I wrote this thought for January’s upcoming droqen was here (#20!), and immediately felt dubious about my usage of the word addict. It seemed to have the right gravity about it, I wanted to take this problem seriously, but I didn’t (and still don’t) think it was quite appropriate — for me or for the word.
So as I have been doing lately, I decided to make up my own word instead, to help me get my feelings all in one basket and deal with them.
It seems so easy to imagine and even implement some dreamy mechanics, but so hard to really put them together and make a genuine game out of them.
It brings me such satisfaction to cobble together things that look like game worlds rich with life and detail, because those things linger at the edge of my mind — not actual life and detail that I could answer, if asked, but imagining the shape of things, the shape of a game I’d want to play or a world I’d like to inhabit, that’s pure satisfaction right there.
The problem is learning the skills necessary to bridge that gap, as well as deciding when to cut your losses and run. When can an imaginary game become a real one?
How much time & effort am I willing to pay to see such dreams realized, and on top of that how accurately can I gauge those costs in the first place?
But as I really embrace my desire to simulate little self-contained worlds full of life and detail, I run into dead end after dead end, because I can’t make living worlds. It’s just not possible.
The beautiful infinite fractal depth that exists in our real lives can’t be reproduced by any medium, least of all the one that gives its aficionados the most explicit power to prod at the edges, to poke holes in the facade.
These gifs excite me, but I’ll probably never turn these playable mockups into anything more than you can see demonstrated above. I want to keep imagining worlds full of life, real life somehow, even if all I can ever produce and share are gold leaf-thin surface representations of them.
What do you call a word that was invented expressly for individual use? The perfectly ironic thing is I couldn’t find a word for this; a neologism is at least etymologically defined by its new-ness, so an established piece of personal language need not apply, and a protologism is even more explicit about being a word that aspires to become a part of common use.
Sometime in September-October 2020 during production of the release of 10mg I coined this term for myself, demon, referring to a specific sort of capacity & willingness to create, & be responsible for the creation of, some thing.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my use of this new term, and how it has become an internal, pseudo-private shorthand, with its own weird little wrinkles. So the process of writing this blog post has doubled as a small study of what it even means to invent, use, and share language.
demon. noun. (1.) A person who has the capacity & willingness to own some particular creative process; I know a demon of video editing. (2, informal?) The drive, capacity, and willingness to own some particular creative process; This project is not satisfying all of my demons.
(ii) DEFINITIONS ARE ART
I don’t say this to elevate my above description, but it was through thinking about how I’d go about describing my (blatantly made-up) usage of the above word that I realized every person who ever defines anything is going through a particular personal process.
Like, the two definitions I provided might have been better served by a single definition with a footnote that simply indicates that it’s common to use this term in synecdoche… but if I did that, which would be selected to be the core definition? Is the demon the person or the spirit contained with in them? It’s an arbitrary call on my part.
People with experience writing dictionary definitions are still “just” aggregating mainstream viewpoints of what a word means and then making a call about how to get across how the word is used.
Anyway, I’m getting a bit off-track.
(iii) INVENTING SHORTHANDS
Some months ago I read an article about a person who was customizing their computer spellcheck to create shortcuts for their own thinking. A bad example: “wdm” might autocomplete to “What is the deeper meaning behind this?“. The short version of the story: this shorthand became something they used even away from the computer. The acronym was more handy, and using it on the computer made it easier to ask this question in all venues.
I’ve lost the original article that I got this from. If you can find it, let me know and I’ll link it. Thanks 🙂
You can use whatever method works for you, but I found this a legitimizing parallel to my frequent invention/appropriation of words and phrases (demons, breaking the horizon, arcade ecosystems).
Shorthands are shortcuts, and they’re part of the art of language and of communication — including internal language and communication.
(iv) ELEVATOR PITCHES
For a long time, elevator pitches were things I thought of as completely isolated from the creative process. But recently I’ve discovered the art of taking something complicated and giving it a memorable and appropriate summary, whether that’s a name or a short description or an image, is something I’ve found deeply useful to my creative process.
That’s part of why I write blog posts here and why I write my zine too; or maybe doing those things just reinforce this way of thinking? hmm; they help me practice thinking about things in a way that I can externalize, which involves some of the skills that help me internally summarize my thoughts so that I can file them away.
Like just now I wrote that previous paragraph, I read it over, and I thought: wow, if I’m going for transmission of information, that was extremely hard to parse, and it wasn’t particularly beautiful, so I can tell it’s going to slip from my mind as easily as it slipped from yours.
Writing blog entries and zine pages (and creating any kind of art at all) is valuable to me because it takes my thoughts and places them into an artifact designed for consumption. I lose my train of thought often. Like, really often. (ADHD, anyone?)
When I make a thing that you can read or play or engage with, it’s also something that I can read or play or engage with in a month’s or a year’s time, when my mind has veered off-course (hence the name of the zine, “droqen was here” – it’s literally a marker of where my mind was at, at the time).
I’m excited about the name “HANDMADEDEATHLABYRINTH issue 0” because it reflects so much of what’s meaningful to me about the project. (Although not the styling. I have no idea if it was a good idea at all to make it all one spaceless word. Still very funny to me, but it doesn’t carry the same conceptual value as the rest of the name’s construction.)
“Handmade death labyrinth” pokes fun at “procedural death labyrinth“, reminding me of what I initially thought would be fun about it and what I still think is fun about it! I still want to explore several of the Berlin Interpretation’s values through the lens of a game with non-procedural level design. (I did a talk about it.)
And “issue 0” lets it off the hook a bit, implies there’s going to be a more full/proper exploration of the above design themes in issue 1.
Anyway, the project is in the fridge right now while I finish up some other projects. I guess the point I’m trying to make is names are powerful, and I do recommend wielding that power against yourself, for your own good.
So, yeah, demons. I started with demons, and I’ll end with them. Having introduced myself to this term has been really helpful in terms of thinking about not just what I want to do, but of what I actually think I’m capable of, and what drives I really need to satisfy, and what the reward even is for game-making.
I wonder if this is succumbing to the idea of all-important productivity but I love being able to think concretely about the things that I can fall productively into for hours on end, vs. the things that I know I’ll struggle with.
Last year and before that when I was with Gloam working on Bravery Network I wanted to make MMOs, online spaces, but it frustrated me to work on them. I couldn’t figure it out, because of course I wanted to make them so why couldn’t I?
Demons always come first now. I won’t bore you by describing my demons in detail, but from my output maybe you can make some educated guesses 😛
If you’d like to leave a comment about your thoughts on this I would, as always, be interested to engage you in conversation 🙂 Tell me what your demons are, or what you think of my whole metaphor invented-personal-language-word (I don’t have a word for my words, haha) thing.
I was playing a particular crafting exploration game yesterday morning and it struck me that I had stopped enjoying the experience of gathering materials to craft new things to play with. So I quit the game, deleted it. Done.
But it wouldn’t leave me alone. It was literally bothering me all day. I was mentally comparing it to Minecraft, and thinking about how much harder it was to build things in this game. You could build cooler things, but the game required me to take significantly more time to gather resources to do it. I was irked.
It wasn’t until after 3AM when, lying in bed after several matches of Splatoon, I was struck with the irresistible desire to leap back out of bed to scribble this zine together for myself:
There are many things which I now consider costs to a game design: they may have their uses but they are not inherently beneficial, only inherently costly to the player.
And yet, they have their uses. The thing I want to yell at is the attitude that a game that is hard is good might be good because it is hard. I don’t think this is ever true. The difficulty may serve a purpose in the game design: driving the player towards more interesting lines of play. The playtime may be reflective of lots of interesting experiences that couldn’t have fit in a shorter game.
But it’s the direction and the experiences that are valuable, not how hard it was or how long it took. Don’t mistake the toll for the ferry, or the signifier for the signified.
1-Player Games as Good Conversation Pieces
Hello. I make a lot of single-player games.
In thinking about games as generators of stories, of toolkits for allowing players to create a sort of real-time experienced work of art, I have to ask myself, where does this leave single-player games?
I like having strangely personal experiences, but I think their unrelatability is a bug, not a feature. I’ve heard of games as being described as story generators, or looked at through that lens, and I think that’s interesting. Just a couple side thoughts before I move on.
Popular games can get away with murder.
People will discuss the murder at length.
This does not mean that murder will make you popular.
Extremely popular games — e.g. my own game, Starseed Pilgrim, is extremely well-known within certain circles, especially around 2013-2014 — are subject to scrutiny and deep, deep discussion. Starseed commits some downright design crimes.
The conversation only exists because the game was popular. The story is “look at what this game got away with.” You can’t take those design crimes and make an unpopular* game out of them and expect people to respond to them the same way: the conversation piece isn’t there without the success to contrast it.
* Does this read as arrogant? I never expected Starseed Pilgrim to be popular. It was always the weird little sibling to Probability 0, a game which will never get as much attention as Starseed did. (Seriously, wtf)
What's that? You want to play and talk about Probability 0? Oh, you didn't say that? Well, here's a link anyway, maybe you know someone who wants to play a moderately-paced infinite arcade platformer with a skill tree and cool enemies. https://store.steampowered.com/app/258070/Probability_0/
I got away from myself. What was I talking about? Right, games as toolkits for producing play.
Games As Toolkits For Producing Play
I released the nightmarishly-named HANDMADEDEATHLABYRINTH issue 0 last month, and part of the fantasy of the HMDL ‘series’ was always the dream of descending into a deep and unforgiving hand-designed dungeon. A top-down souls-like with smart weird enemies and nasty surprises and the tools to deal with them.
I found myself dabbling with the idea of designing this game without death even though it’s a critical part of the game design and literally in the name of the game.
I couldn’t help myself, though.
What would a game look like if it got out of your way?
So, it plays a role. I think this is where I went wrong with my playables experiment. I need to work at the idea of toolkits, not just toys.
I want to design games like toolkits for producing play, especially as a human creation, as something to be shared with other people. What can I say about my particular experience that is communicable and memorable? ironically I am doing a terrible job of that with this blog post. Okay I’m just going to wrap it up
Give me relatable & meaningful toys to play with, and direction enough to know how to.
If games are tools for the player, then doing game design should feel like the art of getting out of their way as much as possible. (To be clear, I literally do mean as much as possible — not more than that. Direction is vital.)
Two parting lenses:
What helps my players play?
What makes it harder for them to play?
ok, droqen out. welcome to my new blog! thanks for reading 🙂
Every year or three I find myself pining for a better blog backend — they all seem plagued by one problem or another. But, I had the same problem a couple years ago, when I wasn’t entirely settled on Unity and I wasn’t happy with any of the other options. I did finally land on the Godot Engine, and I’ve been extremely happy with it. I’ve uploaded ten things (see the collection of everything I’ve released so far in Godot here on itch.io) and been through many more, with no sign of wanting to switch it up.
Maybe I found the right tool, or maybe something inside me changed.
So my friend Tav offered to help me maintain a better blogging habit. I’ve been using this scrappy little backend, Anchor CMS, but I thought: if she’s going to be helping me keep up a schedule and we’re going to try to liven up the comments section, I’d better really think about how hard I want to commit to Anchor. My absolute favourite blog to keep up with is Electron Dance. Joel somehow maintains an excellent comment section, the website looks nice, and he produces good & reliable output.
I swear I’ve looked at his website before and not found this, but there it was at the bottom of his blog, plain as day. In tiny font that blends into the background but still: I know how to navigate HTML. Could I really have missed that if I was looking for it?
Anyway, welcome to my new blog for 2021, a new year, a fresh start. Funny how I’ve circled back to using WordPress again. If you’re interested in my blog posts from the past, here’s a list of all my previous blogs (please let me know what I’ve missed):