19 December 2010

Brewing Up Good Game Design - by Christopher Totten

      Posted 12/17/10 11:40:00 am  

Some of my posts have been a little more utilitarian of late so I thought I’d do something fun with this one.  The Holidays are upon us, and with them come festive food and drink of the season.  You see, when I’m not waxing poetic at work, with friends, and on Gamasutra on the experiential power of video games as interactive media, I brew my own beer – and I’ve been quite busy setting out my Holiday selection. 

Now, I’m not talking about making my own version of Keystone Light or other “lawnmower” or “drinking game” beers.  My outlook on brewing is the same as my outlook on game design:  be experimental.  If I can buy it in the store chances are I don’t want to spend the extra money making it myself. 

This philosophy has made me notice that sitting at a table poring over notes with friends on our next brew is strangely akin to developing new game concepts.  While this may be because I do a lot of my brewing with friends that I also design games with, I believe it goes further than that.  In the premiere of the Discovery Channel show Brewmasters, CEO of Dogfish Head Brewery Sam Calagione explains his own company’s mission statement with a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote printed high on a wall in his brewery: 

Why so would be a man
must be a nonconformist.
He who would gather immortal palms
must not be hindered
by the name of goodness,
but must explore if it be goodness.
Nothing is atlast sacred
but the integrity of your own mind.

 While Sam has turned this quote into his slogan of “off-centered ales for off-centered people”, we game designers can take this as a call to rebel against the endless stream of watered-down and flavorless first person shooters and sci-fi/fantasy sequels by creating some truly off-centered games; and we can look to some lessons of good craft brewing to show us the way. 

Ignore style

This bit of advice comes from the book Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher.  You see, in 1516, a law known as the Reinheitsgebot (known in the U.S. as the German Purity Law) was implemented in the German duchy of Bavaria.  This law stipulated that beer may only be brewed from three ingredients:  water, barley and hops (the presence of yeast in the fermentation process was not known at the time) so that other grains such as rye and wheat could be utilized in bread and the price of beer could be kept low.  These limits have led to a variety of excellent beer styles, but have also limited the brewer’s creative freedom.  While each of those ingredients can be pushed to their extremes (an EXTREMELY hoppy IPA I once made comes to mind), many of those frontiers have already been conquered.  The influence of the Reinheitsgebot can be seen in the pale lagers that dominate the American beer landscape today. 


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