The Work and Life of Music Life

April 4, 2011 // Published by Stephen Keating

This space will be updated on a rolling basis with new assets and pictures as they becomes available.

Perhaps what has been most amazing about this project is that I’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to spend a long time working on a project with another person. Months slavishly brewing up some kind of potion that’s going to cure aphasia isn’t what I was expecting maybe, but to be honest, in a lot of ways it’s actually much better than I could have hoped for. The reality is that what’s been learned best here is that projects need a lot more design assistance with people who not only play a lot of games, but who have an interest in the arts and humanities.

The clearest problems with Music Life are, and will continue to be, contextual problems. To capture the complexity of a verb or even all the possibilities of what a “hand” might be in the context of speech is quite large. What’s more, to then present these in a context that is easy to read, one that is clear and apparent compounds the problems of natural propensity to not think about that which comes as natural, but also to believe that all things that seem simple conceptually are easy to capture. How does one capture “love” visually? An embrace? A kiss? These things are either vague, or describe acts, they describe what love can cause, but not what love is.

The heart of the matter is this in game design, yet it’s also a game design problem. Finding the soul of any great game is often not about the acts, but about what those acts mean within context. If a character kicks down a door, is it being kicked down out of fear? Disregard? Desperation? These same questions are something a learning game like Music Life must grapple with, as it is tackling a multi-modal problem, one which relates to language, usage, and then contextualization of each of these so that the player can then discover, or perhaps re-discover.

The class is teaching me, all the time, that oftentimes tackling a game is about rediscovery. Making each replay new again and each design choice meaningful and additive, rather than reductive or over-reaching. Discovering the core on which the game relies is important, and it’s something that never loses relevance. As a game that needs to reliably hook users, having an aggressive, easily available core is perhaps one of the most important things I’ve discovered throughout the design process. Similarly, I’ve found that things which interfere with the core design feature always, or almost always, come off as fluff.

If I had to make requests, to be honest it would probably relate to having more people coming in and testing the games, and possibly having more time to work in-class on asset production as well as team discussion and direction. There have been quite a few challenges in the road on making Music Life, and it’s still a bit hard to say where we’ll end up, but I’m confident we’re headed in the right direction.

Some various assets for potential words, some less or more abstract than others.