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Defining Games: Raph Koster's Game Grammar
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Defining Games: Raph Koster's Game Grammar

October 19, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next

With what you're doing now, are you attempting to divine and create fun? I don't even know if what you're going for is that direction.

RK: I think there are elements... it's not like this stuff happens sequentially. It's not like you say, "Oh, I'm working on game grammar, and therefore that will determine our game design methodology, and therefore..." It just doesn't work that way, at least not for me. It's more like, "Oh, I've got this going on in my head, and I'm also playing these games and reading these books and I'm also designing this other thing..." It's only afterwards that I can say, "Look at that! The design was influenced by game grammar!"

So that's how it came about. You mentioned that this thought process was influencing what you were doing and how you were thinking about what you were doing, but I guess it wasn't intentional. You didn't sit down and go like, "All right. I'm going to figure this out."

RK: It's not prescriptive, is the way to put it. It's not like we sit down... game grammar doesn't come out of your ass! On the other hand, our technical architecture is heavily driven by exactly those game grammar slides. In the end, you look at it, and you go, "Oh. Yeah. Look at that." So yes, there's inspiration, and yes, stuff crosses each way.

Often, most people write their music at a piano or at a guitar, and they use the notation afterwards to capture it, look at it, and see if they can tweak it. I think it's similar there, where you go through the design process and you can be thinking about notation, and at the end you can go back and go through the kinds of exercises I did. In this case, those nine or ten other "Hot or Nots" and "Line Riders" or whatever... all that was, "Okay, I'm consciously going to take game grammar, analyze that stuff, and use it as an analysis tool." I see that as similar to using Nicole Lazzaro's stuff as an analysis tool, or Harvey Smith's stuff.

One thing that was interesting to me during your AGDC lecture was that I got this feeling -- and this is probably wrong -- that some of the subtext was, "You guys are doing this stuff wrong. You're not thinking about it right, and you're kind of wasting your time." I just got that vibe.

RK: Vibe? I actually used the line, "I think we've been thinking about games wrong!"

It sounded more like a "you." Like, "And I'm going to do the awesome thing now!"

RK: That wasn't really the intent. Part of it was that you try to be provocative in the lectures and whatnot, so that's part of it. I'm certainly not going to claim to have all the answers to anything, and I don't think anybody can.

As I commented in the [later] panel, I do think there's two conferences going on. After the lecture, I had a couple of people come up to me and say, "Man, you're always saying wack shit. What the hell. That was totally crazy. I love that you're saying it, and somebody's got to, but that was nuts." And then I had a couple guys come up to me from the web industry and say, "This is obvious stuff. Did they really not know this? This is just boring as hell." I was like, "Okay! I guess we have a divide here!" To some degree, I think there is a need for preconceptions to be challenged, let's put it that way. That's why I come out and make bold statements. "Single-player is doomed!" or like...

Christian Nutt: "Consoles are a niche market!"

RK: "Consoles are a niche market."

Which is true.

CN: I came to agree with what you were saying at that point, or I understood the perspective and it does have merit and weight to it. But when you say it like that, everyone's like... (gasp!)

RK: That's the point! That is the point! If they're going to argue against it, then they start having to marshal facts. Then once they have some facts, they can make an informed decision. But otherwise, you don't tend to marshal the facts. You just go along in your current mode of thinking. So it is to be provocative, and try to upset the apple cart and make people think about it.

With the talk you gave, it made me wonder, "Does stuff even need to be a traditional game to be a game and for us to be whatever?" and like Habbo Hotel... Haro called it "a gameless game" yesterday. On the other hand, I also saw Nexon's Maple Story talk, which is very much a game, but is doing a lot of the same things as well, but within a structure where there's no way of saying that it's anything else but a game. You could say it's "stuff and a game" but you can't say "it's not a game."

RK: The way I would respond to that one is to say yeah, and all the triple-A MMO developers didn't go to either one of those two talks!

CN: I love when you chided everyone. I watched Sulka Haro talk, and I wrote about it, and I could feel this slightly electric vibe of tension between the MMO guys in the audience and Haro. I don't want to overgeneralize, but... I got this "We don't like you, and you don't like us," kind of feeling, because they feel like he's doing something different.

RK: Sulka has been coming to GDCs for years! He's a guy who has been bridging the gap all along. Honestly, it's more cases like... Nexon never comes out and talks, because they really do think that they're just a different industry, as far as they're concerned. I don't want to ascribe motives -- I don't really know -- but they just don't do the talks! Because honestly, how relevant would many of the talks here this year be to them? Not very! I think it's really, really, really important that people in any industry get out of their village and go anywhere else and check out what's going on. Travel is broadening.


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