Extra Credits: Aesthetics of Play

This week, we talk genres and some game design theory. Read the full MDA paper here!

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • "It may just be me but I got the feeling that the model described in this episode muddled one of the simplest ways you can classify a game i.e. by using existing genres that are used in other arts such as movies / books such as science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery, thriller etc"

    Simple, but not very effective. Using a setting to describe a book or movie has some merit because the ONLY way you can experinece those mediums is with your mind. You don't interact with a horror book like you do a horror game. Is Castlevania the same kind of game as Amnesia: the Dark Descent. Of course not. Plus many games have multiple settings. Half-Life 2 has a horror section, but it is not generally considered a horror game.

    The thing everyone needs to understand is that categories are MEANT to limit and exclude. Stop getting so insulted about how people presume you will interact with a game. If I give you a piece of bread my assumption would be that you will eat it. I call bread "food" because of this. If you wear the bread as a hat or have sex with it, it doesn't make the designation of "food" worthless.

    Let's just see if what EC proposes is useful, and then make judgements. Let's say I'm a reviewer and I'm describing two games.

    1. This game has a strong focus on narrative as it's core asthetic. It offers a high degree of reflex-based challenge. Lastly, it includes an optional competitive component.

    2. This game was designed around Investment based gameplay (I hate the word "abnegation" being used to describe accumulation based systems like leveling. It's like saying weight lifting is abnegation). There is a reflex-based challenge mechanic, but it is regulated by how much you engage in investment. Lastly, it includes a strong fellowship component.

    Now pick the one that you'd like if Borderlands 2 was your favorite game. Ok, so obviously you'd pick 2. I was describing Diablo 3. As a player looking for those mechanics you would most likely enjoy Diablo 3 if you loved Borderlands 2. Now...maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you hate the art style, the perspective, the controls, etc. of Diablo 3. However, the odds of this system of description helping you find a new favorite game are waaay more likely to succeed than this one:

    1. FPS

    2. 3rd person action

    You like a FPS so you picked part one and got Bioshock 2. Now Bioshock 2 is fun, but it only shares one core mechanic with the game you love. You won't get the loot whoring/level building investment mechanic, you won't get the fellowship of co-op. You just get the reflex-based shooter stuff.

    The ideal solution, in my opinion, is the "Mexican Food" method. You start with a delivery system (a taco shell or a big, folded tortilla) and you load it full of the core principles (choice of meat, beans, and cheese).

    1. FPS <Narrative/Rflx-Challenge><Comp.MP>
    2. 3rd Person Action <Investment[Rflx-Challenge]><Fellowship>

    That way you get the best of both worlds. Because even though there is very little difference between a shredded beef taco and a shredded beef burrito, people still have preferences for how they take their filling.

  • Interesting episode and I also found out that I've always liked designing games more from the aesthetics perspective than mechanics.

    One thing... the meditation picture...

    Meditation has nnnnnnNOTHING to do with tuning out. It's the polar opposite of tuning out. :D

  • @AuspexAO -- yeah, the tex mex method seems pretty solid. including mechanics and aesthetics - mechanics because peeps are fairly used to classifying game that way now, and adding aesthetics cuz whether they know it or not, peeps have been thinking about games in that way as well.....

  • At first I thought that the video was saying that we should get rid of genres and just define games by their aesthetics, but after rewatching it think I get more where they're coming from. To me they aren't really saying "We need to redefine the genres" but instead "We need to pay attention to what these genres really mean". Each genre is a combination of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics; but the problem is that we tend to define games with only the mechanics. That's why Portal doesn't really seem to fit as an FPS.

    I feel like the reason I was confused about this episode was that it only talks about the aesthetics, but since all three are extremely complicated subjects it makes sense that they only had enough time for just aesthetic.

    I really hope they do episodes talking about how the paper addresses mechanics and dynamics, and then do an episode that brings them all together.

  • I know this is an old ep but I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject.

    I have always wondered about which would be the core elements of a game, and here's what I've got. Think if them as layers, the first being the insidemost layer and the last being the outermost layer. There are 4 in total.

    1 - Interaction
    These are the mechanics, the tools given to the player to interact with an alternative world. Without it, all you have is a movie or some other type of art.

    2- Objective
    Something to do with your gameplay. You can shoot, but are you going to shoot zombie NPCs or characters controlled by other players. Will it be inside an arena, will it have a time limit? In here we decide the level of challenge the game offers.

    3- Extension (I really need a better name for that)
    How this game interacts with the "real" world. How does it add up to your life. Also how it can connect/disconnect you from other people. Here is where we decide if the game will be a no brainer, a mind numbing experience that allows you to isolate yourself forget about life; or a complex MMO where you need to build relationships and partake in teamwork.

    All things that are meant for sensory and intellectual pleasure but that isn't inherent to the gameplay. That doesn't mean they are important, though. Narrative, for example usually comes here. I say usually because what really goes where depends on the intended effect the designers want to create.

    So now you've read about all the layers, let me explain the "intended effect part":
    Depending on the game, the designers will have to decide how crucial something really is. For example, in a competitive first person shooter, it's pretty important to have good graphics since this will impact the player's perception of the environment and, consequently, his performance. But there are still going to exist those graphics that matter nothing to the game, such as the details of the sky and so on. In other words, these 4 elements are slightly flexible, but are solid enough to provide a good guidance when contructing and analyzing a game.

    Lastly, let's take a look at the layer disposition. As you read, you may have thought that this hierarchy doesn't really add up. There are games without any objectives but with great aesthetics, for example, and that's true. Still, if you think about it, there can be no game without interaction. Even games with almost zero control from the player, like dear Esther and Gone Home, still display a certain ammount of interaction. And, despite that, they got a lot of complaints from people saying these games were actually closer to movies.

    Now, the 3 other layers are more dynamic. But even so, the designer needs to set an objective. There are games with no objective, sure. Think about an open world building game where the players make their own rules. But even in this game, the develper at least thought of which possible objectives the players would create for themselves and then supplied tools so they could do that. It's really hard to make a game without thinking what will people be able to do with it in the first place.

    This post is getting long, so I encourage you to think about how this would apply to the other two layers. How each one of the is a little bit more disposable than the other. But also think about how much better a game becomes when the developer at least thought of all of them.

    So what does all this has to do with genres? My suggestion is we decide the genres based on what importance the devs give to each layer, and how they turn that idea into reality. Like you guys always say, many games use, for example, the own mechanics as a narrative. So that's already a good way to separate some genres. Which ones focus on pure gameplay, player to player interaction, skills and challenge? Which ones manipulate all of that in order to convey a better narrative? You can dig deeper and deeper in order to classify the genres more accurately. Take a look at objectives and how each game treats that layer. To some, the objective will be to partake in the narrative. In others, it will be to overcome countless shootings against zombies. In others, there will still be shootings against zombies, but you will have to use more strategy in order to survive, the objectives won't just be: "shoot the zombie", but "defeat the zombie under certain conditions", for example.

    What do you guys think? How can we improve this idea?

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