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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

While thumbing through the book Maps of the Mind by Charles Hampden-Turner, I came across a picture that reminded me of the talk Chris Crawford gave at the Innovative Game Design Symposium I attended a few months ago. I already summarized Chris' talk in my report on the symposium, but here is an even shorter summary. Chris says that most people are either artistic or scientific. To be a good game designer, though, you need to be a bit of both. There. Terse, no. :-)

A map of the mind showing the concept of creativity. In the map, creativity is divided into an arts stereotype (divergent) and a science stereotype (convergent).

This picture from Maps of the Mind shows that creativity is a process of divergent thinking followed by convergent thinking. Divergent thinking involves brainstorming, playing with the problem, looking for alternatives. Convergent thinking takes all the information and possibilities you have come up with and turns it into a solution. Most people are good at either divergent thinking or at convergent thinking, but usually not at both.

After the presentations were over, I had a talk with Chris Crawford and Celia Pearce and during that discussion Celia mentioned an interview with Will Wright she had done some time ago. When I got home, I read the interview. In it, Will Wright talks about a book called Maps of the Mind by Charles Hampden-Turner. The book is out of print, but you can still get it through Amazon's marketplace, which is what I did. While thumbing through the book, I came across an image that reminded me of Chris' talk. I already summarized Chris' talk in my... hey, wait a minute!

I consider myself to be something of a two-culture straddler (a term coined by Chris Crawford), although my affinity with computers has tipped the balance towards the scientific side. My main weakness when it comes to artfulness - which you might already have gathered from the Spartan look of my web site - is my inability to relate to things visually. At age eleven, I wrote a paper on penguins, as part of a school assignment, for which I received a mark of 9,5. The Dutch school system rates your work on a scale from 1 to 10 (higher being better), so appearantly the teacher was pretty pleased with my work. He didn't think it perfect, though, and later I found out why. Instead of colouring my pictures of the penguins, I had drawn lines to their body parts and wrote the colours of those body parts besides them.

Two drawings of the same penguin. The right drawing is fully coloured. The left shows only outlines; lines are drawn from the different body parts at the end of which the name of the colour of the body part is written.

Obviously, the left penguin conveys information much more clearly than the right one. :-)

The reason I did this was first and foremost because I didn't have a box of crayons at hand when I finished the paper. Even so, I never realised that my solution would bother people. To me, this method was more informational anyway. If you show me a picture of a penguin with a yellow beak, I store the information that the beak is yellow in an abstract way. I translate the visual colour yellow to the abstract concept of yellowness. I realise that this might not make sense to you, as I later learned most people's minds work the other way round: when you tell them yellow, they actually see yellow.

As the computer is a highly visually oriented medium, and I'm on something of a quest to employ this medium to its fullest, I'd better learn to think visually. Spurred on by a blog entry about design over at Creating Passionate Users, I recently decided to pay more attention to visual art around me like book cover design and architectural design. I'm also actively seeking out visual art. Whenever I'm in a book store, I walk over to the Arts section and thumb around in books a bit. Hopefully, this will help me develop a taste for what I like and don't like. For the same reason, I have taken an interest in the products over at Stardock. I haven't actually skinned my desktop yet, but at least I have a colorful ObjectDock now. :-)

A dock of several colourful icons that I use to launch my programs.

As far as I can remember, I never had so many different colours on my desktop at once. The dock is set to auto-hide, by the way.

Now that I've told you this, you may wonder why I am doing my own graphics for Trichromix. Well, that wasn't actually planned; I was preparing to hire a graphics designer. To give him or her an idea of the look I had in mind, I created a graphical theme as an example. As it turned out, I stumbled across a design that I found actually acceptable, so I decided to keep the little money I have in my pocket. This has nothing to do with my gaining any proficiency in drawing, I just got to know Paint Shop Pro a bit better. I still can't draw, but at least I now realise that I can also be visually creative by using filters, editing photographs and, most importantly, dumb luck. I fully intend to make a future version of Trichromix skinnable and have a couple of artists create some really cool skins.

Finally, I'd like to note that I didn't design Trichromix from a visual perspective. Even though Trichromix seems to be based on the mixing of colours, that's just the metaphore I use. Conceptually - and the way I came up with it - Trichromix is about the interaction of three elements according to certain rules. There is no formal reason I can't replace the star, circle and triangle with a wizard, troll and dwarf and replace the colors with stuff like spells and mana and energy. The problem with that is, though, that I can't draw wizards and trolls and dwarfs, let alone spells, mana and energy.

Nothing. Really, this picture is just pure whiteness.

My concept art of a fantasy-themed Trichromix skin. Well, I told you: I can't draw that.

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Wouter Lindenhof says:

Drawing is easy and hard at the same time. Before you put your pen on the paper you have to have a image in your mind. If you have it lock it down. Than start using your hand to recreate the image in your mind. This requires advanced control of your hand and hand-eye combination. But alas the human mind is not capable of keeping and remembering the same image over and over again. But if you need help, just ask around. There are many who are willing to give you some help.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 3:54 PM

GBGames says:

That's ok. That's what artists are for. B-)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 7:12 PM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

Wouter, thanks for the encouragement. As always, it comes down to practice, I guess. It's hard for me to follow your suggestion, though, since I can't really put an image in my mind. The way I'm practicing now is to open a picture in Paint Shop Pro and to trace it. When the tracing is done, I throw away the original picture and start modifying my own. I find drawing using a computer more forgiving than using pencil and paper. Gianfranco, I'm going to make a fool of myself by responding seriously to your joking remark. :-) If all you need is good graphics, then artists can do the job. However, I'm not merely talking about drawing pictures. To design games for a visual medium, you need at least some proficiency with visual design. This might not be true when you are creating a game that's similar to what's already out there - it certainly wasn't necessary for designing Trichromix -, but it is when you try to innovate and push the medium to it's creative limits. And that is what I want to do.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 1:09 PM

GBGames says:

I understand. Still, if you're strength isn't in art, you have two options: make your artistic side stronger, or pay someone else for his/her already strong artistic skill. As a game developer/designer, you need some proficiency, as you say, but at the same time you need to decide whether the investment of your time and effort is worth it. Personally, I've always liked drawing, and I have some pretty nice drawings from high school. I haven't done much since then, though. I've been picking it up again these days, but it is mostly doodling in my notebook. Color was always a weakness of mine, and I suppose that would be one place for me to start. See? Now you've got ME thinking about my artistic ability.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 7:59 PM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

You're welcome. :-p

Thursday, June 2, 2005 12:02 PM

GBGames says:

For the record, I just ordered a book on Blender 2.3. B-)

Friday, June 3, 2005 10:13 PM

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