"Three design principles from Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp: When it’s advertised does it make a child say: ‘I want this!’? Once he opens the box, does it make him go: ‘I want more of this’? One month later, does he come back to the toy and still play with it? Or does he put it on the shelf and forget about it?" Useful for things that aren't toys, too.
21 July 2012
Spelunky is a little clockwork world in which items and enemies behave in defined ways, but when mixed together cause a delicious feedback loops that you can, with experience, predict. My boy loves systemic games like this, games that are built on coherent systems that you can play in an open-ended way. Toy boxes like Minecraft and Plants Vs Zombies, Animal Crossing and (we play this together) Civilization – where he can tinker and learn cause and effect.
He spends hours playing them, or would if we let him. And these are the kind of games that, though they were much cruder back then, I liked when I was a boy too, especially Elite. Where anything seemed possible.
But the big games today, in which play comes fixed to immutable stories, aren’t like that. So I asked him: “Do you like games that tell stories that you follow as you play them, or do you like games that let you do what you want?”
“The second one.” My heart burst with pride.
Last Day Of School, from lovely chum Alex Wiltshire.
The big computer games I grew up with – the ones that made an impression – were Rogue, Prince of Persia, and countless flight sims (beginning with MS Flight Simulator 3.0 then 4.0, and then getting steadily less realistic through the MicroProse back catalogue). And there, really, is a lot of the things I like: deep systems, short repeated play sessions, complex things to master, coupled t worlds to do whatever you want in. I got to about level 14 of the dungeons of Yendor; I landed a Cessna 182 on a Nimitz class carrier without an arrestor wire (only just) and took it around the Michigan bay; I explored the deep 60-minute run/jump mechanics of Mechner’s early triumph.
My tendency to simplification as I grew up has a lot to recommend it – in particular, desigining for sofas or tiny bursts – but my heart swells too when I see the conversations Alex and his son have. Not just because of what they like – but because of how they like it, and, most importantly, how they talk about it together.
"The real Grim Meathook Future, the one I talked about back when I wrote that thing and the one I see now, is the future where a relatively small slice of our species lives in a sort of Edenic Eloi reality where the only problems are what we laughingly refer to as White People Problems, like being able to get four bars’ worth of 4G signal at that incredible pho joint that @ironicguy69 recommended on Twitter, or finding new ways to lifehack all the shit we own into our massive closets…while the rest of the world is reduced to maintaining our lifestyles via a complex process of economically-positioned indentured servitude and clinging with the very tips of their fingernails onto the ragged edge of our consumer leavings, like the dorky dude who shows up the first day of school with the cheap K-Mart knockoffs of the pumped-up kicks the cool kids are wearing this year. In other words, the Grim Meathook Future is the one that looks like the present, the one where nothing changes."
"In my philosophy, Street Fighter is a game, but really it's a tool. It's like playing cards or chess or tennis: it's really about the people. Once you know the rules it's up to the players to put themselves in the game, to choose the nuance of how they play and express themselves. I think fighting games flourish because it was this social game. If it had been a purely single-player thing, it would never have grown so popular."
"At the moment, however, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that audiences have to be tricked into buying digital toys. Toys have to be disguised as something else. They don't yet have the framework of expectations around them that allows people to decide whether the proposition is worth it on its own or not, whatever that phrase really means. They're yet to feel entirely legitimate." Lots of lovely stuff in Christian's article here, but this stood out particularly: having to disguise toys to sell them to current expectations and the current marketplace.
"Over the past few months I have been collaborating with her to curate her first ever career-spanning exhibition. Retrospective Posy Simmonds: Essentially English opens on June 12th at the beautiful Art Nouveau, Victor Horta-designed Belgian Comic Strip Centre in Brussels and continues until November 25th 2012. I’ll be adding photos from the exhibition shortly, but below are the texts I have written for the explanatory graphic panels." Paul Gravett on Posy Simmonds – some great sketches in here and details of early work.
"[Bradbury] told them about a child he had watched, teased by his friends for wanting to enter a toy shop because they said it was too young for him, and how much Ray had wanted to persuade the child to ignore his friends and play with the toys." That, forever.
22 April 2012
I had the great pleasure to get to Galy Tots at Kemistry last week: a lovely, tiny retrospective of Ken Garland Associates’ work for Galt Toys. It was lovely: lots of nice examples of graphic design and photography, as well as lots of items on display, including a prototype of knock-down furniture for playgroups, that was just beautiful.
There were several particularly lovely touches: firstly, that all the toys and games on display were set up to be played with – indeed, that they were set up so that children as well as adults could play.
And secondly: all the exhibition copy was written by Garland himself, which gave it a tone that was both very honest but also charming and subtle.
There were two quotation I took down, because they made an impact, and I wanted to share them.
Garland wrote about Edward Newmark, who had been manager of Paul and Marjorie Abbatt’s toyshop before he went to Galt.
Edward brought with him the conviction that play is a serious business, and toys are the tools of the child.
Talking about their time working for Galt, Garland said:
Most especially, it is rare for designers to have the experience of their work being enjoyed before their very eyes. I have had the greatest delight in seeing children playing our most successful game, Connect, in many parts of the world.
Watching something being enjoyed before your eyes is one of the great pleasures of designing things to be played or interacted with.
(And, by corollary, nothing hurts more, or reminds you to up your game, than watching somebody not have fun with something assumed they would enjoy).
Eye blog » Playing with the logo. How Ken Garland + Associates had graphic fun with the Galt Toys identityGorgeous work from Ken Garland, and an exhibition of the Galt Toys work in Shoreditch. And, best of all, the exhibition lets you play with the toys. Will be going to this.
"So what happened when you removed collision detection?" "Players started looking for other ways to get more feedback. Helping each other yielded the most feedback so they began to do that instead. It was fascinating." A lovely interview – and great piece of writing fro Simon – with Jenova Chen. The parts on how players regress is particularly interesting, as is Chen's ambition to be _different_ rather than just 'artistic'. I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about collision detection, hence quoting it.
"I would call him the greatest puzzle designer of all time, but that implies that there are lots of people who do what he does and he’s better than them, and that’s not quite right. What I mean is to say is that Raymond Smullyan is the Marcel Duchamp of puzzles, he’s the Brian Eno of puzzles. His work is singular, transformative, genre-defining, in a class by itself."
"Kareem, after the game, remarked that he would pay to see Doctor J make that play against someone else. Kareem's remark clouds the issue, however, because the play was as much his as it was Erving's, since it was Kareem's perfect defense that made Erving's instantaneous, pluperfect response to it both necessary and possible—thus the joy, because everyone behaved perfectly, eloquently, with mutual respect, and something magic happened—thus the joy, at the triumph of civil society in an act that was clearly the product of talent and will accommodating itself to liberating rules." This is phenomenal writing.
"There’s no demonstration of life’s futility or language’s emptiness that is so profound, it can’t one day be turned into a reassuring fridge magnet, and that thankfully helps put pessimism back in its place."