Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Design and the Stealing of Our Thunder

Some of you may be aware that I am working toward my PhD and some of you may even know of my deep obsession with design (more specifically design methods), evolutionary biology and board games. Indeed I have had one paper published discussing the development of design methods and principles that may be borrowed from board game design. And my current work continues to focus on these three things. Today I read an interesting article by Cosimo Cardellicchio titled "Evolution for Games." Upon first glance it might be tempting for me to say, "well there it is... it's been written, so why should I continue with this paper I'm writing."

Oh ye of little faith... Fear not! While Cardellicchio's article may touch upon some of specific topics that I am researching, his piece fails to explore them from the perspective of design and design methods. I'm not certain of Cardellicchio's background and a brief google hunt proved disappointing. I suspect from the little I could find that he is some kind of chemist who evidently has an interest in board games... cool! So, I actually found his article quite encouraging.

I have learned much here in my academic pursuits at Indiana University. One of the things I've learned is that finding other writings that seem to echo your pursuits is a good thing. It provides several very useful things.

Firstly it lets you know that you're writing about a topic that is of interest to other people. Hey, that's awesome -- there's other people out there nearly as strange and dysfunctional as I am.

Secondly it provides a source of reference -- gotta fill up that bibiography ;)

And thirdly and probably most importantly it gives you a frame of reference or a source that you can use to compare and contrast your own work to. This allows you to refine and improve your own writing.

Yesterday in our research groups weekly meeting we discussed this very thing. One of my colleagues expressed concerns over article he had found that seemed to already say what he was wanting to say. It was clear however that these articles of concern did not say it in quite the same way that my colleague would. I hope that our discussion encouraged him to move forward with his ideas as I think that they are very interesting. And I'm absolutely certain that he would bring a fresh perspective to to topics.

This all, while ostensibly about research and writing, actually is a fine illustration of my ideas about evolution in design. It's unlikely that someone will ever design something that doesn't have some sort of genealogy. You absorb tons of information and ideas every day. These are our raw genetic material for generating new design creations. You are a 100% unique filter, mutator and maker. Seeing what others have done should only compel you to show the world your own spin on things.

Yesterday I read an article by board game design Richard Breese titled "My Life in Games." Breese is rapidly becoming one of my favorite designers. And day by day I am coming to believe that he is "the man" when it comes to the game mechanism of worker placement. Anyhow, in this article he shares some extremely interesting information about himself as a game designer. He lists the 5 things/mechanisms that he enjoys most in a board game. This list is followed immediately by reference to a game that he liked but lacked some of the elements from his list. He then says that this was the catalyst for his creation of the core mechanisms for his game Keydom. This is the game that many believe to be the genesis of the worker placement mechanism.

This illustrates beautifully the ideas that I am working on. Let me break it down:

1. Breese has a pre-existing personal philosophy of design — i.e. his list of 5.
2. He experiences a new game that he likes but it falls short in some of those 5 things that make up the core of his design philosophy.
3. He then takes some of the ideas from that game and by mutating them using his own philosophy he creates a new and highly unique set of mechanics for the core of his new game.

I hope to find many more examples that will allow me to dig deeper into this. I know that many other people have written similar ideas. All I can hope for is to put my own fingerprints all over those ideas until at some point they become something I can call my own.

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