My Philosophy (with respect to Game Design)

In the last years of his life, Roger Ebert famously said that games were not art (he focused on computer games, but it applies to all). He gave three reasons to back up his opinion:

  • He had never played a game.
  • You can win a game.
  • Art must consist of a single visionary. (This last seems particularly an odd comment for a film reviewer, since films are famously collective projects.)

Penny Arcade skewered Mr. Ebert with a single phrase – “If a hundred artists create art for two years, how is the end product NOT ART?!”

I recently saw the Ant Man movie. I liked it, but doubt I’ll watch it again. That’s 2 hours worth of my interest. But I enjoyed playing the game Vinci for several hundred hours. Eclipse, a game I’ve played far less, has still racked up 20-30 hours for me. In terms of my “interest level”, obviously I’m getting a lot more value out of one of my games than a movie. What makes games more interesting than the movie?

I think it’s because games are about interesting decisions that matter, while movies are necessarily passive entertainment. For one thing, in the form of a real human opponent, you are faced with a foe far more treacherous and evil than any scriptwriter could invent! Let’s examine some game types.

In a tactical game, such as X-Wing or Warhammer, the game is about weapons, targeting, positioning, maneuvering, enemy responses. You get lots of choices that have immediate consequences.

In a puzzle game or co-op game, you must perform a task perfectly. Most choices are True/False. I.e., you make the right choice or the wrong one.

In a strategy game, such as Cthulhu Wars, you are concerned with unit builds, economy, tactics, special powers, strategies. You have deeper choices than a tactical game, but less immediate feedback. You need to plan ahead.

When we play a boardgame, we can tell if it’s elegantly designed, well-balanced, and interesting. Every decision you make in Puerto Rico or Cthulhu Wars makes a difference, and affects the other players. I come away from every game of Twilight Imperium with an interesting tale of a betrayal or a clever move that I regret or gloat over. That’s not true every time I see Ant Man.

And there you have it. I try to craft the best game I can, that I would love to play, and try to ensure that the game is filled with interesting decisions that matter. That is my mantra. Oftimes I succeed (I think I keep getting better over the years.)