developers [UNINTELLIGIBLE] want to develop these games for themselves. The answer is then more women should maybe get into the business and do the other stuff. I'm a woman. At least the last time I checked. I am not a developer, maybe some people say because I didn't play enough games because there were no games for me to play, so I didn't get involved in computers early on, so I didn't become a programmer and full of good ideas but I don't get any programmers to work for me because everybody wants to only develop those games that they want to make themselves. Some of these technologies, sort of back to the technologies, are also working, I think, really again seem to be more complex and when people push the envelopes of more complex games, which I think not necessarily all consumers even want. One direction I'm looking at, especially about the design of games, are there any innovations or do you expect innovations in making development of games much easier so that maybe you need less technical people and you can just concentrate on the creative and innovative piece and still make something really compelling? I still think the whole issue of how we are going to broaden the appeal of games is not really addressed here.
SHELLEY: Let me say something really quick. We have a woman at Ensemble Studios who is a game designer and she had no experience. We hired her based on her interest and her interviewing and we asked her to design games using our scenario that came with our first game. It is going to happen. It might mean next generation that women are much more comfortable using computers and becoming technical. I see little girls that are friends with my family that are really into computers. I think it might be another generation before we see the women in our industry as they represent in the population. I don't have an answer for development being made easier so you can just drop in cookie cutter pieces or use tools to make games. I think what is one of our challenges of our industry is that we are inventing something new every time we do a product. That's why the most challenged or highly motivated people migrate to this industry because only the strong survive. Your doing something no one else has done before so the average or mediocre programmers are not working for game development companies, at least not successful game development companies. So far, I don't know how, I'm not a very technical oriented person, these other guys might be able to address that, but I don't see any easy way to make development easier. The nature of the business is that you're breaking new ground every time you step off to make a new product.
LINDEN: I guess the alternative is that people might, like in most mature industries, people actually derive satisfaction out of people that give other people pleasure, not necessarily themselves. Maybe it is also a sign of immaturity actually of the industry that it is sort of this hobby club of people pleasuring themselves instead of producing products for other people.
SPECTOR: So what your saying games are thought as a masturbatory process? Holy cow. [LAUGHTER] True enough.
SHELLEY: It's a big business. It's not a hobby club anymore.
ZIMMERMAN: I think that it is a really significant question actually that your asking. As a small independent developer, I have to think about where I can innovate. If I cannot innovate on the technological level, one of the areas where I can, for example, is on aesthetics. Not in terms of aesthetics tied to technology but aesthetic languages. I look to collaborate with visual designers that aren't gammers because they have aesthetic sensibilities that come from other areas. They work in digital media so that they understand what it means to make modular assets that have to be put into a game format and made really small memory size and all that sort of thing, but that is one strategy so when in a small collaborative team some people are from a game background and some people aren't. I especially look for people doing the art and sound that really maybe don't know that much about games. Then you end up with. It's like a chemistry set, the collaborative aspect of making a games, especially in a small team. You throw some stuff in, you mix it around, and you sort of see what happens as a result.
SPECTOR: It's not a big team, it's like Lord of the Flies. [LAUGHTER] I wish I was joking. [LAUGHTER] To address the question, on a sort of Darwinian level if you want to make it happen you'll make it happen and nothing will stop you. If you want to make games you are going to make games. Again, I don't know why I keep coming back to Chris Roberts for my examples today. He's a guy who lives on the extreme.
ZIMMERMAN: Chris, you can come out from under the table now. He's been listening the whole time. [LAUGHTER]
SPECTOR: When I was at ORIGIN I was the producer on Wing Commander I. I remember at the time I looked at what he was doing. He was just sitting alone in his little room. We had one artist assigned to it and Chris sitting there writing code and everything. I would go in there and I would go, oh my God, this little 21 year old kid is going to change the world. Everyone else around him, everyone else at ORIGIN was going, I don't get it, whatever. He would not be deterred. He would just not stop. I think male, female, it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. You've just really want to do this or don't even try because it is insanely hard and insanely painful. It's like making a movie but you have to invent the camera every time you start. It's nuts. I don't know why anybody does it. [LAUGHTER] As far as making things easier, I think Bruce has got the only way. I think it is going to get easier. There is a level editor for Age of Empires, so you have the opportunity to prove, if that is the kind of game you want to make, you have the opportunity to prove that you can do something cool, unique and innovative. I licensed the Unreal Engine for DSX and thought that was going to be a huge help. In many ways it has been. It has made the development process easier. In many ways it has made it even harder. You can take Unreal or go out and find a Quake editor and you can do some interesting. You can make movies with Quake now. I think that is the only way. I guess you could make a game with Director or something. There are ways out there that you can prove that you have something on the ball and something unique to bring to the medium but I don't think we will ever get, well, who knows, prediction is dangerous. I don't think it is going to come in the next year or two where we have game developer kit. Go buy it at CompUSA and make your game. The [UNINTELLIGIBLE] entry are high and getting higher, not lower.
MODERATOR: We all need to introduce our third speaker, Eric Zimmerman. Zimmerman is an accomplished game designer, artist and academic exploring the emerging field of game design. Zimmerman teaches at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and the Digital Design Program at the Parsons School of Design. He exhibit non-digital game projects in the Center for Contemporary Art in Grenoble, The Bellevue Museum in Seattle, and the Artists Space in New York City. Eric has published and lectured extensively on the design and culture of play and games.
ZIMMERMAN: Although you wouldn't know it from my bio I actually spend most of my time making digital games. Somehow that got dropped from the list of stuff. That's OK. It's kind of interesting because we've kind of moved from the specific to the more abstract. Bruce talked about a particular game, Warren talked about digital gaming in general, and I'm going to begin to answer some of the questions about the aesthetics of game design, just what this panel is about. I'm just going to talk about games in a much more abstract and general sense, including digital and non-digital games. Before I begin I need some preparatory assistance from the audience. These are demonstrations that we are going to do. Can you guys blow these up? [LAUGHTER] If you don't want to pass it someone else. If you don't mind I'm just going to walk around a little bit. The title of this panel is the aesthetics of game design. What we mean by aesthetics I take is not aesthetic to the visual sense but aesthetic to the broader sense. Can everybody hear me?
MODERATOR: Yeah but we are recording this so we want it transcribed. Sorry.
ZIMMERMAN: I didn't mean to cause, I can take the microphone out of there.
MODERATOR: No, this will work. Just hang on a second. I'll give you extra time. [LAUGHTER]
ZIMMERMAN: That's what I'm concerned about. Henry the task master. [LAUGHTER] As Henry introduced, at stake in thinking about what in aesthetics of game design, it's really a question about a critical discourse that can bridge the theory and practice of game designers and others that will allow them to talk about this discipline of what we do with some kind of sophistication that for example architects and graphic designers and theoreticians and practitioners of other design disciplines can talk about their work. When I think about the kind of critical vocabulary that game designers have as opposed to other design disciplines I think that there is a tremendous amount of really exciting work to do. Not merely thinking about games in terms of a cultural history or sort of psychology of media effects, which is what we saw yesterday, but really a critical discourse that is about design, about games that has designed and constructed object. Again, I'm not necessarily just about digital games but also about this sort of thousands and thousands ancient design inter-activity that we know as games in sports, board games, ancient games like chess and go, as well as today's digital games that are the central focus of this conference. One starting point is to the think about what are some of the intrinsic and unique qualities of games themselves. Unfortunately, I don't have a two or three hour lecture to really go into this in detail but I'll touch on a few interesting points. One of the defining properties of games for me is the relationship between rules and play. Unlike other forms of culture, other cultural forms, games have an explicit rule system. If you have a poem for example, it is hard to locate what is the formal structure of the poem. It might be the rhyme in the meter of the poem. It might be the grammar of the language in which it is written. You might say it is the visual design and arrangement of the letters on the page. All of these things can justifiably be thought of as a formal system of a poem. On the other hand, rule of games have an extremely codified closed systematic, almost scientifically noble formal structure. Let's use for example tic tac toe. Does everyone know the game tic tac toe? I think so. What are the rules? What are some of the rules of tic tac toe?
ZIMMERMAN: OK. Players alternate turns.
MAN: Your playing with three in a row.
ZIMMERMAN: Three in a row wins.
WOMAN: One symbol per box.
ZIMMERMAN: One symbol per box. So players alternate turns placing either an X or O into a box.
WOMAN: 9 boxes.
ZIMMERMAN: Play takes place on a 3 x 3 grid. That's maybe the first rule. There are a few more.
MAN: Two players.
ZIMMERMAN: Two players. OK. Two players alternate turns placing X or an O in any box?
MAN: In an empty box.
ZIMMERMAN: In an empty box. Three in a row wins.
MAN: You can block.
ZIMMERMAN: That's strategy. That's actually not a game rule. I would call that a strategy. There is one more thing which is that if neither player can make a move the game is over and it ends in a draw. So that's probably four, maybe five rules that define tic tac toe. From this extremely formal system, millions and millions of hours of play have been generated. One of the things that really continually fascinates me about games which is that to play a game you submit your behavior to the system of rules, which means restricting and limiting your behavior to this really fascistic closed system of, you must do this, follow this. Think of all the things you can do with dice in a board game like Parchese. You could eat them. You could make jewelry out of them. [LAUGHTER] You could see how far you could throw them but you don't. When it is your turn you roll them, look at the numeric results, and you move your piece in an extremely specific and codified ways. Games are unbelievably codified and closed and restricted. What results from submitting your behavior to this closed systems of rules is play. What is so amazing to me is that play is the opposite of rules. Play is unexpected, creative. Play is improvisational. This sort of two sides of the coin, again what I'm trying to do is talk about some of the distinguishing and unique features of games. What a game designer does is, a game designer creates those restrictions on peoples behavior that will result in meaningful play. I just need two volunteers from the audience. You don't have to get up or anything. One, two. You two. This is an example, very simple example of what a game designer does. I want you to first say any word and you say any word. Back and forth.
ZIMMERMAN: Now I want you to, not yet. That's not really a game yet. Now I want you to say a name of a place. A city, state or country and alternate back and forth. You cannot repeat.
ZIMMERMAN: Not really yet an interesting game. Now, I want you to say one and you're going to take the last letter of, now this is a common game. You are going to take the last letter of what she said. If she said London you would have to say Newark because it starts with an N. Go ahead and you cannot repeat.
MAN: Madagascar. [LAUGHTER]
ZIMMERMAN: I don't know if Madagascar follows from Denmark but that's OK. [LAUGHTER] We have a winner ladies and gentlemen. [LAUGHTER] In this quick example what I'm trying to demonstrate is I did what game designers do. You analyze a situation. What a game designer essentially does is create restrictions on peoples behavior. Those restrictions again generate meaningful game play. I cannot talk about what creates meaningful, sort of choice making and outcome but maybe we will get to. Both Bruce and Warren talked about it in different ways in their remarks so far today. However, you could go too far. More restrictions is not necessarily better. I could have said the names of what you say have to be exactly seven letters. Right? Then it becomes too difficult. So some times too many restrictions are also negative. I'm really just about done. How am I doing on time?
MODERATOR: Two more minutes or so.
ZIMMERMAN: OK. One of the questions that we were asked was really about, what is a criteria for success? I sort of agree with, I think Warren very insightful comment that because digital gaming is such a business oriented segment of cultural production right now, I think that if you look at other media file critics don't say, what is good film or bad film? The challenge in doing interactive design, entertainment design, is that the criteria for success is part of the problem solving process itself. The criteria is created by the designer, a group of designers, a group of creators, in order to make their game. There are so many ways to frame a particular game experience. Just to give us all sort of a game experience that I can end with and then talk about for a half minute. There are three red balloons here. Three green balloons here. I don't think everyone is going to get to play but everyone will be involved. We are going to divide the auditorium right here in half. The goal of the game, when I say go, is the first side of the auditorium, without leaving your seats, to get two of your three balloons to the back row wins. Ready? [LAUGHTER]
SPECTOR: What's the prize?
ZIMMERMAN: What's the prize? The prize is that everyone on the winning team gets a big kiss from Warren. [LAUGHTER]
SPECTOR: No. Not happening. [LAUGHTER]
ZIMMERMAN: Are we ready? [NOISE OBSCURES] You cannot tie it? I've got it. [OVERLAPPING VOICES] Ready? Go. [NOISE OBSCURES] [LAUGHTER] We've got one green. Alright we've got two greens.
SPECTOR: This is supposed to be an academic conference. Get serious.
ZIMMERMAN: Let me just return to my seat. I just want to end with, some of the challenging in talking about the aesthetics of games is the sheer complexity by which they manifest as experience. We could talk about the formal, the rule structure of this game. We could talk about the communicative and social structure that it enables. We could talk about the representational structure. Would you have played differently if I told you that you were fireman and firewoman trying to put out a fire moving buckets of water or if I told you that this game was called sperm swimming upstream. [LAUGHTER] Also, I think as Warren correctly pointed out that there is also a whole cultural context of games too which has already been addressed many times at this conference. Even the fact that we are playing this game within an academic conference and your sort of behavioral expectations and outcomes are very different than in another context is also part of the design challenge and part of the challenge of understand in which the way in which games manifest. All of these different ways of framing games are things that need to be addressed in thinking about aesthetics of game design. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We are ready. You have a question back there. If you say your name please.
REDSTONE: Dr. [Littlejohns?] Redstone. I'm the enemy of the guys up in front there because I'm the one who sits at the other side of the table that says, no you cannot have the money. I thought I'd throw a few experiences in about that. First of all Warren, I'm with you. A lot of what you said rang absolutely true. I'd love to continue you that over coffee. One of the things from my point of view, I only play games, I'm not a gammer. I run the company but they use me as the mobil idiot when the game is being made because if I cannot boot it up and get going then there is something wrong. [LAUGHTER] I think that is pretty important. From our point of view we have quite a heavy design team. Bruce was talking earlier about his list. The top of the list as far as we're concerned is, is it fun? Remember the movie Marathon Man? Is it safe? Is it fun? We will keep saying that. Graphics, technology, is it cool? That all comes second. But is it fun? On the other hand you get the bottom line which is we've made games that we focused tested. Everyone in the company wants to buy it. Sometimes they make games that people in the company don't want to buy and then we can them. We do the focus groups and then the marketing. The sale that retail buyers think it's great. You put it out in the marketplace and it disappears. It still is not a science. I don't think it ever be. It's an art.
SPECTOR: It's rare for a business guy to say that.
REDSTONE: Well I'm different. [LAUGHTER] I think there is another point that needs to be factored into this discussion during the day and that is culture. 40% of our revenue certainly come internationally. Mostly from Europe. We can make a great game for the North American continent but it will not, it will sink without a trace in Germany. Chuck was talking yesterday about this football manager game, soccer manager game, which has just wiped the board in Germany. You wouldn't dare publish it here. I think that has to be factored in as well. This is a global business and you have to be sure that you don't try to make a shmadray for all contries. On the other hand don't think that if you make a great game here that it is going to work everywhere because the formular doesn't really exist in that respect. A couple other bits. When we started Redstone we didn't know what we were doing. We came from no where. We had an idea about a game about Rainbow Six. If we looked to making that game today with all of our three years of experience we wouldn't make it because we didn't know we couldn't do it. I think that is one of the things which actually impacts on game design and game output as a company grows a bit more mature. We take punts, yes, but it would be quite a scary discussion now a days whether we would embark on something which straddles action and strategy when every publisher, because we weren't publishers then. Every publisher said, this ain't going to work because it's neither fish nor fowl. That's where the innovation came. Finally --
MODERATOR: We've got other people waiting.
REDSTONE: OK. Final point, on game design, the best quote I've got for one of our games was from PC Gammer. This game allows the player to escape to reality. That's what sold it. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Comments from the panelists?
SPECTOR: There are three things that came to mind as you were speaking there. One is the whole difference between the European market or the foreign markets and the American market. I think it is literally true that every game that I've ever had anything to do with has sold better in Europe than in the United States. Make it out what you will. I don't even know what that means. They are definitely two different markets. You either have to be aware of that or just decide your not going to worry about it. You cannot just not think about it. Rainbow Six, saying that you wouldn't do it. You might not do it but I guarantee you somebody would because you have those two magic words Tom and Clancy. [LAUGHTER] Electronic Arts would have jumped at you. The other thing you said right towards the end there you were talking about how you tried to straddle the line between action and strategy. Maybe three years ago people would of said you were crazy. Now a days people would have said, wow, what a visionary way to approach gaming. The game that I'm working on now is one that some of the people in my office say we are making an adventure game. I say we're making a role playing game. Somebody else says we are making a sophisticated shooter. Please God, let us all be right. That is what we are trying to do. Trying to blur the lines between [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. That's a pretty good space to be in right now so I think you were just a little bit ahead of the curve. I'll just let other people talk.
SHELLEY: I'd say cross cultural games are possible. Age of Empires is cross cultural. It has been the number one selling PC game in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Australia, so it can be done. That's why we pay attention to what went into that game and try to figure out why it was successful because we want to be able to repeat that process and I think it's probably partly due to the fact that we put so much in that box. All these different gaming experiences. Maybe the German players are playing the game quite differently than the American players are but I just want to point out that it can be done.
ZIMMERMAN: I think when I look at a model for what game culture might be, sometimes I look to music and that if you look at popular music, not just top 40 music but the whole global spectrum of electronic and hip hop music for example, there are national cultures or regional cultures that there are also really interesting cross-cultural and cross-national trends. I would like to see games have that really rich kind of cultural cross pollination and cultural hybridization. There are some games that are extremely successful that are generally hybrid objects like [Peraper the Rapper?]. Another extremely [UNINTELLIGIBLE] setting, very influential and innovative game, which is a collaboration in many ways between Rodney Allen Greenblatt, New York-based artist and Masia Matsura [SP?] who did the music and the game design who is Japanese.
MODERATOR: I saw this fellow first and then you and then we will continue from there.
WALSH: My name is Peter Walsh. I have a question about the biology of games and I would suggest that games are not at the bottom, just entertainment or trivial, they have a very important biological function which is to rehearse for real life. It teaches you things about conflict, competition, what a rule is and how you can push rules. All those issues are rehearsed in games. My question, which is generally for the panel, is that when you run that kind of biological function through a lot of technology, through a lot of marketing and so on, what is that doing to the social role that games play in society? Is it enhancing it? Is it diverting it? Is it feeding it back in on itself?
ZIMMERMAN: I'd like to trump your biological comment with a cultural comment which is that for anyone interested in games I would highly recommend Brian Sutton Smith's book The Ambiguity of Play. Brian Sutton Smith is probably one of the greatest scholars of playing the 20th century. He identifies seven different ideologies of play present within ancient and contemporary culture. The predominant one is a rhetoric of progress. In other words the idea is that one plays to become a better citizen or a better [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. It is only one way of thinking about and conceptualizing play. At that rhetoric progress comes primarily from animal studies of play. People trying to justify play in mammals and other sophisticated animals. There are other ways of conceptualizing play. Some are historical. Some are contemporary as play as subversive mischief. Play as an imaginative function that sort of ties to ideas of romantic movements of past centuries as an expressive of national cultures. I don't need to go into detail but I actually think that the reason why I'm going into this little bit of detail is because I think that the rhetoric of progress, as Brian Sutton Smith calls it, can be stifling. It can be stifling to think that the purpose of play is to make someone a better person. I think that play can be an end in and of itself.
WALSH: That is not what I was saying. I was saying that all of those things that you mentioned to me are biological social functions of games which are in various way rehearsing something that you don't want to go out necessarily in the real world and do. It is a safe way of trying things out. I think that is a very important biological function no matter how you define the end result, whether it is progress or winning or meaning or whatever. The question I was asking is, is this process your talking about, technology, business, marketing, is it distorting that process? Changing it in positive, negative ways, not at all, whatever? What is it doing to the process, the social function, that biological function of games?
SPECTOR: It seems completely neutral to me. It's not like, at least I have marketing guys telling me to add this future, delete this future. Maybe some people do. I don't know. The social elements of computer gaming are, I think, under discussed, I guess. I remember the first time I saw Star Raiders. It was in a darkened room with 20 of my friends huddled around a 19 inch TV watching somebody playing Star Raiders. We were all just, oh my God. Even to this day there is a huge social component even to single player gaming. Forget about that whole online thing. I think the social element is still there. Marketing is neutral. The most interesting thing that you said there, if I can just pick one thing out, was the opportunity to test behaviors. That's also something that I don't think is discussed enough among gaming circles. I love the fact that maybe in some small way my games can let people try out behaviors that we don't even want them thinking about doing in the real world. That seems like an opportunity for us to really do some good work, even if it is unintentional. I never really thought about it as biological. It seems more like a social and cultural thing to me.
MODERATOR: Let's get this question over here.
KROLL: My name is Enguy Kroll [SP?]. I'm with Newsweek. I was wondering if Bruce and Warren could address the idea that was kind of generated by the last speaker from the previous level of this panel. When she was talking about the idea of how could you get more people into gaming and this idea of tools off the shelf or whatever. In the writing that I've done about games I've seen a lot of people who are working on middle wear tools and stuff like that but the more game designers I talk to I kind of come to this feeling that the technology that you work with, whether it is 3-D Studio Max or the Unreal Engine, is essentially, if you were writers it is the equivalent of words and grammar and metaphor, that if you were a painter it would be the equivalent of your canvas, paint and perspective and if you were a film maker be the equivalent of continuity, editing and shots and all of those things. To sort of say that you would want to create games without really knowing about those things, knowing about your technology and how it works would be like saying you want to make a movie and not really know how to edit or how to get performances out of people. That essentially is the language in which the art you create is written in technology.
SHELLEY: I didn't really understand your question. Can you ask me a specific question? I didn't quite get what you wanted me to respond to.
KROLL: Warren did you?
SPECTOR: Hey man, I've got an opinion about anything. [LAUGHTER] I could make stuff up. It is interesting because I'm in the middle of working on this Unreal Engine game and Unreal is a really powerful tool. I went into thinking it was going to be this panacea. It was just going to solve all of my problems. I could just take it and I'll add this and I'll add that and the end result will be this picture of a game that I have in the back of my head that I want to bring to the front. It doesn't work that way. Unreal still has been a marvelous tool for us but I really have a finer appreciation that we are not going to get into in a two minute answer to a question of just how technology really does drive everything from aesthetics to minute to minute game play. One of the other interesting things I've noticed is none of us are actually programmers, which is either insane for a conference like this or really forward thinking. I'm not sure which. Technology is biology or something. I don't know, if I can mangle some stuff here. I think you're absolutely right. It is like the camera and it does sort of determine your cutting and your editing. It is your canvas. Sure. I had about three other things I wanted to say and I just lost them. It will come back to me. Somebody else talk for a minute.
MODERATOR: You've been waiting a long time. I'm afraid I'm going to have to not take these questions. We've got to go to the break.
DUNFY: Thanks very much. My name is Matt Dunfy. I have a sort of a multi-part question regarding interfaces. To me one of the most exciting things about the evolution of games and game design has been watching the evolution of interface design inside of games. I think there are a lot of other segments in the software industry that could stand to benefit by looking at the interfaces put forwarding games. The first part of the question would be, what other medias or other areas do you look at for inspiration for innovation into your own interface designs? The second part of the question would be that, we've seen that interfaces have gotten progressively better. They've allowed us to access more effectively this nebulous concept that we call game play. You see in older games the interfaces almost seem to get in the way. We force the player to jump threw a lot of hoops that the didn't necessarily have to jump threw as we've seen in later generations of games. What principles could you articulate that ought to be followed in line with this whole theme of the aesthetics of talking about games and game design? What is there, are there any principles to game play? Are there any principles to interface design that you'd like to share with us?
SPECTOR: That is a whole other story. We don't have time for that. Holy cow.
SHELLEY: I said a couple of things earlier. It's got to be intuitive and it's got to convey the information quickly and easily. Where is my comment here? Remove frustration from the player. I talked about that earlier when I spoke that as a designer you've got to get the road blocks out of the way of the player to who wants to get into your game. You have a real serious problem if the interface is goofy. We are in a process now at Ensemble Studios of hiring someone whose full time job is going to be interface design because we think it is very important. We think the interface is improving and our games go forward but we are not happy with it today. You can play Age of Empires with one mouse click. Two clicks. Left and right mouse. You can play the incomplete game. We still don't think we are happy with all the information that is being conveyed and being put on the screen. I think that that is the part of the evolution of our industry is that whole job. We think it is very important. The only principles I would say is, get out of the way of the player, make it intuitive. I want to play games, how many of you read manuals before you start playing a game? When I get the game I boot it and I want to play it right away. The only reason I get the manual out is that I'm into the game for hours and I'm trying to figure out some details about which spell to use or some other things. That's when I get the manual out. I'm very frustrated with a game that I need the manual before I get into it. I want the interface to be so clear and up front that I'm playing and having fun long before I have to look at the manual.
MODERATOR: That's a couple principles. If he had principles I would say that.
SPECTOR: I didn't mean to blow your question off. It is hugh and critical. Interface design and game design are like this. I think part of the reason why the Age of Empires games are so successful is not just that they are wonderful games and really wonderfully balanced. They really are completely accessible. One the other hand, there are so many things I want the player to be able to do in Deus Ex for example. I think that our interface is kind of clunk and it is going to limit our audience at some level. It's just horrifying. Just to give you an antidote about how critical interface design is, there was a period five years ago where I produced a game called System Shock with Looking Glass, a local company here, great guys, and a game called Cyber Maeg [SP?], which we won't talk about. [LAUGHTER] I remember that I took those two to a show. I could get into so much trouble for this. I took them both to a show and they are on the show floor and they are there for people to play. System Shock is one of the finest games I've ever been involved with at any level. It is one of those I still go back and play. It had a really complicated interface bottom line. There was a lot that you could do and it was a very sophisticated complex game. I watched grown men and I'm sorry it was mostly men, walk up to System Shock, never having seen it before and they would put their hands on the mouse and their hands on the keyboard and they would either not be able to figure out how to move a step forward or they would get themselves facing into a corner, crouching, leaned, looking like this [LAUGHTER] and not be able to figure out how to move out of that position. They would throw their hands up and walk away. Here I'm saying, my God we are the first game that lets you lean and look around corners and crouch. Gammers are going, and these were gammers by the way. Sorry. And there is Cyber Maeg, a game that had wonderful qualities but I literally, I wish I was kidding about this too, I saw a six year old kid, he couldn't have been more than six, walk up to the monitor and do this. He put his hands on the joy stick, the monitor is up there, and he just sort of was going like this. He was moving around and shooting stuff and jumping and having a great time. There is a game that is certainly far less sophisticated in trying to do so much less that because of its interface being more accessible, more people could play.
ZIMMERMAN: I think, just to follow up on these comments quickly. I agree with you that the reason why non-game interactive design to learn so much from games is that games are not utilitarian. Right? They are not providing a known service so the game design has to continually seduce the player, as Warren's antidote well illustrates, into continuing to play. They are not accessing a piece of information from a medical data base which they will put up with. The game creates an obscure object of desire which could be the goal of the game or the play associated with the goal. For my own personal methodology, I like actually not to have to think about interface as interface. I like to think about, what is the activity that is taking place? Interface implies there's data or experience and then there is a veil through which you achieve that. In designing a game your creating the experience. It is just a matter of semantics but that is the way I think about it to myself. The larger issue which you all talked about, which has been I think touched on by everyone, of how interface design relates to game design in general is again this concept of meaningful activity. For me a game is a series of choices without comments. I think as Bruce really eloquently demonstrated with his endimensional space of Age of Empires, all of the possible ways to play that game, what a player is doing is navigating that space as they play a particular game. They are making small choices. Each small choice having an outcome. Then those small choices add up to a larger trajectory of an experience. Designing on that sort of micro and that macro level is a way of thinking about some of the issues that you raised with your question.
MODERATOR: So this is a good time to remind people that the transcripts of these session will be posted on our website @mediaandtransition.mit.edu. Warren and others will be offered a chance to expand their opening remarks if they wish. We are now going to take a 10 minute break. Please try to come back --
MAN: The reason why non-game interactive design can learn so much from games. Games aren't utilitarian, right? They're not providing a known service. So, the game design has to continually seduce the player, as one's [UNINTELLIGIBLE] well illustrates into continuing to play. They're not accessing a piece of information from a medical data base, which they'll, you know, put up with. The game creates that sort of obscure object of desire, which could be the goal of the game or the play associated with the goal. From my own personal methodology, I like actually not to think about interface as interface. I like to think about, what is the activity that is taking place, because interface implies there's data or experience, and, then, there's sort of a veil through which you achieve that. And, in designing a game, you're creating an experience. So, that's my, it's just a matter of semantics, because that's the way I think about it to myself. The larger issue, which you all talked about, which has been, I think, touched on by everyone, of how interface design relates to, game design, in general, is again this concept of meaningful activity. And, for me, a game is a series of choices with outcomes. And, I think, as Bruce really eloquently demonstrated with his end dimensional space, of Age of Empires, all of the possible ways to play that game, what a player is doing is navigating that space as they play a particular game. And, they're making small choices, each small choice having an outcome. Then, those small choices add up to a larger [projectory?] of an experience. And designing on that sort of micro and that macro level is a way to think about some of the issues that you raised with your question.
MODERATOR: So, this is a good time to remind people that the transcripts of these sessions will be posted on our website, Media in Transition.MIT.EDU. And Warren and others will be offered a chance to expand their opening remarks if they wish. We're now going to take about a ten-minute break. And please try to come back in a timely fashion, because we're on a tight schedule today. Thank you. Applause.
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