Building a Critical Language

[UPDATE: My views on this topic have evolved. Today I know that game designers have plenty of tools without a formalized language, and that the game development process is more about doing and listening than saying. This old post was written by a younger version of myself who was frustrated by scattered and inconsistent design teachings, not realizing that the answers come from finishing more games!]

“As game designers, we need a way to analyze games, to try to understand them, and to understand what works and what makes them interesting. We need a critical language. And since this is basically a new form, despite its tremendous growth and staggering diversity, we need to invent one.” -Greg Costikyan [I Have No Words & I Must Design, 1994]

I have a fascination for language and how it influences our ability to think critically and creatively. I often wonder if there are concepts or ideas I struggle to understand, or have yet to even be exposed to, simply because of the limits of the American-English language. Have there been any significant international projects that required high level intellectual communication between multiple languages and cultures? If so, how did we make them work?

The games industry needs this. It’s been nearly 20 years since Costikyan wrote his seminal work… so how come it feels like we haven’t made that much progress? Who is at the forefront of this exploration and development of a common language among game developers? And how come as a 5th year Game Design & Development student that is about to graduate, I have never encountered a discussion on this topic in any of my classes?

I have seen first hand how this issue can hold developers back. I have worked on projects where team members were incapable of talking about games outside of their personal experiences as gamers, and as a result could not effectively communicate their ideas.

So where is the progress being made? I loved Doug Church’s “Formal Abstract Design Tools” [1999], but even that was over a decade ago. Every other article and reference seems to just be a slight extension of the ideas formulated by Costikyan and Church.

I want nothing more than to be able to learn from the work that has already been done, and to be at the frontlines of this exciting trek forward! But where do I start?

Spring 2013 Update

Some updates…

Class Project: Shinto Showdown

First, since mid-December I have been working on a C++ game using DirectX 10, tentatively titled “Shinto Showdown”, for my “Foundation of 2D Graphics Programming” course. It is an isometric strategy RPG where you manipulate the power of the elements to defeat your enemies. We will be finishing the single-level prototype in late February!

Game Jam: Indie Speed Run

Second, at the start of the year I participated in the “Indie Speed Run 2012” game jam with my brother James and friend David Wallin. It was my first time participating in a game jam, and a ton of fun! Our randomly assigned theme was “Heat” and our required element was “Ninja”, so we made a puzzle platformer called “Steampunk Ninja” where you play as a Ninja that must overcome obstacles while balancing your internal energy intake and output. Get too cold and you freeze, but get too hot and you burst into flames! Our goal is to continue development this summer, so hopefully something will come out of that!

Music Fundamentals

And finally, I have been hired for a Spring co-op internship! From March through May, I will be working for “Taylor & Francis, Co.”, designing an educational video game based on Sumy Takesue’s textbook Music Fundamentals. I can’t get into details just yet, but I am really really excited to get to work!

My portfolio is getting better! 🙂

2013 Goals

With only a few months until graduation in May, it seems like a good time to re-evaluate my Game Development related goals. Here are a few key ones I’d like to accomplish:

  • Create an online portfolio: I already had a LinkedIn Profile, but wanted something more customizable to my needs. So far this wordpress is shaping up to be a great alternative! I look forward to fleshing it out in the coming weeks.
  • Make more games: Though I am proud of the work I have done and the progress I have made, I still have not worked on nearly enough games! My goal is to participate in upcoming game jams (Global Game Jam is coming up!) and to form a team of students for a Spring Quarter project.
  • PLAY more games: As I get older and busier, I find that my patience for mediocre games is wearing thin, and my needs as a gamer are changing. Regardless, I need to find the time to play new games so that I can keep up with how the industry is evolving.
  • Stay up to date with Game Industry News: It’s so easy to fall behind! I try to read Gamasutra, 1up, and IGN on a regular basis, and have recently discovered Escapist and really like it. I am also subscribed to Game Developer Magazine and a longtime subscriber to Game Informer, both of which I really enjoy.