Saturday, October 27, 2012

NYU 9th Floor Talks: Bennett Foddy on Creative Practice

Bennett Foddy, creator of QWOP and GIRP, gave a talk at NYU Game Center about his creative practices.

  • Bennett breaks down his creative practices into five principles.
  • Principle #1 - Put down the controller and think outside the computer.
    • Figure out ways of input before you start developing your games with the computer.
    • His latest game, Get On Top, is played with two giant trampolines with Playstation move controllers strapped underneath them. Jump on the trampolines to make your character jump.
    • It's a wrestling game where you have to get your character on top of the opponent's,
    • He was inspired by Japanese arcade games that utilizes large elaborate peripheral controllers.
    • There was a fan critique of Armored Core's control scheme, which almost demands players to have 15 fingers and constant active input of the face buttons. One fan joked that the best way to play the game is to turn the controller around.
    • Although this was just a joke, Bennett thinks it's pretty cool and sees it as an opportunity. Why not make a game that requires you to play like this? The control scheme is complicated and clumsy, but there can be an interesting game that can come out of it.
    • The NES controller is very simple and recognizable. It only has a directional pad and two buttons, essentially giving players the total of 3 verbs. But designers should start thinking of their game design in terms of verbs first, and then map the controller to their actions.
  • Principle #2 - Integrate
    • In Fable 2's seduction minigame, a radial HUD with icons appear. The player's attention moves towards the icons and bars, and the characters and world are faded to the background. The HUD becomes the focus and distracts from the world.
    • Health bars are a non-integrated system. They are out of field and floating in the air, and breaks the players' immersion. Fighting games are a genre in which fans and developers alike claim that health bars are completely essential. But even fighting games can deal with health bars. For example, Bushido Blade is about fast-action and one-hit kills.
    • Bennett's own fighting game for Indiecade, Fistmonger, has no floating health bars. Both fighters are standing on top of a cliff and the point of the game is to knock the other off. Instead of health bars, every time a fighter is hit, the clifftop degrades, making it easier for the fighter to fall off.
    • In Tim Roger's Ziggurat for the iOS, your shots will explode and you can cause chain explosions. This combo system is invisible to the player and never shown onscreen.
    • CLOP's difficult ramp is an actual ramp.
    • The 2nd room of VVVVVV has a difficulty spike in the form of a floor of spikes.
    • QWOP and Super Hexagon have integrated rules. You immediately know what to do when starting the game. Non-integrated rules need to be explained.
  • Principle #3 - Build for immediacy
    • Don't include a tutorial in your game. Tutorials rob players of any sense of discovery and exploration. It's like a person who always finishes sentences for you.
    • Good examples of non-tutorial games are Limbo and Bennett's own cricket game, Little Master.
    • Bennett attaches a MIDI mixing controller to his games and connects every relevant variable to a slider. He can tweak fast and test all variables in real-time.
    • No tutorial leads to discovery which leads to elation and satisfaction.
  • Princple #4 - Play with the player
    • The developer's role is traditionally like a mentor or a tour guide. Bennett likes to have a warped perspective of this relationship.
    • The developer should be standing in for Player 2, trying to defy, confuse, and embarrass the other player.
    • In Secret of Monkey Island, there is a fishing minigame where a bird comes in at the end and steals your fish. Inspired by this, at the end of GIRP, when you reach for the gift box at the top of a cliff, a bird might swoop in and steal it.
    • In CLOP, many players might exploit the game by only using the horse's front legs to drag the rest of the body forward. The game can catch players doing this and unlock the "Lame Horse" mode where the hind legs become paralyzed.
    • By reacting to the way the players play the game, you can play together.
    • Watch players play through a designer's eye.
    • During playtesting, don't fix your game based on one playtester failing. If the player is lost in the maze, it doesn't mean you should remove the maze.
    • Proteus has no tutorial.
    • In Eradica, if you put the disc upside-down, the intro screen would be shown upside-down as a prank.
    • Playful tricks have a personal contract between player and developer. It makes the player more aware of the game maker.
  • Principle #5 - Push, don't press
    • This principle is derived from a Jonathan Blow quote.
    • Pushing is understanding the promise of game design.
    • Don't do the obvious because it's not surprising to the player. You have to push yourself to find more.
    • Push the mechanics to their limits and exhaust their functions, but don't force the mechanics to be more interesting than they may turn out to be (pressing).
    • Bennett's Sun God is a game where two characters are tethered by a rope. It's a player game that can also be played by one player (just like a xylophone). The characters leave cherry blossom trails.
    • Bennett was happy with how the game ended up looking, but not so satisfied with its gameplay. He might have pushed too hard. He forced the tether mechanic to work, instead of scrapping the idea when he realized it wasn't working.
    • "The most creative are no different in IQ with their peers, but are able to get themselves to a specified mood to be most creative. They get themselves into a state of play and exhibit childlike behavior." -- John Cleese
    • Alfred Hitchcock would sometimes tell completely irrelevant stories during stressful times on set. While odd to many of his colleagues, he did this deliberately to ease his cast and crew and get them into a mental state of play.
    • It's easy to tell forged signatures from real ones. Forged signatures starts and stops, while real signatures flow naturally. This is similar to calligraphy vs. sculpting from stone marble.
    • SVN makes your creative thinking too safe. Game design decisions feel like they don't matter anymore because you can always just rollback to an earlier version. Game jams and prototypes solve this problem because they keep games small and light.
    • Long full production of games is a drudgery that takes away from the fun of the prototype.
Question and Answer
  • What's a light physical game? Catch.
  • Jesse Schell has said to make a fun toy first.
  • There are different types of frustration and Bennett thinks that in-game frustration is good.
  • Bennett's games require a bit of literacy of technology. But relying too much on literacy and conventions would limit your game design.
  • Bennett wants to make a game where you play as a bird and is pushed out of a nest. You have to learn to fly immediately. This is an appropriate metaphor for how he wants players to play his games.
  • Hokra is a game that Bennett thinks is easy to get into a state of flow because it has an easy learning curve.
  • Bennett's has had several collaborations in the past including the boxing game with Tom Rogers and Get on Top with Douglas Wilson.
  • Designers should learn to code.
  • Don't be too systemic and delete changes. Knowing that you can possibly lose everything liberates you to make big changes and take risks.

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