Do Technical Limitations Hinder Creativity? Part 5


My dissertation has come full circle and I still don’t think I truly have an answer as whether technical limitations play a huge part in the design phase and whether or not they help or hinder designers. With Doom through to Doom 3 the technical limitations didn’t play too much of a part, as there was space available to make the game look better, they pushed the limitations as far as they would go. But I feel that these were just aesthetic adjustments and not necessarily design adjustments. I don’t think anyone will argue the great design that went in to Mario, and although visually, very nice, the evolution of Mario was purely down to what technology was available at the time, and with fewer limitations came more Mario. Things are not so black and white though as time progresses, with the introduction of new technologies such as motion capture and with designers asking more questions the line begins to blur. Games start to cross over from aesthetics to design and back again until we end up at no real conclusion. The amount of success Minecraft has received is not questioned and although this is only a 32-bit sand box, I get the feeling that more is on the horizon. I feel that Markus Persson wants to push this game further by expanding,  adding multiplayer arenas and bigger bandwidth for players, all these are technical limitations he faces. They may not be comparable limitations to the AAA titles being developed by studios like Splash Damage and Ninja Theory, but they are limitations all the same. The buzz on Minecraft however is purely down to clever design. Too many people write it off as a

“…kooky indie game for over-grown Lego fans with OCD that makes money through crazy YouTube videos…”

-Margaret Robertson. (2010), development director of Hide&Seek

rather than identifying that Minecraft is a success because of the game design. Ed Fries at the MIGS 2010 highlighted Minecraft’s ‘lo-fi’ offering as an example of imposed restriction that made for a more interesting game. This could not have been achieved without the technical limitations he gave himself.

For me Dan Pinchbeck had the correct balance of accepting technical limitations for what they were but wanting more. He is not the type of designer to just ‘make do’ with the tools he has. If he had better tools, he feels he could create better games, but that does not stop him from achieving his goals. So technical limitations do not necessarily help or hinder him, they’re just a thing he works around.  I think that Dan sparks so much creativity in his game designs because he doesn’t think purely in the ‘gaming’ mindset. He has a wider understanding of how society interacts and evolves and how different media can be incorporated into his designs. He uses a lot of references to movies which aid his game designs. As a gamer you have to clear your head when playing his ‘mods’ and not have any preconceived rules. By doing this you learn only as the game presents the rules to you. This is a clever way to design in my mind, it brings out the uniqueness of a game design. Dan also does not have to worry about how to get around any technological boundaries to create ‘customisable characters’ and ‘in immersive cinematic effects’. Instead it is down to the core of the game which is the definition of an indie game.

Indie games as a category however are a tricky subject to tackle. On the one hand you have designers like Dan Pinchbeck using the latest engines which have the highest technological advancements and on the other you have Indie developers such as David Hayward creating 90’s style arcade games on small pieces of code. It is not because of theoretical limitations that he decides not to use the latest engines for his creations, as he used to be an Unreal Modder himself. He has also  worked for studios such as EA and has experienced the AAA production side of things. He prefers the simplicity of the old school arcade games with the one or two mechanics which is why he creates them. However Dan and David have two very different contradictory views, so who is right? There is no way to specifically say whether limitations put in place by either of the designs have helped or hindered because they haven’t really changed, I think that these two designers are perfect examples of how designers do not allow technical limitations to directly affect the design of their game.

However, some games thrive off limitations and there are no two better example of this than Splash Damages Brink and Ninja Theory’s Enslaved. I think there is no doubt that the design of Brink would not have been achieved without the limitations imposed in creating such a unique, open, multiplayer game. This is a perfect example of how video games can create problems for designers to solve resulting in a better game design. This is in contrast to Ninja Theory creating Enslaved because Enslaved may have been achievable without the Unreal Engine and may have played well with the success being as big. However, Ninja Theory did not want to take the limitations of the engine and design from there. They too, wanted to create something unique but only by adding extra technological limitations to the mix did they push the bar higher to create a unique experience.

As previously mentioned, limitations appear to be a good thing. In my mind some of the most imaginative designs have been bred through limitation, however this must be taken in context. The lead designers and vice-presidents of game studios will say that the limitations force great games to be created and without them the game would not have as much impact or uniqueness, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? They are promoting their games to be the best out there. However, at the core, the majority of the game designers will say they are forced to work within limitations but it would be nice to have fewer. Maybe they would be able to achieve much more without constraint. I think overall, technical limitations must be balanced with the design. Some designs cannot be achieved without a certain amount of freedom but this freedom must come at a cost and should be capped at the point where fewer limitations would change the game only marginally and not have a huge impact on the final product.

In conclusion, I feel I have indentified two experiences. Gameplay and Technology, the two work in parallel but are distinctly different. Technology is needed for a good experience which is what Dan Pitchbeck believes when creating his ‘mods’. However in terms of pure game play it boils down to the fact that for a player to have a good game, they need to know the simple rules of the game first. The experience of the game is separate from the actual gameplay. This means that the games we play are built up of rules, technology does not help or hinder the creative process of these rules. Where it changes is in games such as Mario Sunshine and Portal where the technology frees up ideas that would otherwise be impossible on pen and paper.





Bibliography from Parts 1-5 of Do Technical Limitations Hinder Creativity?


Appleby, Tim.  Austin, Laurel. (2010) Bradford Animation Festival: Splash Damage, National Media Museum, 9th November 2010.

Hayward, David. (2010) Bradford Animation Festival: Indie Games in Focus, National Media Museum, 9th November 2010.

Midgely, Guy. Stevenson, James. (2010) Bradford Animation Festival: Ninja Theory, National Media Museum, 9th November 2010.

Pinchbeck, Dan. (2010) Bradford Animation Festival: Experimental Mods, National Media Museum, 9th November 2010.



Brink. (2010) Splash Damage

Dear Esther (2008) The Chinese Room

Doom. (1993) id software

Doom 3. (2004) id software

Enslaved. (2010) Ninja Theory

Mario Bros. (1983) Nintendo

Mario Sunshine. (2002) Nintendo

Minecraft. (2010) Markus Persson

Portal. (2007) Valve

Portal 2. (Q2 2011) Valve

S.T.A.L.K.E.R (2007) GSC Game World



Fox, Matt. (2006) The Video Games Guide

Penn, Gary. (2009) The rules of game design

Salen, Katie. Zimmerman, Eric. (2003) Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

Sterling, Bruce. (2005) Shaping Things



Fergusson, Michael. (2010) The secrets of engaging game design, Available at, 5th November 2010.

Fries, Ed. (2010) Working under constraint is the future, Available at,

11th September 2010.

Ludgate, Simon. (2010) Philosophy of Art Video Games, Available at, 27th September 2010.

Robertson, Margaret. (2010) Five minutes of Minecraft, Available at,

5th October 2010.

Sigman, Tyler. (2010) Three Rules to Balance, Available at,

7th November 2010.



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