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Tue, Apr. 25th, 2006, 01:27 pm
Proverbial Play

The oddly-named site rrrrthats5rs posted an interesting thought experiment in game design: making a game whose levels are based around proverbs.

What I noticed, reading the post, is that a number of these proverb-levels might actually make fun games. For example, I can imagine Level 5 (”The grass is always greener on the other side.”) as a Whack-A-Mole style game with increasingly complex lawns that you have to green-up or brown-down. Or maybe you’re trying to deal with a guy who leaves a track of dying grass in his wake in some way. Either way, this is a game I can see myself making that would be really fun.

To me, this says something about how little these levels really sounded different from the kinds of tasks that most games expect from their players. Games ask us to do things that Make No Sense. Blocks falling from the sky? Matching three-of-a-color to make them disappear? In one of my favorite games of all time, Chu Chu Rocket, you’re making mice follow arrows to escape from really stupid cats. I mean, what the fuck? I bet this is part of why Greg Costikyan argues that color isn’t that important - because if you think too hard about what you’re actually doing during play, you can’t help but realize how weirdly unnatural and non-analogic most of it is.

(I only somewhat agree with Greg, by the way. There are certain kinds of games where ‘color’ matters a lot, such as in role-playing. I happen to think color is hugely important for most complex games, by the way, because they reduce cognitive load, invoke schemata and help people produce meaning - but that’s a different post. Also I just look for excuses to use the word ’schemata.’)

I also love the notion of creating levels that are linked together thematically or artistically instead of the usual progression-of-challenge-and-difficulty. Everyday Shooter, for example, is a series of thematically linked meditations - um, I mean levels - that explore the form of the ship-based shooter. I rarely see this elsewhere, even in non-digital games with their long and rich history of design. Can anyone think of other examples? I’d love to check them out.

One final note: it’s definitely worth taking a look at the other games on the site. Many of them aren’t much fun, but they almost all take a very meta attitude toward game design and play, and are interesting because of the ways they subvert expectations. This kind of thinking could lead to some radically different play mechanics, too - things that we aren’t even considering as casual game designers because they’re not ‘in-genre’ to us.