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robertogreco : techgnology   1

Make Games - This is an excerpt from the Spelunky book, which...
[via: "Thinking about this but for learning:"
https://twitter.com/tealtan/status/754162176345210880
along with
http://tevisthompson.com/saving-zelda/
https://medium.com/@helvetica/full-thoughts-on-pokemon-go-from-my-interview-on-the-verge-178b97b1112b ]

"Indifference

I played games everywhere as a kid—on my parents’ PC and their Atari 2600, at the arcades, in the car with my Game Boy, and at friends’ houses where I was introduced to Chinese pirate multicarts and exotic game systems like the Neo Geo and TurboGrafx-16. But for me, that era still belongs to Nintendo. My uncle was the first in my family to get a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and I spent entire visits playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. When I wasn’t playing, I’d read my new issue of Nintendo Power compulsively until the next month’s issue. No one in the 80s built worlds as magical and well-crafted as Nintendo did. And although many talented men and women deserve credit for that, the one who stands out among them all is the developer who I was most excited to see in the crowd at IGF 2007: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Miyamoto once said that his childhood exploration of the Kyoto countryside was the inspiration for creating The Legend of Zelda, a top-down action-adventure game set in the fictional land of Hyrule. Recalling the time he discovered a lake while hiking, he explained, “It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.“ It’s the perfect way to describe my experience with The Legend of Zelda as a child, when my dad and I spent many hours meticulously exploring and mapping Hyrule. As I moved from screen to screen, slaying monsters and prodding the environment for hidden secrets, he would mark them down on our map with colored pencils.

It felt like we were Lewis and Clark trekking across the American West. I’ll never forget the first time I entered a dungeon and watched the bright greens, browns, and yellows of the overworld give way to ominous blues and reds—the sound of Link’s footsteps on stairs heralding the eerie dungeon music that still echoes in every Nintendo kid’s ears. It seems strange now, but in The Legend of Zelda no one tells you where the first dungeon is located. It’s possible to wander into the farthest reaches of Hyrule before locating it, and when you find the entrance—a gaping black “mouth” beckoning you into a giant tree—you may not necessarily know what you have found.

In a 2003 interview with SuperPlay magazine, Miyamoto recalled the day the game was released: “I remember that we were very nervous since The Legend of Zelda was our first game that forced the players to think what they should do next.” This bold and risky design, based on the joy of discovery, had a huge impact on me as a game designer. In Spelunky, as in all of my games, I wanted to capture the same emotions I had on that first adventure.

Unfortunately, that feeling about Hyrule waned with each successive game. Even as the worlds grew more beautiful and vibrant, a feeling of disappointment clouded my initial wondrous experience. Part of it is that I grew up. Zelda is 30 years old now, and in that time I’ve played 30 years’ worth of games and released some of my own. But while it’s harder to surprise me now, it also doesn’t appear that the series is as interested in trying. If the original Zelda game was made only for children, I might chalk it up to my age, but revisiting it as a “Classic Series” Game Boy Advance reissue, I was amazed at how strange and wild it still felt compared to the later games, and to modern games in general. It was like returning to the wilderness after a long hiatus, trying to get back in touch with senses that had been steadily dulled.

In Tevis Thompson’s brilliant 2012 essay “Saving Zelda,” Thompson likened modern installments of the game to theme parks, saying, “Skyward Sword, with its segregated, recycled areas and puzzly overworld dungeons, is not an outlier; it is the culmination of years of reducing the world to a series of bottlenecks, to a kiddie theme park (this is not an exaggeration: Lanayru Desert has a roller-coaster).” Gone is the wild frontier that I explored with my dad and the Kyoto countryside that inspired the series, replaced by something that feels too linear, too elegant, too smooth, too… designed? Quests have been turned into fun house games with obvious goals and rewards. “Secrets” are outlined with bright, flashing signposts. A theme park is exactly what it feels like.

Is a theme park necessarily a bad thing, though? I also have great memories of going to Disneyland, Magic Mountain, and other amusement parks. But leaving the park after a full day of riding rides and eating cotton candy, I’m not eager to go back the next day or even the next week or month. The thrills are garish and over-the-top, but also obvious and safe. Compare a theme park to that Kyoto countryside—Miyamoto purportedly came across a cave during his explorations and hesitated for days before eventually going inside. Why did that cave feel so dangerous to him, even though there was likely nothing inside? Why did my wife and I feel the same trepidation as adults in Hawaii, when we ducked into a little path carved into a bamboo field off the side of the road?

Thompson continues:
Hyrule must become more indifferent to the player. It must aspire to ignore Link. Zelda has so far resisted the urge to lavish choice on the player and respond to his every whim, but it follows a similar spirit of indulgence in its loving details, its carefully crafted adventure that reeks of quality and just-for-you-ness. But a world is not for you. A world needs a substance, an independence, a sense that it doesn’t just disappear when you turn around (even if it kinda does). It needs architecture, not level design with themed wallpaper, and environments with their own ecosystems (which were doing just fine before you showed up). Every location can’t be plagued with false crises only you can solve, grist for the storymill.

It’s easy to mistake Thompson’s assertion that “Hyrule must become more indifferent to the player” for an assertion that game developers shouldn’t care about the player or shouldn’t guide the player toward their ultimate vision. What it means is that the guides must be a natural part of the world, and the world, like Miyamoto’s cave, must simply exist. If a world is independent and self-sufficient, so are its inhabitants. If every part of a world exists only for the player, both the world and the hero will feel artificial.

Nintendo wasn’t the only developer to lose sight of that cave in Kyoto. All game creators must control the player’s experience to a degree, and it’s easy to take it too far—this is particularly true of large studios with bigger budgets that they have to recoup from audiences that include many casual players. Designers often mistake intentionality for good game design: We think that a cave must have a treasure chest in it, and if there’s a treasure chest it must be guarded by a monster, and if there’s treasure in the cave, then the player must find it, and if the player must find it, then there has to be a map that leads the player to the cave. That feels like good design because we took the time to plan it out and in the end the player did what we expected. But it doesn’t guarantee that the player will feel like they’re on a true adventure, making genuine discoveries.

Creating Spelunky was the perfect project to help me think about what a true adventure meant to me. Working by myself on a small freeware game made it easier to focus on my personal vision instead of what other people wanted. Using Game Maker allowed me to focus on game design rather than technology. And then there was the randomization of the levels, which made it impossible to fully control the player’s experience. All I could do was create the building blocks of the world and set them in motion—what came out could be as surprising and indifferent to me as it was to the players."
derekyu  games  gaming  videogames  spelunky  zelda  edg  srg  learning  howwelearn  shigerumiyamoto  exploration  worlds  kyoto  caves  hyrule  zpd  design  gamedesign  maps  mapping  techgnology  autonomy  experience  amusementparks  themeparks  legendofzelda  nintendo 
july 2016 by robertogreco

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