Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thoughts - Design vs Art in Video Games

Thoughts - Design vs Art in Video Games

I've been thinking and writing a lot about design and art.  Not in a particularly adversarial way either, but in the tail end of my degree now, I cannot help but think of the two as being somewhat opposed.  Design, as I have often seen it can encompass some art, but the main focus of design is to create function.  Design is always purposeful, it's usually related to interpreting function, it is premeditated (or should be at least), it has a sense of intention.

Designing games isn't this sort of strange natural phenomenon, and I have in my jaded age begun to believe that people don't have an innate gift for design, what they do have is an interest in dissecting intention, and rebuilding it to refine, analyze or correct function.  When I design games, it's work.  That's not to say that it's not enjoyable, it is, but there is a tremendous amount of cognitive process that happens.  I do significant amounts of math in all my design, I look at angles, probability, statistics, concept.  I do geometry, figure out appropriate lines and ranges, what about distance, what about shape, what about form.  I study color, how can I direct the eye, it's not dissimilar to lighting design, I look at shadows and shape, where can I give subtle clues, what do I hide, how?

Designing games is this strange exercise in the mind of knowing everything, and trying to know nothing.  I imagine sometimes that this is the same process Eric goes through when he directs.  He already knows many of the answers, but must approach the perspective of theatre from the audience, which may know something, but may also know nothing.  What does he tell them, what does he imply, what sweets does he simply leave on the stage in his actors to be discovered?

Design is this kind of purposeful analysis about what to show and what not to.  And why.

In this way, I find it in opposition to the artist in me.

The artist in me balks at purpose, at function.  Sometimes the artist in me simply wants to create, without knowing the route or the path.  Assuredly I know my tools and skills already, I have been able to mix paint with skill for the better part of a decade, I see lyrical cadence in the way paint moves and can shape it to the methods I see fit.  A painting may begin from a photograph and may become something else entirely four hours in.  They are shaped by mood and emotion, ephemeral and ideas.  I never begin a painting with a real intention, they begin from inspiration.

Sometimes I merely seek to destroy when I paint, I take something already beautiful and haunting, and wreck it.  I splash paint on it or rub it between my fingers that it might soak the canvas and remove the things I like best.  When I do that, I become aware that the art is no longer just the canvas, but me.  I am this kind of strange, stilted puppet in the play of color and form.

I've been trying to design games from that perspective for a long time now.  At least the last six months.  To work art into the creation of the game, to breathe a kind of life into what I showcase.  Instead of designing, to think about creating games as making art.  Exploring the process, not knowing where the end will wind up, and having the kind of freedom to choose that.  I know the constraints placed on me when I make games, I'm very aware of how production needs to unfold so vision is cohesive, so that communication remains open, and that development remains moving ever upwards and ever forwards.

But sometimes I wish making a game could be a little like throwing paint at a canvas.  The action of tearing apart to start again is freeing.