Practice in NYC, day 2

The morning lineup just blew me away. The day started with Warren Spector, who basically made a long and somewhat impassioned argument for emergent systems in games. He argued against scripting specific gameplay paths in favor of giving your players a lot of freedom of choice. He repeatedly said he wasn’t making qualitative judgements, and that he (sometimes) enjoyed games that didn’t do this, but these apologies probably felt pretty flat for proponents of games without open-ended and emergent qualities. I was pretty active on twitter yesterday, and quoted him as saying “I’m not saying games without emergent gameplay are bad… I wouldn’t call them games really.” (This was an actual quote.) He somewhat cheekily finished the talk in a rush, saying “Games are good, simulated games are better.”

Someone on twitter called his speech preaching to the choir (early on), but other tweets later made it clear that was decidedly not what was happening. I think there is a small but very passionate group here who feel that games can (and should) exist on narrative alone, or rather that the quality of “experience” is all that matters. I think my tastes fall pretty clearly with Warren on this issue, but I can see the other argument too. I think there’s a place for those games, sure, but I wish more giant AAA titles were emergent, and I don’t think I’m particularly interested in making games without those properties myself.

Eric Zimmerman, who more or less moderated and announced all the speakers, called Warren out at the end of the talk, asking for those proponents who had been vocal on twitter to speak up in person and challenge this viewpoint. Barely anyone did, and nobody (in my opinion) made any real challenging or compelling arguments.

As an aside, “action puzzle” games decidedly qualify as emergent, while “static” puzzle games are basically the exact opposite. (Possibly explaining why I still haven’t put out Action Chess Puzzle, even though it’s pretty far along in development. Designing the puzzles themselves was so tedious for me that I ended up writing a puzzle generator to try and get out of the task entirely.

This theme, emergent versus scripted gameplay (even if this isn’t, as some argued, an either/or dichotomy), continued throughout the morning and the rest of the day, almost as if it’d been planned. It was definitely continued on Twitter, but each of the speakers had a Q&A at the end, and in those too, this argument popped up over and over again.

Robert Seater, who I’ve been hanging out a bit with (thorough sheer proximity and the discovery that we share quite a lot of favorite board games), expressed frustration this morning that this argument is not particularly applicable to board games, but I think Rob Daviau‘s brilliant talk later in the day was directly relevant. He talked about designing the game Risk Legacy, and in addition to being one of the more charismatic speakers, he was clearly a board game design veteran with a lot of great advice as well as anecdotal experiential wisdom to impart.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t have time to write about everything (and there is so much I wanted to talk about that I haven’t gotten to yet!!!). I skipped over the 3-part talk immediately following Warren Spector’s talk ostensibly about “strategy games”. Soren Johnson exceeded my expectations (having mentioned his stint at Zinga in his bio), and struck me as particularly smart. Keith Burgun‘s portion had a slow start, but eventually he got into some really nice design advice.

I’ve got to cut this short, because I’m watching Michael Brough talk about roguelikes, and that’s pretty distracting.