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'As timeless as infinity'
For this entry I draw inspiration from The Beatles, Batman and Rod Serling to explain why games should not be designed for everyone and what it takes to create something that will be admired for a long time.
September 8, 2009
6 Min Read
This past month I finally picked up the Twilight Zone definitive collection featuring every episode of the original series. Which now leads me with the arduous (yet great) task of watching every original Twilight Zone episode made .
Two things stand out to me about the series , one was the thought that the show copies a lot of twists I've seen in newer shows. After thinking about that for a second I realized it made more sense if that statement was in reverse. Second is that a lot of the themes and stories still hold up today which brings me to the point of this entry, creating timeless works.
The Twilight Zone hits numerous themes in the world of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and social commentary that still ring true today. Whether it is a horrible future or the threat of the unknown the stories still hit home today as they did at least 40 years ago. To me, what makes TZ stand out compared to other shows of the period is that they were allowed to do what they want and didn't have to worry about appealing to a specific group.
The show was amazing at detailing the human condition and creating stories around it. I'm right now in the middle of the 2nd season and enjoying the variety of the tales. My next example is something a bit more modern and is one of my favorite animated series of all time.
Going from the late 50s to the early 90s hopefully most of you know what series I'm talking about. Batman the animated series was my first exposure to the Batman universe and is considered by a lot of people to be next to the comics as the best version of Batman. The show features in my opinion one of the best art styles I've seen (before the change in the later seasons) and it still holds up well today.
Similar to TZ, BAS delivered unique content that anyone could watch; the stories were impressive and somewhat dark for a children's show (both figuratively and literally).One thing that I really admired BAS for was how it treated each episode as a small movie. Other then the obvious two parters the rest of the episodes were standalone. Yet unlike a lot of kids cartoons today, even though there wasn't any cohesion between the episodes, they were allowed to create many unique stories because of it.
It is this kind of dedication and quality of the episodes which would carry on to later shows like Justice League and to a lesser extent Teen Titans, but Batman was the one that started the trend. Avatar: The last Airbender is the most recent example of a great animated series but it's still too new to talk about in this entry :)
My last example I want to talk about before looking at the game industry seems to fit perfectly with this week. The Beatles: RockBand is coming out and is set to introduce a new generation of people to the epic band. I admit that I've heard some songs from The Beatles growing up but I've never really sat down and listen to their later works.
Listening to the small clips on websites from the game, I was amazed that the music really didn't seem dated to me. I've listened to a lot of songs from the 50s, 60s, and so and with a lot of them you can hear in either their tone or lyrics a certain sense of being stuck in that time. I really don't hear that with a lot of the songs I've heard from The Beatles.
At this point I'm really thinking about picking up the game so that I can hear all these songs that I've missed. I won't bore you about my views on music but I'm just not fan of most songs released today. Now then with all that said, it's time to link this article to the games industry.
Creating something legendary in the music or TV genre can be a bit simpler compared to the games industry on the simple fact that here we actually have to interact with the product. I think the issue of creating games like this also fit into the issue in some sense of designing mass appeal video games.
In my opinion there is a difference between designing a game for everyone and making it accessible to everyone. The former is a fool's errand in my opinion and the latter is something every designer should strive for. The top video games that come to my mind are those that weren't designed so that everyone can buy and enjoy them, but are polished and aimed at gamers who enjoy that genre.
On the other hand creating a game that anyone can play is a different story, imagine if someone could design a 4x strategy title with the depth of Masters of Orion 2 and yet make it as accessible as Civilization it's very hard but possible. A game like that could win major accolades , however making a 4x strategy game so simplified that anyone can play it may earn a lot of money but I bet won't be remembered in a few years.
When I look at my design documents I don't even think about what group of people will enjoy them, instead I focus on creating a polished experience that anyone can get into. Whether or not the game appeals to them is besides the point, the game is explained and created that someone will be able to figure out what is going on.
I don't care if a 18 year old skater punk likes my game instead of a 36 year old house wife, I'm more concern about if both people are able to understand the game play. When I think of games that I still enjoy playing today as I did when I first bought them, it's not because they set out to create a game that everyone would love but because the game hit all the right notes for the genre or game mechanics and hasn't been replicated since. For those reading this, what games come to your mind as timeless experiences that you still enjoy today?
Watching an old interview of Rod Serling last night on TZ he talked about the censorship of TV shows and the push for sterile cookie cutter programming over original pieces of work at the time. As I listened to him make a case for doing something unique and something that he wanted to do, I couldn't help think about my own views of a designer.
When you create a piece of work aimed solely at today most often it will stay there forever. Creating something with a passion and developing it to the best of your ability will hopefully last a lot longer.When I think about it, I'd rather make an amazing title, something I can be proud of instead of a banal derivative game that has been copied so many times before.
To end this entry I'm going to attempt to paraphrase a famous quote from The Twilight Zone " If you design a game for everyone,it will appeal to no one."
P.S. There was a great portion of the interview where Rod talked about the issue of creating art vs creating commercial properties which is a great discussion point but a bit much for this article.
About the Author(s)
For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three.
With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."
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