Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Method and Madness

James Portnow | 4 Aug 2009 12:21
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Whichever I decide, I can't be chased by zombies, but I can subject myself to my own terrors. Depending on how far you are willing to go, you can experience horror and revulsion or an oppressive sense of inescapable calamity. You have to know yourself and your fears, and then you have to be willing to expose yourself to those fears under circumstances where you're not totally in control. (Horror, by the way, is probably the hardest experience to safely expose yourself to.) Understanding the thrill of these sensations, their high points and their low points as well as the underlying fantasy behind being able to have these experiences without actually risking life and limb will help you craft your game.

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A Final Word of Warning

But now that I've filled your head with these thoughts, my aspiring designer, let me give you a word of warning: the Method may help take you from "good" to "great," but in order to avoid its pitfalls you must first learn the design skills that will take you to "good."

One of the dangers of the Method is that it's easy to fall into the trap of becoming a slave to realism rather than a creator of fantasy. Don't go adding Desert Bus to your game just because you lived it.

The other, and perhaps subtler danger, is becoming overly concerned with the aesthetics of an experience instead of the mechanics. The core of a game is its mechanics. The goal of the Method is to allow you to inject the essence of your experiences into the mechanics of your game to the greatest degree possible; only then should you focus on working them into the more surface elements.

The Method isn't holistic. Don't think that simply because you are willing to experience something or able to truly observe an experience as it's occurring, you'll be able to make a good game. No matter how well you master the method, you still need to understand how to translate an experience into mechanics. The Method simply gives you a perspective you otherwise would not have had - it is no substitute for a traditional education in game design.

One last disclaimer: How much you'll get out of this technique depends on how far you are willing to go in pursuit of your craft. I believe in pushing the limits, and people have told me I've done things that are stupid and dangerous in order to better understand the experiences I'm trying to replicate - I once lived as a vagrant for three days for a project that got canned - but there are things even I won't do. Don't be an idiot. Don't hurt other living beings. Don't endanger yourself. Have an expert present whenever possible, and make sure people know where you are at all times.

Now go out and do some stupid shit.

James Portnow is a freelance contributor to The Escapist. If you have any questions, he can be reached at jportnow[at]gmail[dot]com or jamesportnow on Twitter.

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