When I came across the game scribblenauts – or more specifically, when enraptured, evangelising s’nauting colleagues at work jumped me and made me partake – I wasn’t as impressed with the idea behind the game as I was with the fact that it had actually been pulled off.
Someone had posited the idea of modelling “everything”, had seen fit to share this idea, and had not subsequently been fired or laughed at…
As is well-established by now, the game instantiates just about any kind of object based on the word you type in. ANYTHING.
Which amounts to a fantastic vindication of BRUTE FORCE as a computing stratagem. Yes, brute force, that thing which the IT world fights to distance itself from. That ancient, lowly, backward, wholly-inelegant approach to getting things done.
We like to think that the world has become a complicated place, and that our knowledge has become so vast and deep that our discriminations must necessarily become the most subtle of processes, reliant on ever-expanding ontologies within constantly-forking, shrinking, specialist realms… so that ‘knowing’ the whole of anything becomes a garguantuan undertaking.
And then along comes scribblenauts’ developers, saying “Look, there are about X different things that count. Yeah, X is large, but frakk it. Let’s build the damn model already.” They just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. No bitching about complexity, no whining and whingeing about overkill. (Well actually we don’t know if they DID whine and whinge…but let’s not spoil their party). Point is, they met the law of requisite variety head on: they understood that there really is only one sure-fire, straightforward way to model the objects in our world: and that is to give each one of those poxy things its own virtual counterpart.
Now obviously the resulting “objectnaut” (the pet name for the developed object model) is nowhere near as simplistic as a 1:1 mapping of things-as-we-know-them; but the point is this: the developers at 5th Cell did not run for the hills, as most dev teams are wont to do, when faced with the least-loved law of cybernetics / control systems.
I am willing to bet that several other dev teams at several other games companies almost object-nauted something into being at one time or the other, but that someone thought better of it.
They must be kicking themselves now.
Still, the point is that this was pulled off, with only a few glitches. I for one find this to be a very inspiring event. It’s a bit of a watershed. I hope it makes people go back and dust off all those IT projects that seemed a tad too ambitious (read complex).
Complexity cannot be destroyed. The requisite variety of a system is, essentially, irreducible. You can hide under layers and layers of warm fuzzy abstractions and friendly interfaces, but the icky stuff isn’t going anywhere. You can simplify logic only up till a certain point.
The running away from complexity has become too synonymous with progress in computing. The objectnaut has been a tiny enterprise, computationally speaking, but its ethos can be ascribed to much larger and more important things than portable gaming.
I can’t tell you how the AUDACITY of this game fills me with hope.
And some games critics are still poo-poohing the gameplay. Are you kidding me?!