Into the night with Jason Rohrer + Chris Crawford

Yesterday, I watched the latest episode of the documentary series called "into the night" on Arte (the French/German television). The point of this series is to have two intriguing people and get them to talk to each other. In this episode, the conversation happens between the Indie game designer Jason Rohrer and legendary game designer Chris Crawford over the course of a day during the GDC 2009 in San Francisco.

The 52-minutes documentary shows Crawford and Rohrer playing and discussing different indie titles, show their approaches to one another, and wonder about the evolution of game design. There are some funny moments where the "old fart game designer" (as Crawford defines himself) complains that he has seen "everything under the sun" and that all the games today are "derivative or some old variation of hand-eye coordination"... but he admits that Rohrer's stuff is new and original. However, the overall impression is that both of them seems to be trapped... as shown by the uncertainty expressed by Crawford's difficulties with interaction storytelling or Rohrer's cluelessness about what to do in the future. Quite sincere indeed but a bit sad for the game industry.

Two aspects in the discussion struck me as important, with regards to my interest in game design. They're very short and maybe not that conclusive, but at least they surface interesting issues.

First, the brief conversation about space and game design is insightful. Crawford is interested in how Rohrer sees spatial metaphors. Rohrer shows an excerpt of Passage in which the player can choose to join a companion who appears in the game. Once you do that, you realize you can't get into certain spaces of the maze where two people won’t fit. Rohrer defines it as a spatial trade-off. Crawford then wonders: "What is most important about your approach... you're taking out the spatial navigation, which is always done too literally and you turn it into a metaphor and explore what kind of metaphor can be created. How far do you think it can be pushed?". Rohrer then describes why he is so much interested in 2D games (as opposed to 3D) showing how the level of Pacman enables to see the whole environment (in contrast to FPS in which you only see what is around you).

Second, I find important that these two game designers are interested in interaction rather than glossy graphics ("graphical sugar"). As claimed by Crawford: "the entertainment lies in the interaction, not the presentation... you have to make the interaction entertaining, it should influence your experience (...) I am very dismissive of the techie approach to game design (...) Do not be prescriptive, be descriptive".

Why do I blog this? quick summary of what I felt when watching this documentary about game design... from a standpoint that can be seen as an alternative to mainstream video games. The uncertainty expressed by the two designers here is stunning and left us wondering about the possibilities for the future.