Feel my Teeth.

I am constantly slapping my own face with my own hand. This is because of the anesthetic. I have a weird existential fear that, if I don't remind my face that my jaw is on the side of my head, it will cease to exist.

I came out of the dentist's surgery after my first ever filling. It was without any real pain, except for the local plunging directly into my jaw's nerve cluster, triggering little spasms and jolts on the inside of my teeth.

Anyway, outside the surgery, I'm thinking "have I got something in my mouth? Some leftover oatmeal, perhaps, filling the gap between anaesthetized upper jaw and anaesthetized lower jaw?" After a bit of chewing, I concluded "Ooh! It's my tongue!".

I'll strive to give minute to minute updates as and when the feeling and pain returns. However, I may be too busy teaching/screaming at my mother to learn how to use her new computer. She hasn't touched a machine in 15 years, but is finally acceptant of the mouse. It's one of those first MS laser mice, so she doesn't have to deal with a cheapo ball based one, scragging around on an uneven surface and getting all gunked up with dead skin, or whatever the hell all that grey goo is.

It's sort of interesting teaching her, because you go through the same process as you would teaching someone a game, or developing a tutorial/ease-in period for a game.

In Windows, I'm teaching her the fundamental tools (stuff like window manipulation, task switching, right clicking for menus, the idea of "selecting" vs "opening/running" with the left button, creating files, dragging them into and out of directories, copy/pasting) and then showing them how the same manipulations are re-used regardless of the type of data - text, files, images, whatever. See, once you get someone to make a logical lateral connection between common, fundamental operational consistencies, then you've built a foundation for a well formed mental model. You then build upon that foundation, re-using the core tools in other situations, and introducing new concepts as a natural progression of old ones. And eventually, they'll even start showing their own creativity through those tools to do things you knew were possible, but hadn't expected them to do - and that, for me, is what makes games so great - the dual authorship of player and designer... carving out possibilities, and letting them explore them at their own pace, and of their own creative volition.

Here's the interesting thing about all this (for us, at least): even though she hates computers, and my obsession with games, she's able to quite easily play our game. In terms of interface, we've kept it as simple as possible, while still retaining great depth in gameplay. It's nice, because if a complete technophobe like my mother can pick up and enjoy our game, it bodes well if Microsoft want to ask us about the "casual" market.

Personally, I really don't feel like games should be designed with a target demographic in mind. It creates a lot of "second guessing". And for me, it tends to go against games' unique strengths - that they can be simple, but deep, and open to a wide range of players and expressions. Systems adapt to their users, so it follows that one game can adapt to many varied tastes. But apparantly, that kind of systemic adaptation to ones' audience is not often seen as a useful quality of games, and is underplayed in lieu of chasing "filmic experiences" and whatnot, where the player is treated like an ungreatful, expressionless oaf - an enemy of someone else's "finely crafted" story. *sigh*.

We want people to be able to come to our game with whatever emotions they feel like, and for our game to resonate that emotion. If they bring a sense of calm thoughtfulness, then they'll be able to express their calm. If they bring a fury, then they represent that fury in their approach to the game. Their play style should not alone ensure victory - it's the skill at their playing style which is more important in that respect. It really shouldn't matter if our players are middle aged housewives or teenaged spunking boys. Our game is there as an emotional amplifier, not as an emotioneering machine (which I imagine would be used to brainwash its audience into a certain state of mind - crying at level 17. Jesus. Hasn't Speilburg even seen "A ClockWork Orange"? Didn't he get the point about the immorality of agendaic film making?).

When movies try too hard to push their agenda, they're called polemic... sometimes even totalitarian. But even though it's a passive medium, films do exist which allow the freedom of interpretation. I've always felt that the boundaries of interpretation are widened in video games - there's still a system there, designed by a designer, which cannot be changed. But it is possible (to varying degrees) to express your own opinions within that expression space, and feel like you're being acknowledged by the system... listened to by the designer. However, there are just as many totalitarian game designs as there are expression-friendly ones. I guess I shouldn't moan. It's just one style.

Now, when you see our game, because it's very abstract, you'll be thinking "what's all this rhetoric got to do with this game?". It might be hard to tell at first, but it's a belief that has guided this whole development: Listen to your player. Re-inforce what they have to say. And through what they try to express, express your own message through the percievably natural occurance of the limitations of their own expression. To explore a possibility space is to explore a game designer's message. It's hard to tell if the game will say all this, as it might seem a lot more superficial. We'll have to see, I guess.

[10:32] I cannot feel my teeth.

[10:33] I can feel my teeth.

[11:58] I taste blood.

And just for fun:

(I'm sure this draws strong parallels with some people's experience in the games industry).


Anonymous said...

You think you have/had it bad? When I was young I had to have four molars extracted, in two goes. I thought the local was painful, in the muscle, in the gums and, ouch, cringing thinking about it, the roof of the mouth. But then the crunching cracking bone when the dentist yanked the molars out. I thik it was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, apart from the daily realisation of my everyday existance. The numb face and irony taste of blood was sweet relief after that.

Oh, and I agree with your rant. If want a filmic experience, I'll watch a film. If I want my emotions toyed with I'll confront the wife with her shopping bills.


Bez said...

I know I've been lucky with my teeth. I wasn't trying to imply that I had a raw deal :).

I just wanted to say that I have been reading your blog, but I haven't been able to post comments on it - not your fault: it's this crazy satellite connection.

The post you did about the fallacy of creativity in japan was espcially cool - it's those same sorts of reasons I left my previous place and started out indie.

I just like original games, and I like to try to make them - I'm not very motivated by money, even when I'm poor and homeless (like now). Companies that think of themselves as "companies" too emphatically just aren't a nurturing environment for creativity. They treat the business as the ends, rather than the means. I mean, yeah, it's fundamental to have money pumping through the blood vessels of your company, but I just find it pointless if you lose sight of your original motivation (less pointless if you have mouths to feed, ofcourse...)

Who cares if we fail to draw a passable salary? We don't even have girlfriends!



Anonymous said...

Ah, I remember when I was young and full of vim. These days I am just a journeyman, and any dreams of creative freedom and independance are just that: dreams.
That's why I really wish you luck with your project, as you seem to be full of the desire and gusto needed to pull it off.
Got a reply yet?


Bez said...

Yeah. They assumed we're UK based, but actually, Tommy's taking care of a lot of the business side, so they're switching us over to the American XBLA team. That's cool, though. We know a few people there so it'll be a bit more familiar.