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:
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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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
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,
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.
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
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.
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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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.
Implications of the First
Consideration: What is a Good Game?
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,
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
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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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.
Implications of the Second
Consideration: How Much Time Will You Take?
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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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.
Implications of the Third
Consideration: How Can You Get Better?
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
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