Defining Awesome — Creating a classic
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  • Creating a classic

    Written by . Posted at 4:15 pm on October 26th, 2007

    How do you create a classic? That means a game that will stand the test of time and will be remembered for decades to come. Classics are very easy to find. Whenever I talk to people that were gamers in the 80’s and 90’s they bring up the same games: Wolf3D or Doom, Another World, Sensible World of Soccer, River Raid, Civilization, Contra. ANYONE that has been passionate about games back then knows these games. It’s like asking old people about the Beatles. Those are classics.


    Birth of a classic


    I could go on and list why each of these games were great, presenting features and new concepts they brought. This is an approach that I do not like, because it is looking at the results. The results did not spawn these games they are only effects. What was the CAUSE of these games happening?

    Listen to this while I present you my thoughts.
    It’s Partita in D minor for solo violin – BWV 1004 – movement 5 aka Ciaccona aka Chaconne.

    The music of J.S. Bach isn’t pleasant to the ears because it uses chords and scales. Chords were manufactured because people by trial and error noticed that certain groups of notes sound pleasant. The pleasure from the sounds they created was the cause of creating chords – so that is also the real cause of music sounding good to us now.

    This is VERY important to understand, because it gives you the idea why emotions are so key in the process of creating the game. Let’s take the process of creating a masterpiece. I claim that the cause of Chaconne, a piece that is breathtaking is not Bach himself, or what he thought of himself. It was something beyond him.

    Was it supernatural? I don’t know but it doesn’t have to be, I don’t really dwell in the supernatural because it is just a word for the unknown. If something is beyond somebody I mean it is beyond what the person consciously perceives. So in the case of Johann I think the only thing that he was perceiving while creating it was just the pleasure it brought him.


    Sheer pleasure of creation.


    I think you can’t understand the act of creating a classic if you look at the result and try to backward engineer it. Like the guys trying to make a Windows compatible system by looking at the processes and assembly code the processor is doing. By looking at that they figure out how the system is built and they make their own compatible system. They do it backwards by looking at results. Of course Windows is not a work of art so they can probably accomplish it but what if you look at a piece of music?

    If you ask any violinist that tried to play Chaconne he will say that it is one of the most challenging pieces of music ever to play. They will also say that it is one of the most technically brilliant and elegant songs ever written, it is considered a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers practically every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach’s time. It’s exhaustingly long and consists entirely of a single, succinct musical progression repeated in dozens of variations to create a dauntingly complex architecture of sound. Composed around 1720, on the eve of the European Enlightenment, it is said to be a celebration of the breadth of human possibility.

    Joshua Bell, one of the best contemporary violinists, calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”

    Just look at a technical analysis of the ciaccona:

    I don’t how about you but that makes me dizzy. How could a man possible manufacture something like this consciously? Connect all the notes, scales, modes, chords and do this for 14 minutes inducing every human emotion that exists in a complete singular structure?

    Well he probably didn’t.


    It was probably just fun


    This goes to any kind of music and any kind of art that is breathtaking and tear provoking. This also goes to game creating. This is probably an important part to the answer of the question: how do we make games art? The question I asked in the first post of this blog.

    Johann probably just had fun writing Chaconne. He couldn’t have accomplished it otherwise, nobody would have the patience to engineer it. It brought him pleasure and by doing that he tapped into something larger than himself. Because he was doing what he loved, his whole brain intergrated and started to take beauty itself directly from the entire knowledge of music at the time. It was probably like water coming out of a tap. Nature itself was pouring nectar into his head.

    Classics are created just for enjoyment. They are created while having fun. This is why I’m against any kind of disciplining yourself while making games. If you want games to be art you can’t engineer them. The creative process cannot be manufactured and brought upon an arbitrary timetable. It must be spontaneous and driven by emotion. If you can do that and produce results, you will be remembered for ages to come.

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    1. Put as much emotion is link dead as possible!!! 😀

    2. *in,
      i mean IN, shame on me, for wasting the first two posts!

    3. Great song at the end 😀 You should have put it at the front of the blog so that I could listen to it through the post.. rofl.

      I hope link-dead turns out to be a terriffic game, and will slowly pry me away from halo 3 ;D

    4. I guess that’s a good idea, I’ll put it at the top :).

    5. Michal weren’t you against reasons? Or reasoning? Logic and talkin about emotions and stuff. Then why do you try to find reasons, and use probability to deduce that emotion is needed for certain tasks?
      And you can’t deduce that classics are made because of fun by saying, that he had “probably” fun. Also you say that it “brought” him pleasure, isn’t that a effect too? Yes probably it would add up to the process, but it is a whole lot of work and it IS disciplined work. You have to be disciplined to do something like this, better if you also have fun while doing so.

      I also disagree with that passage that “nature itself was pouring its nectar”, nice metaphor, but it doen’t tell us anything about the true “nature” of creating classics.
      I think one cannot compare the process of creating classics in music with creating classics in other areas. What even is a classic? I something a classic even if I don’t consider it a classic?
      People disagree in terms of classics, even in music. And not every classic was created by spontaneity and emotion-driven creativity. Some of them were engineered and composed in a mathematical manner, which made them be classic…

      There is no black and white answer to everything!

    6. I agree with Cranky. Music and games are too different things. Music can’t be engineered because it is not technical, what I mean by that is, it doesn’t involve hundreds of lines of code to create.

      Take Half-life 2 for example, it took years to create because they had to customize the physics engine, and basically break new ground with graphics, AI and such like. It had a team of programmers, sound engineers, graphics artists and voice actors working on it to produce the ‘classic’ that it was. Yet I get the same pleasure out of listening to songs like this as I do playing that very game (Bearing in mind, this is the first time I have actually listened to this song).

      What I am trying to say is, classics can be carefully thought up, and classics can just happen. However it is not the piece/product itself that is the classic, it is the emotion through which it puts people through which makes it a classic. These emotions can be anything; anger, hatred, happiness and sadness are just to name a few; Classics take people to the extremes of emotions of which people do not forget.

    7. Cranky Says:
      And you can’t deduce that classics are made because of fun by saying,
      that he had “probably” fun. Also you say that it “brought” him pleasure, isn’t that a effect too?

      I wrote “probably” cause I don’t know for sure, nodoby does. I don’t really care if it is the truth. I’m just interested how it is done and I’m writing my thoughts about it.

      Yes probably it would add up to the process, but it is a whole lot of work and it IS disciplined work.

      How do you know that for sure? Let’s ask Johann… oh wait he’s dead. So I guess you don’t know that for sure?

      I also disagree with that passage that “nature itself was pouring its nectar”, nice metaphor, but it doen’t tell us anything about the true “nature” of creating classics.

      It would take me 3 or 4 posts like this to explain what I mean by that, so I just left it like that.

      I think one cannot compare the process of creating classics in music with creating classics in other areas. What even is a classic? I something a classic even if I don’t consider it a classic?

      A classic is a universally acclaimed piece of art. If it produces the same kind of response or emotions in enough people it is considered a classic. So you can disagree.

      teh_ham Says:

      I agree with Cranky. Music and games are too different things. Music can’t be engineered because it is not technical, what I mean by that is, it doesn’t involve hundreds of lines of code to create.

      Music is extremely technical. Musical notation is a programming language for music. It is even more technical than usual programming because you can freestyle with that, but if you do that with music, if you don’t follow the rules, it will just sound like cacophony.

    8. Music and games are completely different.
      The reason is simple: game doesn’t exist without code. Without implementation game is merely an useless concept. You can’t play it, you can’t experience it. Moreover the game created on this concept may be far away from the original idea. The proccess of implementation is not mirroring the original game image. It’s theprocess in which original image gets distorted. How many games which were promising failed? Reason is usually the same: problems during creation process.

      What about music? Music is NOT about notes. Notes are not pogramming language for music. Notes are just for writing music down. Could you play music if there were no notes? Yes, you could. Could you compose it without notes? Yes you could. In fact music existed long before people knew written language.

      Composer can play his creation without even thinking about it’s representation in notes. Game creator cannot.

    9. There is no difference in creating music or software. The notes are equal to the programming language,- the process of making a game is only slower.
      A Classic game is something that makes you addicted to it in a special way because of the satisfaction that it gives you over and over again. That satisfaction is build up by feelings that are only present if they are well placed with a specific strength like the chords in a composition. Many people reduce the amount of chords because of capitalistic, intelectual or creativity reasons. That’s why most games suck.
      But a classic has also a limited amount of chords, because they are dedicated to a group of “classic players”. First you have to decide either you want to satisfy yourself or the players. Just follow your heart AND your brain to make a good game.

      Soldat has proven that you can manage it. It has not many notes, but they are mostly all well placed.

      Yasan v3

    10. @Shuger: When I’m programming, i dont start to do it in the first step. I visualize the logic, the data structures and the consequences in my brain like a composer does it with notes (before / or while he is playing). This thoughts can cause big feelings if you are good in imagening abstract things. That seems to be your problem.
      Sure, there are often some limitations in comparison to making music because it often a much longer process. But the computer has only some limitations. That f*** screen can give you a wide range of many feelings like a composition does.

    11. yv3 imagening abstract things is not a problem. The problem is in defining your abstract ideas and feelings with discrete values.That’s what(in my opinion) game programming is about. And it’s extremely hard to do.

      With musical instrument you can express yourself easier. You can play as you feel – that’s what improvisers do.

      P.S: that’s in case you used “abstract” as in philosophy, not as in computer science.

    12. I agree ideas get distorted in the process of programming, but so do musical ideas. In every form of art there is a problem of taking what you have in your head and producing something real out of it. As I wrote, if you will know how to do this consistently you will be remembered for ages.

      It’s not about time. I can hold on to a feeling I want from the game for months. The programming and various obstacles don’t distort my image in the long run. This is very important – not to lose your vision. Hold on to the feeling. It’s not different than making music. Wagner wrote “The Ring of the Nibelung” for more than 25 years. Do you know a game made in that amount of time? The same with Beethoven, he held on to the idea of the 9th Symphony for decades before completing it. And it was worth every minute.
      If they can do it with music, we can do it with games.

    13. Back on classics topic:
      What is a classic? IMHO it’s not about something being ideal or close to it(althought it’s very often the case) but about not being forgotten. Classic games aren’t the best ones in history – they are the ones which live in players hearts despite of passing time. Some because of exceptional quality, others because of revolutional gameplay.

      For me that’s the reason why only old things can be classic.

    14. autonomous

      A classic is the product of society effect at the time. Theres plenty of classical music being made but everyone is so focused on rock and rap to gain recognition. it was word of mouth back in the day but now with the ability to communicate, theres so much crap we can see that we forget theres is real works of art being made.

    15. Crescendo

      Why someone brought up the classical music? It has nothing to do with the word “classic”, despite when talking about some classical music symphonies that ARE classics but that’s a different thing. It doesn’t matter what genre a song represents to be a classic. However it’s difficult to know why some songs became popular and therefore hits (or not difficult, it just takes much time to explain), but to create a classic, the song needs to be very famous and remembered after a long time…

      What I wrote may sound pretty self-evident and repeated but I found this topic interesting and wanted to express myself a lil bit. This has turned very philosophical lol

    16. Crescendo

      Ok I think it’s better to read this article before sending any comments and not to scroll down fast like I did. And I didn’t even notice the video there

    17. Michal:
      I just read your “Downside of game programming”, I think that article says more about the true nature of creating classics 😉

    18. Music and making games are really only different on a trivial level. Games are a newer medium and take alot more work to create but the process for “creating a classic” is the same. All you need is to listen to your divine inspiration, the thing that makes it fun and worth doing in the first place. People like to say thats a load of crap and all great works are nothing more than great feats of engineering and hard work, and while they are, without something to inspire you you won’t feel motivated to put in all that hard work, to get good at it in the first place.

    19. That’s exactly my point, thanks Hamish.

    20. Should of just said what Hamish said, MM then I would of agreed with you :p

    21. Haha, I guess I’ll write another post about this, I’ll be more clear this time.

    22. “All you need is to listen to your divine inspiration” o0
      Are you guys sure you aren’t idealizing too much?

    23. harry666t

      apropos the whole programming games vs performing and composing music, code vs notes, etc. discussion.

      One word. Improvisation.

      I wouldn’t want to run an improvised text editor, improvised OS kernel, improvised game. Yet virtually all I compose (I’m a guitarist) comes to life through improvisation. I do not take a notebook and start writing down ideas when I compose music. I just grab the guitar, turn the volume up, and rock. Give me an example of one *good* game (or more generally, one *good* program) that was written this way.

      Programming IS an art, but a program is a product of mind and logic, while all the good music I know about came (mostly) from one’s emotions.

    24. harry666t: Just one example?
      Soldat :DDD

    25. […] my post Creating a classic a little discussion broke through, mainly probably because my message did not get through correctly […]

    26. Magic Odd Effect


      A piece of writing like this is pure eloquence. It’s true, it’s well worded, and it fits together into the scheme of your game-making.
      The same thing that happened to Bach happens to me and my friend quite often. We are both creative geniuses, but lack sources for our creativity. Therefore, we appear to be a pair of normal guys just trying to survive in the modern world. Underneath the coverings, however, we have the potential to supplant the world’s structure and implant anew a fresh, living one, simply through our own creativity. I feel that you have the potential to do the same, and have an outlet for it: Games. Game making.
      You can program, and I can’t. I can’t draw for shit, you have artists to help you. You have the ability to create a universe full of living characters, a universe of war, and I can’t. You can write a page of eloquence, and there is
      the only way I can match your creativity. Therefore,


    27. Magic Odd Effect: do you think I always knew how to program and had artists? Look, this feeling you have, the creative force you want to unleash should be used to push you into either developing skills to create them or find people that can do it for you. Just remember what you want and know there is no one way to do things.
      People often e-mail me for programming advice because they want to do games. You don’t have to program to make games! I drew games on a piece of paper at school. It’s the same thing, but if you want it to be bigger like a computer game you need to spend time developing skills, not necessarily programming skills, maybe people skills so you can just gather talented people around you in the future and make them do the game for you.
      Everybody starts with nothing, but this force (or fun) pushes us to make something.

    28. There’s all sort of creative subject. I find math a art you can be creative with it. Hard to understand but wen you see people who find awsome math problems and solved them I find it cool. I’m doing a lot of electronic stuff in life and I can be creative with it (in an other kind of way). I code things to. I study science. The idea is to be open minded and try to learn and discover new stuff.

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