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Game Design From Outer Space

What an indie game developer should aim for? The videogame medium is in its majority stuck in an eternal recurring, we need to break technical conventions.

Aim for a New Palette

Aim for a New Palette: Break Technical Conventions


After many, many years of painting a few simple humans spent a thought or two on an alternative use of colour, revolutionized  their palette both by excluding two conventional tints and by changing the way the colours mixed and shaded on the canvas. That wasn’t the first time it happened, it won’t be the last. These simple humans are known as the Impressionists and they gave birth to one of the most well-known art movement in art history. What they had to do as a first step was to break what I want to call the technical conventionsthe next step was Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) breaking moral conventions as well, ending up at the “exhibition of rejects” (Salon des Refusés).

Edouard Manet - Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe

Edouard Manet – Le dejeuner sur l’herbe

I’m reading a lot about art-games, new media, avant-garde. It’s all around the place. Indie development started as a personal challenge for few very talented people, but now, no, now it’s getting bigger and bigger and it will soon come the time when we all will be game designers (as much as we all are graphic designers ’cause we made a flier for our cousin’s grocery shop). Democratization of the medium means, among other things, the growth of trend-related logics on the artists/creators side, so that we can look at homogeneous waves of production crash on the market. There are leaders and there are followers, even if Twitter gave some of us the illusion we can all be both. We saw the runners, we saw the platforms, match-three games, we saw the pixels and the low poly…  This way, technical conventions get more and more important, until they completely cover the medium’s communication potential. Tutorials are the philosophy text-books for an art that struggles to find its dimension outside the words business, industry, and so on… But games are business too! Yeah, whatever.

What about playing a steam engine and a chain-saw instead of violins and pianos? – said or, at least, could have said Luigi Russolo. The sound of the present needs a new palette. Wood is old, strings are decrepit. We need steel and copper to make this age sound as it wants to. He broke the most technical of the conventions in music: what is a music instrument and what is not, and therefore what is actually music and what is just noise. Debussy couldn’t reach that point of experimentation, he had different intuitions related to different technical conventions.

Luigi Russono and his Intonarumori

Luigi Russolo and his Intonarumori

So, the word palette can mean a lot of stuff. It means a set of colours in visual arts but it can be a set of sound timbres in music, for instance. I mean, it could also mean a set of game mechanics if you want to be a little synesthetic. What I’m criticising here is the eternal recurrence, the more of the same we all are experiencing in every art form, my fear is that even into the indie games developer community we’re starting to follow too much, we have gurus and we have talks at conferences, books, blogs and even movies that teach you how to get things done. I’m not saying they’re useless, I’m urging myself and whoever reads this to kill their idols, not to ignore them. You can break technical conventions only once you learned them, that’s axiomatic.

You want to create things? It doesn’t matter if a picture, a song, a movie or a video game, please, don’t follow, aim for a new palette, a palette of your own. This box is too little and thinking from the outside, at this point, is even easier, not only better. Democratisation of the medium means, among other things, that crazy people, like me and anybody that read until this point, can bring fresh approaches to a crystalising design process. Only one thing is really necessary: you do it for yourself, to quote a poet from my city

neither for gold, nor glory nor Heaven.

Now we know that a guy alone can make a very successful game, we know a lot of things we didn’t even imagine only ten years ago. Let’s deepen the research and demonstrate the world this is not a self-referring craftsmanship, as Ian Bogost does, as Tale of Tales and many (but not enough) other people do. How I wish the Independent Games Summit was much more like the Salon des Refusés