One of the highlights of the conference as a whole was Will Wright‘s keynote from Tuesday.
He basically described how films are organized around empathy, and create in essence a single causal thread out of all the potential possible causal threads. The director has in essence complete control – knowing in advance how the story ends, the film experience is a manipulative one designed to elicit the appropriate emotional pattern in the viewer. (In this way films are a bit like the classic novel – and just as more modern films learned to break those sequences so did more experimental fiction).
In gaming, on the other hand, the organizing principle is agency – I as the user get to control the causal chain. The problem is that the emotional path rises, but hits dead ends, as the player gets killed and has to restart a level, etc. Games try to create the illusion of unlimited possibility but in most cases there are a limited number of possible paths, and typically a number of different gates (like levels, or episodes).
He basically talked about we should be able to create a better experience than this “choose which door to enter” type approach which takes a fixed set of outcomes and tries to make them look like they are endless – this is really what all of his games have been about.
Then he showed SPORE, which blew everybody away. Taking an organism from a single cell all the way up to and beyond space travel and galactic exploration. With ability to edit creatures, landscapes, create building types. All of it apparently shared – so you might run into my “species” on your planets, etc.
Anyway, go listen to the podcast if you weren’t there.