Ad Reinhardt was an abstract painter active in New York beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s. Most famous for his “black” or “ultimate” paintings, he claimed to be painting the “last paintings” that anyone can paint. [wikipaintings.org]
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.“)
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
I feel really weird writing this because I have so much respect for Frank Lantz and I get that his piece is almost more about describing a sense of something, it’s impressionistic, not laying out a literal argument. That said, here I’m going to treat it as a literal argument so I can unpick that, and so I can articulate some thoughts I have about the value of design.
I’m a game designer. And I teach game design. So I have a lot invested in the idea that game design is a discipline, maybe a young discipline, one that is still defining itself, but nonetheless a legitimate, professional design discipline with established principles and techniques and hard-won knowledge to be cherished and preserved. And I believe that idea. I do believe game design is something you can study and learn and work to master.
Cool. I come from the much older and more established design discipline of architecture, so maybe my perspective will make a good compare & contrast.
But lately I find myself questioning design as a way of understanding where games come from and what makes them work. There are so many great games in the world that don’t reflect good design principles, or that don’t seem designed at all.
Umm it’s weird to conflate the whole of “design” with your own specific design principles. If the game was designed, and turned out good, doesn’t that mean it had good design principles by definition? If you’re trying to teach design, shouldn’t you update your principles? If you wanna talk about the way very specific rules of thumb are cherished by the community by all means do that, but don’t conflate that with “design”. Also I dunno what games that don’t seem designed has to do with this – either the game was designed or wasn’t, whether it seems to be is irrelevant.
Look at Shadow of the Colossus for example. What do we, as game designers, know about videogames? Well, we know a few things, we know boss battles suck. We know jumping puzzles suck. We know you get great games by focusing on meaningful interaction and you don’t get great games from aping cinema and focusing on graphics.
So, how about a videogame that is nothing but boss battles, and each boss battle is a jumping puzzle, and the whole thing is set in a giant empty world with nothing to interact with, and a lot of the main motivation of the game was an attempt to achieve some film-inspired visual effects? Does that sound like a good recipe for creating one of the greatest videogames of all time?
Isn’t that what design is tho, unlocking those things and shaping them into the thing that you want? Shadow of the Colossus, to me, seems like an example of how elements that don’t work designed in one way work beautifully if designed a different way. It may not seem designed, but from what I understand, it was actually very carefully designed.
Is the fact some design principles are complex with a lot of caveats and exceptions really an argument against having design principles? Or does it just suggest that the task is very very complex and requires similarly complex understanding?
Or take League of Legends. This game breaks so many rules of “good design”. It is a clone. It is over-complicated to the point of utter indecipherability. It is fussy, baroque, full of arbitrary, non-intuitive details (Last hitting? Inhibitors??). It makes no attempt to teach the player or draw them into its labyrinthian systems. If you didn’t grow up playing it you might as well not bother trying to learn. And it’s the most popular videogame in the world, and maybe the most important and the most beautiful.
Look at the AWP, the signature 1-hit-kill weapon in Counter-Strike. It’s completely unbalanced. Any sensible game designer would have rejected it. Luckily for us, Counter-Strike wasn’t made by sensible designers, it was made by unreasonable people who kept this unbalanced ingredient and evolved the rest of the game around it.
Keeping an unbalanced ingredient and evolving the rest around it is design tho.
Lantz’ piece desperately frustrates me because, in my 10 years as a designer of art, graphic design and architecture (and a little bit of homebaked game design), I know that breaking well-established design rules of thumb often (but not always) requires more design, not less. It requires more experimentation, decision making, more intent, to move away from well-tested principles than it does to stay with them. It asks more of your design brain. I would almost say the thing Lantz is against here, let’s call it “blindly following received wisdom about good design principles”, is the opposite of design, not its embodiment. I would say Lantz’ piece is against having design principles, perhaps, but not against following design process.
Or look at Counter-Strike surfing, one of the weirdest, most beautiful and interesting game genres of the past 10 years, which was created by players and map-makers without the help of any official game designers at all, thank you very much.
In architecture, where legally registering as an architect is quite restrictive. But how do you become an official game designer? You design a game. There’s no difference between that and these players & map-makers. It’s weird to assume players & map-makers weren’t designing. Were they using the editor with their eyes closed?
I admire good design. I respect good design. But I have to admit that many of the games I have truly loved do not seem to be the result of good design, they seem like beautiful accidents, hot messes, mistakes that worked, acts of God, or lucky, miraculous mutations.
I dunno. Did you research whether they actually were hot messes tho? It takes an amazing designer to design something so well that it seems effortless.
But then, and I’m just gonna quote what I said on twitter, I do agree there’s a fallacy in assuming good games are just the product of intelligent design decisions rather than that & time, place, and all the decisions people make without realising. That said, I don’t like valourising intuition as an artistic virtue because if you don’t mediate what comes out of your brain, ie design it, often it’s the same old crap that went in. Tropes etc.
And there’s issues with the idea that artistic intuition is more authentic than conciously designing work, which leads to dumb ideas like the idea that if you change your mind due to outside input you’re “self censoring” your work.
I feel like you have a responsibility to at least try to design your work. At a minimum, you have to be careful that the thing you make doesn’t harm people. For me, that means fire exits, for you, probably carefully designing any kind of representation etc.
Design implies a kind of rationality, an ability to identify clearly-defined problems and apply known techniques to solve them. But I think we overestimate the utility of our definitions and the power of our techniques. Like economists who overestimate the predictive power of their mathematical models we are overconfident about our ability to predict and explain the qualities that make great games.
I don’t think you have to be able to articulate your choices when you make a design choice. Maybe I draw a much less strong line between concious design deciscion and intuitive design one. I’ve run into this same attitude in architecture – that just because we can’t fully capture the nuance of say, 50 years experience in the discipline and the way that informs someone’s intuition and condense that into easily explicable princples that it means principles are pointless. But I just don’t see the difference. Make a choice because you run it through your spread sheet or your flow chart or your if clauses or, in architecture’s case, your procedural design algorithms.
Oh, I just realised. Game designers do this thing Lantz is against all the time. We call it procedural design. It’s the process of quantifying our design decisions to allow them to be replicated and produce new games. The utility of our definitions and the power of our techniques and our mathematical models and algorithms really are able to say something about what makes a good game.
Take, for instance, Spelunky. Spelunky codifies the idea that certain patterns and mechanics and density of enemies and many many other design principles are capable of producing a good game. It then allows the algorithm to produce a new game each run. True, it’s quite strictly limited in the games it produces. But in theory, you could keep complexifying the rules that govern Spelunky indefinitely, creating an algorithm that could produce a wide variety of moods and game types etc. Maybe it would only combine certain elements together, and you’d never get certain combos. Okay. It probably wouldn’t describe all the possible “good” games out there. but it’s still, y’know, possible. It’s possible to articulate enough good design principles in code that they can consistently produce a new fun game. Having design principles you use to produce individual games is just going through this process manually.
You could argue that often the variables we pick and balancing them well is a happy accident, and that’s true in some cases. We might not have been able to predict the qualities that made a good game, but here, in the algorithm, they are enumerated.
Even if we can’t describe and encode the nuances of game design to the point of building a totalising procedural game design machine,
I have even grown skeptical of the iconic image of the designer – smart, confident, sophisticated, stylish, informed. This image has come to represent a romantic illusion about the scope of our ability to define and solve problems.
I dunno. There are good designers who produce consistently good games. They just tend to be the designers who produce many little games, constantly building on their principles, rather than few huge ones. Unfortunately this is very different from producing financially successful games.
But songs are not designed, paintings are not designed, poems are not designed.
um, This is just wrong. If songs weren’t designed Max Martin would be out of a job. Tin pan alley? Hans Zimmer? I’m not a fan of U2 but I have respect for The Edge’s design process as documented in It Might Get Loud. There’s a long history of design in paintings, even if you just look at the golden mean and principles of composition and the development of perspective. I’ve studied poetic composition in two languages, and yeah whoa the idea poems aren’t designed is really weird. I’ve written about why code can be poetry before, and it pretty much boils down to making decisions with a particular design intent within a established syntax (even if that’s established by you).
The alternative is terrifying. That we don’t know, that we will never know, that the problems we are trying to solve are not only unsolvable but undefinable, inexpressible, beyond comprehension. That we are negotiating with trees and shouting at volcanoes. But I have come to believe that this alternative is the truth. Or, more precisely, that the truth resides somewhere in between – close enough to seduce us with faint glimpses of its profile, far enough to forever elude the grasp of our design patterns, our textbooks, our lesson plans and our clever blog posts.
I guess I agree with this? That design plays a role but isn’t the whole explanation for how games turn out seems true. Publishers, fans, studio culture, timing, the limitations and abilities of engines, the list goes on.
I recognize the value of building an established discipline, and of crafting a shared set of principles that define game design as a profession. But, I also think that in our efforts to define and legitimize our practice as a professional discipline we sometimes forget the history we inherit, the legacy of games made by communities of players, games made by amateurs, by dilettantes, by mathematicians, mothers, scientists, gym teachers, shepherds, inventors, philosophers, eccentrics and cranks.
Architecture doesn’t really have any principles that are widely accepted except the “Design according to the particular problem, don’t blindly ape old or fashionable styles” that constitutes “modernism”. Doesn’t really stop us defining the profession. Also, a lack of codified design principles hasn’t ever really stopped us being gatekeepers, for better or worse.
I see your point tho – the rarification/valourisation/worship of high design, especially in tech communities, undervalues so many other design practices, especially in low arts & crafts (ie feminine or blue collar practices).
I don’t really draw much of a line between art and design, btw. They’re the same process for me. Roughly, Art is about expressing myself to other people and design is when I am trying to serve others’ needs or some external condition but there’s so so so much overlap.
And in honor of this tradition I would like to suggest other verbs for us to describe where games come from, alternatives to the overconfident precision of the word “design”. Words like invent, discover, compose, write, find, grow, perform, build, support, identify, copy, re-assemble, excavate and preserve.
I’m very down with this – being really specific and articulate about your process rather than generalist is good.
At the NYU Game Center we struggle with this issue daily. Our approach is to define game design broadly, as the act of making games in a way that is driven by vision, in pursuit of a creative goal, mindful of how what you make will intersect with the people who play it, of how it will intersect with the world. We teach critical literacy and the fundamental principles of solid design, but within a context that leaves space for the unknown. Game design, from this perspective, is not so much the application of rules and guidelines as it is an unruly collision of divine inspiration, hard work, and good taste.
I dunno where you got this idea that “design” is the application of received wisdom. It’s certainly not the definition I’ve encountered in any other discipline I’ve worked in.
One of the things that really, really annoyed me about architecture school was everyone was so afraid of the idea “there is no one true good design” that they never taught us anything. Lecturers shyed away from articulating design principles, even the ones they themselves worked by, for fear of cramping students’ style and their own discovery. I think though, it left us with no starting point to build on or rebel against. It also makes for a very boring architecture criticism scene, presently. Believe me, games have much more interesting conversations, part of that is a fearlessness from people articulating what they think makes a good game good.
Am I disillusioned with the way received wisdom seems to influence development and publisher decisions? Sure. Do I think we put far too much faith in individual people’s abilities to control the outcomes of their games (and lives), and fail to account for unintentional or external factors or limits beyond their control? Definitely. But not to the point where I write off the importance of trying, as a designer, to understand and address the problem I’m trying to solve. I was talking about this with Alexander Bruce recently, who very much believes in the power of thorough consideration and thorough design to increase your chances of achieving what it is you set out to do. I would agree, though we probably disagree about the amount it changes your chances.
And for my part I will continue to design games, because that’s all I know how to do. But I will attempt to do so with a renewed sense of humility before the inexplicable greatness of games that have managed to spin the silver thread of love from the wool of the world in ways that I cannot hope to understand. Clutching my rulers and my pencils to my chest, in the night, in the middle of the storm, begging for lightning.
That sounds nice. I certainly don’t wanna tell you how to make your games. And yeah, I don’t think it’s easy to abstract the complexities of design process and intuition and heuristics into easily articulated design principles. That doesn’t mean I think the latter isn’t valuable.
I think the main flaw of this piece is it doesn’t really differentiate between what Lantz is actually objecting to – overly simplfied design-by-numbers/inherited wisdom/design grammers/pattern languages/procedural design – from what “design” usually refers to: the design process, or, as JP (@vectorpoem) pointed out “If there’s a def of good design I can get behind, it’s the ability to reconfigure assumptions to meet subjective goals.”
Omitting people from color from these colossal superhero movies where only white people can save the world suggests that they have little value in the world. To deny that agency and to privilege whiteness in film is the very essence of white supremacy.
Wherein folks recognize that the last hundred years of superheroes have (mostly) been about getting us to justify imperialism.
Business schools are supposed to produce graduates who have the abilities companies need most. But corporate recruiters say some highly sought-after skills are in short supply among newly minted MBAs. As part of our ranking of 122 top business programs, Bloomberg surveyed 1,320 job recruiters at more than 600 companies to find out which skills employers want but can’t find—and which B-schools are best at meeting the needs of the market.
Today at UC Berkeley there will a call for accountability.
Recently the Astronomy department at UC Berkeley had an email circulate on its listserv encouraging students to sign a petition supporting the Thirty Meter Telescope that is being built on the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, which is being protested by Native Hawaiians. In the email, protesters were described as “a horde of native Hawaiians lying about the impacts of the project on the mountain.”
To support the struggle for MAUNA KEA, attend this MTG at UC Berkeley
Date/ Time: MONDAY APRIL 27 4:00-6:00PM.
Location: UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Community Center (Hearst Annex D-37 located just off Bancroft Way and Bowditch Street, around the corner from the PFA Theater) #protectmaunakea #TMTshutdown #solidarity #xicanxsformaunakea
Women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good. Curious to learn whether that was true at other universities, my colleagues and I contacted the dozens of universities that have programs aimed at reducing global poverty and inequality. What we found was consistent and remarkable.
The undergraduate-level international minor for engineers at the University of Michigan reports that 51 percent of its students are women. Those women are predominantly majoring in some of the oldest and most traditional engineering fields — industrial operations and mechanical and chemical engineering — where, arguably, gender stereotypes are most entrenched.
At the interdisciplinary D-Lab at M.I.T., which focuses on developing “technologies that improve the lives of people living in poverty,” 74 percent of over 230 enrolled students this past year were women. This makes the D-Lab one of the few engineering initiatives in the country that has a severalfold higher enrollment of women than men.
Cleber Rafael de Campos
iCEO illustrates another fact we need to face now: Corporate organizations are themselves a technology, one that has only existed in its current form for around 200 years, a fragment of human history. The corporate structure was created around the tools we had back in the 18th century to maximize scale while minimizing transaction costs. Now that structure is being disrupted by the advent of technologies which can accomplish many (if not most) of the projects we associate with corporations. With traditional organizations no longer necessary to create many things at scale, they are likely to be challenged by a new generation of alternative technologies for getting things done.
This is an crucial insight which few people seem to get. At least not yet, but they will be aware!