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Steve Swink On The Art Of Experimental Games
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Steve Swink On The Art Of Experimental Games

April 8, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

When you're making Tony Hawk -- and I'm just using this example because you worked on it -- you need a certain amount content, but it's also well defined what that content's going to be, so you just sort of set people about generating it, right?

Whereas with you, you're talking about the fact that you only want to generate enriching things. And you're experimenting a lot, so I'm sure you throw away experiments.

SS: We throw away more than we keep.

And you don't want to keep things that are just there to fill time for the gamer, right? You'll end up with a game that's more...

SS: Cohesive and tight, one way to describe it.

It's very different than commercial game design.

SS: It's sort of fundamentally opposite to the idea that a game should take a certain number of hours to finish, and its inherent value to the consumer is based on how many hours it takes to finish, as opposed to the quality of those hours.

I mean I'd rather play a game that takes five minutes, like Passage, that I find really thought provoking, interesting and memorable, than I would want to play a 200 hour JRPG where I didn't find any of those things true.

Though it's also, I think, a cultural question in a sort of a broad level. America is the culture of bigger, better, all-you-can-eat. I mean, how much would anyone think Passage is worth?

SS: I don't even think you can apply that kind of value judgment to it in a lot of ways. And I think that's a reason why a lot of people are attracted to it, because it's like, "What is this? I can't put it into a bucket that I already have, so how do I cope with that?"

And it's not a product -- he later sold it for iPhone for a dollar or something to have money to live or whatever -- but it's not inherently a product and it wasn't created to be a product, obviously. It was created as an expression, so how do you make a product that also retains that beautiful creativity?

Well, maybe you can't.

SS: So Braid's proved that you can, I think.

Some of the artistic payload of Braid, I think, is of lesser quality than the mechanic exploration and brilliant puzzle solving. Although that was kind of part of the payload, too.

It's literately impossible to make a living writing poetry in America right now. No one does it.

SS: I never thought of that.

If you know poets or you read about poetry, you have to teach -- essentially have to be an academic -- and write poetry in your own time. And it does feed into your academic career, but it's indirect.

SS: Isn't there still like an American poet laureate or whatever, or someone holds that position as being the poet of America?

That's one person.

SS: So it's not like people are living off of being poets.

I have a friend who's a poet and she is also an optometrist.

SS: Ha! That's awesome.

It is awesome, but... I guess the analogy I was making is that Passage is a poem.

SS: Yeah, I guess that's true. I'm obsessed with movie trailers, because so many movie trailers are so much better than so many movies. And I find it really fascinating that it's so much easier to strike emotional chords in a movie trailer -- or so it seems -- to give you that sort of choked up feeling or that visceral feeling in a very short form than it is to make a really great movie that sustains itself all the way through.

But I feel like if you watch Apocalypse Now and you get done with it, that's a lot better than watching the trailer for Apocalypse Now, where you never get the same depth and quality and feeling. So it's sort of like what do you want to go for? And that's the answer to why you would try to make a larger form -- although still shorter than most games, indie games -- there's a greater possible depth there.

And it's like the difference between Passage and Braid or whatever, although those two don't compare that well, because they're very different; but you sort of see what I'm saying. That's the point of exploring the mechanic really deeply -- it's like you mine deeply enough that you find that, but context is so important, too. It's like you have to have all these other things leading up to it and you have to be controlling what the player is focusing on and what they're thinking about in a very intelligent way to give them that experience, to build up to that experience.

The guys who made Portal thought a lot about what people were learning when, but also what GLaDOS was saying and doing, relative to what people were learning when. And that's how they kept it from getting really tedious, so they just kept throwing new mechanics at you. Now all of a sudden you're pushing back against GLaDOS and getting free of the test chamber and so on.

Yeah, the moment in Portal where you get out of the test chamber and go in the back of the compound is perhaps the coolest thing that happened in a game this generation that I played.

SS: Yeah, totally. And what's amusing about that is that it's sort of a narrative thing. In the Source engine, it's the changing of some wall textures and placement of objects, right? It's not anything to do with the novel mechanics but it was they decided that that particular point they watched a bazillion people play through it, they decided at that point people were starting to get really bored of the mechanics and learning the mechanics -- "Okay, we're gonna let them break free" -- and now you're pressing against this antagonist.

And that is what motivates your action for the rest of the game. I don't know, just brilliant the way it all fits together.

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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