GDC 2011: Dynamics: The State of the Art

Clint Hocking – LucasArts
Click Nothing design, clint.hocking@gmail.com

-          Background
o   2009 Chris Checker GDC talk
o   Asked “how do games mean?” (i.e., “what does Go mean?”)
o   ‘What games are about’ is subjective (there are levels)
-          Kuleshov Effect
o   Film experiment – showed man with same expression intercut with different images
o   Showed that the juxtaposition of elements drives meaning in film
o   This is how film means – it’s the core meaning generation that happens on the lowest level of film
o   This discovery allowed film to move forward from mere snippets without context. Film was simply a curiosity at this point – but now could have meaning
o   We’re sort of currently at ‘games as curiosity’
-          Suggestion: games mean via their dynamics (just as films mean via their editing)
o   Games break into Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics
o   Can also be put as Rules, Behaviors, Feelings
o   From where do aesthetics originate? (in film, it’s the editing)
o   Mechanics (authored meaning) vs. dynamics (authorship to player) as a source of meaning
§  Can put more in one than another
-          Examples
o   Chaos theory (Splinter Cell)
§  Game is intended to be about chaos theory: complex and challenging tasks in proximity to fragile systems (guards, etc). Disruptions to the systems create cascading effects (so the game is about: sensitivity, proximity, fragility)
§  Lightened up from previous game – the player had more options to solving a problem as opposed to one specific solution
·         This change in mechanics, allowed for more dynamics
§  Now the meaning changes depending on what the player does
·         It could be about chaos theory or could be the same as Quake
o   Farcry 2
§  Intended to be about the idea that human social savagery is worse than the simple savagery of teeth and claws
§  One player’s experience of killing someone in a field. Had one experience of what the game was about – became horrific, intimate, shameful
§  In another player’s experience he played it safe. This made the game safe, boring
o   “Hills Like White Elephants” Short story
§  Meaning is implied, audience brings meaning to story
§  Showing audience that they are authors themselves
o   Tetris
§  Is a game about precision, anticipation, keeping the opportunity alive
§  Unable to comment on world at large
§  Tetris is about itself and who’s playing it
§  Side example - The Marriage: abstract game with implied meaning about relationships
§  What if you change the game of Tetris to imagine that it’s about packing a train car – but you find out in the end that you’re sending people to a concentration camp (like Brenda Brathwaite’s “Train”)
·         Changes what the game is about!
·         How does gameplay change?
o   Maybe  you optimize the way you lose
o   Immediate sabotage (single row)
o   Do dutiful duty as soldier
§  Changing fictional skin, game has new fictional meaning
·         Fiction is a skin, but it strongly impacts how we feel and can change the way we play (which changes what the game means)
-          Competition is different than single player experience:
o   Street Fighter
§  Fundamentally a battle between 2 players
§  Competitive pressure has massive impact on gameplay
o   Go
§  “The Master of Go” book – chronicle of a game between two masters who embodied Imperial Japan vs. Modern Japan
§  Slow, deliberate game – at a point in the game the older Master made a dramatic move intended to force the other player to come to the battlefield in response
§  In response to the dramatic move, the other player made a simple, anti-climactic bookkeeping move, which bought him 2 days of time.
§  It was a great technical move, but the master was offended – said it was like “smearing paint upon what we had painted”
·         A masterpiece of a game can be ruined by insensitivity to adversary
§  Younger challenger never thought he did anything wrong, had a completely different view of the game overall
o   Meaning in competition is synthetic – synthesis of meaning between 2 players
o   It is also instantial:  meaning is not inherent to game, but to that particular instance of gameplay
§  This is why we can talk about the meaning of one specific game of Go
-          Overall idea is to get us thinking more about what games are and how they function on a fundamental level

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