Monday, January 26, 2009

Manufacturing Game Rules

Ian Bogost, author of the book Persuasive Games has written an article, in which he mentions Where Is My Heart?. His article discusses a concept, which he calls Proceduralism.

How I understand it, the term Procuduralism, as Ian defines it refers to a style or group of games.

These games have a set of properties in common. Ian defines and describes these properties (Procedural Rhetoric, Introspection, Abstraction of Instantial Assets, Subjective Representation).

I think his list is a good milestone for starting a discussion about these games. I am not going to carry on this discussion right here. Instead I want to talk a little bit about how 'Where Is My Heart?' fits into Ian's framework.

If you want to know more about Ian's article, I recommend you read it. I found it quite inspiring.

One aspect Ian mentions, is that the Proceduralists' game rules are purposfully woven by the authors to be interpretable and to carry some introspective, personal meaning.

This is actually true for Where Is My Heart? for at least a subset of the rules. Some of the rules I designed in such a way that they express some aspect or feeling in my life. For example in the game when the character 'Gray' is surrounded by grayish bubbles, what I had in mind was to depict his individual perspective. His own way of seeing the world. I wanted to express his way of seeing negativity in each and every pixel of reality. Quite naive form of expressing this negativity, I now notice, but to me it currently seems to be the right way of expression. It fits well enough in the overall game.

However other rules I come up with for my game are the product of experiment or tradition. I say tradition, because I can't say that I am the inventor of platform games. I think it is not wrong to pick from the big pool of traditional game rules. What's wrong with building upon the cute fundament of the eighties? It helps quickly conveying the 'basics'. Now we can get on to the specifics of my personal life by designing specific rules.

For the experimentally picked rules, I think sometimes design is about trying out stuff and keeping the most potent errors. However, often I discover an inherent meaning in these 'experimentally' picked rules, only after they are in place. Maybe you could call this mode of manufacturing expressive rules 'cheating'.
I'd just call it my way of working on a game. If you want to express it as a design rule it could be formulated as:

"Don't be afraid of experimenting with rules. Keep those rules that are
strongest for expressing what you want to say."

It can be fun to work this way, to see where some idea ends up, and how they mess around with the game environment.

I should also mention that many experimental rules never reach the stadium of being actually programmed. Many experiments are just fought out with pen and paper, and take the form of little sketches.

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