Moore's Wall: Technology Advances and Online Game Design
January 14, 2006 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Moore's Wall: Technology Advances and Online Game Design is a thought-provoking transcript of a talk on the state of and future of computer gaming, from the blog of Raph 'Theory of Fun' Koster, now Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment. Conclusion: The future lies in more interesting games. You can also view a pdf picture book version of his Theory of Fun. Or see some reviews and discussion on Raph's Theory.
posted by MetaMonkey (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That was pretty fascinating, (even?) to me as a nongamer. Thanks.
posted by Marquis at 9:00 AM on January 14, 2006

Great stuff, very well written. The future of games is better content, better and newer gameplay ideas, and using our compute power to make deeper games. I'm sold.

But what's interesting is that many games that try to do this have been a failure. Molyneux's Black and White is a terrible game, despite being a beautiful sandbox with terrific AI. His RPG Fable is better, but the radical ideas were toned down so much Molyneux felt like he had to apologize. And Wil Wright has a lot of turkeys in his past, and successes like the Sims seem to surprise people when they turn up.

It may be that truly innovative and fun games are just very rare, only come around in a few years. And in the meantime the game industry is becoming mainstream with $15M budgets and $100M+ in sales (for the successes). It's an expensive market for someone to truly innovate in.

The film business figured this out and has a healthy mix of big business and innovation. Hopefully the game business will figure it out too.
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on January 14, 2006

surely it's the talk, and not the transcript, which is fascinating...
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on January 14, 2006

Woops, I couldn't get the video working so I forgot about it since I read the transcript.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2006

Creativity, as the author points out, seems to come from having to work around limitations. That's part of why the 8-bit games were so incredibly creative... the machines were so slow that they had no other choice. The original ideas just flat would not work on that kind of machine, but while noodling around they'd discover something else they could do instead.

Nowadays, you can do practically anything you can imagine, if you're willing to throw enough money and time at it. Creativity is hard. Time and money are (relatively) easy... so guess what happens?

The really interesting stuff is coming from small developers. Darwinia, for example, is an absolutely lovely game that had practically no art budget. It's wildly creative, and feels a lot like a 3D version of an 8-bit retro game... because they were so limited in terms of their own manpower. Introversion, working with just three guys, nailed the 'fun' factor with Darwinia, something that often seems to get missed in the big-budget 150+ man teams. (I'm really looking forward to Defcon, their next title. Uplink, their first game, was also first-rate.)

Space Rangers 2 is another superb game from last year. It was also made by a small team, though larger than Introversion's. They have more art, but not that much... most of the game is the simulation of you and several hundred AIs all competing for the same galactic resources and trying to get ahead. They didn't have a big art budget, so they did most of their content procedurally... the AI ships are 'content' in and of themselves, as some will be pirates, some merchants, some anti-pirate hunters. Some are hired by the planets to protect against the invasions of the Awful Invading Forces. (gotta have an AIF in a space game, ya know. :)) The game is rich from the interactions and the depth of design, not from the work of many artists.

I suspect that both these games will have tremendous 'legs'... we'll be able to fire them up in 10 years and still enjoy them, much as we can still fire up Master of Orion or Master of Magic and have a blast. Most modern games are about the graphics, and that appeal doesn't last very long. That's part of why the games have so little content and don't last long... 10-12 hours is all they're shipping these days. And they don't age well. Who's going to bother playing Doom3 in two years?

So after reading this (very intelligent) article, I think the focus on graphics will be a passing phase... it will have to be, if they want to stay in business long-term. Games are about _gameplay_, and the big studios have forgotten this. He's gently pointing out that the publishers are going down a gigantic dead-end alley; the costs just keep going up, but they don't make much more money from current games than they used to. There's a lot more money in gaming, but it's split far more ways. It'll be very interesting to see where they go from here... the limitation of 'not enough money' is going to force them to actually be creative.

Do check out Darwinia, by the way. It's really neat, and likely a small signpost toward the kinds of games we will eventually have.
posted by Malor at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2006

Do I think the future of gaming SHOULD be more innovative games?

Do I think it WILL be? Nope. Look at Hollywood. Now look at E.A.

There's the future.

There will always be niche markets for "indie" games, just as there are for music and movies. But they won't rule, and for every (say) Katamari Damacy, there will be 10 new editions of John Madden Presents John Madden's Poop! - In a Box!
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:44 AM on January 14, 2006

malor: how long have you actually played Darwinia? I agree it's cool, but after an hour or two it was clear the game wasn't going to be much fun for me to play.

BTW, Raph's talk/transcript is also available as a book, Theory of Fun for Game Design.
posted by Nelson at 11:36 AM on January 14, 2006

I buy the argument that new avenues of gameplay will only be opened by a low barrier to entry- e.g. user created content. The pinnacle of creativity these days is in Flash games, the pits is console games. Console games must appeal to most teenage boys and that cuts out vast swaths of gameplay types.

I've longed for a cooperative real time strategy game that wasn't the click-intensive mess we see now adays in games like Age of Empires 3 or Warcraft 3. If you take AOE 2, set speed on slow, resources on high, 4 computer opponents on hard, and start on the castle age you can almost get there. The game becomes an interesting set of choices that you can consider and manage with the mouse- the only drawback is that the AI is too predictable and the game should have a population tax like Warcraft 3. I'd love to mess around with the game and do something interesting there. I'm not their market though- since AOE2 the big budget RTS titles have been stripping out the ability to seed the game, instead focusing on idiotic scripted stories. Playing the games competitively requires firing off an obvious set of accelerator keys at a stunning rate, which to me is stressful, boring, and not fun at all.
posted by efbrazil at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2006

Do I think the future of gaming SHOULD be more innovative games? Do I think it WILL be? Nope. Look at Hollywood. Now look at E.A.

What excites me is the colossal room for expansion and invention in games. I enjoy the comparison between games and films; much like films, games started very simply, and came a long way in just 20 years or so. Like film a few standards have quickly emerged, while many have felt free to explore the medium and push it in new directions.

The comparison between the emergence of the big games studios and film studios is also fairly valid, as a mass-market has been rapidly established and exploited. Of course, like film in the 20's and 30s, there is a lot of crap. I too find most of the big offerings today tiresome (and consider the Dreamcast the high-watermark of gaming) . But there are many, many gems in the rough. Look at how film has grown in countless directions, styles and idioms.

This only gives me more confidence that the future is bright for independent games makers and independent gaming, now that there is such a great audience for their potential wares. I suspect these past few years is the lull before a real explosion in innovation, as the generation that have enjoyed real invention in gaming get tired of the endless graphical tweaks and start doing something themselves, or becoming powerful people in the industry. I'm imagining a return to the golden age of gaming (spectrum, c64 and amiga) where people tried shit out because there were no rules, and it only took a couple of guys to make a game. Internet games is where the action will be.

A couple of predictions about the next decade of gaming:

Some of the most popular games will be made collaboratively, outside the studios.
Many more games will be played online than off.
Most young people will participate in some kind of persistent virtual world.
It will still be way more fun playing human opponents than AI and AI will still largely suck.
Games will be considered as valid an art-form as film.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2006

Oh, forgot to say what those predictions were building up to - some kind of open source sandbox program or summit that lets people easily build, collaborate and exchange (multiplayer) games/modules/ideas. There have been a few good steps in this direction, but I'm hoping for some kind of standard platform to emerge.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:53 PM on January 14, 2006

Games will be considered as valid an art-form as film.

in the next ten years!?!
posted by Marquis at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2006

(by some people)
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2006

nelson: 12 or 14 hours, long enough to finish it. It's a fairly short game, but a great experience, IMO.
posted by Malor at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2006

Ah Raph Koster. Brilliantly creative theorist, but the man can't make a balanced bug free MMORPG to save his life.

I'd rather have a game that works, like WoW, instead of a high concept bugfest.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:02 PM on January 14, 2006

Thanks for this link, MetaMonkey, which of course I wouldn't have seen if not for MeFi. I’ve never played the games pictured (being more of a Myst/Riven hero type), but I found the talk — especially the first half — quite interesting.

“Creativity is enhanced by limitations” indeed. Think of Cervantes writing Don Quixote in prison, or The Beatles at Abbey Road with a 4-track machine working on Sgt. Pepper.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:23 PM on January 14, 2006

I don't get why Darwinia gets held up as God's Gift To Indie Gamers. I played through the demo and really disliked it. I wanted to believe, I really did. I thought Uplink was really innovative, and I loved the Darwinia aesthetic. I liked the idea of drawing commands.

But, at least in the demo, there was no hint of a challenge. You couldn't lose. There were only mild setbacks. No decision was significant because you could simply wipe your whole army and reconfigure it at no cost. The interface was also problematic - there was no way to do decent formation control. It turned into a big pretty clickfest (cf killing the stupid virus crap that ran around).

Of the IGF Finalists this year, my favorite for all around game is Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. It's a refinement of the 3X space genre that I thought was really well done. Darwinia deserves the artistic award for sure, but its gameplay wasn't that great.
posted by heresiarch at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2006

why is 40% of time still spent on graph searching? is it needed for 3d rendering? or is it because maps get more complicated and the number of individuals in the map increases? presumably these are sparse graphs, so things are O(n log n) (i think!), which is pretty good.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2006

This post reminded me of the surprisingly popular web browser rpg, Kingdom of Loathing. This is a great example of the sort of interesting game that can evolve in spite of harsh time/space requirements (such as those imposed by trying to make your game playable online without any installations on the client computer).
posted by voltairemodern at 5:07 PM on January 15, 2006

(Which is primarily apropos to Malor's post regarding creativity being born out of adversity.)
posted by voltairemodern at 5:08 PM on January 15, 2006

incidentally i downloaded the darwinia demo, but it crashed during the initial expository section (just after the little red people attacked). pity; looked pretty neat to me (i don't play games so have no idea how it compares to anything else, or whether it's normal for games to crash on this machine - a not-new ibm laptop running win2k).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:22 AM on January 16, 2006

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