Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Creativity and Game Design: A Lesson from 1988

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 2, 2011

I don’t usually have time to listen to podcasts or watch long videos. But sometimes they are very worth it. This is one of those times.

I went to the Game Developer’s Conference for about five years. It changed its name from the Computer Game Developer’s Conference during one of those years – about ten years after this talk was given. I was lucky enough to hear Chris Crawford speak twice, and both times I was seriously inspired by his presentation. He’s that kind of guy. This recorded talk was just as inspiring. It starts out doofus-simple, painting a spectrum of creativity in game design from the tiniest incremental improvements to a theoretical “big leap” of complete originality which doesn’t really exist other than an ideal. Then he attempts to answer the question of whether or not it is worth it – financially speaking and from a personal perspective. Finally, assuming the answer is “yes,” he talks about how to engage creativity and make it work for you – using a whip analogy – and some practical tips on how to make it work while dealing with a publisher deadline. And then there’s lots of discussion at the end.

From a historical perspective, it’s really fascinating. And amusing, when he rips on Richard Garriott for his incremental improvements making FIVE whole Ultima games. He was just getting warmed up. The games being discussed, the complaints about marketing, the technology, the people being referred to – as a gamer from the 1980s and someone fascinated with the history of the art, this is warm, fuzzy stuff for me.

But what’s even more cool is that this presentation is perhaps even more valuable today than it was the day it was given. And I don’t just mean the ability to look back on what he’s saying with 20-20 hindsight. But I will bet you that if you were to explain the opportunities available to indie game developers today – in broad terms – to this audience in 1988, everybody in that room would say, “Holy sh**” (or something to that effect) in amazement and envy.  Sure, shareware existed back then – in its infant form – but AFAICT it wasn’t much more viable than the mail order business by this time.

As another point of amusement, many of the people in that room probably worked on teams that would be quite “indie-sized” today.

As  DanC suggests, it seems were at another point in the cycle – a really awesome point – where all this stuff that was germane to an earlier era is suddenly relevant again. And in a big way. I don’t know if it will be this way forever. Probably not. The behemoths are fighting over the digital space to dominate the landscape and push out the direct-sales indies the same way the big publishers in the 1980s pushed out all the mail-order guys.  Will history repeat itself? Maybe, but repeated history never has identical results.

Anyway — I recommend taking an hour to watch / listen to this, maybe while you drawing or doing something like that which allows you to listen. It’s a great presentation.

Hat tip to Daniel Cook for the video and commentary, and Benedict Apuna for the link to the full-sized video.

Filed Under: Design, Retro - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Barry Brenesal said,

    I’ve interviewed Chris Crawford twice for various magazines, and as you point out, he’s both inspirational and confrontational. He made a point once in our conversations of pointing out that Silicon Valley has a much higher autism rate than the rest of the country, and saying that he blames programmers for this statistic.

    Thanks for putting that up. He’s sort of the Jack Paar of developers (which dates me), always interesting, controversial, sometimes off the edge, always challenging.

  • slenkar said,

    I think its almost impossible to do a great leap of creativity and great games can be made with incremental creativity.
    If you look at his past works on mobygames youll see a lot of strategy historical wargames, which shows that even he does incremental creativity.

  • A More Vile Form of Copying said,

    […] is hiding your sources. It’s mostly true. Even as Chris Crawford argued nearly 25 years ago, creativity and originality is a spectrum with one idealized end that lies only in theory. But the other end is all too […]