Do Technical Limitations Hinder Creativity? Part 1

Note: All picture in Parts 1-5 are taken and credited from DeadEndThrills

This paper was written for my MA in Games Design in 2011.

Do technical limitations hinder creativity?

There is an argument that boundaries do in fact breed creation and with it good design. So does having these restrictions bring the best out in designers and cause them to focus on problem solving? After all, isn’t that what design is? Some would say that boundaries are beneficial for creativity, take the LEGO games for example. On multiple platforms, from the PS3 to the Nintendo DS, the game changes very little and the resulting game play is pretty much the same throughout platforms. Alternatively, if we had fantastic AI and such realism that it would be difficult to differentiate from real life would that be the requirement needed for enjoyment? Or is it just an added bonus to a game design?

I will start by exploring the history of games focusing on the development of 2D through to 2.5D and then to 3D. This will give me a good understanding of how designs have changed and developed over the years as the technology has improved. I want to stay away from those things we have already established and instead focus on what we don’t know about the relationship between technical limitations and design and ask ‘what promotes the creativity of design?’ I will explain the principal of game design but also look to other design disciplines to see if my findings relate to design overall. I will look at the works of product designer Dieter Rams to see the impact that technology had on his work. I will also use blogs as a source to gather information from industry professionals to see what they think about technological limitations and how they work around the limitations to achieve their designs.

Finally I want to ask myself, if technology were not an issue and we had an infinite amount of time and money to create a game, would it still feel as rewarding to play as a game that had fewer limitations? I may only be able to create theoretical conclusions about the possible outcome but will hopefully be able to answer the question ‘If design is problem solving and there is no problem to solve, then what?’.

Please distribute like crazy

“Doom: an all-action thrill-athon the likes of which players had never experienced before.  Doom: A true classic among classics”.

– Matt Fox, The Video Games Guide. (2006)

Doom started its life by being given away as shareware, ‘Please distribute like crazy’ was what the developers inserted into the readme file of the installation package. This soon led to people taking on board the potential of PC gaming in turn creating momentum which would change the way designers made games.  With the birth of 1993 came the breakthrough of the PC gaming industry, Doom led the charge and what followed were games such as X-Wing (1993), Day Of The Tentacle (1993), Alone In The Dark (1992) and Dune II (1993). The PC was ‘hip’ and multiplayer gaming was never to be the same again. Doom changed the phrase ‘multiplayer’ to mean more than two friends, two joypads and a console. Computers were being linked together via network cables to join the action in Deathmatch arenas all over the world. Linked PCs were starting to pop up everywhere, from houses and offices to colleges and internet cafes.  However, maybe the most important reason why Doom had such a huge impact on the development of technology is because networked PC’s were also being found in the development studios of software houses which led to the entire gaming industry (a small one at that, but soon to grow) exploding. Violence played a key role in Doom. It was by far the most ‘hardcore’ game of its day and it pushed people’s perceptions of violence to a new level. With graphic spurts of blood to slumped corpses and demons threatening to wipe humanity from the face of the earth, Doom (1993) was not spared criticism. We have a different perception of these topics in the modern age but the effect it had on people in 1993 was very different however. Doom (1993) set the standards for other studios to beat. Even today we have people voicing opinions that video games have a negative impact on society and more so on teenagers. Understandably parents have an issue with this. However, the violence in Doom back in ’93 is small in comparison with the violence in modern day video games yet people have the same attitude towards it. Would parents still be outraged if their teenage children were playing Doom on their PC today? Have technological advancements changed the way we perceive violence? With the summer drawing to a close in 2004, Doom 3 was released into the world and with it came pours of rumours and articles about ‘how to make your PC powerful enough to run this almighty game’.  After all, as soon as I found out that the release of Doom 3 was on the horizon I myself rushed out to buy the latest graphics card only to find my PC could not handle such power which equated to me buying a brand new system, and all this was to play one video game.

When Doom 3 was finally released it got highly criticised, but you have to ask the question, when something is this over-hyped, is it even possible to satisfy the hardcore fans that have been pouring over every minute detail? The general consensus seemed to be: “Incredible graphics, same old gameplay”. So if Doom 3 was the same game as the 1993 Doom title but just more shiny and polished does this mean that technical restraints don’t necessarily alter the design of the game and it is more about the inclusion of aesthetics? Or was the original gameplay of Doom so compelling they felt they didn’t need to change or tweak anything? From a technical view, the graphics were far better than anything out there already, no one could argue that. It used deep impenetrable shadows that drew the player in and took them to a brand new world. People were immersed walking round this huge sci-fi base that looked more like something taken straight out of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) than a video game. Without these large scale environments, would the game have been as compelling? If Doom 3 was built with older, limited technology would the game have been as immersive? Doom 3 does not make designers foam at the mouth when it comes to gameplay but if you take out all the beauty, demons, and long snaking corridors, it comes down to never quite being what it was supposed to be, and that is a classic of modern PC gaming. Without the technical limitations of the Doom 3 engine I would argue that the design of Doom 4, 5, 6 and so on would not be drastically altered to form a brand new type of gameplay design either,  in fact it may just be a prettier, more polished version of the previous title, but is that such a bad thing?

Continue to Part 2



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