Real Fukkin Controversies (Depth of Violence, Design Documents)

What do you think your most controversial opinion/stance about game design is?

Practically everything I think seems to be controversial.

The way I think games are art in contrast to other people’s views of games as art is controversial. My definition of game is controversial. Thinking Smash Bros, or more specifically, PM, is a real fighting game, is controversial. Thinking glitches aren’t cheating, or shouldn’t always be patched by developers, is controversial. Thinking modern console FPS sucks is controversial. Talking about games in a formalist way is controversial. Thinking that violence is something with substance in of itself instead of a means to a narrative end, is controversial. So is thinking that RPGs and dialogue trees are bad and shallow.

Oh, here’s a really controversial one: Immersion isn’t real.

Immersion is a like, shared fantasy of a state that people don’t actually perceive, or they commandeer other states, thinking they’ve hit on immersion and everyone thinks these mess of different feelings is that immersion thing that they’ve heard other people talk about, so the myth self perpetuates. Yeah, that load of thought is controversial.

I got me some real fuckin controversies.

hey, of all the things you listed I’ve never seen you mention that violence has substance inherently one. That violence is irrelevant to the substance of the game yes, but not that it has substance by itself. Could you expand on it?

Alright, these are two points that are both really interesting. Basically, violence gets passed over a lot in our culture. There’s a lot of violence in our culture, but it’s used as a means to an end, it’s seen as a means to an end. Occasionally it’s a bit of a spectacle, like gore porn is a spectacle, but rarely do people really dig into it. This is a shame because it’s totally something that has a lot of depth to it, much like dance. Instead it’s seen as an indulgence, it’s schlock. It’s not considered an intellectual pleasure, it’s a primal one to most people.

Here’s some videos that I think are really interesting for describing violence:

It’s like dance in a way, except it’s not just for style, it’s telling a cohesive story. It’s a story of who gets shot, who has cover, punches, kicks, force, position, movement, inertia. It’s building a system of interactions, creating relationships between bodies in motion, and that’s really interesting.

However a lot of people don’t see all that stuff, they just see results. They see the big smash, the destruction, the death and carnage, and just show results. And this is why so many american action movies absolutely destroy all the fight scenes. They cut a lot in continuous realtime and shake the camera, and choose ridiculously close angles that don’t showcase the whole thing going on or give you an idea of the area it’s taking place in. This really pissed me off in the Transformers movies in particular.

The action scene with Freddie Wong has basically nothing except the violence. There’s a timeout thing and a gag, but it’s not instrumental to the story being told. Despite being a random alleyway, they made a relatively compelling scene. There’s actual tactics going on, choreography, and that’s really cool.

And of course critics of violence dismiss it as schlock too, because who wants to watch people hurt each other? That sounds stupid.

And then you get actual competition and there’s this metagame element going on, people aren’t just trying to put together a story full of cool moves, people are seriously trying to out think and out perform each other. People are developing strategies and learning counters on the fly, getting a feel for their opponent’s style and trying to figure out what works.

And in games, sure there’s the abstraction of violence, but the patterns don’t resemble the way people really fight in the slightest. There’s no lows or overheads in a real fight. Grappling in video games basically isn’t a thing, it’s just single effect throws, maybe mash to get out. Go is as much a representation of violence as Starcraft is, as much as rock paper scissors.

So in short, yeah violence is cool. There’s more to it than you might expect on the surface.

What popular existing conceptions about game design theory are wrong?

The design document being a necessary/important thing at all

RNG not being a nuisance

Execution barriers being pointless

“Accessible” design not being a pain in the ass that flattens games out.

Unintended outcomes being strictly undesirable

Formalism/Narrativism/Simulationism, the division between these being so lopsided, and narrativism holding such a large market share.

Slower = More Tactical, More Thinking

Good level design is level design that implicitly teaches the player how to play, keeps them on a steady difficulty curve and nothing else.

The whole basis for understanding games in a formal sense barely exists among like 5 people. Most attempts are like shots in the dark, based on common sense taken from the wrong context and poor understandings of the problem. It’s kind of like early thinking on economics: We’ll just print more money and be more rich. We’ll just divide our collection of gold ingots into twice as many gold coins and have effectively twice as much currency. Even though it seems intuitive that things should work this way, in practice it doesn’t actually work that way. Understanding the actual operation of wealth is a lot harder.

Learning to think rationally in largely uncharted territory is hard, and I think a lot of it is having a good person to argue with, and being willing to question everything. I think I have my initial bearings by this point, and I just need to iterate a lot of more specific things to further my understanding. (and probably actually produce content)

What does “The design document being a necessary/important thing at all” mean?

Okay, that’s mostly there because I was talking with a developer about the importance of the design document right before I answered that question, so it was on the brain. Most of the big names I’ve seen in game development more or less agree that the design document as it’s been formally ratified isn’t very useful to actually communicating the design of a game, it’s a huge crufty document that exists to satisfy publishers, or (ideally) it’s a design specification that attempts to instruct programmers and artists how to build a program that matches the designers’ intent as accurately as possible.

Many big successes weren’t build on formal design documents, most games evolve over the course of production into things different than the original design document. I think having a central place to get your ideas on paper, and some type of central organization is good, I just don’t think the design document, as it has come to be structured, is entirely useful/necessary in that. It makes more sense in many cases to just iterate and play.

It’s like the difference between pose-to-pose and straightahead animation. Corporate loves pose-to-pose because it lays everything out specifically and can be budgeted easily, but pose-to-pose animation isn’t as fluid, and it can be hard to work out in advance how something should move, which can kill the momentum of the final product. Straightahead animation is hated by corporate because they have no idea what’s going on, or when it’ll be done, and it has a tendency to produce characters that grow and shrink in proportion, or become steadily more offmodel as you get further from your initial idea into development, however it has a very strong sense of momentum and fluidity to it, because it was developed in that linear way.

Ideally, you have a bit of both, because both have downsides inherent in them, and mixing them together can help prevent run-away development with no idea where you’re going, as well as developing a product you had no idea in the conceptual stage would turn out to actually be really lame.

Make the design document work for you, don’t try to live up to expectations of what a design document should be because you think that’s what making games is. You likely need some type of organization, give yourself as much as you need, just don’t stick to the rigid, largely useless, structure that design docs have fallen into.

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