Designing Forward (1/21/2018)

Ryan Fleury  —  1 month ago [Edited 0 minutes later]
Hey, everyone. This is almost a bit of a rant post; I have a few thoughts I'd like to share regarding the game.

I'll be honest; I've been getting fairly discouraged recently.

I've done an absurd amount of work on the game (and related projects, like its devlog series) over the past year. The player can move around, experience cut-scenes, find new areas, and it's all pretty polished and clean. What the game consists of so far feels great. The game, though, is missing... something. That something is, of course, the heart of the game: the mechanics that the puzzles are to be built off of.

The game's mechanics are what have been occupying my thoughts for what seems like ages. I've never wanted to design a game heavy-handed, where I force all of my ideas onto the game's world and hack it together; that, in my opinion, never produces an interesting game. I want to design a system, and then explore that system; this is a style of design spoken about frequently by the likes of Jonathan Blow. This style of design is sometimes called "Designing Forward"; it is the idea that the designer challenges them self by setting up a system, then setting up challenges within that system, and then attempting to solve them given the rules of the system. This theoretically leads to the designer discovering interesting and unintended consequences of the system that can then be demonstrated to the players of the game.

Designing forward, in my opinion, is beautiful; it produces the most interesting, truthful, and non-arbitrary results in a game. Unfortunately, for me (as well as others to be sure), it also is extremely difficult. It's odd, because I feel that I've developed an intimate familiarity with the idea of creating a system, but actually creating a system is a different challenge entirely. It feels as if I'm understating the problem when I say that I simply can't come up with anything that seems great.

It sounds absurd to claim that music has begun to feel one-dimensional at times. Given a note, one is only able to move in two directions: higher in frequency or lower in frequency. To tie something to frequency alone is to make it one-dimensional and uninteresting (or at least that is what I've experienced; maybe that's incorrect as well). A paragon of this idea is the game's root platforms (which were my first attempt in making a part of the world that reacts to notes). They were incredibly uninteresting aside from being interactive physics objects. The player has four notes available to play; the platform moves up or down depending on the pitch of notes present in the area. The issue is that middle notes are effectively useless (save a few very repetitive physical scenarios), as they move the platform far less than the high/low ones.

This seems fallacious, though; music simply isn't one-dimensional though. It never has been. It expands in multiple dimensions that I can't seem to grasp in the way of game design.

This is undoubtedly why the game still feels as if it's without substance to me, and I'm sure to others as well. Work on the game will continue, of course, but it feels as if the actual game mechanics (go figure...) are the last hurdle I have to surpass before actually developing the game (making the world, building puzzles, story-developing, requesting further art to be done, etc.).

My realization of the lack of substance has effectively led me to questioning almost everything about the game (and maybe this is for the best). Should the player even play notes? How should notes affect the world? How will the player interact with notes/music? All of these questions are ones I thought I had previously answered.

All this being said, though, I won't stop attempting to grasp at a system that will embody the game's spirit and present it in a beautiful fashion. I just wanted to share my current state of mind regarding the game's mechanics and design. Hopefully it was interesting, gives some insight into what I'm doing regarding the game, and perhaps it helped clear my thoughts as well.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
#14123 Abner Coimbre  —  3 weeks, 6 days ago
I haven't followed your game design ideas too closely, but it seems you want to investigate the nature of sound organized in time (melody) and how the fruits of your exploration can be expressed through gameplay?

I wonder if you've considered harmony as part of your studies. Just recently I came across this harmonist, Jacob Collier, and is known for his rather extreme use of re-harmonizing (Flinstones example here). More interesting though, are the random interviews where Collier talks about harmonization. It's pretty evident he spent significant time reading, theorizing, and iterating on harmony "design" until his eyeballs came out.

If what you want is to succeed in following through a specific philosophy of "clarity and purity", then eyeballs falling off is part of it. I know you know this, but hopefully I can provide some reassurance!
#14127 Ryan Fleury  —  3 weeks, 6 days ago
Thanks for the comment, Abner!

I've actually seen the video you linked in which Collier explains harmony to differently experienced individuals (though I wasn't too familiar with Collier himself). That's extremely interesting stuff, though, and I'll have to check it out.

You're right, though; maybe it's a good idea to investigate harmony as opposed to melody (or maybe my exploration in harmony will lead to progress in melody as well).

Thanks for the reassurance, though; it seems that I have something new to think about (and research) which seems to be what I needed. :)
#14131 Abner Coimbre  —  3 weeks, 6 days ago
Water is taught by thirst!
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