Lately I've been thinking (blogging) about game design philosophy, and the contrasts between different approaches to making games; the different ways a designer can provide the player a variety of experiences. And it's made me think about how, in the games industry, someone who "makes games" can take on so many distinct, completely unique roles, depending on the experience they're trying to convey. A filmmaker is always a filmmaker; the difference may be in their style or technique, the genre of movie they're trying to make, but they're always a filmmaker. On the other hand, tell me just how different it must be to design the next Madden title, compared to designing Puyo Pop or Final Fantasy XII or World of Warcraft, the completely unique mindset and skillset that one must have to create this or that type of gameplay experience. The expansive array of roles that a game designer can take on is incredibly diverse.

So I started laying out exactly what the different archetypal roles they fill might break down to. Of course there's overlap between some roles-- all game designers are entertainers, many are storytellers, simulators, and combinations of the following. But I'm designating the primary role for a game designer, based on the experience they want to impart to their audience, and the method with which they go about it. That said, no game design role is an island. Here we go.

Designer as Entertainer: All games are supposed to be entertainment, but that doesn't mean that all game designers take on the role of an entertainer. By entertainer, I mean such as stage performers, filmmakers, TV show producers, musicians, comic book artists; people who aim to grab the audience's attention and give them one, specific, received experience (a song, a television episode, a comic book) to be taken in from beginning to end, connecting directly with the audience in a binary dialogue of entertainer-to-entertained. The game designer as entertainer aims to craft a specific, uniformly-expressed game that is tuned for optimal entertainment value, at the cost of any plasticity in the experience. The designer as entertainer is making a singular piece of entertainment that will be experienced in essentially an identical way by anyone who plays it, and aims to make that one, contained experience as enjoyable as possible.
Prime examples of games that have come out of the designer-as-entertainer mindset are Half-Life 2, God of War, Splinter Cell, Resident Evil 4, Doom 3, Killer7, and the Monolith games I've gone on about, like No One Lives Forever/2, F.E.A.R., and Condemned: Criminal Origins. Square's RPGs, such as the later Final Fantasy games also arise from the entertainer's mindset. Besides the fact they they've become more and more linear and restrictive as the series has progressed (see FFX's lack of worldmap,) they've always focused on very structured, immutable stories that dictate the player's progression, and game mechanics that restrict player freedom beyond the very lowest level of equipment loadout and party-building. FF's designers, despite the difference in format from the other games in this category, are focused on crafting a very specific narrative experience with each installment of the series, and allowing the player to step through it as the designer intends. Though some players may see more or less of the overall world than others depending on how much time they put into it, this isn't a question of magnitude. The story, progression, and abiding experience of, say, Final Fantasy 7 is identical for everyone who plays through it.
That's the basis of the Entertainer role. The focus is on the audience playing out the intent of the designer, not the intent of the player. This does restrict player choice and expressiveness, but it also allows a deliberate dialogue from the designer to the player. It's a one-way dialogue, but in a gameworld where the experience is dictated outright, the designer can speak directly to the player, since he knows exactly what the player will be experiencing and when. The designer as entertainer has a greater ability to employ his own voice, to express his intent directly to the player, than a designer in any other role. This can be very powerful.

I'm going to break these entries into a series, since this is starting to get long. Up next is Designer as Watchmaker.

No comments: