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Is your game an instrument? Or a song that the player must play note by authored note?

I think my personal goal is to invent a new beloved instrument, not to be a composer.

Be aware: Those that craft instruments have little place in the history books except in exceedingly rare situations (Stradivarius). The years of practicing an obscure craft, the grinding of subtle interlocking pieces, the fine eye that looks to expanding human potential instead of just perfecting a particular expression...none of these are all that worthy of celebrity. If we as a society lavishly celebrate a particular performance, the songwriter is often secondary and the builder of the instrument is a distant third.

I'm at peace with that. As a creative person, I found it very worthwhile asking myself this question since it has a huge impact on both what you strive for each day. And what you consider success.
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As a designer who prefers creating systems, I have to agree. Instead of trying to lead the player or communicate the human experience(both noble), it's more about empowering players with new tools and feedback to let them find a new unique experience.

I think there is a inherent trust in the player with a system. You trust that they may not find what you did in this pocket universe, but they will bring back something new and fascinating from it.

Great quote from Joss Whedon:
"All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet -- it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you."
I get bored quickly with games where I must play what the designers authored note-for-note. I feel the game is playing me, not the other way around.

I don't think designers of the sorts of games you liken to instruments are going to be consigned to the doldrums of history (unless they keep out of the limelight, which is the case in most corners of our industry). A lute, a trumpet, a bass guitar - they are what they are. Games have a style. Tetris, Bomberman, Triple Town, Skullgirls - v systemic game designs but they have a style to them, too.
Well, games aren't really perceived like that, though, are they?

For every person who says Final Fantasy is their favorite game, there's one who says The Sims is their favorite. These are incredibly different experiences, on opposite ends of the directed-versus-toolbox spectrum, but that doesn't affect how well people remember them. (Can you imagine someone fondly recalling their Sims character without remembering it was in The Sims?) If anything, the story creators are less likely to be remembered than the sandbox creators.

Even for very "instrument-esque" games (Neverwinter Nights, Minecraft, Magic:The Gathering), I'm hard-pressed to think of a game where the creations are more famous than the game. That doesn't seem to ever happen.

However, your metaphor makes a lot more sense when you look at game engines. Engine creators are the real unsung heroes of game development, making instruments for other designers.

But engines aren't games. Unless you want to argue that Unity3D is itself a game, there has to be a difference between games and engines. Maybe that difference is just one of intent and presentation, but that matters a lot. It determines your target audience, which determines the cap of your personal fame.


I've been talking about the fame of a game, but it seems the same at the personal level. Designers of "toolbox" games -- Will Wright, Notch, Richard Garfield -- aren't more famous than the names of more directed games -- Miyamoto, Jonathan Blow, Richard Garriott.

Of course, none of them are particularly famous. And that's generally fair, because they are leaders of large game teams. We remember game companies more than individuals. This is very different from most other successful media.


Finally, it's worth noting that very few games are at either extreme of that axis. Most of the big titles right now are somewhere in the middle. We have entire genres (like multiplayer FPSes) which are only successful if they hit a sweet spot on that axis.
Interesting take. I admit i love create instruments; but if i'm on the other side of the wall, i love to be entertained by a story.
I'm definitely more of the opinion that we're creating possibility spaces for people to dance within, but the occasional restriction can sometimes make that dance more interesting - like a limbo! It's just when the player is forced to do the weird dance and doesn't want to that it falls apart. Like line dancing :(
Creating an instrument without showing the player how to play a tune on it I think it's no so interesting.

At least you should also guide the player an show him how to create easy tunes or what are the possibilities of the instrument.

Not every player has enough patience, or is able to learn, a new instrument the minimum required to enjoy it.
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