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January 17, 2005



Sounds like a very interesting book. And it's like Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics." It doesn't have to be the definitive explanation on the form, what's important is to get deeper analysis started. Hopefully the book will get more people theorizing, whether they think they have "the" theory, or are just "a" theory, or just some more ideas.


"What's important is to get deeper analysis started". I think it's more the case that it has pushed theory and analysis more into the mainstream awareness of developers - there are lots of people out there theorising, but it seems developers are mostly unaware of the work they are doing.

Noel Llopis

It sounds like I'm going to have to check out that book. It seems to totally be along my own ideas of game design. I have a tendency to strip out the "dressing" of a game and look at it in the most abstract of terms, while other people look at my in puzzlement and say that the "dressing" is the whole point of the game.

I'm not discounting the importance of the dressing. It's going to have a huge effect on whether people buy it or not. But so does marketing. Or licensing. It really has nothing to do with the core game, whether the game is about medieval fantasy, or it's set in a futuristic space station, or in a modern-day gang neighborhood. It can have the *exact* same game mechanics.

One rule of thumb I've always liked to apply is that if your game is fun with solid blobs of colors moving around in the screen, then it's going to be an awesome game once you fully "dress it up". The converse doesn't apply though. I've seen (and worked in) too many games that are lots of dressing with nothing solid underneath.


I guess it's pretty much the packaging that deals the final blow to the end consumers.

I found that in most magazines (especially WOMEN magazines, not that I read them very often) often carries the same content but packaged differently with different taglines and different layouts, but it roughly says the same thing over and over again 365 days a year...

Also, in the mobile phone market, most of what the manufacturers do is just changing the exterior casings of a hardware specs and slapped on a new model number onto it, maybe take out a feature or two.

I guess it's all in the packaging.

Rafael Van Daele-Hunt

I haven't read the book, so maybe I'm misunderstanding the meaning of "dressing", but IMHO

(a) in any game with time pressure, the interface is part of the game mechanics: GTA 3D *isn't* formally the same as GTA 2D, because the camera affects what information the player has and the relative difficulty of various actions. Similarly, while fighting game animations are dressing to some extent, the game mechanics would change if one character's low strikes looked like they were aimed upwards.

(b) even "pure" dressing allows players to manage the complexity of the game by analogic reasoning. Alpha Centauri was, I found, *harder* than Civ, because it's easy to remember that Iron Working follows Bronze Working, but not that Monopole Magnets follows Quantum Ecology (or whatever it was). Similarly, I know a head shot is deadlier than a foot shot without having to think about it (and see (a)). This works even if the "analogy" is very bad -- it would be harder to remember which chess piece did what if they were just numbered, even though real knights didn't move in L-shapes.


Been lurking here for forever, but now I get to post!

I don't intend to come across like the dressing is unimportant, or only relevant to mass market games. Chapter 10 is all about how experience design matters, for example. I even use almost your chess example, only with go instead. I also say "The dressing is tremendously important. It's very likely that chess would not have its long-term appeal if the pieces all represented different kinds of snot." ;)

In the book I make the distinction between the person in charge of the formal abstract parts of games (what I called the "ludemographer") and the person in charge of the game experience (call them the director, if you like).

The avenues of enjoyment beyond ludemography that the director taps into are well understood. They are story, they are art direction, they are music, etc. The thrill from getting the headshot, the tactile feel of real go beads on a wooden board. And even though they are well-understood, they aren't EASY--so I think it's perfectly valid for you to spend a lot of time thinking about those things.

I argue that the fun brought by pure ludemography is the core of gameplay and the part that is not as well understood as it should be, and that's what the bulk of the book is about.

I'd definitely argue that 2d versus 3d brings in a whole bunch of new formal abstract qualities to a game, btw. :)

From a practical point of view, I'll allege that if you have a fun game without real art, it can only get funner with better art, as Noel says. But as a corollary, if you have an unfun game, adding better art is not going to help.

In your animation case, it's tricky because so much is bound up in the anims--the timing, hit locations, etc. But I would definitely argue you could start testing fruitfully for whether it's fun with just stick figures, and not need to wait for particles, final models, etc.


Almost all of those rules make sense, but is "don't simulate a simulation" as obvious as it sounds?

It also seems that being a programmer makes you more aware of the difference between the core and the dressing, and it's only when you put your designer hat back on that they start to blur together.

Am not too fond of the word "dressing" 'cuz there isn't a good corresponding word for the guts or skeleton or, y'know, the abstract formal game it surrounds.


Got it yesterday, finished it yesterday! It's a truly great book.

I think one thing that's unfair in the book, and actually sort of the central tenet of the book, is the notion that games must explore the human condition entirely through their gameplay (strongly emphasizing that gameplay means only the abstract ruleset, not a single drip of setting or character). I think, besides being a literal impossibility, this is an unfair request. Look at movies - does a movie let you explore the human condition entirely through the art of film? No, the art of story actually provides the majority of the humanity in the film. It is then played up by cinematography, lighting, acting, editing, all the other arts that come together to make a film. To take story away from games, to say a game must be powerful art on its own in purely abstract form is not a reasonable request. The example given in the book relies on dressing to give its lesson (the example about being lonely at the top - it's only meaningful if you know the pawns are people, and that you control and befriend them. As a pure abstract, it'd just be about gaining points for X at the expense of a different kind of points).

For example, how can a game discuss self-secrifice? In purely abstract terms, that would be a pawn being removed from play in order to save another pawn (happens in chess all the time, in fact). There's no sense of sacrifice to that, not in any emotional sense. The player needs to feel an emotional attachment to learn emotional lessons. Otherwise it's all math.

I can feel self-sacrifice a little in UT, throwing myself in front of a rocket (and losing all my precious weapons!) to protect the flag carrier, but that's because of the dressing - I actually *die* to protect him, see my head go flying. The very nature of gaming, the fact that it's safe and I respawn a second later, really mute the lesson though. How is a game going to make me feel the beauty, conflict and pain of someone truly giving themselves up so that another might live, without window dressing? Maybe it's not supposed to. Music can't really make you feel that either (I'd say the closest it could come would be general emotion), not without lyrics, and neither can painting (in my opinion... but painting tends not to move me at all). Which means it's really down to something that only story (poetry, film, prose) can do. So each type of artwork has limitations. What are the limitations of pure game design, and are we subverting them by slapping so much cinematography, writing, music, and artwork on top of game design? More importantly, what CAN pure game design do artistically?

Maybe it's only unfair because we have such a long way to go, and some huge crutches to shed before we can even try crawling on our own. That could be it. Point is this: the book gives you a whole lot of things to think about! I am going to get my wife to read it (she's a teacher) and then try to get my parents to read it for the same reason the book discusses Raph's grandfather. I think the epilogue is the most important part for such people.

PS - the word for the guts of the game is "salad".


Salad, of course! Thanks.


Personnally I always used the terms "Form" and "Function" to talk about "Dressing" and "Salad" -- not as flowery but, hey, it works.

I think it's really dangerous to think of function as most important and form as just dressing. It's the "gameplay is all that matters" philosophy and it's just not true. I learned this the hard way doing an indy game -- the game had fun gameplay but it was so abstract it put people off completely. Result: the game was a flop.

Form is the metaphor that presents the function to players. A bad metaphor will prevent players from understanding your game properly and they won't have fun with it. Basically form transforms the abstract function into something the player can readilly understand -- if it's badly done then the game suffers greatly.

I don't just split games into form and function, there's a third factor that designers love to ignore: the Cool factor. The cool factor is what makes the game sexy to potential players, why it will grasp their interest and why they'll talk about it later to their friends. This is squarely in the field of marketing ("He said the M word!!!"), but it's really important to make a game people will actually want to play and will remember. You can make a game with really finely tuned gameplay, with great characters and graphics but if there's no differentiation from other games in the genre (a stereotypical yet very polished FPS for example) then people won't be interested in playing it in the first place and if they do play it, it won't be memorable. It's not just about increasing sales (although that's important if you want to keep designing games), it's about making a game that people will be interested in, will talk to their friends about and that they will remember for a long time -- all aspects of a great game imho.

Finally, about interface: I don't put it neither in form nor function. It's the glue that keeps them together. It's what connects the concrete form to the abstract function. If it's done badly you get a game that's very pretty, has great gameplay concepts, but which is a pain to play.


Raph's thoughts on content are on the mark from my perspective. Having been working around game design for over 24 years now I'm seeing the clear pattern in successful game design that Raph has so well ennunciated in his book.

Content serves as a combination of packaging and personalization. Catchy content initially attracts like all shiny things. Specific content choices deliver an above-the-norm psyche-validation to the player they target e.g. many guys like (content) representations of power at work. Both these useful phenomenon have important but limited utility. True engagement and the associated feelings it spawns are generated by competent game mechanics.

Content tells the player "this is my type of game". Game mechanics tell the player "this is fun".

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