Tony’s Time: Creativity in Games
You might think by looking at the title of the article this week that I’m going to talk about the creative process that developers use in games and how they find creativity to do what they do. You’d also be wrong. I’m going to talk about some observations I’ve made recently while watching my children play video games.
Each of my kids only gets an hour to play games each day and that’s it. I used to get frustrated watching them because it seemed to me like they were wasting their time. The bulk of this observation comes from watching my six year old son play Scribblenauts the other day, but there are many other games I’ve observed this same phenomena on. While I was at home last Wednesday my son turned on Scribblenauts and I watched him the entire time. He spent an hour playing on the title screen of the game. Used to, as I said, this would frustrate me to no end. I wanted to tell him he was playing the game wrong, but I’ve learned to mellow out and just watch them.
He opened up the notepad and wrote something, I didn’t see it, and he turned Maxwell into an angel. He had the halo, the wings and everything. He then opened it back up and wrote Pegasus. After that he created the moon and placed it on the opposite side of the “world” of the title screen and created a couple small enemies. Maxwell needed to get to the moon to rescue a princess who had been kidnapped by some monster. He beat the enemies and flew Maxwell on the Pegasus over to the moon. He then erased that moon, changed the background and made a Princess in a cage and a monster. Maxwell fought the monster and he recreated the previous background and got the princess back to Earth safely.
Another really vivid memory of my kids doing this was shortly after Brawl came out. My son found the stage builder and went to town creating stages. I came home from work one day and they said that had something to show me. They had created a stage called Princess Rescue, or something to that effect. They had built a “cage” out of blocks and some platforms they used to reach it. When they started a fight one of them picked Mario, the other “the helpless Princess” Peach. They added Bowser as a baddie and when the game started the Princess rushed into the “cage” to simulate being kidnapped. The Mario player then had to defeat Bowser and rescue the princess.
I could go on and on describing many of my observations like this, but it’s really all to say one thing. Why do we, as adults get so wrapped up in completing the game exactly like it’s been designed. There’s fun and merit and ultimately that’s how the story is supposed to be played out, but why don’t we have fun, like my kids do just “playing” in the games themselves. Use the world and the characters that are in it to tell our own stories. The MySims franchise is hugely popular in my household and there have been many adventures outside of the actual game. They’ll each pick different characters to be the voices of and they’ll just walk around the world not doing anything that pretending to have the characters talk to each other and sometimes it’s hilarious to watch them do this. One day I’m going to film them and post it on Youtube.
I’ve said many times that there is no power greater than the imagination of a child, and while that may not be so in the truest since of the words it really is something to remember. Wooden blocks could be anything we wanted them to be when we were kids. Now we look at them and they’re wooden blocks. Video games really are the same thing, they’re just digital and they have a different shape. I think Nintendo more than any other company has a philosophy that gels with with. All of their worlds are inhabited by individuals that can be virtually interacted with. Who’s to say Mario has to jump on the goomba walking along. Maybe that goomba is just out for a walk, or going to the store and Mario carelessly murders him? Why not take a walk with that goomba and ask him how his day was or how his family is doing?
You can’t really do that in games like Call of Duty where the men you meet on the street only want to shoot you. They don’t really want to talk. But even games like Borderlands give you some freedom to mess around in the world and just have a bit of fun.
There are a lot of games now that are giving you the freedom to create what you want. This gives you the ultimate freedom to build a world where you just mess around in. Even fighting games, like Brawl, now have the ability to tell stories inside a fighting game. Little Big Planet is another game where you decide everything that goes into the world your players will inhabit. It’s the perfect opportunity to design not only great levels for a platforming game, but to tell stories. You can have the players encounter people who will talk to them and you get to decide what they say. It’s almost like building the ultimate role playing game where you take on the role of the character and everything that character does depends entirely on you. If you want to have a super hero who saves they day you can do that. If you want a lawyer who sues the pants off of the goomba who crossed his path you can do that.
Next time you fire up a game take the time to play in the game, rather than playing the game itself. You never know you might be able to turn a terrible game into something you’ll remember for a long time to come.