年中的时候，Vince Vaughn（美国男演员）和Jennifer Aniston（女演员）针对自己出演的电影《分手男女》参加了一次脱口秀表演。有趣的是，他们坚决地纠正着那些认为这部电影是爱情喜剧的人的看法，并辩解道：“这其实是一部带有喜剧效果的爱情剧。”
The Importance of Holistic Game Design
by Daniel Clark
Midyear, ‘06, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston did the talk show rounds to peddle their movie The Break-Up. Curiously, they insisted on correcting anyone who referred to the film as a romantic-comedy. ‘No, no, no,’ they demurred. ‘It’s a comedy-romance.’
Given that Vaughn has a trolling pedigree that pre-dates the internet, the distinction may have been conjured as a psychological irritant to mobilise the jaded masses. It could have been a wink to his adoring bro legion, aggrieved by the possibility he’d sold out to a chick-flick. Or maybe it was a heartfelt philosophical distinction that emerged from the crucible of creative endeavour: “Bob, there’re ten million comedies out there with lashings of romance, but what we’ve cooked up here is nothing short of a game-changer. It’s a chimera… a hybrid… the comedy-romance!”
Wait, what does this have to do with video games? Bear with us…
Whatever its origin, this quirk in Hollywood nomenclature sticks in mind because it relates to the fascinating issue of aesthetic tone: the tapestry of creative decisions that give a film its look, its memorable moments, its soul. No doubt it has occurred to even the most casual movie-goer that the same screenplay, interpreted by different directors, could be developed into wildly different films. The script is a skeleton, and while it suggests a shape, the body built around it may scarcely resemble what the writer envisaged.
That cauldron of subversion, YouTube, frequently demonstrates that the most taut drama can be twisted into a screwball comedy through the use of dissonant sound effects, overdubs, or mischievous cuts, and the most fey laugh-riot loaded with portent – a fact that aptly demonstrates the fragility of cinema: at any given moment, the success of a scene rests upon a foundation of literally hundreds of financial, technical, and creative decisions, capabilities, and accidents. While gaming is a different type of experience, being interactive, given the increasingly advanced ways in which audio-visual technologies flesh out the gaming experience, the imperative to create an aesthetic tone which compliments gameplay has become inescapable.
Game design has always been a product of two spheres: mechanics [physical inputs (e.g. quarter circle forward + punch) and their consequences (e.g. a fireball hits an opponent and reduces his energy)], and aesthetics (how these processes look and sound; possibly feel, given Wii-motes and rumble cores). However, while the lion’s share of the player’s experience was once driven by mechanics – games’ “skins” being so similar – the amplification of aesthetic power has caused it to insinuate itself into our gaming experiences in such a way that it’s no longer separable from a game’s mechanics. Games don’t just look and play a certain way anymore – they look-play. Mechanics and aesthetics, in isolation, don’t determine a game’s overall quality. Rather, it’s by virtue of the harmony or disharmony between the two spheres that a game sinks or swims.
For example, replacing the realistic sound-effects of Battlefield 3’s guns with classic 8-bit sound effects (fish it out of the aforementioned cauldron of subversion if you’re so inclined) changes the experience entirely. So, while what is done remains the same, how it feels to do it, changes entirely. And not for the better! It’s nostalgically amusing, certainly, and as an indicator of the past twenty-five years’ progress, it’s a treat. But the Battlefield experience is lost, and though that isn’t surprising, it does point to the complexity of aesthetic arrangement, and the way in which a failure of one aspect can drag down the whole, no matter how carefully refined its other parts may be.
Clearly, the team behind the Battlefield series has a firm idea of the experience they intend for the player. The state of the art aesthetics are not merely impressive, or a pleasure, but combine with the mechanics of gameplay in such a way as to make “playing war” feel like the ecstatic balls to the wall Nerf combat of childhood – a feat which is all the more impressive for the games’ audio-visual realism. In other words, Battlefield games don’t hinge upon their mechanics or algorithms, or on the other hand, the way they look and sound, but rather upon the harmony created between what takes place, and how it feels to see and hear it unfold.
This might seem obvious, but the marriage of mechanics and aesthetics is the most mismanaged imperative of game design today. Given that the realm of aesthetics exists for no other reason than to describe and provoke emotion, its rise has entailed that designers must engage not only with the question of what they want gamers to do, but what they want them to feel as they do it. And not only at a game’s grandstand moments, but at every single moment, lest the player disengage. Screenwriters and playwrights are well drilled in the maxim that narrative art is the management of tension over time. Game designers have grown up believing that so long as the player has some busywork to do, they’ll be content. Maybe we have been, in the past, but not anymore.
The zombie mod for ArmA II, DayZ, is a master class in the use of creative tension. Zombies are wondrous and terrifying creatures. Though, were the zombie plague to confront us in reality, the wondrous aspects would take a backseat to the frenzied screaming. The genius of DayZ’s creator is that he interpreted the potential of ArmA’s world better than its development team did (at least insofar as popularity goes). Ultimately, gamers want to play, and while provoking similar emotions and psychological implications, by travelling beyond the banal and depressing (in reality, killing is the most depressing thing in the world) nitty-gritty of combat into the realm of the supernatural to do so, engages far more people than a military sim.
For a time, sales of the three year-old game increased 500%. This isn’t to say that quality is married to popularity, but rather to illustrate how much more engaging a game can be when its mechanics underlie something we can become emotionally invested in. It’s extremely difficult for a civilian to place themselves in the role of a soldier through imaginative means alone – something which would be necessary to bring ArmA II to life for the uninitiated. Ultimately, war is about survival, actual or perceived, and while it’s very difficult to connect obscure geopolitical concerns and executive orders to crawling through some nettle in the Ukraine, everyone can connect to a severe case of the heebie-jeebies!
DayZ – an incredible mod.
The genius of the mod was in taking a concept (survival), and some mechanics (realistic combat sim), and combining them with an aesthetic context (zombie plague) to create a way of playing with the original concept. Playing, after all, is being emotionally invested. It’s not simply going through the motions. If the art of a game doesn’t draw the player into its substantive core, then it’ll be shelved very quickly – and given the amount of resources and time and passion that goes into creating it, that’s a great shame for players and developers alike.
All things considered, the improvement of aesthetics is more complicated than simply looking or sounding “better.” Improvement is conventionally assessed by fidelity to a source found in reality. But what is often overlooked is the fact that such fidelity is of interest because reality provides us with the greatest level of engagement and stimulation. Reality doesn’t merely look or sound – it feels. With a new aesthetic leap approaching through the next-gen hardware and engines, it will be the games which maximise engagement through the melding of mechanics and aesthetics that become the new totems of the gaming world, the sum of these parts creating the overall experience that players walk away with – or walk away from… like, The Break-Up.(source:ign)