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Monday, November 10, 2008

Reinventing the Artist

This game is not like my last one. Not "not like" like the piano music I'm working on now is not like other piano music I've composed, and not "not like" like the blog post I'm writing now is not like other blog posts I've written. The piece of music I'm working on now is not like the blog post I'm writing now- that's the sort of "not like" I'm talking about. "The Perfect Color" is not in the same art form as "Smilie", and the same principles do not apply.

For that matter, the third game I have planned will not be like the first two. And the fourth will not be like the first three. And the fifth will not be like the first four. (Assuming all goes according to plan, as God willing it will.) And the games I dream of making are complex, mixing all these art forms with other art forms.

And I can get there. Isn't that crazy? Imagine if I sat at my piano, and said: "From this seat, I will grow as an artist until I am a good architect!" That's essentially the nonsense I'm saying. I don't plan to use the specific skillset I honed on Smilie for years! The skills I'm learning now, I might not use again for even longer! And yet, I am sitting here with the audacity to say that this is a path before me, that this seat will lead me to things I'm not even training for. It's "The Sims" logic. Creativity points are creativity points, and they can be applied toward anything.

I am saying: the world can actually work that way.

This game is not like my last one. Smilie started from an idea of a character. I thought back to how animals acted, and how I might act, and developed that character in my mind. Then I used that to determine all the actions he would take, in order to create a game where his simple personality would shine through. This game isn't like that. It started from a philosophical principle, where I wondered how I could express that idea. I built up more and more rules in my head which reflected the idea, in order to create a game where that general concept will be clear.

And making this game is not like making my last one. Smilie was all planned out in advance, to the smallest detail. Planning is meaningless for this one- I never know what the game needs until I get up to it in the coding. I started out trying to write a script for it like Smilie's, and very quickly realized that it simply wasn't appropriate. Also, Smilie was a very linear piece of code. I don't think I could have written it any other way. But this code is all object-oriented and organized. And again, I don't see any other way I could be doing it.

The programming language I'm using is the same, but I'm using it to make two things which are worlds apart. The whole approach to rules and feedback and interactivity and how a message is conveyed is totally different, and I'm treating these like one leads to the other. Crazy.

Isn't that what Eliezer told me I needed to do? When I first started out at the Academy, he listened to what I was playing and told me it was too derivative. He told me that the best way to find my own voice, rather than just copying other people, was to turn to dodecaphonia. Throw out the tonality, force yourself to approach the music differently, and then there's nothing to fall back on. No imitation, no habits, nothing but your theme. In the end, I figured out how to apply my habits and imitations to dodecaphonia. But still. That piece isn't like anything else I've done. (Or it wouldn't be, if I'd ever finished it.) From working on that piece, I didn't learn any specific techniques I'd want to repeat. But I sharpened my creative mind, that's for sure.

But Eliezer was weird, I think. He reinvented himself going from classical to pop and then back to classical. He always listened to his improvisation partner and saw if there was anything he could use in it. I'll always remember when I came to him with the fifth variation, following a particularly dense Schoenbergian cacophony with simple tranquility. I'll always remember it, because I remember what he told me. He told me it was a revelation to him. Imagine that! That an accomplished composer, who has formed a lifetime's worth of habits and techniques, could stretch his mind to be inspired by an amateur's mess! Would a teacher who wasn't like that tell me to throw out what I'd learned, or would he just have me improve what I had?

Most artists and entertainers, in any field, dig deeper and deeper until they have no way out. They keep honing their craft until they see subtleties and nuances no one else would notice, finding innovation and greatness in tiny changes from the norm. Take the case of Will Wright. A brilliant gamist, to be sure! He made SimCity, he made The Sims, he made Spore (which I have yet to play, but certainly seems ambitious!). Anyone who's heard him talk knows that he doesn't take games lightly. To him, they're a way to explore everything he finds interesting about life (and a fascinating perspective on life he has!). He takes inspiration from science and popular culture and everything else he ever comes across. And yet, all this gets funneled into the narrow field of simulation strategy. That is his Form. He continually gets better and better at that one field. Each time he makes a game, he learns from what worked and what didn't, and applies those lessons directly into his next game. So he has become (without much competition) the world's greatest simulation strategy gamist. While he makes mistakes, he learns from those and moves forward. Deeper and deeper he goes into the potential of the tiny bit of land he owns, and I don't think he'll ever find a bottom.

I don't want to be like that. Gamism is so lost, in so many places. How can I limit myself to just one? It used to be, an artist would just pick one trade and get better and better at it. That's not enough for me. There's so much to do, so much that needs to be done! Settling into one Form, getting comfortable, finding its boundaries, honing my craft- that seems like the easy way forward, these days. So one kind of game (maybe movement) would be better off, and I'd be an expert on that. But what about the RPG? What about the metalude? What about the adventure? What about the exploration? What about…

My, my. I've become an impatient little phoenix, haven't I? Or maybe I've always wanted to be one.

I read an interview with Miyamoto recently where it was pointed out that his latest games -Wii Music, Wii Fit, Wii Sports- are not similar at all to the games Miyamoto's known for. Which is true. And it's pretty remarkable, isn't it, that at 56 years old he's still reinventing himself? He could sit and make platformers for the rest of his life, and we'd have platformers of such a level as we can barely imagine. But no, he's making music games and fitness balance games and sports action games and whatever the heck he's inspired to make today.

With each game, he says, he finds the core "ingredient" that's going to play well, and then tries to create a whole experience around that. So I guess, if that experience follows patterns he's familiar with, that's fine. But if it doesn't, then he'll throw his 30 years of game experience to the side and try something different. Crazy.

So I guess the question is, is this path reserved only for geniuses, or is there room for me? Is it possible to hone one's instincts, or do they have to be great to start with? Are there principles of art which can be moved from art form to art form, so that I really can get better and better at destroying and starting over?

Well, that's the plan.



I think I have a very similar path ahead.


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