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March 14, 2007

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It's funny -- I spoke with three different people and got three different impressions of who the "real" winner was.

I tend to agree with you that Jaffe had the deepest understanding of the interface -- he clearly really thought about it. But I think he was hampered by a couple of factors -- first, he went first, which is always tough. But more importantly, he lacked showmanship -- he was a bit whiny with Eric about which of his concessions to the designers he could and couldn't have, especially when Harvey showed his stretched version, and he was way too self-deprecating -- a little more confidence on his part would have helped tremendously.

Compare that with Harvey, who had very strong applause (very close to Pajitnov's, from where I was sitting), who came up with a subversive but playing-to-the-crowd story with oil paint filtered pictures of our government's leaders with dark names like "The Lord of Chains". He ended really strong, even if I was a bit lost with his remapping of the controller and was never really clear on how the game itself was supposed to function (indeed, he spent most of his talk describing the process by which he came up with his idea). What I particularly liked about the, though, was his reliance on influences from pretty far outside of game -- Native American snowshoes is pretty well off the beaten track for most devs.

I blogged about that a while back (http://www.brettdouville.com/mt-archives/2005/07/discussion_disp.html ). I love to see influences beyond the pretty limited set we tend to see in videogames, and I'd love to see more.

It seems unfair to criticize without offering something up. My "I've thought about this for about ten minutes" design would be to use the needles and their velocity/penetration info to do a really neat kite flying game -- tugging the needles through would give you the feeling of tension that a kite string gives you, and if the kite were flagging, you'd want to give it a tug. For advanced users, you could use dual-stringed kites (or perhaps even advance to kite-boarding) -- and do tricks and all that. Naturally, this would have to probably ship with the device, since it's probably not $50 worth of game ;)

B-

PS Still looking for that RSS feed... :)

Call me crazy, but I actually found Harvey's game concept to be oddly compelling. Yes, it was tongue-in-cheek, but the idea of a game based in magic-realism, playing a little girl in Iraq who ventures from home to find her father, had a strange effect on me. That's an RPG that I want to get lost in, one where the little girl relies on her doll to fight her battles, and stitches him up using the skills her father taught her. One where the actual war and its sides are unimportant, as the player only wants the little girl to not lose her family. It's a fantastic story, taking place in fantasy but still grounded in reality by its parallel to the war. I'd play it.

I usually really enjoy the challenge, but I felt Eric went too far this time. It's supposed to be challenging not impossible! That said, for me Alexey won, hands down. It was the only game that really took advantage of the needle and thread mechanism and imho could actually work as a game. That said, throw away the needle and thread interface and Harvey's game is the one I'd personally want to play. Playing a little girl struggling to survive in Iraq seems like fertile ground for interesting IF.

I agree that Jaffe demonstrated the greatest technological understanding of the challenge, but I have to differ re. Mssrs. Pajitnov and Smith. While Jaffe pushed the boundaries of what the technology was capable of, Pajitnov appeared to take more into consideration what could mechanically be done with the medium. Pajitnov's game was the only one of the three, in my view, that was not just compelling, but compelling specifically because of the interface (primarily because of the allowance for hidden information and bluffing mindgames.) Jeffe's game, on the other hand, didn't seem especially enhanced by the interface (we can make paper airplanes just fine with real paper, and to me I don't think the game would be any less fun if the stitching-on-parts bit was replaced by a different minigame to weld stuff onto hardpoints.) Of course, I'm probably a bit biased because I enjoy elegant abstract games, and Pajitnov's game was the only direct head-to-head competitive game.

Smith's game actually disappointed me a little bit; while his presentation on exploring the possibilities and finding inspiration was quite fascinating, it seemed that his end result was ultimately just a been-done adventure game, now burdened with an extremely awkward interface that took very little advantage of the hardware (his bits about sewing stuff onto the teddy bear seemed rather forced.) The narrative aspect of it seemed a bit sophomoric as well.

Since everyone else is discussing the game design challenge, I'll be the odd man out and comment on the Spore session.

I'll be blunt and straight up say that I think they are making the right choice in taking some level of control away from the user in order to make the tools more accesible to the masses. I believe that is the future of user generated content. These participatory systems can only survive for so long off the sweat of the lead users -- the casual players need to step up too and create content if there is any hope of achieving true critical mass of created content (is that a good thing? well, that is a discussion in and of itself, but I think yes). I'll go one step further and say that I believe the creation of content to seed these systems needs to be a meta-game -- it needs to be fun and stand on its own legs as a form of entertainment. The crysis level editor is surely powerful, and some advanced users are going to make some amazing maps, but for most people the learning curve will be too steep to ever make creating levels 'fun'.

I think LineRider had the right idea -- incorporate the creation of the content into the actual 'play' itself. My bet is on LittleBigWorld as being the launching point for kicking the long tail of user-generated game content up by an exponential degree.

I loved how Pajitnov's design was the only one that referenced the nature of the interface itself in the end product. Both Harvey and Jaffe's designs seemed to be trying to make something fairly unrelated out of the base elements (an RPG, or an airplane simulator,) while Pajitnov's design was wholly about actually sewing with a needle, thread, and cloth. It was incredibly pure and found a way to extend the act of sewing onto the screen and make simple, competitive fun out of that act.

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