GDC: Experimental Gameplay Workshop

By: Derek Yu

On: February 22nd, 2008

Experimental Gameplay Workshop

We sat in on Jon Blow’s extremely packed Experimental Gameplay Workshop today. Jon and company discussed a number of user-submitted and found games, and broke them down into categories. I would have liked to hear more discussion of the themes as opposed to just finding about how the games work, but overall, it was pretty sweet.

Here are links to the games (a bunch of them have already been on TIGSource), and some quick notes about each one:


Cursor*10 – We covered this one on TIGS. The guy (not the developer) (EDIT: actually, it’s Maxis’s Chris Hecker) did a great demo of it, though.

Timebot – Ditto.

Braid – Man, it was awesome to finally see this in action. David Hellman‘s artwork looks superb! Jon showed off a “parallel worlds” mechanic that’s similar to the one found in the other “replay” games. In one example, your parallel self jumped into a pit of spikes to get a key to you (waiting on the other side of the pit).

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom – This game adds some interesting things to the same basic idea… you can create time paradoxes and there’s a certain mode where your parallel selves become your enemies.


Lost in the Static – This game was based on one of Squidi’s ideas (don’t worry, Squidi, you were mentioned in the presentation!).

Space Giraffe – This was fun. Jon Blow showed us a bunch of levels and said he felt the game didn’t do well because the fact that obfuscation was part of the gameplay wasn’t made apparent to the player from the beginning. Later, someone asked Jon if Jeff Minter was thinking about obfuscation, or if he just thought it looked cool. I don’t think there was any consensus on that point.

Wrath of Transparentor – Hell yes! Matthew Korba demonstrated this B-Game and gave TIGSource a nice mention as well. The crowd ate it up!

La La Land 4 – A fucked up Game Maker game that also got some big laughs!

User-Created Content

Line Golf – This is a golf game based on Line Rider that lets you make/play your own courses. Looks pretty entertaining!

Crayon Physics Deluxe – The IGF Grand Prize Winner! Petri mentioned that he didn’t add score/time to the game because he wanted people to be creative with their solutions. He then showed us some levels and some of the crazier solutions to them. Great presentation and well-deserved win!

Audiosurf – Dylan Fitterer played the Team Fortress 2 theme song, as well as “Killing in the Name of.” It’s cool that you can now say you “played” a song!

Bernie the Pyromancer – This is a neat game that’s not available for download yet (as far as I know). You play a fire wizard who wants to burn villages down. You can click on flaming houses to shoot the flames out and try to spread them to nearby things. There are exploding cows, which is a nice touch (and they’re handy for spreading flames long distances).

Stars over Half-Moon Bay

Stars over Half-Moon Bay is Rod Humble’s latest game, which is inspired by a drive he took near Half-Moon Bay (up here in Northern California). I don’t want to spoil the gameplay for you, but the theme is creativity and how it feels to be creative. I think generally this one is more palatable than The Marriage (your taste depending).

Two Worlds

David Hellman presented the first two games in this category, comparing the “two worlds” concept to the famous drawing that looks like either a young lady or an old woman.

Yin Yang – Another Squidi idea (allegedly)! Not much more to say about this, really. NO REALLY.

Shift – Similar idea, one character.

Alex Austin’s Shadow Game – This one is really early in development, but the concept is super cool. It’s a 3d game where you play as a jumping ball trying to reach a green platform. To get to the platform, you have to switch to the ball’s shadow (and then play as it from a 2d perspective). Alex Austin is the badass programmer for Cryptic Sea.

(Photo Source: Dan “Data” Tabar)

  • GirlFlash

    for some reason a list of games always gets me excited :D

    anyhoo, this workshop sounds awesome, I hope one day to attend, just gotta save my pennies ^_^

  • Melly

    Mmm, La La Land.

    Those were fucked up, yeah. I love’em.

  • Squidi

    You know, I submitted my Three Hundred project to this workshop. Never received a response. And yet, not one, not two, but THREE games on this list were on my website first. In fact, I specifically linked to Lost In Static and Yin-Yang in my application.

    Oh, you Experimental Gameplay Workshop guys had your chance. You could’ve had the real thing. But no, you had to get a hooker and dress her in a bad red wig and had her prance around in faux arrogance, but it wasn’t same, was it guys? It felt dirty and you felt ashamed afterwards, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same! This could’ve been yours! YOU COULD’VE HAD THIS, BITCHES! BUT I’M TOO GOOD FOR YOU! YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE!!!

    (For the sarcasm impaired, the above was a joke. I’m a little disappointed that my website was overlooked, but I got a mention and it was probably a bad idea for me to be in the same room with Nitrome’s game being presented anyway.)

  • Chris Hecker

    You should have received a response explaining that your submission wasn’t accepted, sorry about that. Somebody else came up to the stage and told me they never received one either, so we must have had a problem with the mail, but a number of people responded to it so we know it went out to some people at least. As the mail [you didn’t receive] said, we were behind schedule because of the early GDC this year, so we did a bulk mailing of the rejections instead of the normal personal mail. Again, sorry about that. You can mail us at the submission address to get more info.

    “The guy (not the developer)”

  • Jonathan Blow

    Yes, I have to apologize for the lack of response. What happened was, we received tons more submissions than we usually do. So it took us a long time to sort through them, discuss them all, etc. Then we decided which ones were definite “No” and sent out email to those people, and some who were definite “Yes” and sent email to them.

    That left some “Maybe”s that we were still working through, at which point I lost my nice new laptop and all the records of the current status of the workshop and everyone we were dealing with, and the situation descended into total chaos, just trying to get the show ready in time. So the “Maybe”s never got contacted.

    For the record Squidi, the reason we didn’t put your site into the show is just that we aren’t a Game Idea workshop; we’re for talking about actual implementations and how they went. A session that is purely about bringing people together to show lots of game ideas would be pretty interesting (in fact, you might consider submitting that as a full session proposal to the GDC next year).

    Anyway, I have to apologize once again, there are probably several tigsource readers who we never got back to. (I think we never got back to cactus with a definitive answer, for the same reason — we were figuring things out down to the wire amid total chaos).

  • Squidi

    I’m having something of an existentialist crisis. I mean, yeah, the EGW is about implementation, not ideas, and yet, three of the sixteen ideas presented were first published to the world through my website. Close to 20% of the games, and two thirds of a presented genre (speaking of which, wrong optical illusion), wouldn’t exist otherwise.

    So, for example, by virtue of spending two days hacking together a generic platforming game, Lost in the Static is elevated above the original inspiration that spawned it? Is that why it is up there on the stage? Because of the code or because of the gimmick? It’s up there on behalf of sweat, not talent. What message does that send?

    I don’t know. That doesn’t sit well with me, and yet I know quite well that is how the world works. What place does the game designer truly have in the game industry when no matter what they do, they will always play second fiddle to those who make those designs happen? Why does the game industry reward the carpenters over the architects? Maybe you can answer that question for me, because I still don’t understand it. I’ve always thought that the printing press existed on behalf of the author, not vice versa.

    That’s why I submitted my website. That’s the question I want examined. Where does experimental gameplay truly begin? I know where games begin and end, but what about gameplay? Gameplay isn’t a product. It’s an idea. The game is just one possible implementation of that idea. Both Yin-Yang and Shift are different games, and yet both feature the same fundamental gameplay mechanic – both are built around it, built to, and built through it. Without that mechanic, what’s left?

    I’m not angry or anything. I’m just confused. I obviously think the line exists somewhere different from everybody else. I don’t know where I stand anymore. I don’t know where anybody does. I had hoped that my webpage would make a good argument on my behalf. I had hoped that it would prove something about the value and virtue of ideas separate from how they are finally implemented. But so far, it’s been a particularly weak argument, and I think that’s what has confused me the most.

    After all, which would you rather read? The history of the words used in the Constitution? Or the history of the people, ideas, and ideals behind it? I will never understand people who choose the former.

  • Zaphos

    Squidi — it’s not an experiment without an implementation. It’s just a hypothesis.
    But that’s certainly not to say ideas are not valuable — clearly interesting hypothesis are at the heart of any great experiment! — and as Jonathan said it might make for an interesting session to discuss gameplay ideas without implementation. It just wouldn’t be a session about experimentation.

  • Jonathan Blow

    Yeah, I am not saying that ideas aren’t valuable. I’m just saying it’s not what we do at the Experimental Gameplay Sessions. We are geared toward looking at how implementations actually came out.

    There was an hour lecture at the GDC this year about game ideas / creativity / brainstorming, etc. It was broken into three 20-minute parts. The first 20 minutes was Patrick Curry’s game-idea-every-week site, which is obviously similar to your Three Hundred Mechanics, but perhaps does not communicate as well or be as engaging because he doesn’t illustrate with pictures the way you tend to. Also during the talk he barely mentioned any actual ideas, so it was pretty dry.

    The other two 20-minute sections were more disappointing, though. The middle one was just bleah (it was about how to be creative) and the last one was about brainstorming, by some corporate tool who wouldn’t know creativity from a hole in the wall.

    I was thinking, while watching this, that an hour-long presentation of Three Hundred Mechanics would have been a much better session.

    So this may just be a matter of finding the right venue — maybe you ought to submit that next year to the GDC as a full session. As part of the Experimental Gameplay Sessions you probably only would have gotten a 10-minute slot anyway (that was the longest we did on any session this year), but from the GDC proper you might get a full hour.

    Heck, there are other conferences coming up, and being founded, that are more about avant garde game design and advanced thinking, so those might be good too.

  • Jonathan Blow

    Also, to answer this question:

    “Lost in the Static is elevated above the original inspiration that spawned it? Is that why it is up there on the stage? Because of the code or because of the gimmick? It’s up there on behalf of sweat, not talent. What message does that send?”

    It was up there because, in implemented form, the audience can experience the game to some extent. (It’d be better if they were playing it, but that’s not the way the EGS goes). This experience helps them understand the idea better, and helps them judge for themselves whether it worked, and how interesting it is to them. It’s a much more powerful experience to see something running, than just to hear, “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a game where everything was static.”

    Implementation also acts as a BS Test of sorts; someone who’s a good salesman can take an unworkable idea and sell it to an audience. It’s harder to do that when you have to demonstrate an implementation, because weak spots tend to show up there and be seen by the audience, whereas in a verbal description they can just be skipped over. The implementation acts as a feasibility test / existence proof.

  • Squidi

    If I’m not mistaken, the workshop simply shows presentations of the games in question. Effectively, they aren’t games at all, as far as the audience is concerned, but rather video presentations. At that point, it’s simply about communicating the idea as clearly as possible, and I suggest that one could do that just as well with static images, animated images and video, or even something like a Keynote presentation. A mockup would be just as effective (and I dare say that some of the entries were little more than glorified mockups).

    As to the comment about the BS Test, ideas are the abstract. Did Lost in the Static have to be a platform game? No, that’s just one interpretation of the concept. I, personally, think the gimmick would be better served in a different genre. As it is, it has been presented as a rather lackluster platform game and while it has proven that you can make a game out of that sort of concept, it also artificially draws a glass ceiling on it by tying the idea to the implementation.

    How many people complained about headaches from that game? Or how many said that it was too difficult to make shapes out? That kind of thing can be, I believe, fixed through a longer process. A different genre with a lighter emphasis on collision and shapes might be a better match for the perspective. A higher framerate or a faster/slower static movement patterns could help with the headache. There is a distinct feeling of depth given by the speeds of the static that was not even slightly explored by Lost in the Static. What happens when you introduce subtle color into the static or even non-static images? What happens if you use something other than static to the same effect, like gradients or even simple static stipple patterns?

    You show someone a screenshot and they invent the game in their head as they try to make sense of it. But when they play the game, they can only think, this is great because of A or this sucks because of B. So yes, it can work as a BS Test. But it can also work to limit the potential of an idea too. A half assed implementation of a great idea can kill that great idea dead.

    I don’t know. It’s not up to me, I guess. I’m sure a good salesman could sell a bad idea, but I’ve never seen it happen. It is SO HARD for an idea, a pure idea, to be taken seriously by anybody else. There’s no such thing as a freelance game designer. I just can’t imagine someone getting far with a bad idea. Of course, one can implement a bad idea and sell it, no problem, unfortunately. I think you’ve got it backwards.

  • Zaphos

    *”If I’m not mistaken, the workshop simply shows presentations of the games in question.”*

    I think they are presentations *describing* an experiment which was performed. The presentation at the workshop of course is not a replication of the experiment; instead, it is a report on the experiment which took place in the development of the game.

    About the BS test thing … it’s very hard to prove a null result. An experiment generally only shows “it can work this well” and does not show “it can’t work better than this.” So I think it’s wrong to expect an experiment to work as much of a “BS test” in the negative sense of rejecting ideas; what it *can* be expected to do is act as a non-BS test in the positive sense of proving the validity of ideas.

  • Chris Hecker

    I think comments on blogs are not great ways to have conversations about complex and subtle topics, but I will say three things:

    1. I think Zaphos put it perfectly: *”It’s not an experiment without an implementation. It’s just a hypothesis.”*

    2. Your post above actually reinforces this point by talking about how the idea could have many implementations, and then you hypothesize about some of them. Who knows whether those games would be better or worse than Lost in the Static, or be more or less experimental? The only way to find out is to actually make the game. A perfect example of this was found in the presentation I gave comparing Cursor*10 and Timebot at the Nuances of Design session…they’re identical high concepts, but they have completely different gameplay based on small decisions like, “do you spawn the next guy from the beginning or the current position?” Nobody can predict how that kind of stuff impacts the gameplay, you have to prototype it.

    3. Someone in the audience asked a question about this very topic, and Sean discussed it on stage. He gave you a lot of credit, but said it was impossible to assign a “percentage” to idea versus implementation, because it’s so intertwined. He said he wanted to err on the side of giving credit. You will be able to listen to the audio recording when it’s available in a few weeks to see how you feel about it.

    Taking off my EGW hat, and putting on my GDC Advisory Board hat, I would doubt we’d accept a full 1 hour lecture on “game ideas” unless the talk could very clearly articulate what the takeaway was for developers in the audience. The talks Jon mentions have received mixed reviews from people I’ve talked to but I haven’t seen the final numbers, and some of those talks were 1 hour submissions we converted to 20 minute talks because of the lack-of-takeaway risk. The 20 minute format is still an experiment for us. We will look at the feedback forms before deciding what to accept in this vein next year.
    The way to get a 1 hour talk accepted on “how to brainstorm game ideas” is to write an incredibly detailed extended abstract for your submission talking about exactly what you will tell attendees. You actually might want to go as far as doing the talk and submitting a video or audio of it so nothing is left to interpretation. The board is just very reticent to allocate 1 hour talks without clear takeaway.


  • Chris Hecker

    Oh, and about the “it’s the same as a video” point. As Jon says, it would be great if everyone could play the games in the audience, but that is unfortunately logistically not possible right now. Nuances tries this on a smaller scale, and it is a very different session as a result. However, the reason it’s not the same as a video is because the EGW board _has_ played the games, and we perform a curatorial role, and people trust us (for better or for worse), and so if we put a game up there, we are saying, “we have played this game, and it is experimental for reason X”, and people find value in that. It’s even better when the games are freely available, because then we can encourage the audience to play for themselves.

    By the way, the only case where we’ve put a design document on the stage was in the first EGW, where Doug talked about his Frontier game idea. We all agree (including Doug, who is also on the EGW board) that the bar is much higher now and we would not accept the same talk again. This came up when we were discussing your submission.


  • Squidi

    First, I have nothing against Lost in the Static or its creator. He has always done right by me and I respect that greatly. But it was still a game done in a few days that, outside of the gimmick, wouldn’t be noteworthy in any way, shape, or form.

    How many would be game designers are turned away by the, in my opinion, absurd requirement that they must also implement their ideas? I happen to be a programmer, so my reasons for not implementing these ideas are different. None the less, I have had this conversation or conversations like it many times, and it gets no less irritating. Ideas have no value. They aren’t worth my time and they aren’t worth your time. Bah humbug. I get the same sort of argument when I argue against the importance of experience over talent.

    Ideas do have value. The game industry just hasn’t had a reason to notice. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to prove the industry wrong. One day, people will stop worshipping the carpenters over the architects. But for that to happen, there’s got to be at least one architect who isn’t a carpenter, one blueprint that isn’t a building, one idea that inspires reality rather than is trapped by it. One day, I’ll prove to you that ideas are important.

    But alas, that is not today and probably won’t be any time soon. But if you see more squidi born games at next years experimental gameplay workshop, and the year after that, perhaps it will get harder and harder to take such a position in the future.

  • lol

    I think there should be a panel with the only entry requirement being that you have an inflated ego equal or greater to that of Squidi’s.

  • Data

    hah, it should say “crappy blurry photo source”… There’s actually one of the actual panel in my album that isn’t as blurry.

  • Dom Camus


    One of the key difficulties with the approach you take is that attribution becomes quite difficult. Sure, if everyone reads your site then we’ll know which ideas you claim to have invented. But if this level of game design were widely respected then every kid with a website would be trying to do what you do for their shot at glory. It would be near impossible trying to work out where a given idea turned up first.

    This happens already in another field: deck design for trading card games (particularly Magic the Gathering). And the way it gets resolved there is simple. The credit for a deck design goes to whoever first takes it to a tournament finish high enough to attract attention. And at that point the deck’s pilot has an opportunity to acknowledge the origins of the deck. Sometimes they are the designer. Sometimes they modified another designer’s work and will credit them. At other times still they will credit the design entirely to someone else.

    My point is this: if your designs are really good, people will implement them (and indeed this has happened). If you come up with a design and nobody wants to implement it that doesn’t mean it’s not good, but it probably does mean it’s not obviously good, so it’s unreasonable to expect much kudos for the design in its unproven state.

    To borrow your analogy, I know of no architects famous for designing buildings that were never built.

  • Chris Hecker

    Squidi, I’m not sure why you claim everyone else thinks ideas have no value, but you seem fairly set in that so I won’t try to dissuade you. I don’t find that to be true in the industry in general. I think most people have a pretty healthy attitude towards the relative value of ideas versus implementation, although it’s hard to quantify, as Sean said at EGW. I do think it would behoove you to chill on the “architects vs. carpenters” thing, because it’s pretty wrongheaded for a bunch of different reasons having to do with the way interactivity works, and some people also might find it offensive, which isn’t helping your argument.

    A large part of the job of a designer who can’t implement (and even one who can if he or she wants to scale) is to convince others to implement their ideas. This is true at the indie level or on AAA games at EA. So, I don’t think it’s stopping anybody who wasn’t going to be stopped by a million other obstacles that come up during game development.

    Incidentally, I wrote an article about “experience vs. talent” a while back that you might want to check out, since I used to have the same [mistaken, I now believe] opinion that you now hold.


  • Squidi

    “I know of no architects famous for designing buildings that were never built.”

    I know of no architects who built the buildings themselves. What was the name of the contractor in charge of building Fallingwater?

    The truth is, your argument is only valid up to a point. Once you pass that point, ideas matter a whole lot more than implementation. Ideas are what are remembered. Nobody gives a crap that Fallingwater had a structural flaw in the foundation.

    I’m talking end game here. There’s no such thing as a game designer in the game industry. No two companies share the same concept of what a “designer” really is. It is a catch all term that covers everything from scripting to level design to writing to producing to testing. There are famous game designers (like five of them), but the position is largely undefined.

    My belief is that this is because the game industry is filled largely with pragmatic people with very little imagination. They see something abstract and must first put it into concrete terms to understand it – and something is lost in translation. They can’t imagine a situation where one idea is worth more than another because they don’t have the talent for telling them apart. To them, the difference between a bad idea and good idea is spit and polish.

    I want to change that. I want things to be judged against Frank Lloyd Wright, not by the house down the street. I want the very simple concept of one idea being better than another idea being recognized by the greater industry. And I want creativity and ingenuity in IDEAS to be recognized and rewarded in the same way that creativity and ingenuity is rewarded in programming, art, and team management.

    Basically, I want game designers to be game designers. I don’t want a producer who can design or a programmer who can design. I want a guy to design and I want somebody else to implement it, and I want credit for the design to go to the designer and credit for the implementation to go to the implementor. It’s so simple and obvious, but from the responses I get, you’d think I was asking for money by the side of the road with a cardboard sign.

    Don’t get me wrong. I want talent to be recognized and rewarded. I just don’t make the mistake of confusing talent with effort.

  • Chris Hecker

    I replied to this thread, but I made the mistake of including a link in my reply, and so now I think the reply is stuck in moderation limbo. If it doesn’t show up tomorrow I guess I’ll repost it.


  • Jonathan Blow

    I think this shows a distorted view of the realities of game creation.

    For example, programmers *always* end up designing the game to some degree. (This is something I’ve discussed in lectures repeatedly). There are many, many design decisions that are below the level of what the designer is thinking about, yet which impact game feel. So to credit programmers only with “implementation” is an injustice.

    In fact, there is almost nowhere in the game industry where someone hands programmers a spec of exactly what needs to be done (at a low level), and then they do those things and check off the boxes. The role of a programmer is usually much more creative than that.

    Look at Valve and their “cabal” development process. It apparently works pretty well — they have never put out a bad game.

  • Daniel Benmergui

    I find the fact that Squidi’s 300 project creates more grief than rewards for him a little upsetting.

    The 300 project is not just a bunch of sudden ideas, but *concepts*. Concepts take time and thinking and wondering and eureka moments. Squidi probably spent quite a bit of time (maybe even years) to come up with some of them. And that’s why I think his work is much more valuable than a random guy believing he’s nailed the idea of the century overnight.

    I agree that by not having prototypes for some of them makes them lack an important exploration dimension, but I think it’s enough for GDC. Game Design lectures are usually just either inspirational or entertaining.

    This year Ernest Adams gave a lecture about a design of his that was canned years ago, and even though I respect a lot of Ernest Adam’s work, this lecture was neither inspirational or entertaining.

    I think Squidi’s 300 would be very inspirational for GDC atendees.

    …even though it would probably cause him even more grief when lots of games pop up without acknowledging where they got the basic concept in the first place :).

  • I Like Cake

    I think the segregation of designer and programmer is based on this concept that you have two basic types of people: creative and analytic, or left-brained and right-brained, but most of what we know about neurology has largely discredited that idea, to my knowledge.

    I would think that, assuming one bothers to put effort into learning good design concepts in the first place, design abilities could only be enhanced by also learning a good understanding of the tools used in implementation.

    I think, in the indie game programming community, it has often become de rigueur to be unable to see the forest for the trees, but that it’s taking a lot on faith to assume that this is a necessary part of the discipline or that programmers have to carry this into every part of their lives. The idea may be simple and obvious, but it’s also almost assuredly inaccurate.

  • I Like Cake

    “.. Learning a good understanding…”

    I should really know better than to participate in these things before I’ve eaten breakfast.

  • Squidi

    I Like Cake: I make no claims that one who does A cannot do B. I’m actually a very good programmer when I want to be (though I rarely want to be these days). What I’m saying is that one should be able to be a designer without having to be an implementor too. One CAN exist without the other, and we need a way to look at, appreciate, and respect designs distinct from their implementation.

    As to whether the Three Hundred would make a good GDC presentation, I couldn’t say. I’ve never been to the GDC. I probably couldn’t even afford to go to it. I can’t say what fits at the GDC and what doesn’t.

    That being said, I think the Three Hundred would be a good presentation to someone, somewhere. Lots of people find value in what I do and have shown that appreciation with things like job offers, magazine interviews, donations, and plain old attention by the thousands.. They just aren’t at that level of authority that I need to be taken seriously by the industry at large.

    Something like the GDC would go a long way to getting that sort of authority – probably the best chance a fake game designer like me would ever have of being taken seriously. But whatever. I’m not really sure that it would change anything. It would just help me feel less like an unwanted outsider, and that frustration is the source of my superhuman strength.

  • Chris Hecker

    *”Something like the GDC would go a long way to getting that sort of authority – probably the best chance a fake game designer like me would ever have of being taken seriously.”*

    I doubt you want to hear this, but the best chance you have of being taken seriously is to make some of your games so people can play them. Whether that means you implement them or convince others to implement them (as I mention above in the post that finally came through moderation).

    You seem to think the design has value without the implementation, which is the wrong way to look at it. The design can certainly have potential value, but that potential isn’t unlocked until it’s implemented. Then, once you’ve got the artifact, you can appreciate the design and/or the implementation together or separately (there are tons of examples of good designs and crappy implementations that are appreciated as such explicitly), but without having the artifact, the design is just so much cheap hot air. You don’t know whether it will work, which is the real test of the design. It’s just a “high concept” if it’s not implementable, and high concepts *are* basically worthless.


  • Zaphos

    Ideas can certainly be valuable before implementation. Perhaps the most common example would be mathematical conjectures — 4 color theorem, fermat’s last theorem, etc — despite the chance that they would turn out to be hot air, they were considered valuable and interesting long before they were proven.

    I don’t think you can disregard “potential value” as if it were equivalent to zero value. Without the artifact, the design is still inspiration, still a goal which can give valuable direction.

  • Squidi


    “I doubt you want to hear this, but the best chance you have of being taken seriously is to make some of your games so people can play them”

    How about I let other people make the games so you can play them? I recommend Lost in the Static, Shift, and Yin-Yang.

    “You seem to think the design has value without the implementation, which is the wrong way to look at it.”

    No, it’s a DIFFERENT way of looking at it. Don’t mistake different for wrong.

    “potential isn’t unlocked until it’s implemented.”

    My website is about naked creativity. In a way, the act of writing down these ideas and illustrating them is a form of implementation. I’m able to communicate a lot of new and unique ideas very clearly, and inspire readers at a rapid fire pace not possible when slowed down to the price of implementation (as a game)

    I’ve had people ask me to print the whole Three Hundred in book form when I was done. The thing about ideas is that they can be moved between different media without losing value. You can’t turn a game into a book, but from one idea can come both a game and a book (and look forward to my new feature film: White Noise 3: Headaches).

  • Chris Hecker

    Zaphos: *”despite the chance that they would turn out to be hot air, they were considered valuable and interesting long before they were proven.”*

    That’s a misrepresentation of mathematical history. Those “ideas” were unable to be disproven even though a lot of people tried, which is where they got their value, and it built over time. Each smart person who failed to disprove it added to the value of the theorem. The proof is the implementation in mathematics, and those are some of the most “prototyped” ideas in math.

    Squidi: *”I’ve had people ask me to print the whole Three Hundred in book form when I was done.”*

    I think you’re confusing “that’s cool” with “that’s valuable” (of course, “coolness” has value, but it’s a different kind of value than you’re asserting). I think your 300 pages are really cool. The art is great, it’s fun to look at, etc. But are the ideas valuable as game designs? I don’t know because they’re missing the fundamental differentiator of our art form, which is interactivity. I mean, sure, there’s some incremental value in just having the ideas because that is where things start sometimes, but it is very small because games are about interactivity, and no amount of static assertion will provide the value that an interactive prototype would for actually feeling the game dynamics. I’m not trying to say it’s valueless, but it’s like orders of magnitude of value-difference. That’s what I mean by “potential value unlocked”…the implementation is the [dis]proof, and multiplies the value of the abstract idea by a huge number.

    I dunno, it feels like we’re just going in circles here.


  • Squidi

    Programmers have such poor imaginations. They need to touch something for it to feel real. I don’t really have a problem with that. My problem is that you respect only those who make it real. The fact that Lost in the Static is more important to you than the animated GIF I made proving the concept just boggles my mind – and frankly, is perverse.

    I mean, what kind of game is Yin-Yang without the gimmick? It’s a terrible, slow, boring game. The only noteworthy thing about it is the playable optical illusion I provided IN ITS ENTIRETY through my website. That somebody else proved that it works in no way diminishes the ingenuity of the original idea, especially since it was unchanged from how it was originally presented.

    They proved a point, they didn’t make it.

    I’m not against hard work. I just think you guys are confusing hard work with ingenuity. You are giving kudos to the brick layer for the blueprints made by the architect. As the architect, I hate you for it.

    You want to talk about value of ideas, go right ahead. But at the end of the day, three games were featured that would not exist without my website. At the point that I’ve influenced the creation of games directly, my website has plenty of PROVEN value.

  • Zaphos

    *”The proof is the implementation in mathematics, and those are some of the most “prototyped” ideas in math.”*

    Hmm, that’s a good point, although to some extent I think that “a failure to prove” is like “a prototype you just couldn’t implement”; the idea is still hot air and you just realize it’s harder than you thought to test it?

    Actually I think the better rebuttal to myself is that it’s just a terrible analogy: in math you can easily see “If I had a proof of X I could do Y and Z” whereas in game design you can’t see the value of your design before testing to nearly the same extent.

    So, um, either way I’m wrong. Carry on.

  • Chris Hecker

    Like I said, I think we’re repeating ourselves here, and you seem to be getting more insulting with each post, so I will leave you with this: you should play Cursor*10 and Timebot, and analyze and compare the games. They are basically the same “idea” in the sense that I could easily see you complaining on a forum about them if you had written a page that said something along the lines of, “you have multiple lives, and each one plays out in the same space but overlapping in time” or something. They are completely and radically different feeling games. You should think about why that is.

    Good luck,

  • Squidi

    The games in question, Shift, Yin-Yang, and Lost in the Static are not radically different from what I posted on my web page. Yin-Yang, for example, is functionally identical to a mockup shot I posted. The only thing they added was an arrow that changed gravity. Lost in the Static contributed nothing to the original idea. Both of these concepts have legs. You can go places with them. I could create a dozen very unique game ideas based on them in the time it would take you to type up your response. I just posted a Negative Space Tetris game, I’m writing up a White Noise iPhone touch-based game, and on my todo list is a Negative Space game of pool, where you stretch and pull the boundaries between realities like taffy. Another Negative Space game where one alternates from one reality to another, the white or black spaces take on a more defined artistic look.

    Didn’t you wonder why Shift and Yin-Yang are so similar? Or why Lost in the Static did nothing with the concept except obfuscation? Because implementation isn’t design. They couldn’t see the potential. They couldn’t extend the idea into a new area. They built what they saw. That’s as far as they were capable of taking it.

  • Andy Nonymous

    Squidi, credit has been already been given to you several times on this web site. Apparently, credit was given to you in some presentation hosted by this site. Further, the creator of Shift personally came to your web site and groveled before you on your own forums, even though he’d never heard of you or your site until after having done his game. You claim the Lost in the Static guys have “done right by you,” or whatever. Even the creator of Yin Yang said he’d give you credit in the sequel, even though he’d never heard of you or your site until after he’d done his game.

    And let’s be honest, here; let’s face the cold reality. “Your” Negative Space idea is, by your own admission, highly derivative of a pre-existing artistic technique. In fact, your sole contribution is the idea of basing some kind of game around it. That’s it. You’ve suggested making it a puzzle-platformer, or some kind of tactical war game, or yet another Tetris clone, but none of those game mechanics are yours. All you’ve done it say, “Someone could make a game out of this artistic technique!”

    Likewise, “your” White Noise idea is highly derivative of those Magic Eye pictures. Once more, all you did was take an existing art technique and say, “Hey, we could make a game out of that!”

    Besides being highly derivative, “your” ideas, again, by your own admission, are very rough. There’s tons of gaps to be filled even at the design stage, let alone the implementation stage. I believe you’ve even admitted that the illustrations you draw for your ideas take way more time than the write-up. Basically, you’re not putting much time and effort into the ideas!

    You know, just because your product is ideas instead of implementations doesn’t disclaim you from long, boring hours of toil and sweat. People do respect ideas, but they’re ideas that have had looooooots of work put into them: the central ideas of calculus, the Church-Turing thesis, and the theory of evolution are some easy examples.

    Long story short, the kind of ego-stroking you’re after simply isn’t warranted by the effort you’re putting forth. If you’re tired of people stealing your thunder by implementing “your” ideas, then suck it up, admit your self-diagnosis of A.D.D. is an excuse for laziness and fear of failure, and IMPLEMENT “YOUR” IDEAS! Or keep whining. Whatever. ;)

  • Sean Barrett

    Well, I’m a little late to this discussion, and I don’t want to fan the flames, but there are some things I want to say.

    First off, as I said in the lecture, I would never have made LitS if Squidi hadn’t had the idea and posted. Never. I don’t think it would have ever crossed my mind. (Ok, maybe somebody else would have thought of it, posted it somewhere, and I’d have seen it. Let’s assume that goes to 0.)

    On the other hand, LitS wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t made it, and I have my doubts anyone else would have ever made a game based on that idea. Maybe they would have. I doubt it. I made LitS because the idea was so awesome (in a goofy kind of way–“hey, you can’t take screenshots of it” (I did some programming on Terra Nova SFC so if you used the in-game screenshot facility to take a screenshot when there was a mech on the screen–the mechs were a big surprise that appeared late in the game–the screenshot got saved out without the mech), so I actually had some experience with part of the high concept!) and I felt strongly that that some game like that should exist–that Squidi’s idea should exist, because it was neat.

    I felt a responsibility to the idea–that by doing the game I was squeezing out the opportunity for anyone else to make a game like that, or at least one that would ride primarily on the novelty value. That responsibility meant I couldn’t deliver a shitty game. It didn’t mean I had to spend a year on it. It’s an amusing stunt–a game you can’t take a screenshot of–and maybe you could take that idea somewhere deeper artistically, and I chose not to and maybe I’ve ruined it for that.

    But as to the game design, I have no regrets and apologies. Yes, it’s not tuned as well as it could be, and yes the fact that I did it only four days (mind you, four days at 12 hours a day, and I am monstrously fast coder) has some impact on why it’s not tuned that well. But to say there is no game design in there, or that it is the simplest, trivial, or most obvious game design is flat out insulting.

    As I described in the presentation, I made a conscious choice to _not_ pursue obfuscation as a game mechanic. I don’t think that’s fun personally, and I knew some people would find the game hard enough just to cope with the visuals (and that there was wild variation there that would be hard to do much about). Instead I put a lot of design effort (relatively speaking) into making the design clear, easy to decipher, and playable. If it’s not the game design Squidi would have made, well, if that says anything, that seems to me it says a lot about how it’s not _actually_ Squidi’s design. It’s the game I chose to design at that instant. I’d recently replayed Knytt, and I drew on my feelings from Knytt and from Another World/Out of This World–both platformers in which you move through an alien world. I got this sense that I was experiencing an “alien way of seeing”, and I liked the Knytt gameplay feel, so I ran with that sort of pure exploration/atmosphere, and borrowed the “everything you encounter is unique” from OotW, and made a game that was (in my imaginination, it’s obviously inexplicit in the game) you “exploring” a mysterious alien world. (Ok, constantly moving to the right isn’t really “exploration”, but something had to give if I was doing it in a long weekend, and since I wasn’t pursuing obfuscation in gameplay, the idea wasn’t going to be served by making a long game.)

    And that’s just the high concept design. Of course there was level design, and a lot of thought about pacing, and I tested out my theory about making the climax of the game not be the hardest challenge, and etc. etc.

    In fact (potential offensiveness and total guesswork alert), I bet I spent more time _designing_ LitS than Squidi spent _designing_ “Mechanic #056 – White Noise”. (This remark in reply to the guy who talked about how much time Squidi sunk into these concepts.)

    Of course, to me, it’s not about time spent, so it doesn’t matter; as I said above, the game wouldn’t exist without either of us, so I’m totally down with the summary someone gave after I answered the credit question: we each deserve 100% of the credit.

    There is no doubt that the _concept_ of Lost in the Static is the draw, it’s the thing that got people to WANT to sit down and experience; it’s the hook. But I think there’s enough in the actual game design and the implementation that made (some) people play to the end, and if they hadn’t played it to the end maybe they wouldn’t have SHARED it with other people on their indie-game blogs.

    Or maybe I’m not actually slicing that along the right dimension. I’m definitely not trying to say that what I did was the meat and what Squidi did was the frosting. They’re more intertwined than that, and they’re both important to it. But it is frankly insulting to be told that the _design_ work I did contributed nothing to its “success”.

    Anyway, I want to express that opinion so it would be out there. Do with it what you will, Squidi, if you read it. It doesn’t really _matter_ to me. I enjoy many of your ideas, and will continue to, even if I disagree with you on the degree that game designers with “ideas” are or could ever be anything like architects.

    Note: my father was an architect. Given the level of knowledge needed of e.g. building codes, materials etc., I believe blueprints actually get way into implementation details… if an architect is like anything, they’re like a programmer-designer. Well, ok, maybe there are star architects who have junior architects do all the heavy lifting for them, but there is feedback between the high-level aesthetic decisions and the low-level constraints of implementation reality, and those junior architect are going to have to push back on that senior architect, or be creative geniuses themselves who are having all the credit stolen by the star.

    Fallingwater the idea is bullshit without Fallingwater the blueprints.

  • Zaphos

    *”I’m definitely not trying to say that what I did was the meat and what Squidi did was the frosting.”*

    I think you’re undermining the amount of brilliance it takes to make a good meat frosting with that comment!

    Mmm mm, meat frosting. <3

  • Chris

    Squidi comes off as a “patent troll” of game ideas. As though it were impossible that someone could come up with ideas without his already having insistent he invented them.

    And frankly, this is not just from this discussion. He constantly blogs about how another huge production game is using an idea he came up with.


  • Squidi

    Mr. Barrett, as I’ve said, I have nothing against either you or Lost in the Static. It just makes a particularly good example of my point because you did do it in such a short period of time and you did add very little to the core concept, and that the concept has been praised and respected by a great many websites on behalf of your game.

    That being said, the game itself is terrible. I’m always honest when it comes to stuff like this, so don’t take it personally. As someone who puts such value and emphasis on original ideas, the game you made is the very definition of a hack. I remember telling people that it was a good proof of concept when it came out and then you coming in and saying, no, no, this is the game. I was like, seriously?

    “But to say there is no game design in there, or that it is the simplest, trivial, or most obvious game design is flat out insulting.”

    But there isn’t! The decisions were minute, and many of them were made for you based on the format of the game and the timeframe it was created in.

    When you say that you could only move forward because you only had a long weekend to work on it, you didn’t really make that decision, did you? It was made for you. You would’ve had to have changed the process significantly to go with any other decision. You took the easy way out because, as an implementor and not a designer, that was the most economical. Pragmatism isn’t design. Pragmatism isn’t creativity. Pragmatism is resource management.

    Now, I’m sorry to rip into your game so severely, but you and I both know that you were capable of making something much better than what you ended up releasing. I give you four days of credit for four days of work, but what could you have done with five days or six? You want credit based on your effort, but I think you should’ve put more effort into it.

    “we each deserve 100% of the credit.”

    And you have always given me credit and I appreciate that on such a deep, fundamental level that it really does move me. But as I said, this isn’t about credit. Nobody is telling you that your contribution to LitS was worthless. Well, me I guess, but I’m trying to exaggerate a point so that people with poor imaginations can see.

    “But it is frankly insulting to be told that the design work I did contributed nothing to its ‘success’.”

    I’m sorry, but I’m always honest when it comes to my opinions on such things. I’m not willing to compromise what I say or think on behalf of your feelings. But I am more than willing to listen to your defense.

    So, please, tell me what design decisions you made that you think did contribute to your success. Here, let me quote TIGSource’s entry on LitS:

    “Lost in the Static

    Lost in the Static is essentially a very cut-and-dry platform game based on Squidi’s White Noise game concept. … While it’s a very interesting visual experiment, the game itself isn’t too captivating – just move from one room to the next and dodge stuff. I think there’s a lot more that can be done with this idea, certainly!”

    Here’s’s take:

    “Lost in the Static is a free exploration-oriented platform game for Windows XP and Vista on reasonably modern PCs. It uses some surprising aspects of the human perceptual system to create a visible world out of animating static.”

    “Lost in the Static is a conventional, short, enjoyable platformer with nothing particularly innovative about the gameplay. … It’s a bit of a hat-trick — hard to see this spawning imitators. And yet the hat-trick itself is interesting, and worth experiencing. And the actual game itself is a moderately fun platformer that won’t take you forever to complete.”

    “I played through Lost in the Static twice (not a big time commitment, admittedly) and I’m likely to fire it up and show it to others in the future. The way the game functions is nothing special, certainly; it lacks much in the way of mental challenges and doesn’t require great dexterity. It’s wonderful, though, in that it is full of wonders. It’s not often, after all, that a program comes along and offers the player what is literally a new way of seeing. For interactive retinal art, Lost in the Static is really not bad. It’s certainly worth it to run your eyes over it.”

    Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the only one insulting you. “moderately fun” is hardly praise.

  • Chris Hecker

    Okay, I guess I’m not done with this thread. I will be a fool and wade in here again.

    So, Sean is a good friend of mine, and I think Lost in the Static is a bad game. I told him this. Sean has made plenty of good games, but this isn’t one of them. The hilarious part about all of this, and especially your harsh and “honest” criticism is that this *proves* the value is not in the idea on your web page, and that there are a zillion design decisions made during implementation that have a greater impact on the *game* than the high concept, because he faithfully implemented everything on your webpage for this concept. The existence of LitS as a faithful implementation of your webpage but simultaneously a bad game is actually the counterproof to all of your assertions in this thread! He didn’t screw up any of the carpentry, the game doesn’t crash, etc. It’s just not fun, and that’s because implementation and design are interwoven in a way you don’t seem to be able to understand. I find that totally awesome and hilarious. Hoisted on your own petard!

    The writings on your web pages are high concepts, or gimmicks as you’ve called them. They’re not game designs, which is what you seem to think they are. LitS got news coverage for the same reason Paris Hilton does, congratulations. So, your advice to Sean is exactly the same as my advice to you:

    *”You want credit based on your effort, but I think you should’ve put more effort into it.”*

    I couldn’t have put it better myself.


  • Adam Atomic

    Ideas are cheap. Stop bitching. Get back to work.

  • Squidi

    I think Lost in the Static is a decent implementation of the White Noise idea (the static part works well enough) wrapped in a particularly mediocre game. The fact that LitS was noteworthy to anybody in the first place, given its extreme mediocrity, is due entirely to its competent implementation of the White Noise concept. Read the reviews. Everybody singles out the visual style while damning the rest with faint praise, if there is praise at all.

    So LitS was a bad game, but a good proof of concept for White Noise. The fact that you can’t separate the two in your mind is, frankly, a little hard to believe. I think you’ve gotten so caught up in denouncing me that you’ve stopped making sense out of sheer stubbornness.

    White Noise is an interesting concept regardless of what quality you refuse to assign to it without implementation. It was good enough to make a crappy game noteworthy, so that should be more than enough to prove my case that ideas are worth something.

    I do wish it had been used in a better game – something that built on the concept and really did something with it. If someone had actually bothered to change and improve the idea rather than just leech it off wholesale, I wouldn’t feel like it was my idea anymore.

  • haowan

    Galactic-scale ownage. I salute you, Chris.

  • Octopussi

    Idea and implementation can be separated; that wasn’t the point of contention. The question is, if adding the White Noise idea to mediocre games doesn’t make those games good, then what good is the White Noise idea? Is it just an antic to get attention, as the other guy hinted at with the Paris Hilton comparison?

  • Squidi

    A good argument, but to counter it, I need to describe design. Design is about creating perfectly smooth sphere. If any one part is too small or too large or too awkwardly shaped, it causes ridges and dents to appear in the sphere. It causes disharmony. If all the pieces work in harmony together, it feels “right”.

    Take the webcomic Order of the Stick. The art in that comic is rather rudimentary – it’s stick figures. But it works because the characters are stereotypes. The artwork, base as it is, works in perfect harmony with the other elements like the writing, update schedule, and type of references it makes. In fact, if you IMPROVED the art to the quality of, like, Norman Rockwell, the artistic style would be at odds with the other elements. The characters would seem too shallow, the jokes too contrived, and the references too shoehorned in. Disharmony appears when any one element is too great just as much as if it were too inferior. Everything is connected. Design is about finding the most harmonious connections and components.

    I bring this up not because White Noise is too great, but merely because it does not exist in harmony with the other components of the game. White Noise was essentially glued on top of a game which had nothing to do with it. The static elements were not used as actual gameplay. Static was not really used thematically either (for instance, a game based on playing inside the tv, a static channel would provide a great thematic moment). In short, ketchup goes great on french fries, but you wouldn’t want to put it on olives. A good cook knows what spice to use and when.

    So, would White Noise make a bad game good? No, of course not. There is not a single design concept in the history of the world that could make that claim. Would White Noise, when used properly, contribute to, support, and enrich a game that properly factored in the concept to the other decisions? Absolutely.

    I’ll give you three examples off the top of my head:

    The tv game. You play a platforming game based on different channels on cable (Animal Planet, cooking channel, etc). As you play the game, the channels sometimes go on the fritz, leading to the White Noise visual style. Finally, you work your way to the mysterious Channel 1, which is an entirely static channel to fight the final boss. The White Noise is the element which ties the whole theme together and elevates it to the next level – and it’s only used sparingly.

    As it turns out, noise isn’t required for the effect to work. Any image with sufficient density and variety can be used. So how about a game where you can play a Geometry Wars-style shooter on top of your family photos? The levels themselves could be generated based on visual information from the photo, with enemies being actual pieces of the photo, like your dog’s face or something. The borders of the playing field and enemies would be seen in stark contrast against the shifting background. The effect is a simple game in which all the content is derived from and displayed using the specific photo presented. It uses a special effect to drive home the concept that everything is derived, graphics and gameplay, from the input photo.

    How about a simple puzzle game where obfuscation really is the entire point of the game is to see the unseen. There’s a picture or text message hidden in the static. You can grab different regions of the static and shift them in different directions and at different speeds. The point is to figure out the message by getting the right regions going in the right directions to figure out what was seen.

    That’s three. Not bad for a couple minutes work. In each of these situations, I don’t think you could separate the White Noise from the game without losing some significant part of the experience. They exist on top of or as part of the concept. They don’t just happen to share the same space.