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The First Annual Game Design Think Tank
Project Horseshoe 2006
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: The Creation of Radically New Game Experiences

Participants: A.K.A. "Playback to the Future"

Andrew Tepper, eGenesis

Mark Terrano, Hidden Path Entertainment
Daniel James, Three Rings Joshua Howard, Carbonated Games, Microsoft
Eric Zimmerman, Gamelab Nicole Lazzaro, XEODesign
Bob Bates, independent Tony Goodman, Ensemble Studios, Microsoft
Thom Robertson, Aggressive Games Facilitator: Van Webster, Webster Communications

Problem Statement:

The creation of radically new game experiences that:

    1. Create a sense of wonder
    2. Create deepness
    3. Discover structures and frameworks
    4. Help games become more emotional, more successful at handling and expressing complex human interactions and transcendent experiences.


In an effort to bring experiences generated by games much further then they have gone today we considered a variety of new or different approaches to game design; approaches which are not currently well understood within game design circles. By presenting these approaches we hope to enable further discussion in an effort to expand the tools available today. We believe that better tools with which to tackle game subjects are necessary to deliver games that offer "more". More what?

  • Games that are more emotionally meaningful, for example by delivering genuine wonder
  • Games that can successfully tackle more complex aspects of the human condition (than is done today)
  • Games that result in transformations/transcendence within the audience

Our desire to find new and different approaches stems from two main concerns.

    1. Current games do not generally achieve the above attributes, whereas many other forms of media do. This leads us to believe that our tools (our approaches to problems) are insufficient to deliver these richer experiences.
    2. Current approaches tend to be too constrained by our past (what we have always done), our tools (“I can do 3d so I see every problem as a 3d problem”), and our perception of the market (“Build another FPS because they sell”).

These approaches are not wrong – they are merely insufficient, in our opinion, to result in the broad set of new experiences we believe games are capable of delivering.

The Peach
Early in the conference, it was asked, “How could one build a game that delivers the experience of tasting a peach?” This example was used to show that our current approaches (it's a simulation, even if grossly simplified) are completely inappropriate to the task. Literature has done this, with beautiful poetry and prose about the succulence of a peach that leaves the reader's mouth watering with expectation. Should not games be able to deliver the experience of tasting a peach? We believe so, and the way to do this is through new and different approaches.

Here is one way to build a game that delivers the experience of tasting a peach.
Imagine a 2d surface, from the side view, that is the top quarter of a circle
Inside the circle is a flowing color, slowly, but still dynamic

  • The player has a pin that is mouse controlled.
  • When the pin touches the surface (from the top side of the screen) the surface gives a bit, as would a bubble. Too much pressure will break it, but depress it just a bit, and the surface perturbs around the pin. The flowing color also responds to the pin, moving smoothly as a result of the pin's pressure on the surface.
  • If the player pushes the pin further down until the surface is broken the player is rewarded with a visual explosion, a kaleidoscope of color and sound.
  • If the surface is broken quickly (with great acceleration) the explosion disperses quickly.
  • If the surface is broken smoothly, slowly, with patience, the explosion cascades several waves worth until finally subsiding.

When considering this design and asking the question of how did we get this, we realized that a new approach was implied. Upon further consideration we came to understand the approach better and were able to name it – in this case we call this approach “Sense Tunneling.” Sense Tunneling then, is the transmission of a sense that is not possible on our device (in this case taste and texture) through a sensory pipe that is possible on our device (sight and sound). Having defined Sense Tunneling we can then consider how other game ideas could use the same technique - and the designers can use this technique to come up with ideas that fall far outside the currently expected results of our discipline.

So we have defined a new approach, Sense Tunneling. Will it change everything? Likely not. But it's a new tool, and now that it has a name it can be applied broadly, resulting in deeper understanding of its potential.

Having described in great detail the example of the Peach, let us now summarize several other new approaches, using the following format.

  • Name of the new approach
  • Game idea
  • Summary of the game design
  • Definition of the new approach named above

Using this format, each new approach will be grounded by hooking it to a sample game and design, as opposed to simply defining an esoteric new theory with no application.


Poker as a game can be considered as a math game or probability, but a deeper appreciation of it shows that it's also a game of people and subtle communication. Deliver poker with a set of features that allow the subtle non-verbal communication that happens in a real table game to be communicated on the computer, like looking at your cards, studying someone's chip count, playing with your own chips, etc.

The methodology used to convey this extra information is called Digital Tells. Digital tells – the preservation of information that does not change the traditionally defined game state) or "merely social" information – is a new and powerful approach to game design.

Note that Digital Tells have actually been shipped, as best demonstrated by Texas Hold'em on MSN Games. It belongs in this document because it is an example of an approach that is new and still not widely practiced.

Game Example: Dance Club

You are at a virtual night club. The music is blaring. You see someone you'd like to dance with, but the music is too loud, and typing is un-cool. In the absence of verbal communication, how can you find out if he or she wants to dance with you, or whether they are interested in interacting on a more meaningful level? The answer is through the correct interpretation of all the non-linguistic cues we send each other all the time. Things like facial expressions, body posture, physical gestures, and the distance we maintain between each other. The game takes the player through the five phases of courtship, which is "the means by which two people close the physical gap and emotional distance between them to become a loving pair."

In current games we either do not have the tools to faithfully display these cues, or in many cases, we throw away data that we do have. Understanding and refining these "digital tells" are the basis of the gameplay in Dance Club.

There is a social bandwidth of information present in our lives that normally isn't included in a game. By understanding what these are and finding ways to include them, we can make our games richer interpersonal experiences.

After playing this game, we expect players to remain hyper-aware of the body language and signals we use in the real world, and we expect body language to evolve as people become more aware of the signals they consciously or subconsciously send, in the same way that "computer speak" is working its way into contemporary English.

Distorting Physical Objects to Convey Emotional Weight
Presenting game objects symbolically, by importance

The wild west game Truth of the Gun reflects the relative importance of the guns by representing them as huge, ponderous weapons, Far larger than is realistic. The guns would not just be large; they would be heavy, slow to move, thunderous, and dangerous, even devilish and capricious.

This presentation attempts to ascribe a meaningful emotional weight to the objects of the game through relative scale. Thus we create a new vector of authorial intent, a way of injecting a point of view into a game. This point of view could be impressed upon the player, and carried by her into her life.

A further extension of the technique could be to dynamically scale objects over time; your house would be huge and important when you buy it, but small and inconsequential if you never visit.


Game Example: Eurythmy

Eurhythmy takes a slow song and has a number of movement experts - ballet dancers, karate masters, original writers or performers, and have each do interpretive movements to the song while holding two Wii controllers. These parallel movement tracks form a catalog of ideal patterns that players are ultimately trying to match - not by watching, but by feeling.

The player holds two Wii controllers and does his own interpretation of the song. It's important that no expert's movements are shown to pattern after - the player is simply instructed to do their own interpretation.

The screen displays an image of that expert who is most closely being matched based on comparing the most recent 5-10 seconds of the player's movements to the catalog of tracks. Score is the closeness of the best match integrated over time.

The approach then was to take one form of physical motion and transforming it into a form of motion that the given device is capable of, but without attempting to directly simulate the original physical motion. The resulting interpretation of the original motion captures the essence of the motion better than a an attempt at a more literal simulation would have yielded.


Game Example: Chanting

In The Beginning, the Ambient sound is made of many chaotic voices. You introduce a chant (microphone) , a cadence, or a riff, other individuals nearby resonate ,picking up your rhythm, tone, or phrasing and pattern; By adding subtle additional influences with voice, the chant is picked up by others and propagated through the group; building to unity, crescendo, and finally silence.

Echo Amplification is the application of subtle but well timed influences to unleash powerful energies or tendencies that are already present in the subject. This resonance can be musical, ideological, physical or something entirely different. Amplified Echoes can arise spontaneously from chaos in drum circles, "the wave" in a stadium, or the start of applause.


These games are examples of a design approach that explores time on several levels:

  • Time as the content of a game
  • Time as the gameplay of a game
  • Time as a way for a game to interact with the life of a player in ways that games do not normally affect the lifestyle and pace of a player's life.

We all inhabit space and time, and though space has been explored as an important component of games and gameplay, the form and content of time is something rich with possibilities for an interactive medium like games.

Furthermore, by playing with the pace of a game, the frequency with which players make moves in a game, and the duration of a game, this design approach also plays with the ways that games intersect with the lives of their players. Rather than creating a separate time in which a game is played, some of these games will interweave with the lives of their players, creating new social experiences, and finding new avenues for the games to create deep meaning for players.

Game Example: TREE: the single player game

In this game, the player takes the role of a tree. The passage of time occurs relative to the life experience of the tree, meaning that the life outside of the tree passes as a constantly shifting and moving blur. As the player, you inhabit the tree, stretching out in particular directions, reaching roots down towards water, stretching up and out to accommodate nests and spread seeds.

This might seem like a boring and non-eventful game, but nothing could be farther from the truth. With a constant whir of tree-dwelling inhabitants, passage of the seasons, encounters with human culture, insect swarms and disease to fight off, there are more options, encounters, and events with which to interact than a human player could ever hope to handle.

Game Example: FOREST: the multiplayer game

This worldwide, massively multiplayer game is perhaps the slowest game ever designed. An intense strategy game of resource management and territory acquisition, FOREST is a game that takes place in real time, with each player managing the gradual growth and life of a single tree. As a player's tree grows, tiny adjustments can be made to the way that the tree develops and grows over time. Most players log in occasionally to check in on the progress of the game and tweak their trees' development. Trees can drop seeds, which can sprout new trees, but if a player takes the role of a new sapling, they so as a very weak and vulnerable tree, which will take many years to grow strong, so seed-hopping as a form of movement across the map is a dangerous way to play the game.

There is a strong social component to the game. Players can form and re-form teams at will, and trees on a team interlink their territories to form a larger set of occupied land. The game weights success based on team size, so that small teams can do as well as very large ones. Over time, the game evolves as teams not only (very very) slowly move their trees around the map, but also as teams form, re-form, merge and splinter, in a highly political and contested process.

Players take their participation in FOREST seriously, and trees are passed down within a family from generation to generation over time. The game does have an end state, when a single team acts together so successfully that they control virtually the entire game world, but given the slow pace of the game and the squabbling nature of the player teams, this end state may never happen.

Game Example: MAYFLY: a community game of annual resolutions

Players belong to a web community. Once a year, they summarize their life from the past year. Another player reviews their year summary, and then evaluates whether the player kept to the previous year's resolution,. Then the evaluating player chooses a new resolution for the player. In this game, players make a very personal decision that affects the lives of other players quite directly, making one game move per year.

Tool Example: TEMPORAL EMOTION ENGINE: a development tool

This technology, developed by the Temporal School, has been used by game developers that are creating more conventional games – meaning, games that feature 3D characters walking around in 3D environments.

The Temporal Emotion Engine "reads" the emotional content of a scene, based on generic parameters like rapidity of user input or density of movement and characters in a scene, as well as custom-designed input factors which can be scripted by the developers using the tool.

The engine uses this "emotional reading" of a game to affect the speed at which the game plays out, slowing down and speeding up time – not necessarily for strategic effect, but to help express the subjective experience of the passage of time as one way that the game creates emotional experience for the player.

Engine Example: TIMELINE: an expressive game engine

Allows players to mix and match timelines from different geographical places and historical periods, literally mashing them up. Control uses a DJ-style turntable, on which timelines can be placed, and sped up and slowed down. Less of a what-if simulator than an expressive, aesthetic tool that uses time as its content, TIMELINE nevertheless has been used as a "serious" game experience for learning about history.


Game Example: Chiyogami Psychedelia

Chiyogami Psychedelia is a game that will exist within the context of a forthcoming massively multi-player game built for user-created content. It seeks to create an entrancing experience between two players.

  • Controls are very simple; only the mouse/trackpad is moved in gentle, small circles.
  • The game finds a meta-rhythm between the player's movements; a changing harmonic vibration.
  • A shifting visual kaleidoscope shows changing "characters" that morph and transmute with the changing harmony. The characters or "Chiyogami" (after the Japanese wrapping paper) are user-created with defined relationships (e.g. bird – sky, fish – water, water – sky, etc.)
  • Music is generated to match the visual movements.
  • The game is beautiful and relaxing to watch, with ease of shifting between being a spectator and a player.

Chiyogami Psychedelia attempts to combine the following design patterns;

  • A sensual experience
  • Erotic without erotica or any explicit content
  • Simplicity of control and minimalism of user interface
  • Beauty
  • Intimacy of connection between two players without chat or avatar representation

Action Items: Chiyogami Psychedelia will be created by Daniel James' company Three Rings as a part of its forthcoming game, due 2007.

Note: Chiyogami Psychedelia was not presented, but it is included here for completeness.


Game Example: Playground of the Giant Brains

Preamble: The Singularity Awaits

Some believe that humanity stands on the brink of the Singularity, a time when the rate of change of technology becomes exponential. It is theorized that computers will become intelligent enough to be able to design new iterations of computers, that in turn will design the next iteration more rapidly. Incredibly rapid progress in science and technology, specifically molecular nanotechnology, will remove any practical restrictions on the computing power available to these superhuman intelligences. Post-singularity the new dominant life form on Earth will have super-human intelligence, capable of cognition beyond the understanding of our little human minds. Many believe that humanity will evolve itself through augmentation into these intelligences, or we might hope that as their teachers and creators, they emulate some shred of human consciousness.

Whether thought of as post-human or robotic, these Giant Brains will have nothing better to amuse themselves but the Playing of Games. This is a certainty; that is how they will spend their vast parallel processing cycles, especially as they look ahead to immortal billions of years in the vastness of space.

What Games will they play? What will their playground be?

The Playground

The Playground of the Giant Brains invites us to imagine the almost inconceivable; consciousness that resides within the computer's virtual embrace, without any clumsy user interface to mediate. The concept of personality and individual will be mutable; with no barrier of poor communication between minds, total communication and sharing of consciousness might be possible.

It is the author's belief that Mathematics, Music and Banter will be the core parts of the playground;

  • Mathematics as the pure language of the universe, with infinite depths to discover.
  • Music for the sharing of rich art in real-time.
  • Banter because back and forth dueling and matching of minds will still be fun, even if the minds are the size of planets.

Some other interesting prospects, although the author believes that these rely too much on the vestiges of humanity remaining in these robotic minds;

  • Massive simulation of sub-intelligences and beings. A Giant Brain would not blink at operating "Sim City" as a simulated city of a million individual human intelligences, accelerating their little lives such that they live and die in 20th Century agony and joy in a matter of real seconds. No batteries necessary.
  • Schizophrenia as entertainment; growing and contrasting many millions of alternate personalities.
  • Incredibly sophisticated virtual environments. Worlds of N dimensions and inconceivable sensual delights of unlimited simulation.

The Interests of the Contemporary Designer

The author believes that the question is relevant because, as Dorks and Game Designers we are most likely to be the intimate parents of these future cyclopean intelligences. They will emerge and be trained to interact with poor old humanity in virtual environments. As human beings augment themselves, they will do so primarily in order to engage in more sophisticated simulations – to play games. If we teach them nicely they might look after us as nice pets.

In addition it is interesting as a conceptual experiment; what would entertain a God?

Action items: we should all await the coming of our Robot Overlords and practice being cute pets.


Game Example: Rock Star Band

High Concept:

Become a Real World Rock Star

A game like Guitar Hero but ultimately teaches you how to play an instrument. The game also helps you form a band, perform concerts, and write hit albums.

Skills Learned:

  • Learn to play music
  • Learn to write music
  • Learn to work within a group

No music skill required, just a love of Rock and Roll and a desire to be rich, famous and oversexed.


  • Teaches you to play any rock instruments
  • Play with others
  • Learn to write your own music
  • Form a band (online or IRL)
  • Jam sessions
  • Perform gigs
  • Cut and upload albums
  • Watch your album rise in the charts to #1

Game Specifics:

Basic Game:

  • You can chose from one of several versions based on instrument; The game comes with an instrument similar to Guitar Hero
  • The single player (core) game plays much like Guitar Hero but focuses on playing music rather than playing Wack-a-mole
  • The hire the level of difficulty the closer you get to playing the actual song

Advanced Modes:

  • Multiplayer teaches you to play with friends
  • Write Song Mode teaches you to write songs one skill at a time.
  • You can upload your songs for others to play and rate

Band Mode:

  • The game community helps you create a band with members from around the world
  • Cut your own albums
  • Upload your albums watch your album rise in the charts
  • Download others albums for free
  • Band Mode lets you use your instruments to have jam sessions and play actual gigs

Long-Term Benefit:

  • Get discovered, become rich and famous, get addicted to coke, blow your fortune, commit suicide


What we believe: The experience of wonder connecting between all living beings. Gazing into each other's eyes and actions, as if seeing each other for the first time. Exploring the distance between them from their different beings. Finding a way to close the gap between them.

Game Example: Dragonfly and the Mother Ship

Game Idea:
The Wonder of Communication

A game that creates the sense of wonder and communion between players from two different realities. The game progresses as they find a connection and explore the possibilities between them.

Each player start separated in different worlds. They have different playing pieces and physics. The players at this point explore their independent realities how they work.

Then there appears a connection a shared element in their worlds. They cannot see into the other realm, in terms of the other's reality, but they see a shadow, a portion of this reality projected into their plane of existence like Plato's shadow cave or flatland. The players explore this unusual behavior that results from the intersection between their worlds. Going beyond what they can do on a basic level, they explore how they can interact w/the phenomena. Eventually they can use their basics and the shadow projections to interact with the other being on the other side of the phenomena. They can continue with Easy Fun or look for Hard Fun such as building a bridge between.

Later the basics form into symbols like word or math where one side has all letters and the other all vowels or all numbers and all operators. The gravity works differently on each side.

Later they can form meaning where the meaning gets translated differently on each side and they have to interpret what the other side is trying to say or achieve a goal where one side's move appears as an opposite on the other side like an antonym engine.

A Story board

Player 1

Player 2

Curiosity Wonder Surprise

Going for hard fun. By working together the blocks can create a bridge to move over a gap


The properties and actions of the pieces are transposed increasing interest and gaming opportunities.

Inputs and objects are rewired to come out differently.

Sense of expanded or contracted scale.

Feeling of a build up of what you'd like to be able to, what would be possible to do. The implication of a vastness of the intelligence and much larger world on the other side of the gap.

Other Techniques:

  • Avoiding literal translation
  • Alternate visual representation strategy
  • Sense shifting
  • Action Shifting (move type A?, ? move type B)
  • Scale Shifting
  • Reverse Anthropomorphization: The tree becomes you, you become the tree
  • Call and response
  • Digital Tells

Action Items:

1. Create list of action items and responsibilities - group
2. Collate all literal notes from the discussions - group
3. Include the game concepts and approaches not used in the presentation – to be assigned

section 7

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4. Online People's Revolutionary Army of Horseshoe
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