Waxing Philosophical About Games

From: mvale…@draco.lnec.pt ()
Subject: WHAT is a *game* ? ( was: What do game programmers want? )
Date: 1995/08/07
Message-ID: #1/1
X-Deja-AN: 107645175
distribution: world
references:
organization: Laboratorio Nacional de Engenharia Civil
newsgroups: rec.games.programmer

: >> Now, the question is, what’s the next
: >> big thing in games (mainly in graphics) — more colors, higher
: >> resolution, or just more realistic engines with the current setups?
: >> Does everybody want to move to 640×480? 24-bit color? With Win 95
: >> giving easy access to SVGA, who will use it, and for what? How soon do
: >> you think this will realistically happen?
: >We can do a more realistic engine, with different effects (such as
: >reflections, semi-transparent objects, or shadows).
: >We can support more colors (16-bit color or 24-bit color).
: >We can support larger screen sizes (640×480 takes 4 times longer to
: >render than 320×240).

Allow me to put my 2 cents ( “centavos” here in Portugal ) and to
go into philosophical mode.

The quote above says “whats the next big thing in games” and goes
on to ask if its going to be “colors, resolution”. All hardware
stuff. The rest of the discussion, to sumarize, has been centred
around how much CPU power would be needed to get to higher resolutions
or better AI engines, how much time we have to wait for better graphic
cards, etc. All hardware stuff.

Now my question is: is all this that matters to make a good game ?
Faster CPUs, better resolution, 3D glasses, 3D sound ? All hardware
stuff ? Or is there something else that makes a game ?

IMHO ( going into philosophy mode ) games can be perceived in two
different ways:

– an approximation of reality

or

– a getaway from reality

The first means that the fun of the game is living/playing/using
some alternate reality, possibly different and possibly similar
to our “real” reality, without the benefits/disadvantages of our
“real” reality. This is the fun in RPGs: you can enter a fight with
a dragon ( or other mystical creature ) knowing that you wont be
killed in real life; you can kick the crap out of an enemy in
Virtua Fighter 2 without getting any “real” bruises yourself.

The disadvantage of this is that you need to reflect ( or
distort ) reality. And for that you need faster CPUs, better
graphics cards, better algorithms, more money, more time, more
people…

The second way allows the game to depart from reality and counts
on the user’s mind to go into what psychiatrists call “suspension”
mode, a mental mode where you’re led to believe a storyline and
fill in the voids.

The advantage of this is that you dont need 3D, faster graphics,
better colors, faster CPUs to get the player into the game. You
only need BETTER games.

Proof of concept: is Pacman a computer game ? Yes. Successful ?
You bet. Is it of the first kind or the second ( as described
above ) ? The second. You sure dont get around in real life in
a labyrinth eating dots and being persecuted by colored monsters.

The fun in games like Pacman, Rally X, Manic Miner, Space Invaders,
Galaga, Mr Do, Tetris, etc is that they have that magical, difficult
to obtain PLAYABILITY. They dont rely on “real” sounds, or “real”
graphics or “real” enemies. They just entertain you for a while and
serve their purpose as a way to escape reality. They dont need more
CPU, colors or algorithms to represent reality. They count on a better
computer ( the brain of the user ) to fill in the voids of a “sketch”
of reality they present.

In answer to the question “what do game programmers want” I would
answer this: first the question shouldnt be that; it should be
“what do game players want”; second, and IMHO, they shouldnt want
more CPU power, better cards, whatever ( of course thats also
important and I’m the worlds greatest sucker for new toys ); what
they should strive for and want is to discover/learn how to make
better, more playable and entertaining games.

Hints on how to achieve that magic Pacman *playability* on a game
are welcome ;-)

C U!

Mario Valente


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
Et in Arcadia Ego