Philosophy of Game Design - Part Four

Robert Yang | 19 Oct 2010 12:06
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Instead, I'm going to attempt a survey of emerging game design practices that don't fit neatly under a philosophy. Or maybe they do, in which case you should tell me.


Generative Proceduralism is about abdicating developership of a game. It's about a game that partly designs itself, or a painting that would paint itself. Sure, we can argue about what an author meant by a particular word, or why a composer applied a crescendo at the end of a piece, but what if a level designed itself, and how would it reconcile authorial intent with that? This approach argues that a good game is comfortable in relinquishing strict authored control. (Compare this to the highly scripted, highly linear haunted houses of the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series.)

Do we blame Derek Yu for an impossible cave level generated in Spelunky? Do we blame a fictional AI director for "screwing us over" even though it's just a collection of random number seeds and formulas, as in Left 4 Dead? Such games relegate some of the design work to the game itself - and possibly the most ambitious games, such as Fa├žade, attempt to procedurally generate NPC backstories and entire narrative arcs.

My personal favorite variant of this approach are those games that are secretly procedurally generated. The masocore platformer Dungeon randomly generates a number seed based on the player's computer details, and that number seed introduces a random bug or mode to the game. Thus, players offered conflicting accounts of gameplay - on some computers, spikes were secretly taller or shorter, or maybe a level would be impossible to complete - because they were all actually playing slightly different games.

But don't confuse this for the similar sounding philosophy of ...

Proceduralism, as coined by Ian Bogost, argues that games (often what we traditionally call "art games") make aesthetic arguments through rules and mechanics. Through this "procedural rhetoric," a good game allows players to explore emotional and psychological spaces, or perhaps offers a way of exploring pre-existing commercial games.

For example, in the Hitman series, many player strategies revolve around disguising oneself as an NPC with a high-level of security access around the level, usually as one of the high-ranking bodyguards assigned to guard the target. Thus, Hitman games make a point about the powerful: They may surround themselves with security, but the power they delegate to their security is almost always their undoing.

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