Project Horseshoe Report: The Watery Pachinko Machine of Doom

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Gamasutra was kind enough to post the report our group produced this year at Project Horseshoe. If you are interested in a brief glimpse into the thoughts of veteran game designers, it is worth a read. The topic our group chose was roughly related to ‘story in games’. However, it became quite clear that the group was more interested in discussing how games are able to support powerful new experiences.

Story, in the traditional sense, was reduced into a rather small and telling role. The best stories, we concluded, are the ones told by each player as they share their amazing gaming experience with friends and family. In this game-centric view of media, “story” is but the afterglow, a processing step in our understanding of past grand events. Games are about causing the birth of the primary event, that glorious moment where the player actually experiences those grand events first hand.

And what is game design? Game design is the process of building devious systems that are fully aware of human foibles, quirks and desires. These systems click and whir with manipulative intent. The best ones encourage human beings to reach out and experience, of their own free will, something new, meaningful and real.

Game design as a distinctly unique and powerful tool set

I got the glimpse that designers are finally coming to terms with games as their own unique creative medium. I’m not quite sure how to put this into words, so bear with me. 🙂 The examples we discuss passionately were from games, not movies, theater or books. The language and metaphors were distinctly born from the theories of play and human psychology. Folks were discussing how to build the next world changing work of art in a rich, detailed vocabulary that despite borrowing liberally from other fields, was distinctly unique to games. In fact, there was little talk of cut scenes or protagonists or narrative in general.

The group quickly bypassed such dorm room topics as a waste of our limited time. It would have been as useless as a gathering of early Jazz musicians debating how the aesthetics of Shakespearean plays might advance their new art. Drawing such parallels might certainly be academically intriguing, but it has turned out to be generally orthogonal to the task at hand of making great games.

I’ve always believed that the real philosophy, language and tools of understanding and building great games will comes from messy development trenches, not the ivory towers or posh hills of Hollywood. Artists, whose lives crumble or soar based off the success of their vision, have far more incentive to push for new techniques that work. The language of games grows like slang in the ghetto, rough, occasionally incoherent to outsiders, but still immensely evocative and effective. When such a language makes the leap to the mainstream, the world changes.

take care

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.


  1. Macguffin says

    Hey Danc – thanks much, that was really thought-provoking stuff. Do you know where I could find references to the 39 plots mentioned at the bottom for mediators? Thanks.


  2. Man, the more I read about Project Horseshoe, the more excited I get about it. Hopefully in a few years I can work out how to steal an invitation.The ethical questions that you bring up strike me as especially important. So many of the reality shows seem like variation on various thought experiments that philosophers have done but never dared try in reality (especially think of shows like Big Brother).when I was reading about the part with human GMs I kept thinking of The Game which was the opposite of what you\’re suggesting where the ultra-rich get multiple GMs to take care of one player. Who knows, there may turn out to be a market for games with a wide variety of levels of service to the clients.


  3. Hi, Daniel. Sorry for writing this here, but I looked for your e-mail and didn\’t found it. I\’m writing a tutorial about 2D game development, and I was wondering if I\’m allowed to use your Space Cute & Planet Cute graphics. Thanks for your time!


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