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Blogged Out: 'Playful Terrain'

Blogged Out: 'Playful Terrain'

September 4, 2006 | By Jim Rossignol

September 4, 2006 | By Jim Rossignol
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More: Console/PC

Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the regular news column that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we turn the unblinking ever-judging eye of the Internet towards Will Wright, Raph Koster, Aaron Ruby, and Tom Betts.

Wright Thing

Gamasutra contributor David Hayward was lucky enough to attend Will Wright's 'Future Of Games' speech at the BAFTA awards in London this week, and he has posted comprehensive notes that he took during the speech.

There are numerous superb observations made by Wright during the speech, of which this is one:

"Games have a large heritage in linear media, but they're fundamentally more like architecture, toy design, product design, art, math and even psychology.

"Games involve story, hobby and sports. In other art forms, we find deep expression (Illustrative slides of important works in other media), but games are kind of like this (Slide of big Conan style dude with giant blade, luridly titled DEATH SWORD) (Laughter). They're kind of a popcorn experience, disposable entertainment. I'm not saying that's wrong, I watch action films sometimes, but games could do more.

"Meaningful messages given through games could have the power to create change."

Play Theory

As usual there's some interesting stuff going on over at Raph Koster's blog. He's taken some time to discuss author Aaron Ruby's piece over at Next Generation, in which Ruby discusses elements of a new theory of games, including the psychology of gameplay. This, of course, invites the theoretician of fun to analyse Ruby's offerings and come up with some responses. Ruby, in turn, takes some time to respond in the comments section, offering an interesting insight into how easily two theoreticians of gaming are able to misunderstand each other's careful categorising.

Meanwhile I remain a bit sceptical about the projects of defining, theorising and systematising concepts of gaming at all. Maybe I just read too much Action Wittgenstein.

All About Terrain

Tom Betts continues his thoughtful blogging over on, where he has posted an extended thought piece on the use of terrain within games, based partly on anecdotes from gaming, and partly on Betts' own experiments with terrain generating technologies.

"Natural landscapes do not make good playspaces for games. The walkable percentage of a realistic mountain is usually very low and often terrain is totally inaccessible on foot. This means that much of the landscape becomes irrelevent to the game, serving only as distant scenery. Game design is usually about cramming accessible entertainment into a virtual world, not building extraneous unvisitable spaces. Impossible to reach terrain becomes a frustration and a waste of resources. In addition the composition of a realistic terrain is extremely varied, with no easy division between walkable' and wall'. There are often no consistent paths or linked walkable zones, isolated plateaus are common and large sloped areas can easily occur. So when the camera shifts to a player perspective, the user if quickly trapped, confused or frustrated."

The best landscapes, of course, are the ones that provide the most use for the player that inhabits them. Game worlds are even more functional than the real world, but that function needs to be made obvious not an easy task for any designer.

It's one of the great achievements of games like World Of Warcraft that the landscape manages to be visually interesting and functional at the same time. They need to make sense to the player one of my biggest gripes with Guild Wars was the sheer amount of visible but non-traversable terrain. I can climb a small rock, so why can't my elementalist girl do the same?

[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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