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The medium is the message

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  • Ismo Kärkkäinen
    Hi all, A little while ago, I came across a message from a newbie in a forum for the players of Laser Squad Nemesis (LSN, www.lasersquadnemesis.com). The
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 1, 2004
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      Hi all,
      A little while ago, I came across a message from a newbie in a forum
      for the players of Laser Squad Nemesis (LSN, www.lasersquadnemesis.com).
      The original message was quite arrogant and the one of the poster's
      replies contained a quite unintentionally humorous reply to one of my
      objections to the original requests, along the lines of "sad but true,
      the old skool is dying out".

      Now it occurred to me last week, that the claim that things are changing
      and those that don't like the proposed way are more or less extinct is
      just a way of saying that nobody reads because of radio or nobody
      listens to radio because of TV etc, which is not true. I.e. certain ways
      to play a game aren't going away just because someone else figures out
      alternative ways, because some ways are better suited to certain games.

      Take Doom. Graphical interface. Time flow in game matches that of real
      time. One could've been given a purely text description of all
      situations (as in adventure games) with some fixed time step between
      typed commands but the end result would not have been quite the same,
      despite the player getting the same high-level information. A difference
      in pacing as well, if you will. Anyways, real-time control with 3D
      graphics delivered the best "message".

      Another example. LSN was recently added single player missions, where
      the single player portion was handled identically to that of multiplayer
      (two players, actually). I.e. you give your units enough orders for 10
      seconds, test them, send them to the server (the server is now the same
      as your PC) which decides the outcome by determining the result with the
      orders from your opponent (game AI, in this case) and then you get to
      see the outcome. Whether because of turn-basedness or because of lack of
      human opponent, the whole thing felt just silly to me. Perhaps because I
      was used to the human vs. human system that I had played for nearly a
      year and a half before the single player add-on appeared. If the
      "message" is that I'm playing my computer then the correct "medium"
      wasn't the turn-based orders, IMO, but pauseable real-time action, like
      in Apocalypse.

      So, I change the "medium", or the way player controls the units. That
      changes the "message", or the kind of game the game is. An example from
      several years ago was some Space Quest game, where you usually typed in
      the commands, but occasionally you had to control things in real time,
      like driving something to destination. I recall the driving part was
      really frustrating (overcome by telling the game the PC was way more
      powerful than it was, making the driving part crawl and therefore easy).
      So I'm basically saying that once you change the way the game is
      controlled (medium), you change the nature of the game (message), and
      sending conflicting messages won't make your players happy. Likewise, if
      you want to change the nature of the game, then you might have to change
      the way it's controlled. At least there are totally inappropriate ways
      of control given the kind of game you want to make.

      Does that make any sense? Totally obvious? Dunno. List is quiet so I can
      only be accused of turning the entire signal into noise. :-)


      Regards,
      Ismo Kärkkäinen

      --
      --== I s m o . K a r k k a i n e n @ p p 2 . i n e t . f i ==--
      Two grunts are having a drink in the local robobar, and chatting
      to the bar-droid (Scanner XL5) about their latest conquests, when
      suddenly there is a loud crash as a drone bursts through the bar
      doors...
      ...The drone looks around, says 'I'm sorry, I thought this was a
      Grey bar' and leaves.
      -- Disaster Area and Count Zero in LSN Chit Chat forum
    • Brandon J. Van Every
      ... I think it s entirely reasonable to analyze games in terms of control paradigms. I think we should be cautious about fearing dissonance from conflicting
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 2, 2004
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        Ismo Kärkkäinen wrote:
        >
        > So I'm basically saying that once you change the way the game is
        > controlled (medium), you change the nature of the game (message), and
        > sending conflicting messages won't make your players happy.
        > Likewise, if
        > you want to change the nature of the game, then you might
        > have to change
        > the way it's controlled. At least there are totally
        > inappropriate ways
        > of control given the kind of game you want to make.

        I think it's entirely reasonable to analyze games in terms of control
        paradigms. I think we should be cautious about fearing dissonance from
        'conflicting messages', however. Naively applied, yes maybe it would be
        jarring to jump back and forth between RTS and TBS and RTS and TBS. But
        applied with some thought, it might work, and I don't think we should
        prejuidice our inventions on the grounds of 'making players unhappy'.
        Some player is *always* unhappy. Game design is as much a question of
        demographics as anything else, and I feel strongly that the first and
        foremost demographic you should be serving as a game designer, is
        yourself.

        I think it's also worth analyzing games in terms of production
        processes. I think 'creeping featuritis' determines many games. It's
        not like the film industry where people know they've got only 90 minutes
        to work with and everything can't fit. Instead it's add, add, add, add,
        add, and then predictably a good chunk of those additions can't be
        finished in the real world. So games tend to be mixtures of features
        that were well thought out and poorly thought out / incomplete /
        stillborn. Also they tend to be complicated rather than focusing on
        polishing the essentials.


        Cheers, www.indiegamedesign.com
        Brandon Van Every Seattle, WA

        "The pioneer is the one with the arrows in his back."
        - anonymous entrepreneur
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