Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Method and Madness

James Portnow | 4 Aug 2009 12:21
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The secret to changing this is simple: practice. Try to consciously register the unsatisfying moments and surprises in your daily life as they happen. At first it may seem tricky, but once you begin doing so, many other pieces will fall into place. You'll get a better understanding of the expectations you set up going into an experience, and get a clearer, more granular picture of the fantasies you create. You'll also start seeing that surprise and dissatisfaction are not binary but rather very diffuse. That's particularly important, because the absence of minor disappointments and the abundance of subtle surprises both translate into the polish that makes good games great.

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I'll give you a simple example from my experimentation with these ideas. When I wanted to train myself to become more aware of my experiences, I started by trying to consciously observe my experiences when I went to parties. Why? Because parties for me usually involve an active fantasy life and an unreasonable set of expectations. After all, if the extraordinary isn't going to happen (meeting the love of your life, getting into a brawl, being entranced by a mysterious stranger), why go?

At first I was only really cognizant of the broad strokes, the places where my heart skipped a beat. Over time I started being able to analyze subtler moments - like when the music synched up with the rhythm of the conversation and everything began to flow - and I came to understand how those moments fit together to determine if the overall experience was one I enjoyed or one from which I walked away disappointed.

For those of you looking to practice, I've found parties, concerts and amusement parks are all excellent places to start.

For Experiences You Can't Experience

"Hold on," I hear you say. "I want to make a werewolf zombie space shooter. How the heck do I experience that?"

In this case, really experiencing the concepts behind the game may be tougher, but not impossible. Why? Because any experience we can deliver is an amalgam of experiences we can have.

Here you have to work backwards. Determine what is at the core of the experience you want to deliver to the player and deconstruct it. Let's use a hyperbolic example: Say I'm making a zombie game. First I have to put myself in the player's shoes and try and discover what the core of the zombie fantasy is. Is it sudden, gruesome shocks or simply an ever tightening sense of futility and doom?

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