4 Minimal Game Designs

I’m slated to talk about “minimal game design” during the talky bit before the global game jam kicks off at the Institute of Digital Games here in Malta. So I need to think about what that is, and how to talk about it in a way that might be helpful to a room full of people just about to make various games for two days.

My initial feeling was that I wanted to talk about ways to make games that would show how you could prioritise radically different perspectives – essentially so that everyone there (writers, coders, sound people, artists, etc.) could feel like they could “own” a game concept or be its core driving force, and to move away from the idea of “design” as this actual thing that someone should be doing – just seems so stuffy, especially in that context.

But that talk hasn’t been coming to me. Or rather, to do that talk I feel like I’d have to make games that proved this point, and while I’ve made some games that might fit the bill, it felt forced. So I think I’m not doing that one.

Instead my thought is to profile the last four games that I’ve released, Get X Avoid YMANIFESTSound System I, and Let’s Play: Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Art Edition Edition since each one seems to have the qualities of “minimal design” and, really, each of them could have been produced as a jam game I think. They’re all very, very tightly scoped and while I did spend more than 48 hours on each of them, it probably wasn’t much more in most cases and I didn’t have (or want!) a team on any of them.

So these games should serve what is always the most crucial game jam rule: make something reallyreally small and then build outward if you manage to finish that very small thing. Or just stop and relax, you know? Anyway, probably not enough to just say “I made these four games”, I should also think of things about each game that’s interesting or helpful in some way. Look at me, using this blog post to sneakily stream-of-consciousness my way to talk content. So here’s an attempt.

Get X Avoid Y. Code reuse! I had thought about including PONGS as a lesson in small variations of simple code, but this game is almost better because it’s large (aesthetic) variations on exactly the same code. Great game for artists (including sound if it had sound effects!) because it’s really just a content-production exercise. Great game for a programmer to have a fairly calm experience of the jam. So one good jam style game is to make a very small thing that focuses on content.

MANIFEST. No gameplay at all! It’s possible to come up with a game concept that basically doesn’t require any effort whatsoever to accomplish because it doesn’t actually do anything. I think this is pretty inspiring stuff! It’s another encouragement for non-coders in a way – you barely even need code. You could probably make this game in PowerPoint?

Sound System I. Working from aesthetics rather than mechanics/code! This game was developed entirely from a drawing of a coloured circle laid over a William Turner painting. For realsies. Then it was a question of “how is this picture going to be a game”? Just add awesome sounds and physics and some conceptual work involving John Cage and you have something.

Let’s Play: Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Art Edition Edition. Pick one neat tech trick and enjoy it! This game revolved around the idea of a game with a generated reflection – that’s what made me love it as a cohesive thing. It also started from an aesthetic proposition: I had a photo of a screenshot of one of my games displayed as a print in a gallery and wanted to suck it back into gamefulness – almost like a “found object” game. But it was the technical detail of the webcam/video that makes it really work. So there’s hope for the technical types yet!

Anyway that there is some thinking about four small games and how they can serve as a useful guide/set of tips for people about to set out on a game jam.

What do you reckon? Do you buy it?

15 January 2015
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