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Video: Loom creator Brian Moriarty seeks out the essence of good game design Exclusive
July 24, 2012 | By Staff

July 24, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Programming, Design, Exclusive, Video

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]

Brian Moriarty, the renowned Infocom and LucasArts veteran behind adventure games like Beyond Zork and Loom, believes that coding lies at the very core of good game design. Sure, understanding theory helps, but if you really want to make good games, he argues that you might want to learn a programming language or two.

At the GDC Education Summit during this year's Game Developers Conference, Moriarty -- now a professor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute -- outlined how his course teaches students about game design, and it all begins with understanding how games work.

Moriarty began his career in the industry as a programmer, and to him, that's what game design is. If you're going to design new gameplay mechanics, for example, you need to know how to put them together, and Moriarty decided that idea would become the basis for his own game design curriculum.

"I decided that the fundamental activity for my students ought to be, must be...expressing game ideas in code."

Next, Moriarty needed to find a game engine for his students, but unfortunately, the modern game engines on the market were too specialized or two complicated for a fresh-faced game design student, so Moriarty had to create something on his own.

In the end, he came up with "Perlenspiel," a simple engine that allows fledgling designers to manipulate squares on a 16x16 grid to make interactive toys, puzzles, and even games. It's a simple tool, but in the end, it helped the students -- and Moriarty -- boil game design down to its most basic principles.

To learn more about Moriarty's game design philosophy and his vision for the Perlenspiel engine, simply click the Play button on the above video, courtesy of the GDC Vault.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to all of this free content, the GDC Vault also offers more than 300 additional lecture videos and hundreds of slide collections from GDC 2012 for GDC Vault subscribers. GDC 2012 All Access pass holders already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more free content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from upcoming 2012 events like GDC Europe, GDC Online, and GDC China. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

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Paul Marzagalli
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Can I ask him about Loom?

Chris Melby
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When I read Brian's name and more importantly Loom, I had a big smile and looked up at the Loom box that sits on my shelf...

Then I saw a GDC video and thought back to the preso on Alone in the Dark..

Needless to say, I'm a bit depressed now.. I wanted to know about Loom, not JavaScript ( I already have over a decade of experience with this *... ). :\

Joe Wreschnig
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I would rather people with decades of experience in the industry put that experience into trying new things and talking about new things through the lens of that experience rather than keep revisiting old successes over and over.

The talk isn't about JavaScript, it's about Perlenspiel.

(I also think Paul's joke went over your head.)

Michael Pianta
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I was really impressed by some of those games. Very cool that these young designers were coming up with clever game concepts while working with such limited resources. It must tap into that part of the brain that can build whole worlds out of little square lego bricks, or tell epic stories with two nondescript action figures - I bet a lot of designers would benefit from reconnecting with that mindset.

Joe Wreschnig
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I've played with Perlenspiel a bit now, including one Ludum Dare entry, and it's really nice.

I've always been a little jealous when other developers do very short game jams because the programming side doesn't lend itself to that nearly as well. Things like Unity and Game Maker are geared at people who can't program, don't enjoy it, or want to wrangle lots of assets. That's fine, but my natural game development state is in front of an Emacs or Xcode buffer. If I choose something like GM I spend time fighting the tools because they don't work like my brain does, or I pick a "rapid" programming tool like Pyglet or Flixel, which really aren't that rapid at all. (I don't want this to be a slam against Unity, GM, or any particular tool - non-programming designers used to exist in a converse state of frustration all the time, and I'm very glad whenever I see a new tool for them.)

Perlenspiel is a great balance between "I'm a programmer, I want to spend most of my time programming" and "I've got two hours." Most of this speech is about education, but I think it's notable that professional programmers have very few polished tools akin to a piano or guitar to improvise with. Processing is the only other one that comes to mind, with Love2D and now Codea recently edging in as well. Perlenspiel has the potential to fill that professional role as well as a pedagogical one.

Colby Schneider
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Loom was and still is an excellent game. Just goes to show what can be made if you know what you're doing and can use the tech available to you to it's fullest.

Axel Cholewa
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There are a lot of excellent board games out there whose creators probably don't know anything about coding. The general statement "that coding lies at the very core of good game design" is simply wrong. Even for video game design I think it's possible to create great games without coding with the right tools.

But of course knowing how to programming helps to become a better video game designer, and Perlenspiel seems to be a great tool to learn coding and to learn about the interplay of game design and programming.

Joe Wreschnig
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I think it's somewhat a matter of perspective.

To a degree, making a board game is still coding, it's just coding in English (or another natural language) and executed on the human brain. This is a language people already know and a very forgiving and inferring execution environment, so it's "easier". But even so it's easy to point at direct analogues of computer bugs in board game rules - infinite loops, race conditions, unhandled exceptions, uninitialized variables, missing symbols - and the "natural" language of board game rules is rife with regularity like that of a programming language.

At the end of the day, even board game design usually involves expressing a consistent, total system of rules for managing a set of data in an unambiguous way for others to follow. That's coding, even if it's not on a computer.