This is one of the first times that a video game’s plot and characters were designed before the programming. [Miyamoto:] “Well, early on, the people who made video games, they were technologists, they were programmers, they were hardware designers. But I wasn’t. I was a designer, I studied industrial design, I was an artist, I drew pictures. And so I think that it was in my generation that people who made video games really became designers rather than technologists.”
Some recent studies suggest that video games, even violent ones, can increase a child’s learning, health, and social skills, and many educators are now looking for ways to integrate them into school curriculums.
With that in mind, we reached out to some game designers who are also educators, or who work in educational software, and asked them to name some of the most instructive examples of games that teach effectively–whether they’re intended to be educational or not.
City management has long been a core pillar of the Civilization franchise. As the building blocks of your empire, cities provide all the resources and tools required for it to flourish, from gold and science to the military and religious units that propagate your culture. Previous iterations have largely automated city management: players would pick a nice area, preferably near the coast or on a river and with a handful of natural resources nearby, and plop down their urban centers without further thought.
This pixel tutorial was created many years ago to teach people the basic concepts behind pixel art, but I’ve streamlined it a lot since its first incarnation. There are other pixel tutorials around, but I find them to be overly-complicated and too wordy. Pixel art is not a science. You should never have to calculate a vector when doing pixel art.
This is the fundamental thing most game designers get wrong. Between tabletop gaming’s celebritizing of designers and digital games’ ability to function as increasingly perfect score-keepers, we’re becoming obsessed with rules. Game designers have become pedant legislators, trying to make sure players are playing our games the right way. We’ve become obsessed with controlling play.
I can usually gauge whether I’ll like a game by how thick the rulebook is. It’s an indicator of whether I should expect to be playing with my friends or just playing out the rules. We’ve started thinking of players not as collaborators but as just a kind of lubrication for the systems we design—essentially passive, even though they may be hitting buttons and pushing joysticks.
It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question “What is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.
To give you an idea about how bad publisher influence can be, consider this: during production meetings, publishing execs often have someone—often the developer—“drive” a game so they can see how it is coming together. The publishing people all watch and then make passive, aesthetic appraisals of active, functional aspects of a game. This is because the bulk of execs can’t and don’t want to play or understand how games work. They don’t want to play. This would be akin to editors in literary publishing being unable to read or write.The relative ignorance of people in game publishing has been called out before. As Gabe Newell put it, gamers/consumers have a much better understanding of games than the management at publishers. It’s entirely and utterly true.
Artists of any era tend to create with the best, most current tools available to them. Technology’s primary function is to make human life as easy and efficient as possible. This is no different in the case of art production technology. Greater production technology means fewer limitations imposed by the medium.All mediums have their limitations, however. Just as the canvas has its edge, graphics processors have their thresholds. In the earliest days of game art, the extreme technological limitations created serious adversity.We all get how pixels basically work. A computer divides a display into squares, and each square can be assigned one RGB value at a time. The total squares supported by the hardware is the device’s “resolution.”
Cinema and literature have shown they can weather the storm of time: The African Queen can make contemporary audiences laugh, Nosferatu is still disturbing and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains a favourite. But videogames are cursed. The cutting edge corrodes with frightening speed and the once-pioneering designs of yesteryear give way to frustration when compared to leaner, smarter modern work.
But sometimes this zeal for the new bites off more than it chew. The text adventure reportedly died a long time ago – but there’s still a thriving interactive fiction community. The industry also tried calling time on the point-and-click adventure – but take one look at Wadjet Eye Games, for example, and we’ll see it’s still possible to build a viable business with the point-and-click. Just because a particular form has dropped out of the mainstream favour, it doesn’t mean it is dead, antiquated or has nothing more to offer.
In a way, what I’m doing is cleaning. It’s the same urge that makes one suddenly decide to organize, to vacuum, as if gaining control over the space around you will offer some psychic relief, or will constitute, to you, some sense of progress. The pleasure in many games comes from putting things in order; I’m hardly the first to say that Tetris, for example, is about “tidying up”, stacking things in an orderly way so that they go away, are cleared, leaving a neat space.