Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Serendipity
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also
know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some
things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones
we don't know we don't know.
—Donald Rumsfeld
In game design, we face many unknowns. Will the player understand this
tool? Is this challenge too difficult? How long will this level take to build?
These questions might be difficult to answer, but they're not the most
important kind of ignorance we must deal with.
Because we also face unknown unknowns. We make mistakes with-
out even registering the possibility. We pass by opportunities that we
never even saw. We base entire designs on assumptions we don't know
we're making.
Most of the really important things that happen in game development
spring from unknown unknowns.
Some unknown unknowns result in disaster. A tester will find a hard-
to-fix degenerate strategy that breaks an entire game system. A seemingly
obvious interface will prove incomprehensible to newcomers. We'll get a
wild new direction from a publisher, or a key programmer will get sick.
Unlike planned methods, iterative processes are robust against such
outcomes. When we're iterating, we're not making assumptions about the
distant future. This means we can quickly change direction in response to
changing circumstances. Even better, the constant reality checks of itera-
tion mean that disastrous discoveries are usually found early. This alone is
a major reason to iterate.
But there's another, often more important kind of unknown unknown:
serendipity. Players will fall in love with a minor character. They'll invent
an interesting new tactic. They'll find emotion in a seemingly unimport-
ant part of the game. These are positive outcomes that the designers never
saw coming. And often, these serendipitous discoveries are the most valu-
able things that happen during the design process. Such serendipity is
essential to creating revolutionary designs, because most revolutionary
game designs aren't authored—they're stumbled upon.
 
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