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Taking advantage of a player's animal instincts with  Portal 's Kim Swift
Taking advantage of a player's animal instincts with Portal's Kim Swift Exclusive
May 4, 2012 | By Staff

May 4, 2012 | By Staff
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More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive



In a new interview, the Portal designer and Quantum Conundrum creative director explains that "taking advantage of the fact that we're animals, basically" is the right way to lead players into your design.

How do you learn to design a game like Portal? Says Kim Swift, "watching an obscene amount of nature programs as a kid... actually helped a lot."

Swift says that appealing to the base animal instincts in players is a great way to lead their attention with game design.

"Players are going to want to go towards the light, as opposed to the dark. That's hardwired into us as human beings, because we don't want to get eaten by the bad thing in the dark, and so we're going to go where it's light out and we can see," she says.

"And so just taking advantage of the fact that we're animals, basically (laughs) and manipulating that, kind of behind the scenes, to get players to go where you want them to. It's actually kind of a fun game to play."

Swift says she had this realization growing up, "really observing people, and watching how they interact, and how they react to things."

However, she says, her former employer Valve took it one step further:

"So at Valve -- I think this was for Half-Life 2, and I could be totally wrong -- they actually brought in an animal psychologist in to have her take a look at the game, and figure out if there was anything that they were missing in terms of cueing the player into doing something. So it's like yeah, we're smart monkeys, but base core, we're animals. And so we're having particular reactions to a stimulus that an animal might."

The full interview, in which Swift discusses how she uses techniques from traditional media and stresses the importance of playtesting in the development of her new game, Quantum Conundrum, is live now on Gamasutra.


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JB Vorderkunz
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Sounds interesting, but a counter-point to make about this behaviorist sort of design philosophy, to paraphrase Kenneth Burke: There is a limit to what non-language-using creatures can tell us about the essential nature of language-using creatures. In other words, sure men and women give a quick glance at each other's crotch and chest when meeting for the first time, but we hardly make choices about who to have sexual intercourse with based on the pungency of groin stank. =P


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