It’s all in my head

Is is as if you were playing chess 3

At coffee this morning Rilla was talking about how she wants to write beautiful programs, in the sense of complex code that makes beautiful things happen systematically (she’s teaching an advanced programming course in our department, so this of course is a very reasonable thing to be thinking about right now). And it was interesting to me how instantaneously my mind bounced off that as an approach to making from my own perspective. I very clearly see how great that kind of programming is, and it yields things I perpetually amazed by, but apparently my mind just doesn’t work that way? (Or, presumably more likely, I just have gone in another direction and my mind isn’t trained to think that way.)

Rilla proposed a difference between us in terms of our interest in where the play of a game is ‘located’, which is an interesting way of putting. I guess I think it’s maybe more about the ‘ideas’ of the game, but that probably tips my hand in a sense. When I look at the kind of stuff I make (and especially after the first year or two), it’s very much a case of (relatively) simple programming (rarely even something you could call ‘systems’) that are attempting to convey or trigger more complex ideas (complex in the sense of conceptual). So something like It is as if you were playing chess, for instance, is ludicrous simple code-wise – just dragging circles and replaying the positions of chess games – but is “about” much more than that (the idea of play as physical performance, the idea of expertise, the idea of play as a form of labour, etc.).

In fact I wonder if locating the complexity in the mind or in the code (or perhaps also separately in the aesthetics?) is something where you need to just choose? I wonder if making a conceptually complex game that is also very complex programatically just starts to be too complex? Maybe this is a problem some people have when they’re designing weird (and wonderful, surely) magnum opuses that are just so complicated on so many levels that they’re kind of impossible to finish or, if finished, kind of impossible to play and “get”? I don’t know, this is just a thought. Maybe you need simplicity in the “other” aspects of a game (or any interactive thing – or any artwork?) in order to sustain the complexity of one particular part of it.

And of course it’s not the case the “simple” parts are therefore easy to work with – creating simplicity is incredibly difficult. v r 3 is killing me on the implementation despite being technically very, very ordinary (make a space, put some water in it), despite ultimately being a game that is more about thinking and looking than about anything complex development-wise. And I assume it may well be similar for a really complicated piece of programming – say a procedurally generated game. The conceptual layer may well be quite simple compared to the code, but I’m willing to believe there might be a huge amount of (conceptual) grappling needed to work out the kind of simplicity that can sit atop the complex systems beneath in order for the game to be at all accessible to a player.

Or maybe it’s possible to make an insanely complex game in concept, aesthetics, and mechanics. How the hell would I know? I’m just sitting here doing my thing, man.

Back to work.

15 March 2017
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