Reading Reflection

For this week’s reading, I’d like to respond to a few ideas raised in the chapter, mostly centered around the principle “Design as interplay between function and form”. These two, specifically in relation to games, raised a number of questions and interesting thoughts for me. 

Thinking on the idea of “design as interplay between function and form”, I tried to apply it towards games – but it raised more questions than answers: when we consider something like a mechanic within a game (i.e, a level-up system), do we consider that individual mechanic a piece of design in and of itself? Or do we consider it simply part of the form of the overall game that it's a part of? If we consider these individual parts that can be artfully designed, do we assign their function to be attached to its function within the game or as the function tied to the experience we are trying to give to the player? An example would be something like Mario’s jump – is the function of the jump to allow Mario to hop over gaps, or the function being to provide a motor-reflex challenge for the player? Can it be both? 

I also found the notion of the ‘function’ of a game mechanic to be interesting, especially with respect to the idea that imbued within function there should be some definition of what something can and cannot do. There are numerous examples of games where certain mechanics are used far outside their intended purpose, but these things can actually provide new experiences of methods of play. Most notable for myself is probably Melee’s ‘wavedash’ technique, a small burst of movement that occurs when you perform an ‘air dodge’ into the ground, which was something discovered by the players fiddling with the in-game mechanic and not intentionally programmed into the game. The wavedash helped to transform Melee into a highly skill-expressive 1v1 fighting game – something clearly contradictory against Melee’s original developer intent to be a fun party game. How do we as artful designers deal with the potential that our users or players find new and unintended functions? And what should we do if a form beautifully or artfully supports an unintended function? When Melee’s sequel Brawl was released and the wavedash was removed, it was a decision largely disliked by players, as players could no longer express themselves or control their characters in the ways they wanted to. Even though removal of this technique moved the game back towards its intended purpose of being a fun casual party game, was it worth it, did it better achieve its functions in some way?  


Design Etude

Thing #1: Celeste’s Dash

Celeste is a puzzle platformer in which you control the character Madeline to climb the titular Mt. Celeste. Pressing the button causes the Madeline to dash forward in whichever direction you’re holding, regardless of where you are – on the ground, in the air, or even inside of a moving bubble.*icgTgHIQfahO2NcyyC-xIg.gif

Over the course of the game, you will dash hundreds of thousands of times to cross gaps, avoid obstacles, and move between platforms, and it is the primary mechanic that the game builds its puzzles around. The beauty of dash’s design in my opinion comes from how satisfying it is to pilot. Both of these are a result of its form, coming from the very intentional design choices, both perceptible and imperceptible, that shape the way the game plays. At the conceptual level, the in-game function of the dash is to provide an extra form of movement to add more layers to the platforming, but outside the game, the mechanics in a game function to ultimately provide a satisfying challenge or experience for the player; in this case I would almost say that the form expands the function – the way the dash is constructed allows for new methods of play and therefore new experiences for the player. On the more ‘physical’ side of the dash’s form, there’s the ‘woosh’ sound that plays, the slight screen shake to convey the force of the movement, and the after-images of the character that show up for a few frames following the path of your movement. All these things contribute to the feeling of weight and movement, and while they don’t contribute to the in-game function of the dash, they heighten the player-character connection and contribute to a more immersive experience. On the less noticeable side of the dash’s design, and the thing that expands the flexibility of its function, is in its interactions with how the game handles momentum. If you input a jump at the end of the dash, the momentum of the dash is carried into the jump, while still allowing you to dash again in the air.

 If you dash from the air into the ground, that momentum is also transferred if you jump again in the same way that you can do dashing from the ground.

There are other elements that I don’t have the time to cover, but in general these new options allow the player to approach levels in a ton of different ways while still sticking to the same core tools – and the game never forces you to learn or use these to beat the main story. In doing so, the dash elevates its function from ‘puzzle solving tool’ to a way for players to express themselves, and I find that to be something meaningful and beautiful.


Thing #2: Rainylune’s Giant Frog Pillow

Look at him. Bask in his presence. The long frog. 

I would relate the appeal of its design to the idea that form modulates function – the primary function of comfort is achieved through the form of the body pillow, but the exact details of that form give it aesthetic value and context beyond just being something to hold. The pillow leverages the form of the body pillow and our knowledge of what a frog should be/look like to create an absurd concept of a frog that is not just 5 feet long but also has the proportions of a pool noodle, which is quite funny, and helps to achieve a feeling of playfulness and humor. Other elements of the form also lean into this comedic element, such as the minimalism with which the frog is drawn adds to its humor (I would imagine that a realistic looking frog bent into those proportions would be a bit more on the disturbing end than the humorous), and the blank facial expression that directly contradicts the humorous nature of its existence. Overall, it’s quite simple, but it brings me quite a bit of joy.

Thing #3: Polaroid Camera/Photo 

One interesting thing that I noted is that its form almost seems to get in the way of the intended function of taking photos, especially when compared to something like the iPhone camera, which shares a similar function – the polaroid camera is much more bulky and fragile, you have to buy the film with which the camera uses to print out the photos, and often the photo turns out blurry or underexposed. The utility and the aesthetic value instead comes from the physicality of the printed photo and its relation to the memory that it's capturing. The fact that a polaroid photo is a physical object is meaningful – it adds a physical presence to a memory or a moment, something that can deteriorate or be affected by the environment in a way that a digital photo on a screen simply cannot. Similarly, since the polaroid camera generally prints out the photo immediately, there is also the knowledge that the image itself was created at the same moment as the memory that it’s recording, as opposed to a printed physical photo. In these ways, the images taken go beyond the initial function of storing visual information for a particular memory – they become keepsakes and mementos that in and of themselves can be meaningful memories.


Guerrilla Design

I’ve decided to take the idea of ‘infiltrating’ my life with design quite literally – I cut up the notes that I took for reading chapter 1 into the more important sections, and placed them in various locations around my room, so that no matter where I am, there will always be one or two design principles just barely in sight. It's obviously superfluous and won't help me remember these concepts any better, but it's a funny way of representing the idea of being 'physically immersed' in a 'design space'.

Chuck Assignment #1