• Welcome to droqen's forum-shaped notebook. Please log in.


Started by droqen, January 15, 2023, 09:56:14 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


<<. . . absent of any problems to be solved, players are forced to invent their own problems. [Some examples from spelltower are] "Can I spell a 6 letter word?" or "Can I spell a word with a Q in it?" . . . answering any of these questions will teach you things that make you better at SpellTower. . . . they're a self-guided tour into the exact areas of the system that matter.>> --Zach Gage's "Designing for Problem-Solvers" http://stfj.net/DesigningForProblem-Solvers/, emphasis in original text

I don't have a quote for this, but in The Nature of Order, Christopher Alexander defines centers and in particular latent centers (Book 1) and describes 'living process' (Book 2), a process by which a thing is created by looking at a space and noticing latent centers (in games, in Gage's language, the problems which players invent when forced to invent their own problems, are latent centers) and strengthening them.

This is actually, legitimately, the heart of the process of finding a game design of this form. I remember watching Zach give this talk (just a recording, alas I did not see him perform it in person) and thinking 1. awesome, and 2. wait but how?

Gage does not say how to get there, but Alexander does.


Book Two discusses mistakes and uses them as an argument for the power of an adaptive, living process. . . a process of "fabrication" which produces the design all at once will have many mistakes. Anyway, I'm just going to go see how Alexander describes mistakes and how they are applied here.


The Nature of Order, Book Two P. 190 (quoted text follows)

     Let us consider the kinds of things which are, in my definition, "mistakes."
     A window sill may be just right to put things on --- or it may be too small. A window may look at a favourite tree, or it may be placed to look at a wall. The path may be built so that one hardly has place to put the soap; or it may be built with a comfortable shelf where soap and shampoo can be without falling off. The light in a room may be placed to create a comfortable atmosphere at night, small pools of light in just the right places, or it may be merely a light fixture wherever the builder put it. . . . It is well-adapted to need because of specific, small, features that it has.
     Each of these things . . . depends on adjustment, attention to position, dimension, comfort, and adequacy. If missing, they are mistakes of adaptation --- adaptations that were not achieved.


Alas, Alexander does not give any higher-level abstract wisdom about mistakes. In fact many of these mistakes on surface reading seem more like the sort of mistakes that are handled by QA and QoL, with the exception that he advocates explicitly for a process which handles all of these mistakes during the process of generation, rather than afterwards, and in a computer software context, no less!

I cannot find the page it's on, but he specifically describes giving a talk to computer software developers about his 'structure-preserving transformations', hearing from them that 'we already do this!' and thinking about it a while and concluding that they do not in fact do this. Maybe I'll find it or someone will stumble upon this and find it for me. Who knows!


Anyway, returning to the topic at hand, whether it is in line with Alexander's thinking or not, there is a hole in Gage's talk (yes this is the goal but how?) which is perfectly filled by Alexander's living process of strengthening latent centers (i.e. looking for common "invented problems" and making the process of engaging with those problems more satisfying). He also describes how this tends to produce additional latent centers without even particularly trying, and advocates for thinking about the wholeness (i.e. how all the centers relate, i.e. how a change will affect all the other aspects of the game). An additional interesting wrinkle is how much he insists nothing new needs to be, or even should be, added. Everything should be already practically there upon examining the latent center and the wholeness; what exists should be the source of inspiration, and shocking new existences will spring out of that, uninvited.

If I hadn't already felt that way myself I would be hesitant to just follow suit, but I have within me a deep sense that adding new things is always inferior to adding variations of old things, of what is already there or is already obvious.

That is, The Nature of Order is, just as The Timeless Way did, providing a strong framework for existing convictions I already have. He's preaching to the choir, but teaching me what rhymes along the way.

And there are so many beautiful rhymes.