The problem is that most computer game history focuses on the outputs of the development process. A game is made, it plays a certain way, introduces a novel mechanic and gets recorded into the annals as a completed experience. Everything is packaged and ready for consumption. As a designer and a historian I find this type of perspective maddening. Development is a complex and fraught process, rarely clean and delineated. Developers and designers could learn more from knowing how a particular game was made than from the analysis of its final outputs. The issue is that in most commercial development all records of the development process are eliminated or sealed away after production. Some craft knowledge escapes through sporadic conference presentations and post mortem analysis in trade publications, but there is no place to go for a full technical history of level design, lighting design, environmental art, etc. I generally feel that if we develop ways to organize and share the creative process it will benefit the collective as a whole and allow even more amazing advancements in this medium I adore.
My research goals are then targeted at revealing process, technique and design, and then remediating it back to students, researchers, and professionals looking for answers to questions that have surely been addressed in secret hundreds of times. I aim for deep technical history. My goal is primarily pedagogical and organizational, I’m concerned with the long term survival and parse-ability of process and craft, including novel ways to share and disseminate information.
As a solution I’ve chosen first to devote effort to the saving of digital artifacts in their entirety and the artifacts of their development processes. For without a basic archive, an intellectual and historical basis, learning and growth cannot even begin to take shape. There must be a firm foundation to stand on, and I figure I might as well help build it.
I’m currently working on two research projects devoted to archiving and organization: a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start Up Grant to record and appraise the development records of Prom Week, a social AI game developed by graduate researchers at UCSC, and an Institute for Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant hoping to reshape game cataloging, metadata and citation efforts. Both projects will be discussed extensively in future blog posts.