The Dichotomy of Content & Logic
door Bruno Jordaan - Head of Game Design on 05 May, 2011
Most if not all of the serious games we have developed over the years have come to fruition in close collaboration between our clients and us. Generally, the client has either the required domain expertise in-house or will hire an external subject matter expert for the development of the game. This subject matter expert has (or should have) a clear vision on what information needs to be integrated in the game. We, as experts in our own field, serious game design and development, have the experience to know how the information in question can best be harnessed in a game.
So how to get the most out of this joint effort? Past experiences have shown that in the early stages of a development both parties struggle to understand each other and find a common ground. This is a natural, inherent part of the process. As we try to achieve an understanding of the domain concepts and their relationships, the client’s subject matter experts try to come to grips with what games are and what works and does not work in game form.
In this article I would like to have a look at an important paradigm in game development: the dichotomy of content and logic. Say a client wants to define a story-driven game. This game can be broken down into some chunks of content, such as video cut scenes, dialogs and emails, all of which are tied together by what we term logic. Although they are more or less separated from a modeling point of view, content and logic are created in unison. They only truly come together in the final product. This duality lies at the heart of games. It also provides us with a model which we can use to determine the relative weight of a piece of content or a feature in terms of its value for the final product.
The nature of the content provides the first axis of this model. The easiest way to explain this is to use the term production value. The higher the production value of the content, the more specialized expertise is required for its creation and the more expensive it will be to produce. An example of relatively low production value content is textual content and an example of high production video content is video or animation. I concur with the assessment that writing texts for games also requires specific skills and knowledge, but that’s a discussion I’ll for another time. The point is that it is relatively straightforward to facilitate the design, production and management of textual content, whereas the opposite is true for high production value content. On top of that it is quite easy to modify or correct textual content at a later stage, even after the launch of the game, where as modifying high production value content post-production can prove cumbersome and expensive.
The complexity of the logic forms the second axis of this model. Complexity in this context encompasses a number of aspects, such as a the interrelatedness of the content, the linearity of the overarching story and possible scoring factors. In parallel with the point above, our experience is that the higher the complexity of the underlying logic, the more specialized expertise is require for the configuration of the game’s logical foundations. This has an obvious effect on the required budget: higher complexity requires significantly more project resources than lower complexity and this is relationship is exponential and not linear.
This two-axis model is visualized here. By helping our clients understand it, we enable them to make better decisions on how to assign project resources to parts or aspects of the game. Certain aspects might demand a high production value approach but could be kept quite simple logically whereas for other aspects logical complexity is more important than production value. At the end of the day, the most successful projects made optimal use of their resources by spending the most effort and energy on those aspects that had the highest impact on overall product value.
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