Digital Truth: Emergent Origins pt.3
Monday, October 10, 2011 at 7:51PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in DigiDrive, Emergence, Impasse, Interesting Choices, Jonathan Blow, Neo*RPG, Picross, Rhythm Heaven

In part 2 I explained how systems designed on top of core gameplay interactions run the risk of muddying any digital truth in the overall system. After all, if digital truth is universal and often profoundly simple then abstractions, arbitrations, and designer creations are the opposite. Knowing this helps us make more informed decisions as game designers, but it doesn't help us identify what the truths are in the first place. The difficult part of describing these truths is they can be so simple and profound that they almost seem like nothing special. 

When looking for examples of digitize-able truths, here's a good method. Take an equation that accurately describes some phenomenon about our real world. It's important to be able to describe or quantify the phenomena into digits because we're ultimately trying to insert it into a computer system. Take the equation and make sure that the input is some value from the gamestate/player and the output is some kind of feedback element that the player can appreciate. After all, it doesn't do us any good to have a system output lines of Matrix code; we're not like Cipher. The more universal and simple the phenomenon, the more easily it can be converted into digital truth and the more easily it can be outputted as something we can observe and wrap our minds around.  


Digital truth is more than a theory explaining why the core gameplay dynamics of 2D/3D space hold so much emergent and engagement potential. Digital truths are also evident in non-spatial, non-temporal relationships. The following examples should highlight this fact. 



When you embrace such truths and incorporate them into your core mechanics, you build a game on a very strong foundation in terms of potential engaging and varied emergent gameplay. While I don't know baseball's actual historical origins, it's illustrative for our purposes to think the game was developed in the following way. What if the creators of baseball consciously designed the game around the foundation of playing catch? The game of "catch" is very simple. You throw the ball back and forth between 2 or more people trying not to drop the ball. Catch is nice, but it's not very challenging. And trying to make it competitive doesn't work out well either. So, I imagine that rules would be added to catch to make it more interesting. By adding more people to the game the players can cover more ground and catch balls thrown very hard. But this modified version of catch still lacks a few wrinkles. It lacks those element that makes the game a sport. What if this is when the idea of a batter and a pitcher was embraced? The batter makes catching the ball difficult and more unpredictable. The pitcher attempts to play the ultimate game of catch with the catcher. The rest of the rules of baseball are designed to give these core actions game more varied scenarios and strategies. If you think about the game of baseball this way, you can see how starting with a strong foundation helps shape the rest of the rules. With real baseball, each play and almost every action in the game revolves around throwing and catching the baseball. So, the gameplay never moves too far away from the core game of catch. And the rest is history.    

I've found that games have a lot harder time facilitating certain kinds of emergent gameplay when their core gameplay actions are not designed around the rich potential of digital truths. Recall Fictive RPG, an example I created to model a RPG combat system step by step as it developed from a static linear system into one of interesting choices. Because the core mechanics of the RPG combat do not use any of the digital truths expressed above, it took quite a number of additional complexities to create interesting choices. This is probably why Drill Dozer's core gameplay fell a bit flat for me.


In the future, keep your ambition under control, keep your head down, and really focus on listening to your game in its beginning stages. Ask yourself what's the simplest most interesting action or interaction in the game. Once you identify it, design everything else to support it and you can create games like Jonathan Blow. Or Miyamoto. Or like yourself producing the games you've always wanted to play that reflect what you like most about life in the truest way possible. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
See website for complete article licensing information.