I listened today to a talk by Warren Spector, the great computer game designer responsible for “Deus Ex”, “Thief”, and various other wonderful computer games.

After the talk, there was a conversation which spiraled around to many topics, but came down to one point: Warren’s ideal is to create games that have a kind of emergence. What he means by “emergence” is a game or interactive experience that is rich enough so that a player will be able to do unexpected things – that is, come up with solutions to game-play challenges – which were not explicitly designed into the game.

Warren bemoaned the fact that so far his favorite moments in computer games have been the ones that were tightly scripted – essentially cinematically crafted – such as the moment the giant tentacle reaches in and grabs the scientist in “Half Life I”, or when the dog bursts through the window in “Resident Evil”.

Yes, it is certainly possible to create emergent games, games that allow the player to explore in a way that was not explicitly designed by the game designer. But can we make those games as emotionally powerful as games that follow a more linear, pre-scripted design?

And then somehow the conversation got on the subject of crossword puzzles – which were held up as an exemplar of a non-emergent (ie: pre-scripted) interactive experience.

Which left me wondering the following slightly wacky thought: Could we create an emergent crossword puzzle? And if so, what would that be like? I’ve already started trying out some ideas…

2 thoughts on “Emergence”

  1. Wouldn’t it cease being a crossword if the user could just invent answers to it? In effect, wouldn’t this be just as hard on the user as having the user create his/her own crossword? Isn’t half the thrill finishing a crossword all the way through trying to divine the designer’s intentions and the general ‘theme’ of the puzzle? Wouldn’t this idea be no different than having a crossword puzzle with two or three different answers to each clue, each corresponding to a different overall grid?

  2. Well, it depends how you do it. The author of the puzzle could still impose a theme, and part of the fun could be to discover that theme, and use it in solving the puzzle. The difference would be that a player could enter the same crossword universe multiple times, and try different ways of tackling the same theme. I agree that it would be imporant to figure out how not to erase the stamp of the author upon the player’s experience.

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