The medium is the message
- 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
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. :-)
--== 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
...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
- Ismo Kärkkäinen wrote:
>I think it's entirely reasonable to analyze games in terms of control
> 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.
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
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.
Brandon Van Every Seattle, WA
"The pioneer is the one with the arrows in his back."
- anonymous entrepreneur