Cut With the Grain


Compared to consoles of today, the PlayStation 2 had draw distance limits and how much it could show on screen at once. Some games used fog or bloom effects to mask the lack of detail in far off objects. An interesting result: it created a powerful ambience.  

When these games were remastered to take advantage of newer technology they lost some of their original stylistic magic. (IMHO). The original games embraced the limitations of the PS2 for artistic effect.   

In other mediums, we see power in creative and technical limitations. Film noir embraced the power and starkness of black and white film. Artist Phil Hansen embraced the nerve damage and shake of his hands to produce stunning art. Twitter users embrace the power of limiting their words to 255 characters. 

What is one way to embrace the limitations of a game design engine like GB Studio? As of now it does not allow much text to fit in a dialog box. (Less than a tweet) A brute-force solution may be to slice up our text and spread it across several boxes. I can’t count how many times I said to myself: “This sentence doesn’t fit. I’ll spread it across two boxes and join with an ellipses.” But a more interesting question to ask is: “how can I make this sentence shorter and simpler so it fits? How can I make each dialog box contain only one thought?” Or “how can I say this without words?” By thinking this way, elegant solutions arose naturally. The dialog became terse but it fit the storytelling style and visual format. 

This isn’t to say we should never break sentences apart or we shouldn’t want more features in a game design engine. The idea is that we should take stock of what we have and ask: how can I cut with the grain? Conversely if we have freedom to implement whatever we want, see if we can’t self-impose some restrictions, be they technical, artistic or storytelling restrictions. Then ask: where do these restrictions naturally lead me? We may end up in interesting places.

(All this being said, I didn’t listen to my own advice and forced my Gameboy game to have mp3 sound and color overlays. I’ll rationalize in a follow-up post to make myself feel better. And I’ll invoke Christopher Nolan again)


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