Based on some comments I've heard recently, in particular from [Thatgamecompany's] Kellee Santiago, it seems like there's maybe an arising tension between goal and theme.
CH: I think that that's definitely true. I love the fact that Thatgamecompany explores some of those other areas. There are so many directions we need to explore, so more power to them. I love Flower; I want people to explore all of these things.
For me, personally, I'm interested in exploring what player skill about human behavior means, but that doesn't mean that having Journey not have a single goal, or no player skill component, whatsoever, -- whether it does or not, I haven't played it yet -- but I'm totally fine with games that don't.
There are so many things that we need to explore, because we don't have any idea how to make games yet, in my opinion, that are meaningful in a deep way. More power to them.
Frank Lantz talks about a thing often, where there's what the back of the box says the game's about, and then there's what the game's actually about. There's kind of those fictional layers that happen, and then you start playing the game game, and I think that the game part of the game can't hide for that long.
You can only have so many cutscenes and so many moments before the actual interactive mechanics reveal themselves to you if you're exploring the system.
And so the best games are the ones where those are consonant within the theme, right? So that you don't have this realization: "Oh right, I'm just playing Tetris, whereas I thought I was saving the world," or whatever. Games where you're playing Tetris and then you discover you're playing Tetris, awesome. Games where you're saving the world and then somehow you're saving the world in the game, that's great too.
But where you've got this -- and that's kind of what adventure games became in some sense -- we keep talking about The Witness. Adventure games at their high/low point were ostensibly about one thing, because that's what the fiction said, but were actually about trying to make the cat hair mustache, right? Like, "Guess what the designer thought!"
Is that actually an example from a real game?
CH: Old Man Murray -- may it rest in peace! God, I hope everyone reading this knows what Old Man Murray is. But if you didn't, Old Man Murray was the best game blog... What would you call it? Criticism site? I don't even know. It was humor/criticism, they did the "start to crate" rating. They did all of this stuff.
And anyway, they talked about adventure games. And Jon [Blow] uses this quote from them all the time, which is that people are like "Aw, adventure games died because companies were too greedy!" or "Aw, adventure games died because people got addicted to 3D graphics!" Blah blah blah.
And Old Man Murray talks about this one puzzle in Gabriel Knight where you had to use, I can't remember what it was, like honey plus some cat hair you found to make a mustache --something absurd like that that you would just never do.
Old Man Murray said "Who killed Adventure Games? I think it should be pretty clear at this point that Adventure Games committed suicide." Because they just curled in on themselves. And it's funny, because both Chet [Faliszek] and Erik [Wolpaw] -- who were the two guys behind Old Man Murray -- both work at Valve.
So I just think that having consonance between the theme and the gameplay is key, and then you don't have that moment where you realize that. So in that sense, I believe in a bottom-up approach to this stuff -- not top-down. I don't think you start with theme and then try and layer some gameplay into it; you don't start with a movie and then try and make it interactive, because you'll never get there. What you do is you start with an interaction that you want, and then layer consonant themes on top of it.
I want to talk about the experimental gameplay ethos. It seems that what's important is taking an idea and exploring it to its logical conclusion, as Braid did with rewinding.
CH: Yeah. There were plenty of time manipulation games before Braid, it's just Braid actually took it all the way, or at least all the way until it felt like a conclusion. There are probably other time manipulation games you could make.
So do you see that as the goal? And do you see that as happening? And now that it's been happening more, do you see that it's valuable?
CH: Yeah, I think more people are doing it now, and I think that's great, and I think that is the more valuable thing. It's kind of like that old aphorism -- ideas are a dime a dozen, it's execution that matters. And that's true and false. You need to have cool ideas, but then you need to actually do something with them.
And so nothing frustrates me more than when somebody has a cool idea, does it in a Game Jam or some kind of thing, then kind of pees on the territory, and then just throws it out there and does not explore it. Because there's a penalty for taking another idea, someone else's idea -- and a penalty meaning people are thinking, "Oh, you cloned that game!"
But Minecraft took it way farther than Infiniminer did, right? And so that's worth a ton. And I don't mean "worth it" meaning the 20 million dollars they've made, I just mean that's worth it to society and, the art form, right?