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The Thatgamecompany Way

September 26, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

I was really struck by some of the stuff you said on the panel last night about the route to go, rather than going towards Hollywood realism like Uncharted 3, would be to actually evoke emotions through gameplay. And that’s where there’s room to really do a lot of work, and without spending the expense as well. It sounds like that’s your philosophy.

KS: Yeah. I would say yeah. That’s kind of what I was saying.

Right now it sounds like it’s about just trying different things and seeing where you can go. It seems like it's wide open, from your perspective.

KS: Yeah, I think there is so much room for growth and discovery in designing interactive experiences, and video games being a very important subset of interactive experiences.

I think we’re drawn towards those crafts that we know, like acting, like cinematography. But yeah, from my perspective those are crafts that are still rooted in passive media. I don’t know that that’s where we’ll really get as much bang for our buck.

Evoking emotion through music, or through art, is established. The aesthetics of those media are established. Whereas maybe there isn’t an aesthetic of play.

KS: Yeah. I think that’s a great way to put it. I think there isn’t an established methodology for aesthetics of play.

By the same token, is there an established way to appreciate aesthetics of play, or identify aesthetics of play?

KS: No. I think we’re getting there, with works like Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, and Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen’s book, Rules of Play. Yeah, I think we are. There is starting to be some vocabulary around game design, but also in how we talk about how we play.

I think there was a great microtalk at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which was on how we talk about playing, and I think that is an important component of the evolution of the medium -- if we can get beyond just using words like "cool" and "fun" to describe the experiences.

It’s clearly connecting with people, right? Like you said, players' reaction to Flower was, "now we’re going to buy whatever you make next." Clearly, you reached people.

KS: Yeah.

And thus that seems to me to suggest there is a hunger that’s not being served.

KS: Yeah. It’s interesting when people think that our games are for some weird subset of, I don’t know, experimental gamers. You know, we’ve been very successful on the PlayStation Network, and we’re talking about the PlayStation 3 audience. That’s like as pretty hardcore a gaming audience as you can get. And there is, I think, just an interest in content that’s different.

And then also what we see a lot, in the response we get from our players, is game content that you can share. Having something where you can have a friend over, who maybe doesn’t play games. You can show it to your wife or your child. We get emails like, "I’m so glad I can play Flower, because now I don’t have to wait until everyone goes to bed before I can have my gaming habit." So yeah, sharing games with other people seems to be a very important thing for players today.

That seemed to be a big part of the success of the Katamari series, too. I thought when that happened, that we’d see more games with people thinking that way.

KS: Yeah.

But we didn’t, that much.

KS: For me, I think it comes back down to that process, and not having a really established process for going about making games in general. Like, we know how to make the games that have been made so far, but expanding beyond those genres or those styles of play, because there’s not an established process, there’s perceived greater risk in financing those titles, publishing those titles, marketing those titles.

I think there are plenty of publishers who would say, "Yeah, we’d love to do a Katamari Damacy," but they actually really do mean, "We just want to do another Katamari Damacy." When it comes to selling them on the process that Keita [Takahashi] has in developing games, then people start backing out.

Well our industry, particularly the console industry is, founded on this idea that we give you X amount of money for 18 months, and you hit milestones that have a certain percentage of things that are complete. And if you’re trying to be experimental that doesn’t really seem congruent, right?

KS: Yeah.

What about with you guys? Do you have to hit milestones? Do you have to prove to Sony that you're completing that kind of stuff?

KS: We do. We’ve been working with them in trying to develop a better way to go about making the kind of games that we make, because we’re actually not the only Sony developer that does make experimental content. So I think they, as a publisher, are more open to that.

But certainly we have deliverables and milestones. We would have them anyway, because you still want to track your progress on your project. It’s just that maybe some of the vocabulary, the terminology we use around it, is different than what they may use on other projects.

But it’s been sort of one of the advantages in doing these first three games as a studio with a company like Sony Computer Entertainment, as we had the ability to experiment, and develop our own vocabulary, and yet understand the legacy and the traditions that are set in the industry today as well. So hopefully by doing that, we understand how to better navigate and influence the industry today.

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