This week for Prototype 3, our task is to make an “indie” game using any established engine (i.e. Unity, UDK, Half-Life, etc.). For the first time, we have virtually complete freedom to create any game we choose – well as long as it is within our definition of indie. But what was most interesting about this project is that we would use Dr. Roger Altizer’s Design Box (DB). The DB is a deconstructive method for building ideas and as a result enable designers to formulate pitches that are more effective. Using this method for our current prototype, I hope to briefly explain the DB for those unfamiliar with it, and discuss the advantages and challenges in using this method for game design.
The Design Box
The DB centers itself around four concepts: Audience, Aesthetics, Technology, and Play/Theory. These four concepts facilitate a procedural means to foster and steer game pitches. To clarify the four concepts, to begin the Audience aids in conceptualizing the game’s intended audience (hence the name) and the consumption patterns of these gamers. For instance, the developers may determine that the game’s audience are males 15-24 that enjoy completive games or maybe a potentially unseen audience such as our parents, future employers, or maybe even cultural norms? These various audiences affect the development of the game for the reason that the designer(s) will acquiesce the game to fit the expectations of the group.
Aesthetics in the DB goes beyond the mere look of the game and bases itself on the perceptions of a genre. For instance, in our last prototype we wanted to create a game that encompassed the look and feel of a classic early 80s arcade game. Technology further influences the game idea. It can range from the game engine used to the intended platform that all limit what the designers can and cannot do. Lastly, Play/Theory is probably for me the most interesting aspect of the DB. Play/Theory is the philosophy behind gameplay and what questions to investigate in the creation of the game. These ideas may center around questions such as does my game use duel thumbsticks, mouse and keyboard, or even I want my game to resemble an early 80s arcade game.
After fleshing out these four concepts, inside the box the team composes pitch ideas. These pitches are framed as razors. A razor is a method to depict what the game is not. It usually follows the framework as Game X meets Game Y with “Hook”. For example, a team could pitch Left4Dead meets World of Warcraft with more open world exploration. This helps to define the game as well as give others an idea of how to visualize the game.
Learning its Potential via Prototype 3
For our latest prototype we are attempted to use the DB to help conceptualize pitches. In practice, I am learning the potential of Roger’s method, and as a result, it is enabling me to see how a team may use it to conceptualize pitches for our prototypes. To begin, it is forcing me to focus on the audience and how to define it. Audience as noted before goes beyond mere demographic information. Here, there are philosophies associated with specific audiences. For our prototype, for example, we are required to focus on an indie audience. Since indie is such a vague term, as a team we needed to define it through a segment of indie gamers we identified as personifying the qualities behind the genre. This caused us to think about what it means to be “indie gaming” and what type of game should fall within the genre. The DB consequently created a means to analyze indie gaming audience and this enabled us to understand how we could approach our game.
The DB assisted in creating razors for our ideas. It can be difficult to summarize a game in one sentence so that someone can visualize the game concept. The DB creates a framework to understand what the razor is and how that razor equates to the facets developed around the DB. The interplay between the DB and the razor fuels game ideas that are in direct response to the four concepts. The DB helped us play with game ideas and enabled us to pitch them in a clear and precise manner.
The DB finally helps game designers conceptualize the theoretical foundations of a game idea. It is easy for game designers to forget that there is a philosophy fueling the ideas behind a game. In our last prototype, we were unaware that the theory we were exploring was to completely comprehend the core rule set of an early arcade game in order to create an entirely new game. For this prototype, our theory is to identify an indie audience and design a game around these concepts. This idea therefore propelled us to understand “indie” and thus compose a game encompassing these qualities.
Since the DB was foreign to us, using the DB proved to be very challenging at times. This occurred because our team consistently tried to conceptualize an idea first rather than using the DB to fuel pitches. For example, when we first began defining our audience, we continually viewed indie in a perspective that agreed with our razors. This at times nullified the purpose behind using the DB. I hope with more practice using the method I can begin to use it much more effectively and hence create stronger razors.
During my short time with the DB, one critique I have of the method is that it can limit the ideas a team generates. Since it requires designers formulate games based on other previous games, other people who hear the pitch visualize the razor chiefly through these games. Hence, there is an expectation as to what the game should like because of its need to be similar to these other, usually highly successful, games. Furthermore, it forces designers to think “inside the box”, in other words focusing on limitations, rather than being allowed the freedom to experiment with ideas. Now the designers are attempting to define what the game is not and thus may have a difficult time envisioning the potential of theoretical game concepts.
In spite of these minor critiques, I do see the potential of using the DB in game design. In practice, it does help a team better visualize how to approach a game and I know it will definitely help as I move forward as a producer and game designer and I look forward to using it more in the future so that I can realize its potential.