A chat with Chris Bell

Written by on 28th October 2011 in References, Thoughts with Leave a comment

On Tuesday I headed back to Santa Monica to meet with Chris Bell  who also works at thatgamecompany. But aside from that he is also working on an indie game called Way that’s getting a lot of press lately. He’s also part of the Friends in Play podcast I listened to a few weeks ago. This is just some of the stuff we chatted about…

A collaborative face drawing


We talked a little bit about how Journey was going but mostly about Way and his philosophies behind designing for friendship. When designing Way they asked “Can we use play as a way to break cultural barriers?” They knew they wanted a game that was constructive and involved building something collaboratively. Some of the initial influences were things like drum circles and other music games. They also looked at collaborative drawing games, like the face drawing game that produced the image above between the two of us. They were also inspired by games like Endless Forest, where silent deer in an expansive forest use only their body movements to communicate with others.

Then the question became “What if communication is the game?” Since they wanted the game to cross cultural barriers they didn’t want to have any text, speech, or cultural bias. Even the choice of player keyboard controls were considered (because, for instance, a Q on my keyboard is not the same key on another keyboard in a different country). They also tried to keep the character design gender neutral. Way shares some similarities with Journey but while Journey allows for multiple players it doesn’t require it, whereas Way is intentionally collaborative. They were also careful to not prescribe meaning in the motions and respecting the player’s intellect. He mentioned they tried to avoid canned animations, although there are a few basic ones for the basic emotional states. But for the most part they didn’t want to put meaning into gestures when the same gesture can mean many things around the world.

We also talked ab bit about the idea of Designing for Friendship. Chris mentioned that one of the important principles when thinking about designing for friendship is letting people be themselves. The designer’s job is creating the framework people to construct meaning through. He also specifically mentioned the importance of allowing a range of possible expressions. For instance, by having the option to hurt or negatively treat others actually gives more meaning to the positive behaviors. It’s important to give people space to work in because working with polarities is empowering to the player.

Play is also a good way to form attachment. Chris mentioned a study where children were given a toy without having it’s meaning prescribed. Instead the adult just asked the child to help explain what it was for. By being involved in forming its meaning the children were more engaged, more attached to the toy, and more likely to return to the toy repeatedly.

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