Design Essentials: "Embrace Your Limitations" Digression
Ever wonder why I might be using a reference book that I seem to disagree with on every other page as my topic guide? The first clue is in Chapter 3. That chapter contains a gem of an idea that was worth the whole of the book to me. It was a carrier of epiphany, something that proved valuable beyond the realm of fun and games. The mythical million-dollar-idea was offered up in the chapter attempting to debunk the very myth of the One Great Idea. And I do so love irony.
Digression upon Inspiration
In my search for books on game design back near the turn of the millennium I came across almost nothing but texts on programming tips, code snippets and example algorithms. It was frustrating. I didn't want to study programming, I wanted to understand the elements of game design. How did the professionals define "gameplay"? What parameters had been isolated in the analysis of "fun"? Where could I find a library of Game Mechanics? Yes, yes, efficient pathing formulas, frames-per-second and pixels-per-inch are important, even critical for some, but what about before things get to the stage of ROMs or source code?
After several false starts I found the book to which I obnoxiously refer to in each of the Design Essentials installments. It was a mixed blessing. While it was a refreshing step away from straight programming it was still more about electronic games and had its own irritating quirks. For example, Sid Meir slipped a few notches in my opinion with his failure to credit "inspiration" to Avalon Hill's game Civilization in the Civ-series design. It is still a struggle not to rant on that issue when I cross it. I ended up deleting much of my writing on the chapter because I repeatedly slid off on the tangent. There are other issues as well but grousing is largely dull and profitless. Suffice to say the frustration did not completely evaporate.
Then I hit the phrase in chapter three, "Embrace Your Limitations" ... and continued right past it without any more thought than I'd give a speed bump fading in the rearview mirror. It just didn't do much for me. I was still chaffing about the "games without stories" or other some other such thing. "Yeah, embrace this" I thought while mentally making a crude gesture.
But the idea started popping up on its own and usually nowhere near the realm of fun and games. It added something beyond the use of "doable", as in "We are applying this method because it is doable" meaning that yeah, we would probably like to be doing something else but that just isn't happening, so we're going ahead with what we can do. "Doable" is practical but lackluster. It isn't just lacking positiveness, there is no joy.
So the phrase started growing on me. Embracing doesn't mean to intentionally seek out limitation, but it does mean more than just accepting when confronted. It is an issue of contentment. When I would invoke it I would get those looks. I could tell exactly what was going through the listeners' heads ("Yeah? Embrace this, wiseguy." *crotch-chop*). But I was happy and they were grouchy. Rack up a quality of life win! Whoot! It made me laugh. I was beyond the pain and suffering of restrictions and onto optimizing.
Don't get me wrong, it works in game design too. It works quite well. There is always some limitation with which to deal. Time is a common one, whether you are a hobbyist trying to manage a day job in addition to creating the next Pokemon or are a fulltime game professional racing a release schedule (and prime shopping season). Skill is another big one, be it programming, writing, drawing, people-management, or something else. Budget is an obvious one, there is never enough money. Ever. Even Bill Gates still wants more money. Technology limitations are as common as advances because one usually entails the other.
So you just know there are going to be limitations. Fighting limitations is usually a good thing only to a point. In any case there's no need to dread them or let an impasse simply equal a defeat. Push the envelope ready for limitations. When you find them, greet them with open arms and you can often find creative ways ahead -- or around. Think Aikido. Misdirection. Out of the box.
Rouse's story on the phrase I'll leave in the book but I will reveal that it came up when he was working on Centipede 3D and facing what looked like an unsolvable design problem mess. It turned out to be a fantastic reversal.
For my own more direct example, I solved several limitation problems by leaning on his book for topic-inspiration and references. Unlike some designers, however, I shall credit and credit and credit some more. So please bear with me, I don't know when or where someone may come across one of the articles, so the references and links may seem profuse.
I'm curious what conceptual treasures others may have come across in games or things associated with play, especially those that have crossed into other portions of life. The reverse is very welcome too, where life-lessons have helped out in your gaming.