The Collective Unconscious

From Blather, Rinse, Repeat.

    Chaim Gingold had a presentation which was the closest thing to a Will Wright talk, both in terms of content and presentation. His discussion was looking at the "possibility space" of a tool (Maya has a huge space; it can model almost anything. Sim City has a smaller space; it can only model cities), the "probability space" of a particular user with that tool (put a random guy in front of Maya, he won't produce much, and it'll be a different set of stuff than a trained 3d artist would create), and the "desirable space" (harder to define, but if you can make a tool that makes it easy to create good stuff and hard to make bad stuff, you've won). The basic idea isn't hard to grasp, but I appreciated the vocabulary for the discussion, and the examples of how Maxis has struggled with the tools they'll be providing Spore players.

Gosh, this sounds familiar (I'll have to continue that article, but I'm playing catchup, it seems. Oh, and I'll have to conform to the new established terminology, rather than the stuff I pulled out of my bum).

It seems like every year there's a couple of opinions, methodologies, or concepts which I've had developing in my head, and regular as clockwork, GDC always brings someone along who introduces these to a wider populance's attention, as if they thought up the ideas all by themselves.

I'm not sure I believe in the idea of a Collective Unconscious in the magical spiritual sense, where new ideas crop up simultaneously in different people across the world due to some ethereal force. I think we just react to similar stimulous in similar ways, coming up with similar solutions to similar problems. In games design, I get this a lot. I'm sure a lot of designers do. We play the same games, and see the same flaws in implementations, and start to consider the same ways to fix them.

Surely, everyone at one time or another has said "Oh, man! I had that exact idea!" when something like Spore or Little Big World or Mercury Meltdown comes out, only to have someone immediately respond "So why didn't you do anything about it then?".

We gripe about it a bit. It feels like we're never in the right position to make "Awesome Game Paradigm X" or to solve world hunger, even though we all know how (feed people, obviously).

It gives me a bittersweet feeling: On the one hand, it makes your personal mental acrobatics feel completely futile. Why should you think these important matters through when someone else can get it done faster, and smarter than you? Think of all that synapse growth you wasted! You could have used that for remembering more Virtua Fighter button combinations!

At the same time, you do feel vindicated. You can't be that crazy if someone else has come to the same conclusion as you. You do start to think about claiming on your Tin Foil Hat's warranty though, which typically has just run out.

I guess the only answer to stop this simultaneous uncredited authorship happening is to widen your horizons, and start accepting a broader range of inspirations (as well as not thinking things through quite as logically?). Step outside the narrow back alley of culture which starts with Aliens and ends in Lord of the Rings.

Respect other people's creativity, and then move on: As much as one might love the combined legacy of the Looking Glass alumni (who have built up a good 40% of my all-time-top-ten-games), one can't keep praying to the Lord Satan for their demise just so that you can jump in and abhor the creative vaccuum, claiming your rightful place on the throne of their creative lot. You have to establish your own unique axis of creativity... but only if you want to. No-one has to have a chip on their shoulder about innovation in games, of course!

With such a young medium, there's so much obvious common ground to explore that maybe we forget to spread our wings, sometimes. Taking a step off the beaten path is currently not creatively difficult (just financially), and sometimes we pick pretty obvious un-beaten paths to surge along. It's not important to innovate for the sake of innovation, obviously, but considering how narrow our current game-space is, it's surprising we don't innovate more, just by mistake. Seriously, is law of averages on strike or something?

Oooh, I know! Let's blame the big evil faceless games industry's unwillingness to court new idea...*ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz*


I've just cracked a big problem I was having with my zooming menu interface. It's something I've smashed my head against for a few weeks (on and off) so I'm rather chuffed with myself. When it's more complete, I may put a video up, with the game proper all blurred out, 'natch.


Christian said...

You make me giggle, but still very nteresting...now that i can consider myself an indy dev too.

Bez said...

Oh yeah? What are you working on right now, if it's alright to ask?

Christian said...

I'm helping on Natural Selection 2, besides going to university ^^

Bez said...

Heeey, I like the look of that, even if it is right on the edge of the Aliens vs. Lord of the Rings valley :)

I like that procedural infestation effect... although if the mesh is hand built into the level, I dunno how procedural that really is 0_o. Still cool effect, though, don't get me wrong!