It’s Friday, September 23, 2022 and I shit you not, I have been looking quite intently and interestedly at things like Trello boards and Kanbans.
It is not, I suppose, that the boards and kanbans are interesting in and of themselves, more the whole system of how things got on to them, what they mean, and all that fun stuff.
Here’s a photograph of my kid taking in Colourscape, on Clapham Common, in September:
Colourscape is pretty cool!
Two things came together in my head:
There’s the usual detail in these blog posts about the tooling and technical process of lifting a game and bringing it up on a different platform. That’s fine and interesting, but what really caught my attention was how each of the developers had to think about the point of the game.
This mainly comes out in how the GUI has been redesigned, in this case from being a PC game to a game on a much smaller screen and one that doesn’t have keyboard and mouse support. In other words, It’s A Design Problem(TM).
Here’s how the Factorio team talked about this design challenge:
One of the challenges was how to navigate the GUI. Something that was clearly out of the question was dumbing down the GUI on all platforms for the sake of controllers, like many games do. There are many PC games out there with terrible “console port” GUIs; Factorio’s will always be designed with keyboard and mouse in mind first. Another thing that was also out of the question was redoing the GUI for controllers. We have hundreds of GUIs that took years to design and implement, and some are still being changed. Redesigning and changing most of them again would also take years.
Then there’s a bit about developing a pretty complex heuristic algorithm to make navigating through the layouts and widgets with a controller stick as not-terrible as possible.
Compare that with Lucas Pope’s approach (I am not saying that these are good or bad! I mean, I am a bit. Probably that I have a preferred approach. Just wait)
Maintenance aside, the main thing holding me back from getting this game onto phones was its user interface. Papers, Please was always meant to be played on a large device. The actual resolution is laughably low (570x320) but these pixels need to be big.
Pope ended up with dealing with one of the challenges of document organization in a 2D space by using carousel. He was worried this change the gameplay too much. (It also ends up having ripple effects through the entire rest of the game). Pope’s blog post is super long, but is really accessible and readable. One thing to pay attention to, I think, is how he sees this as a chance to step back and consider what the point of the game is. In this way, Papers Please is maybe a subgenre of port to another platform, but more of an adaptation.
If you’re still having the argument about are videogames art (to which the answer is duh of course they are), then Pope’s method and attention to detail is much more like a loving adaptation of, say, a novel, to, say, a film or a premium streaming series. What’s the point? What’s important to get across? What won’t work and what will work in the different media? Pope talks about being happy with some tradeoffs, but I think what I’m getting about is a port is more about squishing-something-in, which you inherently can’t do in a videogame system form-factor port.
It took 8 months of work for Pope to port (sorry, adapt) Papers, Please to mobile phone sized devices.
So (to attempt to tie this back to, for example, Design Work or Technology In General And Its Effect On Society), this is something like a big Outcome story. There’s porting a process, i.e. taking that bureaucratic process and turning it first into paper and then into PDFs and then sticking those PDFs on the web. And then there’s what is the point of this work, what is the outcome and then adapting that to the medium. That process, always, has been an opportunity (or is an opportunity, I suppose) to reconsider what the point of the damn thing.
Some recent examples: is the point of your website to tell me what your brand values are? Is the point of this particular interaction to surprise and delight me? Is the point of this entire office, its hundreds (or thousands) of people, to get me to fill in forms, or to prove who I am, or to make sure that you do not give me money? Sure there are always going to be tensions, but navigating tensions in the face of ambiguous environments is what we’re supposed to be good at, especially (even?) if we can’t articulate those competing tensions. Otherwise just have, I suppose, a complex heuristic figure it all out.
Anyway. An analogy and a comparison to maybe another industry about how to think about the point of the thing.
Okay, that’s it, and it’s Friday!
I hope you have a good weekend, if you are the kind of person who has weekends.
How are you doing?
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