Thursday, November 24, 2011

Clint Hocking on dynamics and meaning in games

Clint Hocking: Dynamics: The state of the art
Clint Hocking, Creative Director at LucasArts, gave a talk at UCSC last week about meaning, dynamics and games. He took a stance in asking HOW games mean (following Chris Hecker) rather than WHAT they mean. "When we know how they mean, maybe then we can speculate on what a specific game might mean."

Clint explained the Kuleshov effect to us, showing how the exact same image takes on different meanings depending on what context it is shown in.

He then went on to talk about Brathwaite's game Train, in the Mechanic is the Message series, where the train cars are destined to the camps of the Second World War. He asked us to close our eyes and play Tetris in our heads pretending that the boxes are train cars. He hummed the tetris music for us.

This was extremely powerful.

Different strategies are possible to obstruct the cars going to their destinations: leave one free spot in each Tetris-row would save as many as possible for example.

By this example he wanted to illustrate how the expression "only a skin" is a reduction when we talk about fictional themes for a game. Changing the fictional theme but not the mechanics of a game is more than a skin because it can change the dynamics of a game, that is, how it is played. (When saying 'dynamics' and 'mechanics' Clint used the terms as used in Hunicke's MDA model.)

Clint's next example was the novel "The Masters of Go" by Kawabata Yasunari that describes a Go match where the game play express the tension between modern and traditional Japan. We looked at the end-state of the game, which was extremely interesting. I think this is one of the best examples one can point at when arguing that not only creating a game can be art - playing games is also a form of art. In this case the art is created by two players together. I remember an anime series I watched when I spent a guest research period in Tokyo - Hikaru No Go - that anime series expressed a similar view on go-playing as art. The perfect game.

Go game illustration L1070235.JPG
Clint argued that it can be difficult to say what the games Tetris or Go mean, but that it is possible to tell what a certain instance of playing the game can mean. Like in our combination of Tetris with train, and in the Go-game described in the Masters of go.

This was one of the best talks I've heard this year, it's up there at the top together with Brian Moriarity's talk at GDC this year. Thank you Clint :)

Lemarchand gave a talk at EIS about the beaty of systems and of risk-taking

Richard Lemarchand
Richard Lemarchand, lead game designer at NaughtyDog, just gave a wonderfully inspiring talk at UCSC. (Talk-description here.) Richard spoke about the beauty of systems and about creative risk-taking, illustrating with evokative pictures and music from games. He referred to two talks that I'll want to check up on, Jonathan Blows talk from GDCE this year about truth and game design (available for free in the GDC vault), and Kent Hudson's talk from GDC'11 on "Player-Driven Stories: How do we get there?" (available at Hudsons website). Richard said so many beautiful things about games, and showed many good examples. I don't think I was alone in the audience in wanting to rush home and make a game once we had stopped applauding him.

Richard ended with a list of practical advice to anyone who is about to make an indie game:
- Don’t listen to people saying it can't or shouldn't be made - Do what you can with the skills you have
- Collaborate, and be persistent
- Say when you don’t know something - people will teach you stuff
- If something needs changing - change it
- Be respectful but direct.
- Be honest, and dare to be vulnerable. (Helps create an atmosphere where it is ok to fail - necessary for risk taking)
- Fail early, fail often.