C r e a t i n g   a   G a m e    1

by Rinku Hero

 

Notes: I first write this article for the fourth issue of Ohrrpgce Monthly, which was released a little less than a year ago. Thus this three-part article took 1 year to write, the year of 2001. This first part of the trilogy met with little response (unlike the second part, which was widely extoled by most readers, some even reading it twice or thrice). I have re-read it and found it slightly lacking, and so have re-written it for added depth. But the basic -content- of it remains the same, even if that content is said more clearly in this revision than it ws in the first publication. Perhaps it was the content which was originally unuseful, if so, the revision will have no effect. However, I still feel the content to be useful as a general introduction to the idea of making a game. But it is understandable that serious game designers would find this content common sense. This is perhaps the sole portion of this article addressed more to 'amateur game designers' (aka Ohr newbies) than to 'real game designers' (aka Ohr vets). Its aim is to quickly make a vet out of a newbie, or, to quickly make a person who takes game design seriously out of a person who does not yet take it as seriously as it deserves.

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Deciding to Create a Game: Introduction

The first thing to do when you decide to make a game is not what you would expect it to be. Not to decide what type of game you want to make. Not to decide who will make it with you. Not to decide what it's theme is. Not to create the characters. Not to name the game. Not to decide on the setting. Not anything like that. The first step in deciding to make a game is to decide to make a game. A decision. If you cannot make decisions, you cannot make games.

I say more: you have to realize that you -will- be making a game. You cannot delude yourself. You cannot hide from this. You are not just going to jump from your current state to 'a person who made a game' and the game won't suddenly jump from 'unmade' to 'made' simply by you willing it. You have to actually make the game. You have to. There is no other way to make a game than to put in the effort needed to make it (with the possible exceptions of game publishers, who don't actually make games, just provide the funds and boss everyone else around).

If you hope to start the game and never finish it, if that is what you really want to do, read no farther. Press back on your browser, and go to another section of Ohrrpgce Monthly. And I'll follow you with my laughter. (Well, actually I won't. Some people just can't make games, and they shouldn't try. They just get some kind of delight from saying that they are a game designer, but don't get actual delight out of game designing. These are the people who constantly talk about what new idea they have for a game, but nothing ever materializes, and more importantly, they don't even try to make the games they say they will make. Perhaps they actually want to make games but don't have the attention span. Perhaps they do have the attention span but don't have the energy and will. Perhaps they have those, but don't have the intelligence. Whatever the reason, I'll be glad to get rid of those readers).

Now... you're still here. Why? You want to create a game, put a lot of work into it, and finish it. You can't change your mind now. You said you want to finish a game, implicitly, by continuing to read. That is the premise: you want to plan a game, create that game, and finish that game. If that statement in the italics is true, then this article might be useful to you. If not, then it will be a waste of time.

Another premise is that you want to create a good game. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Anything that is challenging enough to be worth doing is something that is worth doing with full intent and courage. You don't want to create a game that you won't like. You don't want to create a game that no one else will enjoy playing. It's okay if not everyone likes your game, it's okay if you won't like your game in 100 years time, but it's not okay if no one, including you, likes your game. If you intentionally want to create a poor game and not a quality game, this article won't help you do that (and by poor games, I'm not talking about intentionally-poor-as-part-of-the-theme games like the Arfenhouse trilogy, which are the opposite of poor games). This article will only help you make better games than you would have made otherwise. Either that, or it will scare you into feeling that game design is too much work and you might as well watch television and play games for the rest of your life instead. Either way is fine by me, but I hope it is the former, since I like to play games and would like to see more good ones made. Still, both the commercial and the non-commercial arenas (including the Ohrrpgce arena) are full of inept games, and if this article prevents even one more inept game from being made, that is at least something.

So, our two premises are that 1) you want to plan, create, and finish a game, and do all the work that involves in the most rational and efficient way you can, and, 2) you want it to be a good game, an ept one, not an inept one. From those premises, we form considerations. 

The difference between a premise and a consideration, as I see it, is that a premise is a result of a decision or a faith (something derived from the outside world), and a consideration is the result of a premise (something derived from something derived from the outside world). Every premise has considerations, although these are not always obvious. The premise 'ice cream tastes good', for example, comes from tasting ice cream. The considerations are 'what is ice cream', 'what is taste', 'what is good', or more clearly, 'what makes ice cream different from non ice cream, why does it taste good, what doesn't taste good, and what does this statement 'ice cream tastes good' mean pragmatically (i.e., how will it change my thinking and behaviors?). Silly example, but you get the point: every premise (every sentence) can be questioned, and by questioning and answering those questions you gain in understanding. Let us question 1) and 2) above. First we find the questions, then we find the answers.

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Considerations

Now, an important consideration is to find out why you want to make a game. Why does anyone want to make a game, or anything for that matter? Why bother? Why not just be passive and observe what others have created, why be active and create something yourself? In other words: what's the point?

Most likely, it is because you think it might be fun to do so, just like all creative things are fun to do (fingerpainting, drawing, writing). That is the correct reason to make a game. There are also incorrect reasons. But we'll ignore them for now (which is what they deserve). The correct reason to make a game, more precisely stated, is that game creation is an end in itself, it is not a means to an end. If you keep that in mind, you'll never ever be unmotivated in creating your game. I promise you that. If you want to create a game for some other reason, to show other people your game, for example, then you will be unmotivated and may never finish it. You don't write a book so that you can have a completed book, you write a book because the experience of writing of it is what is important, enjoyable, and changes you for the better. So, the first consideration is that you need to know what creating a game, and also what making anything creative, really is. 

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Since we already answered the question of that consideration, let's go to a consideration that is perhaps a bit harder to answer. The first consideration which we will deal with in depth is: what is the difference between a good game and a bad one? This has an intuitive answer, an answer that comes from your sense of playing the game, but this is an unconscious and blurry feeling only. It is of course important, more important than any 'definition' of what a good game is, but you can't very well say: "I know what a good game is because of its feeling, so I'm qualified to make a good game" or "I'll know if my game is good when I play it, since I know a good game when I play it." This is unacceptable. If you only know if your game will be good after you play it, that's like saying you'll know if your novel will be good after you write it, or know if your painting will be good after you paint it. It makes no sense to do things this way. You may as well randomly hit keyboard keys and say "I'll know a good article when it appears in the random letters going across my screen". Saying something like that is stupid, and saying "I'll know if my game is good after it is done" is equally stupid.

Thus, to make a good game, you need some idea about what makes a good game different from a bad one. You need some explicity and cognitive theory on game quality. It's not enough to say "This game is better than that game because I like it more". Of course you like it more. That's the point. That's like saying ice cream tastes better than rocks because you like ice cream more, or more actually, that's like saying you like ice cream better than rocks because you like ice cream better than rocks. That tells me nothing. You have to be able to linguistically argue about why game A is better than game B. This is done all the time in game reviews, and in informal conversations and arguments over which game is better than which game. But often in these arguments, nothing gets accomplished. Sometimes the two sides agree on something, but often it's just throwing nonsense back and forth. "Super Mario Bros. 2 is better than Super Mario Bros. 3 because it doesn't have Bowser as the last enemy!", they scream. This is irrelivent. "The Legend of Zelda is better than A Link to the Past because it is less linear and gives you more freedom in finding a strategy of level-attack order," is a much better argument. Why is it a better argument then the lack of Bowser Koopa as the last enemy? Because the identity of the last boss isn't important to the gameplay, whereas the linearity of levels is. So it is possible to talk about why one game is bad or good (or more importantly, why one aspect of a game is bad or good in the contest of that game). You just need some basic ideas of what is good in games and what isn't. It doesn't matter if those ideas are not the same as your neighbor's ideas, it's just important to have some kind of theory of what makes a game good. Otherwise you'll be like a monkey pressing random keys and hoping to code Metal Gear Solid by process of trial and error.

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A second consideration is that creating a good game is probably going to be hard work. It's not like drawing a sketch in your notebook during english class. It's not quite like writing a short fanfic. Chances are, if you are creative enough to want to make a game, you've done things like sketching in class or writing fanfics. But a game is different. It's like writing a novel (and not those inept novels that dominate the market place right now, I'm talking Crime and Punishment quality, or, at least, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone quality). Maybe even harder. So, the second consideration is that making a good game is going to be time consuming. Even very short games, if you want them to be good, take time. 

Example: Tilde and the Mask of :P, included as a demo game in this issue, took a litle under a month to make, with an average of 4 hours a day working on it (could have devoted more than 4 hours a day to it, but this was final exam time). And it's only a 5 hour game at best. A 'short story RPG'. And I don't believe that most short stories take a month of 4-hour-workdays to make (at least not for someone accustomed to short story writing). Most short stories I've written are completed in around three to five 4-hour periods, not thirty of them. By way of comparison, writing this entire ~300 page article trilogy took a small fraction of the time needed to make Tilde.

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A third consideration is that people are not born knowing how to make games. It is not some inborn instinct or talent, despite what 'common sense' (another word for societal-derived propaganda) tells you. It is true that in one sense, game creation, like writing, like art, cannot be taught by others to you. But, that's missing the point. Nothing at all should be taught to you by others. Everything of importance, including game design, can and should be self-taught. 

What I mean by this is that the better your mind, the clearer and more complex and more detailed it is, the more ability you have, the more interesting you are, the more dedicated you are, in sum, the more talented you are, the better your game will be. Your ability to create a game comes directly out of your 'talent'. But, not all is lost, because, despite popular myth, you can increase your supposedly 'innate' talent. In fact, this is what talent is: it is something which increases with time and practice. That is its basic quality. So, this third consideration is that games come out of your talent, and that you are able to increase your own talent.

Now let us go into the detailed level about the implications of each of those considerations.

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Implications of the First Consideration: What is a Good Game?

More broad than 'what is a good game' is the question 'what is good art?' What do good poetry, good movies, good manga, good architecture, good games, good books, good paintings, good sculptures, good music, and so forth, have in common? If you have an answer to this questions, you know something about what you want your game to be.

On first glance, these things have two aspects in common. 

The first is that people like them. People, all things considered, like to read good poetry more than they like to read bad poetry. They also like to watch good movies more than they do bad movies. They like reading good manga more than bad manga. The like looking at some architecture more than others. They like playing some games more than others. Some games they just hate. Some they love enough to make websites dedicated to. Some books are their favorites, some they can't stand. Some paintings they like, some they don't. And so forth. But... is this good enough? Is a game good because a poll says it's good? Are popular TV shows always 'better' than unpopular ones? Are books written for the mass market and which sell well 'better' than books which may not sell as well? Not always, but sometimes. Obviously, there is something more involved here than popularity.

The second thing they have in common is that people are effected by them. Often, a person's favorite book or favorite game is one which has changed them, made them look at things in new ways, taught them something about life. Often without them being able to say exactly what is different now. People who like poetry often memorize their favorite poems. They quote them, tell their friends, use them in their writings, write about them in their journals, etc. They recommend their favorite music to other people. They don't recommend the music they hate (unless they hate that person...), they recommend their favorites.

But these things lack definition. Why exactly do people like them and why are they effected by them? We need to look deeper. Compare your favorite game to your least favorites, compare your favorite movies to the movies that you hated watching. What's the difference?

Is it possible that someone may not know what their favorites are? That is considered a possibility by me. How do I really know that I liked Final Fantasy 9 better than Final Fantasy 7? It's hard to compare two games you played a few years apart, and expect accuracy. You can't directly compare the feelings and fun gained from playing each, because feelings and fun are not cumulative and leave nothing but memory. You can't have the same type of fun you got from playing a game of Final Fantasy 7 by simply remembering playing it (otherwise, why re-play?). So this is a serious question... you may not know which games you like the most, and certainly don't exactly know why you liked those games. But this brings up problems when you want to design games. In order to design a game, you have to know why you liked certain games. How difficult this must be, if you don't even remember exactly which games you liked, and how much, and why? How maddening!

That's what theories are for. Let's go back to linearity. You play all the Zelda games. You remember all kinds of feelings and memories and such from them. You then ask yourself: Which of them was the most fun? After some trouble, you decided that The Legend of Zelda leads the pack, with The Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask following, followed by Oracle of the Seasons and Oracle of the Ages, and A Link to the Past, The Adventures of Link, and Link's Awakening being the least fun (although still more fun than most other games you have played... just comparitively they were less fun than the others). Then you ask yourself: what was it about those games that made them more fun? Which parts did you like, which didn't you like? You come up with the idea that The Legend of Zelda was the least linear and the most fun, and you really enjoyed the ability to play though the 8 levels in any order you want, unlike later Zelda games, where the decisions as to which dungeon came next were largely made for you by the game designers. 

That is your theory: level-selecting freedom is better than level-selecting linearity. You perhaps play other games, and notice that the non-linear ones, on average, are more fun than the linear ones. You now have the starting of a philosophy of game design: non-linear level order is better than linear level order. You can expand that theory with further guesses: non-linearity in general is better than linearity in general. But that is still not enough for your ever curious mind! You expand it still further: why is non-linearity better? Because the player is forced to decide on a strategy of attack, instead of being led by the hand. Hence, more freedom. Alternatives. Choice. We now arrive, from the simple example of the Zelda games, at what I consider to be the most important principle of game design: Deciding among different things is better than someone else deciding for you. This goes way beyond game design, it's a basic principle of life as well. And this basic principle is found in such a simple thing as comparing the level order freedom in the Zelda games.

Then you go on from there. You continue to compare games, and continue to theorize why one is better than another, and why you were bored by one part and why you really liked another part. This is a never ending quest, there is always more to learn and new things to adapt your theories to. A good exercise is to go back and play your favorite games, and look at everything. If your favorite game is Final Fantasy 6, go back and play it again, and ask yourself why certain things are done as they are. Of course you won't be able to understand all, or even most, of why things were done just so... simply because you didn't make the game. But ask yourself questions about it, and ask why certain things are done. Why did Cyan's family die? Was it to show Kefka's evil? Was it to show General Leo's comparative goodness? Was it to reveal something about Cyan's character? Was it just a convienient way of introducing Cyan to Sabin and the rest of the party? Why did he have a wife and a son instead of a wife and a daughter? Would it have mattered if his family had lived? Would it have made the story any different? Any worse? Go do that over and over for different parts of different games. If you want, do this for books and music and poetry, if you read/listen those. But make a habit of it. Note parts that didn't really have a meaning, and note parts that had a meaning, and note parts that you are not sure what the meaning is. Also, discuss things like this with friends of yours that also play video games... talk about why certain things were done. Would Final Fantasy 6 have been the same game if Terra was not half-esper, or if Locke was able to save Rachel, or if Celes was not an imperial general but a member of the returners from the beginning? The more you ask yourself these kinds of questions, the more you'll begin to understand what is the difference between great games and okay games.

Fortunate for those of you who don't feel like coming up with independent theories yourselves, you don't have to do all of this alone (unless you really want to). That is because people, since before we were born, have been comparing good and bad and thinking about this for thousands of years. They all found, mostly, the same things. They described it differently, they thought of it a bit idiosyncratically, but there is a common theme in their minds, and that common theme exists because the difference between good and bad art actually exists, and isn't completely subjective. They say, overall, that art is elegent, beautiful, precise, and integrated. All of these don't sound like synonyms, but as far as art is concerned, they are.

Edgar Allen Poe once said that every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark in anything he wrote was there for a reason. Ayn Rand said a similar thing. And their writings read like it. As do Shakespeare's. The great painters can explain, in detail, every brush stroke. Great directors can explain exactly why something is in their movie. Every specific musical instrument and why it does what it does can be explained by the great musicians, if you ask. Every frame in a great manga is there to do something. And you can't replace a single frame without damaging the meaning of the whole thing. You can't move around paragraphs or move around scenes in great novels or great movies without causing some damage.

Notice I just said 'great' about all of those. I did that for a reason. In just average, or poor movies, music, manga, etc., you actually can rearrange things to your heart's content and not damage the whole thing. That's because they aren't integrated, they aren't precise. They are just a collection of parts. A collection of a bunch of well done parts is not a well done whole.

So, the point you need to take out of this is to not go about randomly and put in anything anywhere. Don't put in something just because. If you really want to make a game that people will find endearing, be absolutely sure that ever part has meaning. A good test is to look at some element, and say to yourself: if I replaced thing X with thing Y instead, would it matter? Is there any real reason why the game begins in a snowstorm and not on a clear day? Is there any reason why this character uses a sword and not a spear? Why does this guy speak like that? Why do these people in this town have this custom? Why are these two characters related? Why do these characters not like eachother? Why do these enemies go here and not there? Why does this scene take place in a mountain and not in a dungeon. Just why IS this dungeon here? What exactly is the point of that forest? Why do are the characters delayed by an earthquake, and not, say, a flood?

Yet... don't let that discourage you! It's not like every single thing in your game has to be explained. You don't need to explain why the knight uses a sword and not a spear. Also, after awhile, you'll find that a lot of the process becomes unconscious and automatic. You won't have to consciously decide what the weather should be when they raid Castle Evil, because, after while, selecting things will become almost automatic. You'd unconsciously take into account hundreds of variables, the emotional tone, what the purpose is, the mood, and so forth, and suddenly an idea will pop into your mind: it will be snowing lightly, because it just fits. And, when you get really good at it, plot elements will always be integrated. All you have to do is think a little about what would just feel right, and your unconscious will supply you with the correct element. Let's say you are designing a character. You design who he is, what his conflicts are (more about that next article), and it just comes to you that he should wear blue and not, say, grey. Maybe later, as your perception of the character changes, you feel that he would be better off wearing red than blue (in fact, this happened to me when I designed the character Raft for my game... as my conception of him became clearer, he just felt better wearing red than wearing blue as I originally had him). So, I give you seemingly paradoxical advise: pay attention to everything and question the point of everything in your game, yet let your feelings decide for you what feels right.

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Implications of the Second Consideration: How Much Time Will You Take?

Creating a game won't be easy. Depending on how big your game is (I'm going to make a fairly safe assumption and assume that it is a RPG or something with a complex story -- otherwise you wouldn't be reading 300 pages on how to make it) it may be the most challenging thing you've ever done, or ever will do. The point is that not only does it take more work than watching TV, the point is that it takes more work than going through high school, and college, combined. It may not be more physical work, but it certainly is more of a challenge.

You are going to have to decide how much time you are willing to give to your game. Five years, ten hours a week? A summer break? The time you give it is a very important piece of knowledge to have. It will determine how big you can make your game. Do not plan a 40 hour game with cinemas and mini-games unless you are willing to put years into making it, or unless you have a lot of friends helping you with the game and can work well with them. In general, it takes anywhere from 50 to 250 hours of work for every hour of gametime, (average for me is 100) depending on the complexity of the game. If you put 40 hours of work into your game, your game will probably be a 15-30 minute demo. Of course this varies... if you game uses a lot of level-up filling (such as my game And did) you can stretch this. Plan in advance how much time you are willing to put into it. Every waking hour that you aren't in school? Or only an hour a week on weekends, and only some weekends? If you want to make a good 60 hour RPG, keep in mind that it could very well take around 6,000 hours (2 years of 10 hours a day) working alone.

Also, if you really are serious about game design, plan how much time you can put into making yourself a better game designer. Are you willing to learn pixel art in order to do graphics well? Are you willing to learn how write midi music? Well? Are you willing to learn how to write dialogue? Monster design? Are you going to learn how to have interesting maps, as the Zelda games have? Is your plot going to be as rich as Revelations: Persona's or Xenogears's, or are you going to get by with what you know now about writing plot? Are you going to put a lot of work into playing other games and noting what was done well and what poorly? None of this is included in the actual 'design time' for your game, but it is nonetheless indispensible to do these things. Fortunately, they can be done in your 'spare time', while playing games and reading. Even watching movies, if done critically, improves one's sense of the dramatic, as well as giving one a sense of characterization. So none of this is 'wasted time'.

You should decide, first thing, how much time you are going to put into all of this. Because if you overestimate how much time you have, you'll be in danger of not finishing your game, or giving up when other important things in your life are starting to demand more of your attention. If you say 'the game will be done when it is done', that gives you a lot of time, right? No deadlines means more creativity, one would think. In practise, however, no deadlines means no reason to work on your game right now, because you can always do it later. Later, there is still no reason to work on your game, because you can always do it later still. So setting deadlines can be useful, although, as we'll examine in part 3, the deadlines should be unarbitrary, precise, and clearly encapsulated. Don't say things like "The game? It'll be done in January!" That is what most people call a deadline, but actually it's more like a foolline. What you should say are things like "I'll finish up this map by this weekend, then look to see what needs to be improved in it, and after that go on to the next town's maps," and things like "I'll need some walkabouts for this forest map. I'll finish them tomorrow." Those are what 'deadlines' should be. You may wish to call them 'donelines' instead. But more on that in the third part.

Another thing: you have to take game design seriously, or not at all. Once you start planning your game (which will be covered next article) you'll need to live inside of your game. You'll need to visualize your world. You'll need to know your characters better than you know yourself. You'll need to know what they would do in different situations, you'll need to know how they walk, talk, and eat. The more vivid your mind's image of your game, the more vivid your game will appear in the minds of people who play the game, and the more fun it will be to actually create the game. You'll need to be able to spend time just imagining your game's characters interacting with each other... while in bed getting ready to sleep, while taking a shower, while riding the bus to school, whenever possible. Your game has to be real to you. There should be only a vague detachment or boundary between the game and yourself, you shouldn't be able to say "Oh, that's just my game, something I'm making for fun, it's unimporant," as if fun or creation is unimportant.

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Implications of the Third Consideration: How Can You Get Better?

You can either make your game from your current talent, or intentionally improve your talent as you go along. I suggest the latter, because none of us has yet reached our best. Most of us start out wanting to make a game without the ability required.

Also, after you have expended what talent you have, what then? A lot of games are extremely good, but then their sequels don't match up... that is because they expended all of their talent on their first game, and didn't bother to work harder on their later games. The later games would only have small improvements, and somehow not feel as good as the first one. This also applies to books, movies, and so on. The idea of the sequel not feeling as good as the original, in any art form, is due to the author's inability to make each project better than the last.

How exactly do you go about increasing your talent? For the most part, it is natural. People learn things naturally. It's just what we do. You didn't intentionally plan, when you were five years old, to become more mature and more complex by age ten. It just happened. And for the most part, that is all that is required. As you experience new things, you learn new things. You couldn't write a book at age five simply because you didn't have the experience necessary to do so. You might not have ever read a book before. Writing a book would have been difficult. Writing a good book would have been impossible. Now, it is more possible.

What determined how much more possible it is? Why do some 10-year-olds write stories and some don't? Why are some people more creative than others? That's very hard to answer, and even harder to answer correctly. I'm not going to try to answer it in this article. The best I can give you are some general observations.

It is not related to education. At one time, it was thought that if everyone were educated enough, we could all be Einsteins. But we instead see that education can be a tool for evil, a tool for conformity, just as easily as it can be a tool for good. It is not related to high academic intelligence. It is not related to studying and self-discipline. In fact, if you are one of those people who learns everything school teaches, and nothing else, then game creation probably isn't for you. Of course, if you felt that the knowledges taught in school are more valuable than the knowledges contained elsewhere, you probably wouldn't be reading this.

One thing uncharacteristic of creative story people is dogmatism: believing in something with absolute faith. Being so static in something that they insist that everyone else agree with them, including their future self. Not being able to consider other points of view and the inability to consider, construct, and hypothesize other points of view is a large part of being unable to imagine an interesting story. How can someone create a drama, which is at its heart the conflict between different ways of seeing the world (and the actions those ways of seeing confer) if they themselves can't see the world from more than one point of view? You may be able to make a good gameplay game without this ability, but you won't be able to make a good story-game.

Another thing characteristic of creative people is the ability to form an integrated conceptual worldivew. Most people spend most of their time chicken-talking. Saying things that millions of other people are saying and have said before. Word for word. There is no conception here, it's about repetition of concretes. Stock phrases and cliche are not what creation is about. The larger point is that creative people don't think in dichotomies. Instead of thinking 'is he or isn't he a good person?', or 'is there or isn't there a god', the creative person would ask 'can I be good and bad simultaneously?', or 'if I were a god, what would I do?' Thinking in concretes and dichotomies, where the world is simple, does not lend toward game design, except in the case of historical simulations, or simulations in general. It helps to be a concrete thinker if you are designing a flight simulator which will use only historical planes and use only known laws of aerodynamics, for example. But if you are writing a game about flying with a story, and designing new types of aircraft and new laws of aerodynamics, concrete thinking is a hindrance.

But, the most aspect of creative people is this: they don't do things because they have to do something, they do things because they like doing the things. They don't read books for school reports, they just like reading books. They don't study biology, saying 'one day, if I study enough and get good grades, I can be a doctor and make money', they just like biology. They don't do things because they have to, they don't do what they are told to do, they do things because they want to. More conceptually: the ratio of the of time spent on activities which are ends in themselves and the time spent on activities which are done out of habit or done because 'that is what they should do, whether they enjoy it or not, whether they know the reasons or not, is higher for people who are good at creating things.

Let's suppose that you are already at that stage when you do things because you want to. It still doesn't mean that you'll create a good game. You'll do better than average, but you won't do as well as you would like, unless you have another important quality: self-reflection. Knowing this thing called you. Knowing why you act why you act. Why did you just say that in particular? Why did you just think that and not something else? You should question these things all the time. If you don't, then you don't know who you are, and will be unable to know others, and will thus ultimately be unable to create convincing characters. If people, and you yourself, seem to you to act arbitrarily and with no reason or rhyme, you have a poor understanding of people.

In her book on fiction writing, The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand suggests "concretizing floating abstractions". What this means is that all of us, from being members of a culture, have abstract ideas floating about in our heads, abstract ideas which we did not originate. Terms like individualism, open-mindedness, good writing, courage, selflessness, generousity, emotional coldness, justice, hatred, envy, naivity and so forth... but most of us don't have firm examples of each. 

The word abstract means that these terms were abstracted from a collection of concretes. That's just pattern recognization. You see then red things and abstract the term red. But when you gain these 'floating abstracts' from culture without abstracting them from sense date yourself, you are using borrowed knowledge. Borrowed knowledge is useless unless you know why it is and where it came from. 'Good writing' is something English teachers speak of. They say "This is good writing, this isn't." But how are you to know? By their word? It's just borrowed knowledge, you can't have someone tell you what good writing is until you are able to see a lot of objects which have something you enjoy and abstract the term 'good writing' from them. It's just a floating abstraction unless you have some firm examples of that concept. The test is this: if you can name several examples of a concept, and explain their simularities and difference from several examples of similar things to which the concept does not apply, then you know what the concept means. If you can't, you don't. All concepts act as categories of objects and qualia without objects. Red can work as a category 'red pencils'. It can work as a qualia 'red', without anything in specific that is red. 'Good writing', should be the same way. It is a category for 'well-written things', as well as a qualia 'good writing in general, without any specific examples'. These uses of conceptions cannot be divorced. A concept cannot be a qualia without a categorization (it would be a floating abstrction, useless), and it cannot be a categorization without a qualia (then it's just taxonomy or stamp collecting, useless because you don't know why the categories are set up in the way that they are).

The goal of all of this is improvment in thinking. If we aren't able to, for example, completely describe people we know who are open-minded and people we know who are not, or how much of a sense of justice  you have -- compared to your parents, compared to your teachers, or compared to your siblings -- what use is thought? If we aren't able to think solidly about such things, then how can we write about them? How do mad scientists act and think? How do people who are in love act and think? How do schizophrenics act and think? Merchants? Knights? Court jesters? People who are ambitious? People who are cowards? If you don't know, you can't write about it. So, part of improving our ability in game creation is improving our ability to think. An increase in ability to think will be an increase in your ability to make games, in all aspects. Not only will the quality of your games improve, but the speed and ease in which you make them will improve, and the reasons why you fail and succeed will become clearer.

If you are like me, when you read a novel, you don't often ask yourself these kinds of things... you don't consciously think about who is for example 'trusthworthy' (the abstraction) and who isn't. Unless of course the author tells you directly... which is a sign of a bad writer. Yet maybe we should do this more often,  comparing different characters from the same game and from different games to eachother. How is Cecil different from Kain? How is Locke different from Edgar? Is Cecil more similar to Edgar or to Locke? In what ways? The more we ask these kinds of things, the more ability we will have to create and present characters.

And that's only characterization. You'll also want to try to improve your talent in (ability to think about) other areas. Art, game design, battle design, plot, dialogue, drama, and so forth. Are the facial portraits in Suikoden 1 better than the ones in Suikoden 2? Why is the dialogue in Lunar 2 so much better than the dialogue in Breath of Fire 4? How is atmosphere created in Xenogears or in Secret of Evermore? Why are the maps in Majora's Mask so much more fun than the maps in Final Fantasy 7? Why is the intro to Tales of Phantasia better than the intro to Tales of Destiny? After you pose and answer hundreds or thousands of questions like this, and give detailed reasons as to why, you'll be ready to start the next part in your game's creation: planning its outline and design (which I will cover next part).

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