Art History of Games – Day 1

4 February, 2010 (21:06) | Games, Life | By: Olivier

I am at the Art History of Games (#AHoG on Twitter) symposium in Atlanta.

It all starts with Jason Rohrer handing me his “New Gamist Manifesto” February 3, 2010. It goes like this:

1- Games do not have spoilers.
2- Games cannot be finished.
3- Games do not have characters, except for the characters who play them.
4- Games do not have stories, except for the stories that players tell through them.
5-Playing a new game is less like reading a new story, hearing a new song, or seeing a new film.
6- Playing a new game is more like learning a new language.
7- Games are interfaces, not between minds and content, but between minds.

John Sharp, Ian Bogost, and Michael Nitsche then open the conference by asking a number of questions:

- Is the art of games found in the visual elements?
Colecovision, Boxing ; 2K Boston Bioshock ; Tale of Tales, The Path ; That Game Company, Flower

- Is the art of games in their worlds?
Otto Brückwald, Bayreuth Theater ; Square Enix, Final Fantasy IX ; Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto IV ; Valve, Counter Strike

- Is the art of games found in the creative exploitation of technology?
Id, Doom ; Julian Olivier ioq3apaint ; Natal ; David Crane, Grand Prix

- Is the art of games found in the game design?
Nintendo, Wii Sports Tennis ; NCAA basketball court specifications ; Jason Rohrer Gravitation ; Rod Humble, The Marriage

- Is the art of games found in player activity?
Namco, Pac-Man ; Ali-Frazier ; Robbie Cooper, “Gamer Faces” ; Ubisoft Montreal, Far Cry 2

Then they looked at the issues related to the historical response to games:

- How are games treated as historical artifacts?
Lewis Chess set ; Senet (the ancient egyptian game which no ones know how to play anymore) ; Katsushika Oi, Operating on Guanyu’s Arm

- How do Games as digital Artifacts fit into the traditional art world? (hint bad)
Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds ; Mark Essen, Flywrench ; Brenda Brathwaite, Train ; The E.T / Superman cartridge graveyard

- What problems does the marketplace create for games as art?
Ian Bogost, Guru Meditation ; Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds ; Mark Essen, The thrill of Combat ; Number None, Inc, Braid ; Jason Rohrer, Passage

John Romero’s then takes the stage for his talk: Masters Among Us (italics are mine)

“We unfortunately have only 10% of Mozart’s output. Imagine if Mozart was alive now and we could talk to him. In the games industry, our masters walk among us…

Nasir Gebelli: he was instrumental in Gorgon, Space Eggs and Phantoms Five. At the time, he had to keep the entire game in his head: no source code, written directly in assembly. The slowness of the machine dictated that you had to come up with a lots of tricks to make your games. Then he became the only programmer on Final Fantasy 1, 2 and 3 and then went on to make Secret of Mana. But now he’s gone, left the Games industry.

Bill Budge: originally he played around with early 3D programming but more importantly created pinball construction set in 1982. He now works at Sony in San Mateo and works mainly on tools.

Mark Turmell: Started on the Apple II, then to Atari 2600 than to Midway where he did NBA Jam, Total Carnage, and then created the franchise Ballers. Last year Midway went over after 30 years and Mark had worked there for 20.

But some of our legends and masters have already passed on:

Dan Bunten: The creator of M.U.L.E – which was the refinement of 3 of his earlier game.

James Nitchals: early Apple II programmer. Brilliant sound programmer Bug Attack and Micro Wave and Zany Golf. (I loved Zany Golf as a kid!)

Bill Williams: Great game designer that made games for synapse. Alley Cat, Necromancer, Pioneer Plague…

Gunpei Yokoi: Was the inspiration for Shigeru Miyamoto. The Game & Watch. The D-pad. His theory of design was that great games don’t have to come from the technology they have to come from the design. What have we learned from his philosophy? Farmville, Wii Fit…

Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson: creators of D&D in 1974

Sid Sackson: very prolific board game designer. Made Acquire! His family didn’t recognize his genius and auctioned all of his designs & prototypes. They belonged in museums but now they’re lost.

Then there’s the hardware.

The Atari 2600 was made for Combat & Pong. Originally it was made for nothing else. And from the little tweaks the engineers found, they built the foundations of the games industry.

The Apple II had to be programmed in assembly, it had a lot of limitation but people found ways to break through them.

Today’s designers are far more constrained now than we were 20 years ago because at the time we had complete access to the hardware. Not only did we have the wide open frame buffer but we had the arcades to show us so many design patterns. Dig Dug, Robotron, Pac man…

First there was an incredible diversity of design and then there was Genre-ification.
Wolfenstein, with its gun in front of the screen, was what ignited the FPS genre. Then Doom. Then everything caught fire and lots of clones where being made. Then Quake with full 3D and internet multiplayer. When Quake came out, it was like a nuke and suddenly everything was 3D. The entire game industry turned to 3D. So we created a genre but it became stifling. And that’s not just for FPS but also true for RPGs, MMOs, Tycoons, RTS… If you don’t have a design that fit the genres, it’s not going to get funded. Genre explodes and replicate: just like Farmville is exploding and replicating.

Another limitation we have now is APIs. APIs save you plenty of time because there’s lots you don’t have to do. But they also limit you in your expression. They come with their own limitations.

So Priority number 1 is to go back to the founders of our industry, talk to them and ask them where their ideas came from. Not just interviews but graduate student thesis. We need to go back to the beginning.

We are much more constrained today than we were before. By Technology, by genre-ification, etc… We need to go back to our masters who found ways to innovate and inspire us. Who tackled every subject. Who worried more about play than polygons. And we need to do it before this knowledge is lost.

We don’t want what happened to Mozart to happen to our masters.

My design decisions. When I think about them, I ask myself what would the masters decide? What would they do next?”


Comment from FatMat
Time February 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

Et au deuxième jour ? Ils se reposèrent ! :)

Comment from Nicolas J
Time February 17, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Bonjour Olivier, merci beaucoup pour cette revue.
Superbes les points de Jason Rohrer….
Je pense que les travaux de Jenkins ne permettent pas au jeu vidéo de comprendre sa structuration en genres et d’évoluer à travers elle. Quand je lis ta revue j’ai l’impression que ça pèse pas mal sur les créateurs, au lieu de leur servir d’appuis.

Comment from Olivier
Time February 19, 2010 at 7:53 am

@FatMat : le deuxième jour, c’était tellement dense qu’il faut que je digère… :)

@Nicolas : Oui, en tout cas en ce qui me concerne je trouve que les “genres” n’aident pas vraiment à penser le jeu vidéo et encore moins à libérer la créativité. Au contraire…

Comment from Nicolas J
Time February 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Dans une interview à Gamasutra, Nick Earl, general manager chez Visceral Game dit:
“The mission for this studio is nothing less than to be the leader of third-person linear action games.”
Pour ce qui est de “penser” le jeu vidéo à travers le genre…
La création sous contrainte à ses charmes, mais ça paraît assez dingue d’un point de vue créatif de concevoir l’avenir de son studio comme on enfonce un clou.
Le genre n’est pas nécessairement une boîte à chaussure, pour rebondir sur les points de Jason Rohrer que tu cites, on peut voir ça comme un langage déjà parlé, déjà partagé…il a une histoire, des attentes, une communauté, etc….
La meilleure façon de parler autrement, c’est d’entendre autrement ce qui a déjà été dit et non de dire autrement ce qui a déjà été dit.
Ps: j’espère que ton anti spam ne détecte pas les aphorismes foireux ;-)

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