He has no words and must design

Peter Molyneux

Went to the Design London STIR Lecture by Peter Molyneux this evening, and came away disappointed.

Actually, I didn’t have very high hopes in the first place, as I’ve seen Molyneux before, and although he’s certainly passionate, found his charm ran out pretty quickly – but worse, he had little insight to offer.

But the over-riding thought I kept having was that he didn’t have the critical language to describe what he (or more correctly, his teams) had created. He isn’t nearly as literate in why his own games work as the current generation playing his games.

Based on events like EIGF, this seems to be the case, at least amongst Molyneux’s generation of industry veterans. Bedroom-programmers-done-good, pioneers to be sure, but not able to form a critical appreciation of what they are doing or have done beyond the commercial impact.

This is something that reoccurs with every new medium, of course.

The next generation on from them – e.g. Jonathan Smith, Doug Church and of course Greg Costikyan (from whose classic essay on developing such a critical language the title of this post is lifted) are always eloquent, passionate and insightful speakers and spokespeople for their medium.

Unlike Molyneux.

peter molyneux / lionhead / stir lecture
19.11.08

i think i might have heard him do this talk before… this will be far from a transcript…

the constraints of his programming skill led to some of the core mechanics
some of sound effects for populous were created by throwing wet sponges into baths
what did people enjoy? the graphics were not good, the sound effects were awful, and the game play was repetitive: people believed there was more in the game than there was.

“there are only about 8 million gamers tops, and there are 6 billion of everybody, so games for everybody are better to make”

people got obsessed by the “AI” but it is ‘soft, simulational AI, not real AI’ – a sufficently-complex feedback system is seen as an AI.

again people believed there was more in the game (theme park) than there really was.

B&W: the creature -> initially made it humanoid, but realised that the first thing that anyone did was fiddle with the creature’s genitalia… the more humanoid you make something, the less-believable it is (uncanny valley) the closer we got to realism in B&W, the less believable the world became

the creature was prototyped to have desires, which could be satisfied by actions… creates a ‘real’ illusion of mind. Internal needs, wants, motivations – first one we gave the creature was to satisfy it’s hunger.

11pm one night… developer (richard) said “we’re ready to turn on the brain”

allowed the player to play with the mind of the creature – teach…

fable 2: dog (avatar, daemon) learnt from mistakes of B&W creature. Dog has a set of rules in it’s head, much like the asimov robot rules. prime directive: ‘i must not aggravate the player’

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8 comments
  1. Boris said:

    You’re too kind. ;)

    “I have this wonderful, awesome, amazing, incredible gift! When I talk… people listen! Because they want to belieeeve!” Aaaargh…

    “Those aren’t people you are shooting! They are six pixels!” “we had this dog, it was 4 by 6 pixels, and people looved this dog!” Um, are you stupid?

    “I want you to never forget this game” == “I want to brainwash you with idiotic games that stoke your engrained desire to control the universe, to make sure we move as many units, now and in the future, so as to fill my patron’s pockets.” Fair. But gross.

    His two teeth-gnashingly horrible, borderline sexist jokes in reference to his wife (is it me or was he one word from calling her a silly bint as he mimicked smacking her?) were unbearable.

    To top it off, he kept repeating this mantra, a disservice to everyone in the room he kept pandering to (“who here wants to work in the games industry!?”): “make games for everybody!” An ambiguous statement but he made it clear he meant “make [a game] that [any person] can and would want to play.” The hubris of the games industry, where every other medium is succumbing to fracturalisation of cultures, fracturing of markets; while everyone is scrambling to embrace niche markets and DIY communities (more or less, slowly but surely), this supposedly influential guy still flogs the dream of a dead horse: one game to rule them all! NO. FAIL.

    What you say about the pattern he is in along with the other “pioneers” of his generation rings true. Seen it numerous times. Bill Buxton gave an almost identical talk a few months ago at UQàM, complete with the heavy handed “come work for Microsoft!” (I could rant on about MS’s strategy for these kinds of events: have old big names with dubious skills on hand, send them to universities/colleges where you can exchange prestige for a free room and A/V support, packed with impressionable minds… etc…)

    The only concession I will make Mr Molyneux is that he made an honest effort to answer questions from the audience, directly and without too much whitewash or spin.

  2. Rachel said:

    Not having heard him before, I liked the core message (belief..passion etc) but not the whole context and delivery. Some things for me to take back, but overall, not a lot for the time spent.

    (also, does he sound like Rick Stein when you close your eyes? I kept expecting him to call the dog(s) Chalky)

  3. Adrian Moulder said:

    I think Peter’s a nice guy, but I think he exaggerates (or blurs the recollections) sometimes – he gave the impression the characters in Syndicate were barely differentiated stick-figures, when they clearly have recognisable features:

    (can’t find a pic of the dog, but 4×6 in an isometric view also sounds like an underestimatation?)

  4. Perhaps when we embrace aPerhaps when we embrace new insights into the art of making games the discourses in the general news media might progress us beyond the status of only one step higher than pornographers new

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