False Perspective: Auteur Poster Boys – Part 4September 20, 2008
So we finally reach the conclusion of this brief four part series about game narrative and design from Jonathan Blow’s Braid and Ken Levine’s Bioshock. If you notice in this blog I have chosen probably the most cult endearing pictures of these two designers for this post because over the past months these two designers have been catapulted forcefully into auteur status by the gaming community. This should come to no surprise as we are in a media generation where the auteur label is placed on everyone whether it’s mediocre film director Brett Ratner to single film director Richard Kelly. Especially in the gaming community, there is a need for auteurs to legitimize the form of the medium placing the responsibility on Sid Meier, Will Wright, or Peter Molneux.
Jonathan Blow has quickly become a poster boy because of his passion and encompassing role on Braid. When Blow discusses game design and player response he is talking about games on an extremely high level of thought. Blow is a very eccentric and intelligent designer and even before Braid was released he had garnered this sort of maverick status. Blow independently financed Braid costing about 180 thousand dollars and has refined the game to guide the player not toward the themes of Braid but more so the discussion of Braid and the medium it resides in.
Ken Levine is almost the opposite personality in that he is extremely humble when it comes to the development of Bioshock often placing much of the honor to his development team. But this is a game that has been a pet project for years. And if anyone has played the design and narrative structure of System Shock 2, the two games are almost identical. There is no doubt in the artistic merit that Levin has in Bioshock. Still, Blow has placed the honor of Braid‘s artistic aesthetic to artist David Hellman and Levin keeps reminding gamers of the efforts the 2K Boston team that worked with him on Bioshock.
Yet the majority of the acclaimed press for these games has gone toward these two designers. The reason I believe for this is because the designer and the developer has become synonymous with each other and thus eclipsing the role of the development team. This occurs with film as well and marks the first steps of providing authorship with the game. We want visionaries and authorship to place blame on the game’s successes and failures.
There is a wonderful special called RSVP on the 1UP Show were Mark MacDonald interviewed Erik Wolpaw (writer on Portal), Dylan Cuthbert (president, Q Games), Jonathan Mak (designer, Everyday Shooter). Wolpaw and Mak have a wonderful discussion about the role of the designer and the developer and the philosophy of game design. While the philosophy Valve (the developer of Portal) is to release the utmost professional product by repeated game testing and refinement, Mak, on the otherhand, follows a very Japanese route presenting the player with the game that he wants the player the experience-faults and all. I will return to this debate about the auteur’s role in games in future posts, but concluding this series on “False Perspective” whether Levine or Blow deserve this auteur label is inconsequential. The video game is a medium that yearns for intelligent authors and whether is comes from a developer or singular designer is growth that is more than welcome.