Thoughts

Games behind the scenes, and the art of being a game maker

Here’s my dilemma: I want to talk about the game that we worked on last summer, and tell all about the thinking that went on it. On the other hand, I’m also reluctant to explain what the game is about, since I consider making games an art, and I do not feel like imposing my own reading to the audience. It’s an old problem, which I’ve already talked about in public several times. An additional factor is that there have already been quite a few run-of-the-mill games, which shall go unnamed, getting attention and shining because of the way they have been presented, based on their topic, their supposed results, or the people involved. This annoys me because my games also deal with some of those topics and are based on sophisticated design concepts, but I don’t want to beat people over the head with it. My problem partly has to do with me being the kind of subversive person who likes to drop messages between the lines, and always keep an ace up my sleeve. Plus I don’t feel comfortable peddling myself and my work.

My favourite part of my job is seeing how people make sense of my games and enjoy them, and I don’t want to spoil the fun either for my players or myself. Some takes understand the specific thinking that went in the game; if I’m lucky, others will provide insight on the game that I had not even thought about. Other times, people can’t make heads or tails of it, but that’s also fun.

The predicament also results from being a theorist-practitioner. As a theorist, my job is to help make sense of my field of study (digital media), and generate new insights through my work. In the same way that I learn a lot from analyzing other people’s games, talking about my process should be a way of disseminating what I have learned through making games. As a practitioner, I still feel a bit uncomfortable privileging my take on the work; plus most of the games are really the result of team work, and I would become the spokesperson of what the games are about. Additionally, I need to hear what players think of the game without me explaining anything, because learning how people play and interpret it is also part of my research.

This quandary has got in the way of me writing about The Last Symphony, a hidden object game where there’s much more than meets the eye (and the ear!). Since I’ve found myself in a Hamletian trap of inaction, I’ve decided to break this vicious circle and talk a bit about the game. After all, I’ve already been talking about it in various venues, although not in much extent. It also helps that one of the team members, sound designer and music composer Richard Gould, has also started writing about the process of making the game too. So it’t not only me; I hope the rest of the wonderful development team also chimes in.There are different ways in which I can talk about the process: as a cinephile, I love reading about the process of making film, watching “making of” documentaries, and listening to film commentaries, because it provides context on the work itself. One can also talk about the craft itself, without going into an exegesis of one’s own work. So perhaps the key is providing that kind of insight on the process, without spoiling the fun (and always read my explanations after playing the game).

Revisiting this interview with John Ford, I realized I couldn’t really shut up or be flippant about my work. It also takes someone as grumpy as John Ford to implicitly telling know-it-all Peter Bodganovich to sod off. I’m no good at facetiousness either. The scholar in me loves talking about the thinking that goes into making a game, and the maker in me also enjoys talking about the process of creating a game.

So here’s the deal: I’ll talk about The Last Symphony, the basis of the research, the general concept, and some of the things we learned from making it in my next blog post. But first you have to go and play the game, and tell me what you think (I actually need that for my research). And then, one day, I’ll explain what the concept of the game is about, just like other people who care more about their image than their players or being an actual artist.

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