Thursday, April 14, 2011

GAME DESIGN TV - Part IV: Showtime

I already wrote about my experiences in filming a segment on game design for the ARTE program X:enius (see Part I, Part II, and Part II on this blog). The show was aired this week, and will only be online until next week. Furthermore, it is unfortunately blocked to viewers from the U.S. Below is a brief description of the final show, which lasted 26 minutes:

“Warum wir spielen, und was wir dadurch lernen (Why we play and what we learn from it)”

The program opens with the moderators, Dörthe und Pierre playing a large-scale game of Scotland Yard in the streets of Berlin with the help of an iPhone App. They discuss the enormity of the computer game market which transitions to a segment on South Korea, where professional gamers, earning 6-figure salaries, compete in the computer game Starcraft live, in front of 120,000 fans.

A surreal shot includes a gaming club “training” in a room full of computers. One young professional gamer admits, “We don’t have any time to meet with friends. Sure, we’re at an age when we could be discovering the world, but that doesn’t interest us. We just want to play (computer games).” Understandably, there are treatment centers in South Korea specifically dealing with computer gaming addictions.

Back in Berlin, Dörthe und Pierre reflect on their favorite childhood games. Predictably, Pierre picks the French classic card game, Milles Bornes, and Dörthe chooses the German Parcheesi variant and best-seller Mensch ärgere dich nicht.

Then, another monologue about the history of games: “Before people could write, they played. The world changes, but the urge to play remains.”
Four types of games are described: dexterity, chance, strategy, and a synthesis of several of these. Most games today, claims the narrator, are in this latter category, whether traditional or computer games. They interview someone from the Computer Game Museum in Berlin, something I had never heard of. They then film at Potsdam’s Center for Computer Game Research, demonstrating computer games which sense body motions (like the Wii games) and are also a synthesis of dexterity, strategy and chance.

At the 14:00 minute mark, Dörthe und Pierre visit the Spielwiese and interview Michael. “Are computer games a danger [to boardgame popularity]?” he is asked by Pierre. Michael: “No, boardgames were here before, computer games came later, both are developing further side by side.”
Dörthe: “…you could probably make more money selling computer games.”
Michael: “That may very well be true…but who wants to sit across from a monitor…It’s much nicer to sit together with other people…”
Both are astounded when Michael tells them that over 700 new boardgames are released every year.

Dörthe then introduces the boardgame design segment, “And behind each one of these games is a game idea and an inventor…” I am shown walking down my street, entering my house, looking through a bookshelf of games in our living room, etc. The editing is well-done, and set to a nice, guitar-driven soundtrack and monologue.

The narrator points out how playtime with my sons also inspired the first prototype of Würfelburg. They also show me playing my prototype for a wooden dexterity-based street-basketball game, which I built mainly for myself and my family. They show my published games and include my explanation for my best-seller, Aber bitte mit Sahne (Piece o’ Cake). Then comes the montage of scenes we filmed as I draw and construct the final prototype for Würfelburg, interspersed with interviews on how I happened upon my first game designers’ playtesting group in Berlin. As I pack up Würfelburg to take to my playtesting group at the Spielwiese, the narrator points out that the game is a synthesis of dexterity, strategy and chance, tying in with the thesis presented earlier that most modern games fall into this category.

Dörthe asks me later in the Spielwiese why I don’t invent computer games, since there is more money to be made. I think it was clear from Michael’s and my answers that we are doing this because we enjoy it, not to fill our respective pockets.

At the end of my interview, they use my nationality as a transition to the final segment of the program, a historical look at American-made and international bestseller Monopoly. Interesting to note was its popularity in the former East Germany, as residents made do-it-yourself copies of the banned game, including some very original and culturally fitting “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards.

The show ends as it began, with Dörthe und Pierre playing another game. This time, it’s a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who will drive the X:enius van. Pierre wins, and they drive off.

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