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Postcard from GDC 2005: Gameplay Moves Forward into the 21st Century

Peter Molyneux, founder of Lionhead Studios, spoke at GDC Wednesday about the importance of building accessibility and simplicity into the next generation of games. Drawing on examples from Black and White 2 and The Movies, Molyneux gave GDC-goers a behind-the-scenes look at his unique approach to the future of game design.

Brad Kane, Blogger

March 9, 2005

6 Min Read

At one of this year's Vision Track lectures, Peter Molyneux, head of Lionhead Studios and inventor of the "god" game, spoke about the future of game design and the need for new ways of thinking about gameplay.

"The best way to predict the future, is to invent the future," said Hal Barwood in Molyneux's introduction. Molyneux then took the stage to discuss his vision for inventing that future.

An Agenda for Next-Generation Games

Molyneux's theory of next-generation game design stems from the assumption that players get tired of playing the same kinds of games over and over again, and need new gameplay experiences to keep them coming back for more. Molyneux thus began his talk by laying out what he considered the essential points of designing games for the twenty-first century.

Clear Concepts. More than ever, Molyneux said, games need to begin with a clear, absolute concept. In Fable, for instance, the concept is: "Be a hero." In Grand Theft Auto, it's "Be a gangster." These simple but clear concepts are the key to a successful game idea.

Greater Accessibility. Once upon a time, gamers were willing to spend hours learning how to play a video game. But as gaming becomes a truly mass market industry, players demand ever simpler, ever more accessible gameplay experiences. Molyneux now believes that designers have about ten seconds to grab a player before the player will lose interest.

Simple to Understand. Along similar lines, Molyneux believes that players must be given a clear sense of what they can do and what they are supposed to do in a game. One of Molyneux's guiding principles is to create games with very simple, very concise controls that anybody at all could jump right into without needing a tutorial.

Deeper Interaction. As gameplay gets simpler, game depth needs to expand. When an interface reaches critical simplicity, a player must trust that those few available commands will lead to a great depth of possible experiences.

Morphable Gameplay. The success of games such as Fable and Grand Theft Auto, said Molyneux, is that they allow a player to both play through a game, and play in the game. One person's experimentation is another's gameplay - so allowing for a diverse range of playing styles opens the field to attract multiple gaming audiences.

Cool Stuff. Lastly, Molyneux emphasized the important of continuing to think of new, cool things to attract gamers to games. In spite of the continuing technological and creative innovations in the industry, gamers ultimately play games because they want to have fun and do cool things.

On the Horizon

Molyneux shared with the audience some of the gameplay innovations being developed for upcoming Lionhead games.

The Movies

Lionhead's newest simulation game, called The Movies, lets players not only run a virtual movie studio, but also write, direct, and export their own machinima-style short films.

Notable here is the game's simple interface - the left mouse button picks things up, and the right mouse button talks to people. Molyneux wanted to do away with icons, informational screens, and nested lists - and instead create a game that would allow players to spend their time interacting in the actual game world.

Molyneux noted the originality of allowing players to direct and produce their own movies within a game. He played back a surprisingly entertaining zombie-horror flick created within the game, and hinted that we might see players of The Movies at future Sundance film festivals!

Black and White 2

Molyneux's core concept for Black and White 2 is simple - "Be a God." That said, the second outing in this franchise is considerably simpler than the first. No HUD, no icons - just the "hand" of god. One mouse button navigates, and the other manipulates. In Molyneux's words: "All that's left is the world, and the player's god-like power over it."

(He then reached his cursor into the sky, and like a true god, changed night to day. The audience burst into applause.)

Among other gameplay innovations in Black and White 2, Lionhead have integrated a real-time physics engine into the game. Players can now throw boulders to bring down an enemy fortress, create a landslide to crash an advancing army, or summon an "epic miracle" - such as a hurricane or volcano - to wreak havoc on enemy forces.

This type of innovation, said Molyneux, is what the industry needs to look toward for the next generation of games.

The Room

In the final demo, Molyneux showed a game that toyed with perception itself. The Room takes place in a hyper-realistic environment that players can interact with in every conceivable way - from reading the pages of the books on a shelf, to examining the wood grain of the floor boards, to advancing time and watching the slow decay of an orange.

He also demonstrated the game's "portals" - windows that lead not only to other places in the game, but to alternate versions of the current place in the game that have some aspect of reality altered. Like an interactive M.C. Escher painting, Molyneux showed off a portal through which existed a slightly smaller version of the current room - and through which any thrown object would emerge about 30% larger.

That last game, Molyneux said, is not intended for release - but demonstrates some of the simple yet innovative game design going into the next generation of games.

Molyneux concluded by expressing his hope that other game developers would be inspired by the demonstrations, and encouraged developers to join him in exploring and inventing the future of game design.


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About the Author(s)

Brad Kane


Brad Kane is a freelance writer focusing on the film and videogame industries. He has worked on several of the top-grossing animated movies of all time, and on a number of upcoming film and interactive projects. He can be reached at [email protected].

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