Ex-DICE intern (programming, 3 months). I study how awesomeness works for hours every day, because I want to understand how to make awesome art. Most of my knowledge comes from personal research, reinforced by plenty of reading of online material. I'm currently studying Computer Graphics Programming. My goal in life is to share and improve myself and others.
Posts by Julien Delavennat
  1. Games are Art: an elephant in the room ( Counting comments... )
  2. Players don't want their games to smell of money ( Counting comments... )
  3. The Novelty vs Familiarity Paradox ( Counting comments... )
  4. A functional definition of Beauty ( Counting comments... )
  5. Open-mindedness 101 ( Counting comments... )
  6. Don't be "that guy"... but how ? ( Counting comments... )
  7. My design method: how do we actually design ? ( Counting comments... )
  8. My design method: Interweaving ( Counting comments... )
Advocacy / Audio / Game Design / Visual Arts /

Hi everyone n_n

This post is the continuation of my last one: A functional definition of Beauty

Today on the menu:

  • Beauty is identified in novel things which resemble familiar things, and not in familiar things: we know the things we know aren't perfect. We don't know how perfect this new awesome thing might be. Beauty is the unrealistic size of this possibility space, which is only reduced after we have taken the time to analyze this new thing and find its limits.
  • Beauty is fantasizing and imagining how awesome this new thing is going to be.
  • Beauty is fantasizing about how much more fun we're going to have with this new thing that has been really awesome up to now.
  • You have to promise a lot, keep your promises, KEEP promising stuff, KEEP delivering, up to the end.
  • Since beauty is mostly identified in new stuff that resembles familiar stuff, you can't just fork out the same stuff over and over, you have to make up something sufficiently familiar but sufficiently new. As far as I know, this has been confirmed by psychologists and other relevant people.

In my last post, I described how beauty is strongly linked to familiarity and the comfort  zone of the audience, and concluded by saying that people only identify stuff to be possibly awesome if it fits their existing knowledge of what awesomeness is, which is based on the things they already know, i.e. what they're familiar with.

Now readers pointed out something I had missed. I had in fact wrongly assumed that it meant that we considered familiar things to be beautiful. I basically confused the comfort zone and the set of things that are familiar to us, when in fact things probably look more like this :

So what about things that are familiar to us which we don't like then ?

This is where it gets interesting.

You see, one other thing I didn't take into account, was things getting expelled from the comfort zone. You know, sometimes you like a thing, and a couple days later... meh.

I think we can safely identify two phases: identifying potential, and analyzing value.

Simply put, you see a thing X which looks promising, and you're really excited about it. Then when you actually spend some time with it, you realize it's not as great as you thought it was going to be.

Why were you excited about X in the first place then ? Because you only identified potential from the surface.
Why did you stop liking it if it was supposed to be nice ? Because you learned more about X by spending time with it, and you discovered it had flaws and limits. You basically came back down to earth.

Example: ephemeral art. It works because we just won't know how much more awesome it could have been, and because we didn't have time to analyze how much less  awesome it  would actually have been, which is the point really, to wonder about possibilities.

Why is that, then ? Well, it only seems logical to me that we would always want to find better things for ourselves: we compare new stuff to old stuff, and try to identify possible benefits of replacing the old by the new. Well, the "replacing" part isn't really important, the "finding awesome new stuff" however is where the magic happens.

I'll go ahead and claim that beauty, is perceived at the moment we start analyzing something on a surface level, and it looks reaaaaally awesome and promising: the positive possibility space of X is immense and full of awesome possibilities if all we have seen from X up to now is perfection. It takes time to discover the flaws and limits of things.

The most important part is how unrealistically large the potential of X is perceived to be, based on how much of X has matched our criteria of what perfection is up to now.

People only identify stuff to be possibly awesome if it fits their existing knowledge of what awesomeness is. Now like I said last time, the important part is familiarizing people with things iteratively.

Hopefully coming up with incrementally new stuff isn't necessarily too hard. Creating 100% new things is practically impossible, and not technically a good idea anyway. Like atoms and molecules for new chemicals/materials, good pre-existing ideas is what makes up new good ideas.

Want to make your game not boring ? You have to use this psychological property to your advantage. Unless I'm mistaken, I think Mike Birkhead named that Asymmetry in a recent post. You can think of this as diversity vs variation. Well, pacing isn't really what I want to talk about right now, I'll come back to this in a later post. Still, as far as I know, this "new is bigger" effect is what good diversity is based on - note: I'll talk about a diversity vs consistency paradox in a later post too.

If you can promise stuff and deliver, that's not enough, you have to keep promising stuff, and keep delivering. One example I know of this is the Death Note anime. It's just  massively solid for a really long time. I honestly had trouble watching it a second time without pausing every five minutes because my brain was melting from how awesome it is. More precisely, it's a police investigation story with a twist. The main characters all have their motives, and the story is almost plothole-free. What drives the story is the  investigation, the leads, hints and opportunities followed by both sides. They plan  everything several moves ahead so the story is consistently surprising: expectations, promises, and the situation are re-evaluated all the time.

I'm getting a bit off-track aren't I ? What does writing an intricate and solid storyline have to do with beauty you may ask. As a matter of fact, I am getting off-track with beauty. I'm more talking about awesomeness in a more general fashion here. But what it does tell us, is that beauty really kinda stops at the "This new object matches my criteria for  awesomeness" thing. But in an iterative way. And this iterative way is the useful part.

So, What problems are left ?

What people actually want: what the criteria are.

Apart from that, most of what awesome works do, is promise things, and give them to the
audience. I've talked about that in my first two posts about Interweaving and Exploitation of Perimeter.

I know I don't have much credibility compared to professionals, but I do what I can, I'll get
there eventually.

Anyway, thanks for reading, have a nice week-end n_n