Kudos

As you may know by now from my enthusiastic ravings, the HKU is a fantastic game design college, and I am happy to be a part of it every day. That is not to say it doesn’t have it’s flaws.

This year, they completely overhauled the education system. There’s a lot of new staff, and all classes have been redesigned and rearranged. Before, we had four semesters of eight weeks with a number of courses and a project. Now, it’s two semesters with courses of varying durations integrated into the project. And so it could happen we get classes in project management four weeks after actually starting a project, and we have to build a game while hardly anybody knows how to script or model in 3D. But at least we’re really learning something. They’re trying to get us up to speed after last year, but it’s just all still a bit of a mess right now.

And here it shows through that management may not be entirely in touch with the industry anymore. We’re being bombarded with ‘serious games’ and doing research research research, and oh yeah, learn how to work in teams. But nobody is too concerned with teaching us how to use the tools.

That’s why I wanted to give a shout out to Dimme van der Hout, a former student now in charge of everything that has to do with the art side of things, and additionally he runs his own company – Monkeybizniz. I think it’s safe to say he is the most respected man on campus right now, because he’s practically single-handedly trying to fix the entire system. He is very passionate about quality assurance, so he’s organizing all sorts of courses to help us raise the bar on our artwork. If something sucks, he doesn’t mince words and just gives it to us straight (a far cry from some of the teachers we had last year). It’s good to finally have someone who has his shit together and knows what he’s doing. He is by no means the only one, but he’s the most prominent figure for us.

And I wanted to give special mention to some other former students that are helping us with the project; Paul, Erik and Ferdi from De Monsters. I had a chance to sample their project management software called PEF at the graduation exposition last week, and I’ll tell ya: you’re gonna want this product. It’s built on Adobe AIR, and really makes managing a project and it’s files between all team members an easy and fun task. It looks and feels like something Adobe designed. So keep an eye out for the PEF beta sometime soon.

GRAAH

I got really fired up today after a lecture at (game design) college where the guy basically claimed true AI is impossible to create and emotions have no place in games.

There are a lot of nuances to his story though, but that right there is absolute horseshit.

The way he sees game design is building your concept on a set of rules. The game mechanics are more important than the visuals -which is certainly true-, but he therefore does not believe in telling stories and conveying emotions through games.

For instance, he’d say Call of Duty is not about war. It’s about pointing and shooting. Hand-eye coordination. If you exchanged it’s ‘skin’ with something like science fiction, you’d have…I don’t know, Doom. Same game – according to him.

As the possible effects of playing the games, emotions are certainly possible, and desirable, he says, but IN the game itself there is no place for them because there is no way to combine it with gameplay – simply put.

And sure, there’s some truth to that, but this has nothing to do with the medium, but with technology that is not yet capable. And what really grinds my gears is that he even goes on to say that he has never seen a game that was able to move someone to tears. What! Where have you been for the last eight years?

Additionally he mentions that Artificial Intelligence is now referred to as Apparent Intelligence because nobody in 30 years has been able to succesfully simulate all the nuances of a human conciousness. It may seem like we have when you play F.E.A.R. for instance, but that AI is still based on a set of rules. What he is talking about is true AI – a perfect simulation of the human brain. And it’s true that that is really damn hard to simulate, but that’s no reason not to try!

Innovation is good, and we should find out what the possibilities and limits of the medium are, but that’s not the only thing that matters. Games have great potential to tell deep and rich stories. Granted, starting with a story and then building the game mechanics behind it is not a good way to approach game design, but not everything can or has to be based on a ruleset.

Someone mentioned Heavy Rain -an example that immediately came to mind for me aswell-, a game that takes a huge step forward in character acting and interactive storytelling. It’s prequel, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy) was one of the most compelling games I’ve played in recent years (granted, in the second half they dropped the ball, but before that it was brilliant).
He had not heard of it. Furthermore, he promised to eat his shoe if it turned out to be true that every action you can take in that game has a substantial effect on the plot.

He cites games like The Godfather and the like as examples of the game industry wanting to be too much like Hollywood, trying to do things the old media are better suited for, such as telling engaging stories. That’s not what this is about. It’s about creating a believeable representation of the real world.

Note I didn’t say lifelike, because a) we just don’t have the means to achieve that yet, and b) believeable is a bit of a broader term, considering games like Zelda or Mario, who are not after realism (just consistency within their game world).

For a co-founder and teacher of this college, I think he’s limiting the possibilities of games too much. His focus is very much on research and serious games, but while that’s important, that’s not the whole story.

I think he needs to be careful not to become part of the old guard that he is blaming now for holding the industry back.