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Video: Stop sweating the details and let game design 'happen' Exclusive

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]
June 28, 2013 | By Staff

June 28, 2013 | By Staff
More: Indie, Design, Exclusive, Video

For most people, the distinction between a game and a toy is that games rely on a defined set of rules. They dictate how players should experience a game and give structure to a designer's creation.

But for indie developer and Santa Ragione co-founder Pietro Righi Riva (Fotonica), rules aren't everything. At this year's GDC Europe, he argued that truly great games aren't defined by their rules, but emerge naturally if designers give players the freedom to experiment on their own.

"Games happen," Riva said. "They happen largely in the minds of players and not in the things we give them, so you kind of have to let go and stop worrying… We don't really design the games, we design these things, and we hope games will take place in the way we expect them to."

Riva pointed to popular titles like Dear Esther, Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and LittleBigPlanet, noting that they all allow players to piece things together on their own, explore new ideas, and find their own meaning among the tools at their disposal.

"The people who designed these games felt like they could inspire players to make something out of what they are giving them," Riva said.

He even pointed to a quote from world-renowned street artist Banksy, saying that his philosophy for painting very much applies to games. As Banksy says, "The Holy Grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes for people to took at it."

If game developers can manage that with their own creations, then Riva says they must be doing something right.

In Riva's full presentation, he explains how he applied some of these design philosophies to his games like Fotonica and MirrorMoon, and you can see the entire talk for yourself in the above GDC Vault video.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC and GDC Europe 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 new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events like GDC Online, GDC China, and GDC 2013. 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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Enrique Dryere
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While I agree with the sentiment of the presentation, I think you do have to worry about how you're going to usher the player into that experience. Even if you go for the most hands-off approach, like Minecraft, you become a sort of optimizer, looking for ways to successfully engage the biggest portion of your audience.

I remember when I first heard of Minecraft, it seemed like a mysterious survival adventure on a deserted island -- an engaging concept and style. Then there's a game like Candy Box, that does very little to engage the player at first, but gently coaxes you into further exploration. With Dear Esther, the hook might be atmosphere or the fragmented storyline.

If you don't concern yourself with how you will hook the player, and of course, what potential experiences they might explore, you may as well buy a lotto ticket. I feel there are games that strike a vein of serendipity, but those are outliers, not the norm.

Anton Temba
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The first half of the presentation has very good advice on game design philosophy, especially the affordance part, I've been looking for a way to explain that myself and he did a great job at putting it simply and concisely.

However, while his project are fun experiments, they don't offer much in terms of longevity or replayability beyond few minutes of play. To have that, you do need a clear goal to feel a purpose for playing the game. The goal doesn't have to be a finite or a scripted one, but something that gives you context in giving a damn why you're playing to begin with. A purpose is the key when it comes to staying interested in playing a game for longer than a quick testrun.