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Author Topic: Game design 'moods' and autism?  (Read 11484 times)

Sowelu

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Game design 'moods' and autism?
« on: October 24, 2007, 03:11:00 pm »

(The original title, "Game design strange moods: A special autism?" didn't fit on the board overview.)

I'm not sure if this belongs in "Various Nonsense" since it's a semi-serious post, but not sure where else to put it.  Some of the game postmortems (Noctis for example) might seem to be "too soon", but I feel like looking into them anyway.

There have been a few amazing one-person game projects that set out to do something COMPLETELY INSANE, then get halfway there.  Sometimes the game fails or turns out impossible to keep developing.  Sometimes development just stops, due to lack of interest or other projects.  Sometimes, rarely, it keeps going.

I'm wondering if there's a certain kind of neurological functioning that makes these games happen, or that makes people want to make them.  I've been reading up on how absurdly common certain forms of autism are among engineers, and I'm wondering if there's a certain kind of autism that makes game developers have these "strange moods" where they work night and day for years on a single project.  Far from being an insult, I think it's an admirable trait--The state of the art in every single field is almost always advanced by these people (combined with folks who know how to market).  Some projects seem to be driven by pure ego alone (Battlecruiser 3000), but I think it's more a matter of a personality type or brain type that just *needs* to work that way.

So, partly I'd like to discuss what makes people work like that.  And partly I'd like to discuss single-person (or very-small-team) games that meet the pattern.  Usually, the games are freely distributed, and I *think* they're often driven by "I want this game to exist, and nobody else can possibly make it; therefore, I need to make it".  Off the top of my head:

- Dwarf Fortress, obviously.  Two-person team with one coder.  Toady works HOW many hours each day?
- Battlecruiser 3000 AD.  In development for like a decade before its first release.  Derek Smart kept working on it despite absolutely crippling problems, and eventually he managed to fulfill his vision: He got all the features implemented that he wanted.  Unfortunately, a lot of the basic, necessary things (like combat that actually works) were missing.  The game *design* is a work of art, however, and almost makes me cry when I look at it.  Beautiful.  Anyway it's also freeware I believe.
- Noctis.  Alex (Alessandro Ghignola) wrote his own surprisingly low level language for the game, which includes a very unique-looking graphics engine.  He designed a lot more than just a game, though:  If you look around a little there is a *LOT* of background information on the Felysian race and the science involved.  This information is not even included in the game itself, for the most part.  (I downloaded and ran a clock program that showed Felysian time for a while.)  Alex's forums are also a work of art... but it seems like he hasn't touched the Noctis world in a very, very long time.  He's clearly moved on; I don't know if he'll go back to anything in the Noctis world, ever.  Maybe he lost his Muse?  Or maybe Linoleum is too limiting to develop in, while being absolutely inextricably tied to Noctis in a spiritual way?

These three games get a lot of discussion on the DF boards.

I'd like to throw out another one for discussion:
- ADOM.  A roguelike by Thomas Biskup.  Stunningly detailed world, some slightly revolutionary features, one-person design team.  Was in development for years, and then suddenly stopped, but *CAN* be considered 'finished' and playable regardless (it's past version 1) with minimal bugs.  He started moving to a Java-based system, posted some interesting screenshots, and then those stopped coming as well.  What happened?  I don't know.  Not enough information.  I'm not familiar with the community--it doesn't look like there's a community like DF or Noctis has, either, it's not as deep.  But I'm willing to say that the *tragic* elements present in Noctis and BC3000AD are missing from ADOM's development.  Does it fall in the same category, regardless?  Is it in a different class or the same one?  Why?  I just can't tell if Thomas has the same deeply-emotional connection to his game that Alex and Derek had to theirs.  There was still more work to be done when development ceased, I know that much.


Part of why I'm posting this is because I think I've got a mild version of the same 'condition'.  I suspect that it's not uncommon on these forums, and I wonder how many programmers have it.  I've seen friends of mine get astonishingly far in high-concept game engines working completely alone, and then say "meh" and move on to something else in life.  Often there's a desire to write already-ubiquitous things from scratch (This compiler / telnet client / language / whatever isn't good enough!  I'll make my own!), and a lot of the more serious cases have a complex about "I want to play this game I'm imagining!  But nobody will ever write it!  That means I have to do it, for the good of the world.  Or just for the good of myself."  (I've got two games that I need to 'let out'.  I bet it won't happen for years, and DF has actually made it easier to cope with; a lot of the things I wanted to do, Toady has already done.)

Is there anything really unique about these games and their developers?  Is it just normal semi-autistic engineers who actually took that step and followed their dreams?  Anything else unique about them or their projects?  Is the only thing that makes Dwarf Fortress, BC3000AD, and Noctis unique the fact that they got far enough to be playable?

Also:  What are some other "strange mood" games out there?

[ October 24, 2007: Message edited by: Sowelu ]

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Mephisto

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2007, 04:12:00 pm »

quote:
Originally posted by Sowelu:
<STRONG>...
Part of why I'm posting this is because I think I've got a mild version of the same 'condition'.  I suspect that it's not uncommon on these forums, and I wonder how many programmers have it.
...
[ October 24, 2007: Message edited by: Sowelu ]</STRONG>

I believe I've got this 'condition'. It's one of my main drives to learn some programming language. Being able to do simple math in assembly or defining a triangle in C++ isn't enough. The closest thing that many nonprogrammers will find is RPG Maker and the various game making programs; however most, if not every single one, of them is insufficient for the task that the maker wants to perform.

And since you asked about other games designed by an individual, there is always Transcendence, which is being developed by George Moromisato.

[ October 24, 2007: Message edited by: Mephisto ]

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Armok

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2007, 04:16:00 pm »

This is really a very interesting theory, and I feel it is also very true, You are on to something...
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Capntastic

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2007, 05:19:00 am »

I don't think there's anything odd about a hobby that other people benefit from (making a game, for instance.)

Toady's living the dream, though.

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Lightning4

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2007, 10:22:00 am »

Yeah, sometimes I feel I have the need to make a game in that way... years ago I had many ideas for different games I wanted to realize.

But I lack the actual drive to get off my ass and learn how to program. :/

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Jaqie Fox

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2007, 04:32:00 pm »

Prettymuch on the mark. (I have high functioning autism {along with many other problems} and am an engineer at heart.
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Sowelu

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2007, 07:57:00 pm »

Transcendence looks fun!

But yeah, my main interest is in the combination of
1) Working completely alone on the coding.
2) Keeping it up for a LONG time: Years.
3) Considering development to be more important than doing just about anything else, apparently (ie, working on one project for ten years, or pulling 12-hour days for months while not getting paid, or just having your life completely inundated with the project at all times)

Singleminded devotion is a big part of what makes me curious about this.  I can't focus my attention in one place for long enough.  I might be too young and thus too distractable; it might just be that my priorities will always be somewhere else.

But once in a rare while I get a manic phase where I *can* hit those fourteen hour (or longer) days, working on a single project, for about 5-8 days straight--and even though it's a very high production rate, I turn out my best quality work in those periods as well.

It makes me wonder if there are people with a distinct neurology that lets them keep that up ALL the time.  It's way more than just working on a fun and free project; and I'm wondering if there's a distinction that's worth drawing between 'normal' high-functioning autism and that kind of work.  Maybe it's not even connected to autism after all, but it seems likely enough.

Of course, maybe this is the same kind of way that all PhD candidates have to work, too.  I know it's not attached to programming or even engineering, either:  Artists get like this too, of course, and it's often even more tragic (but that might just be the lead or mercury or radium or whatever they've been ingesting, or the greater quantity of braindamaging STDs they get that makes them wacky).  Regardless, I'm kinda curious if it is *impossible* for neurotypical folks to function at that level, or maybe even impossible for run-of-the-mill batty high-functioning autistic engineers.  Do only some people have the potential to crank out this sheer quantity of high quality work?

(That and I LOVE games developed by a single person.  They have way more character than your average corporate or open-source game, and they're more coherant; ADOM has a far more compelling than Nethack or Angband ever will.  I need to check out Transcendence.)

Also:  Apologies if I'm misrepresenting autism at all here.  I'm only standard engineer-grade autistic, which isn't much, and I'm sure many other forumgoers have done a lot more research/reading on it than I have.

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Eagleon

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2007, 08:51:00 pm »

What I'm interested in is if it can be induced in other people, or if it's more morphological. My mind is everywhere when working on a problem. That can be very good for coming up with new ideas, but it's difficult for me to keep doing one thing for very long when they occur.

I think it also takes a certain kind of attitude to make a game like DF. You have to believe that what you're doing is worthwhile, or you're not going to get anywhere. That's how it works with me when I'm writing, at least.

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Lomilar

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2007, 12:53:00 pm »

I am one of those odd people who are struck by these sorts of moods, unfortunately, I am barraged by them so often that I rarely ever finish any of them. The ideas are quite simply huge, grand, and I can describe quite a few of the feelings that accompany them.

Pretty much all of these are computer based, because I grew up on a computer. I learned how to talk from a computer. No, really.

The first one that I felt driven to complete was a mouse motion based command input system, ala Black and White or Opera, around ~4 years ago, but overlays on top of Windows itself. It works, and I finished it, as it was part of a class I had in college. Since then, I and other people have helped develop something like four different styles of gesture based input systems for mice, and while they aren't so uncommon any more, I still enjoy pondering them.

Quite simply, it is an obsession. I would, and still spend many hours per day thinking about various projects that I have. If I did not spend eight hours a day already writing code (also known as working), and if I was not so enamoured by gaming, I would exploit these 'strange moods' more.

My second one was a game that utilized this gesture system, called Duel. It was composed of two wizards facing off in what I would consider a wizard's duel. It utilizes the gesture system to cast spells using multiple different types of mana, and multiple different symbols for attacking, defending, etc. For instance, one mage may draw an inverted T using red (aggressive) mana, and it launches a fireball. The other mage would counter using a ice shield (a blue O). That ice shield could be broken with a lightning bolt, but if the mage grounded herself, would cause no damage. Etc, etc.

By and large, I have found that it is somewhat easy to transmit these strange moods to other people, and get them as excited about something as you are. Though some people are quite simply uninterested in them. They seem to lack, or have a much smaller 'builder's tick'.

Actually performing the action is a different matter. The motivation for one of these obsessions has to be triggered, usually through just sitting down and doing it for an hour, or thinking about it for at least an hour. Distractions are still possible, I think those can be heeded or dismissed based on the person's discipline, and hense isn't applicable to these moods. Once the motivation has been triggered, the obsession fed a little, it just grows and grows until 12 hours later, you realise that you need to sleep.

The third one, codenamed Kolasi, is something I still can't talk much about, but it combines a lot of these odd one-off ideas. It is positively huge though, and I am not disciplined enough yet to execute it. So far it has been going mostly nowhere for four years. Doesn't stop me from wanting it though.

In my experience, these grand projects have to be tempered with the learning of skills and discipline, otherwise they can and will fall by the wayside, and simply become a lost obsession, which sucks, because the desire never goes away, but the motivation is never there.

The other part that is dangerous is the scope and vision of these projects. If you can have singular responsibility over it, things become MUCH easier.

Quite simply, I would love for other people to be able to help me with these projects, but as any designer knows, one of the hardest things is getting other people's vision to align with your own. Its often easier to just create it one's self. I think that is why many people choose the one person approach. In this day and age though, it is becoming more and more difficult to one-man projects. I am pretty sure none of us would mind having some rockin graphics for DF, but I think the complexity of the game was a result of the sacrifice of graphics.

One thing that may be often misrepresented is exactly how difficult it is to carry out these strange moods. Quite simply, anything can get in the way of them. It is an infatuation, yes, but often times it can't get out of the hobby realm. I applaud the people who have the discipline to complete their strange moods in less than years of time while maintaining a job and whatnot. I feel too many obligations to my flesh and blood friends, body, and whatever silly entertainment that I choose to indulge in to execute too many of these strange moods.

Though one thing is for sure. I do think about going hermit and cranking out masterpieces. I sit here, and I can think of at least 3 more coding projects that I would love to complete.

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Sappho

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2007, 01:17:00 pm »

I get these moods, but I seem to be incapable of learning to code.  And I've been trying, consistently, to learn, since I was ten years old.  Twelve years of study, and I can never quite get it to click.  So I write down all my ideas in Google notebooks, in case I ever do manage to learn coding, or find someone who is willing to code for me.

It really is a sort of autistic obsession.  Sit at the computer with a keyboard and a paper notebook in front of me, draw sketches, maps, type out descriptions, I can even get so far as to describe how the code should work, but despite my aptitude with spoken languages, translating it into code evades my grasp.  No sleep, or when I do sleep, I dream about it, wake up with new ideas.  Never leave my bedroom, or if I have to leave, take the notebook with me, bring up the Google notebook on the next computer I see and keep going.

And yet, it all comes to nothing but a massively detailed description, because I can't code.

...Now I'm sad.  :(

Jaqie Fox

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2007, 04:51:00 pm »

quote:
Originally posted by Sappho:
I get these moods, but I seem to be incapable of learning to code.  And I've been trying, consistently, to learn, since I was ten years old.  Twelve years of study, and I can never quite get it to click.  So I write down all my ideas in Google notebooks, in case I ever do manage to learn coding, or find someone who is willing to code for me.

I taught myself TRSDOS BASIC, apple BASIC, MS QBasic, and other such archaic languages, but have been unable to learn C++ and other OOP languages (beyond learning how to use make in BSD et al) probably for the same reason you have.  However, I am now learning C# with this. Trust me, it's worth getting if you want to learn to program. it is a great 'gateway' to learning the C family (including C++)
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Sowelu

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2007, 06:36:00 pm »

I'll have to second C#, it's actually a pretty good language to start in--and the fact that it comes with a standardized and very nice IDE (unlike Java, which has multiple mediocre ones, in my opinion) helps too.  But that's getting a little offtopic.

It does seem like programming 'moods' are in the same general realm as any artistic effort.  What makes them different than painting, or something, is that painting the Sistine Chapel needs you to have a ton of talent and know what you're doing from the very start, and your craftworking talent has a HUGE effect on the perceived quality of your output; plus you're basically doing the same task the whole time.

This is different from programming, which has a much lower cost of entry to start working:  You can be a middling programmer when you start a project.  The source might be ugly by the time you're done, but the users don't actually see the source:  The users mostly see your artistic vision in a relatively pure form, if you pull it off.  Plus, programming has a lot more variety in tasks than just sitting there painting, or knitting, or whatever for a couple years straight.  Maybe programming 'moods' are easier than artistic ones?  They're still not easy by any stretch, but someone who isn't among the top 10 programmers in the world can still put out something legendary if they invest enough time.

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nerdpride

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2007, 09:51:00 am »

Programming is an "art" (when you're not doing it for a job anyways), that is, there's not necessarily one specific way to do it defined by science.  I think that makes it a little interesting, since the creator can explore different ways of doing the same things.  For example, a roguelike developer can implement functions for their game's line of sight features differently, either having the fastest system or the most precise one or sometimes even one that allows automatic "peeking around the corners".  Some of you should check out this link if you're curious, I'm similarly "autistic" and I found a lot of things about the genre at least interesting.  I plan on making a game of this type, but school keeps getting in the way. http://roguebasin.roguelikedevelopment.org/index.php?title=Main_Page.  

Learning C or C++ isn't too hard either, with the right compiler, books, and a little help. I took a class about C after trying to learn for a few years, I was stuck on pointers and declaring functions, and it helped tremendously for some reason I still don't understand.  I'd recommend the one you can find in this link for a windows system--its a simple download and it works well even if you have to add "cin.get();" at the end of each program to see the results.  Or you can use a DOS-type window too I think.  It's also really powerful, with GNU's g++ at the core of it all.  It's just a nice bundle for MinGW, really. http://www.bloodshed.net/devcpp.html
I don't know about any viruses on that download.

This is another neat site, they have forums with lots of nice people.  The class was still better for me, it's a little different when someone asks you to write a piece of code for a grade, but maybe I could've done it this way with a little more persistence. http://www.cprogramming.com

I don't really know anything about autism or psychology, but most of the time I wish I could lock myself up in an internet-connected cave to work on these things.  It's what I really think is important.  That's probably going to change someday, and it would be really difficult to go on once it does, but I'll have a new obsession by then so it won't matter to me.  Well, I don't know, I think people are important too.  I made a bunch of friends once I got used to college; they're not so bad.  I guess I'm just in it because it's what I dream about doing.

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Frobozz

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2007, 06:01:00 pm »

Its funny. In a way I see myself as having this "engineer autism" and at the same time I wonder if I don't. For me the reason for programming is the challenge. Most of the time I'm implementing little programs to test out an idea or to learn something (like attempting to cloning Zork in QuickBASIC).

Like JF I started by learning BASIC (QuickBASIC 4.5 - the commercial version that came with a compiler). Most people claim you learn bad programming habits from BASIC. I don't necessarily find that true. I found that as time went on I naturally tended to stay away from the spaghetti code instructions (GOTO, GOSUB, etc) and go towards functional programming more and more. When I finally decided to make the switch to C++ I had totally abandoned the so called "bad practices" having essentially decided that I was better off without them.

I've pretty much stayed with C++ for two reasons. First there is a lot of support libraries out there to choose from - my three favorite being SDL, OpenGL, and Irrlicht. The second reason is that I'm a big fan of cross platform languages. I've tried C# but found that it isn't truly portable at this point in time regardless of the fact that it runs through a virtual machine.

I do find it difficult to program with others and thus I typically avoid doing so although I'm not against open sourcing a project (once it reaches a certain level of completion). Some might see it as possibly damaging the project but I've known at least one project (MegaZeux) that has been turned over to different people over time. Most of the time that project has been under the development of one person and has been rewritten at least once. Never has the project really suffered in my opinion - the community has reached a point where I couldn't see that happening.

What I do find strange about myself is my memory. I lost the source code to my attempt at cloning Zork. It was reasonably impressive for QuickBASIC - 20KB or so of which 9KB was dedicated to the parser. I lost the source at least six years ago and yet... I can recall virtually every line of code to memory. I know exactly how that program was laid out and given probably a week to get used to QuickBASIC again I could probably spit out most of the program (I don't remember the boring support functions - string manip, etc).

[ November 06, 2007: Message edited by: Frobozz ]

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Gigalith

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Re: Game design 'moods' and autism?
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2007, 10:24:00 am »

Well, in the indie scene there's Pixel, creator of Doukutsu Monogatari. Although in the one English interview he gave he didn't seem too obsessed about it, four years is a long time to be working on a single project.

I also have this sort of obsession, and I am a high-function autistic. I've also noted that in comes in two cycles. The first cycle is when I get an idea, and become very excited about it. Then I might program/design/write/whatever for a week, then get bored with it and move on to the next idea. Then, maybe years later, I'll remember it and come back, spend another week, get bored and so on...

The other cycle is even more obsessive. There are a few novels I plan to write, and I am obsessed about them. I first conceived of them years ago, and they are still hanging around in the back of my mind, constantly. There's a subcycle, where I think about one a lot, then think about a different one, and so on. But unlike the programming cycles, they never go away.

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