Okay, I went overboard with the title. Let’s move on.
When you’re making a game (or, I imagine, embarking on any creative endeavor), you find yourself navigating possibility space. Your game could feature dolphins or sharks. It could be played from a top down perspective, or via a text parser. Each of these decisions affects the game and helps locate it in possibility space, so each time you make or change a decision the game moves. If you’re doing this with any intention (such as to make something awesome) then I think it’s fair to say that you’re navigating. Ahoy, land ho, etcetera.
With many constraints and clear goals this becomes an excercise in problem solving, and can be quite fun. If you’re simply cloning an existing game then you just need to accurately map your destination and set sail. Without any constraints or goals you could conceivably create anything, but you’re far more likely create nothing, having no idea where to start on a giant blank canvas. Here be dragons.
I follow a different approach, which I call selfish design. I create games tailored to my tastes, specifically so that I can play them. This keeps me clear of the paralyzing dragons of possibility, and helps me stay motivated. Also I get to play cool games that I like. Obviously I’m also keen on distributing and sometimes selling these games, but I find if I keep to the selfish design principle the other motivations can also be satisfied. Sometimes.
Right now I have a problem. If you follow this blog you’ll know that much of Captain Jameson is played via Command Line Interface, and that I’ve recently been testing the game with real, live, squishy humans. The strongest indicator I’ve found for whether a player is able to engage with the CLI and enjoy the game is this:
Is that player me?
This is where selfish design falls apart. I built the game systems, I understand how the ship computer terminal operates, and I know what few commands it can process at any time. Everyone else see a blinking cursor. Even when prompted to type a specific command, players know there are almost limitless things they could type, and any of these things might work. They face infinite, paralyzing possibility.
Though I love the CLI, I think I’d be happier making a game other people could play and enjoy. With this in mind I’m experimenting with a new system, based on the Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem (MEDS) currently installed in NASA shuttles. You can see a little old man fiddling with one in the picture here. I’ll keep the ASCII stylings of the CLI, but instead of typing arcane half-remembered context sensitive commands I’ll have the player pick from a series of options at the bottom of the display by hitting number keys on their keyboards. Hopefully these six buttons will present finite, liberating possibility.