Whither the Journal?

Last issue, I observed in my editorial that there is a sea change coming to our industry. Computer games will be pushed aside by a larger world that I will call, for the moment, "interactive entertainment." I believe that, after eight years of relative calm in our industry, things are going to start heating up. Our world is going to become more unstable.

This creates a problem for me with respect to the Journal of Computer Game Design. How should I react to these coming changes? I put this question to the readership in that editorial, and I have received a number of thoughtful responses. After much hand-wringing, I have decided that change is necessary, and it is my responsibility to advise the readers of some of the coming changes.

The problem is, I’m not quite sure what all those changes will be. It’s easy to write about what we already know. Analyzing a revolution in mid-upheaval is a taller order. I realize that I am not qualified to interpret the tumultuous events of the coming years. On the other hand, I am probably better qualified to do so than most, and somebody has to do the job, so I guess the monkey is on my back.

The easiest part of all this will be a name change: as of October 1, 1993, (that is, Volume 7, #1) the Journal of Computer Game Design will become the Journal of Interactive Entertainment Design.

The more difficult task will be defining the content of the new Journal. My goal is to help smooth the way for this interactive entertainment revolution. Thus, the content of the Journal will shift away from the narrower aspects of the computer games field and more directly address the larger issues of interactive entertainment.

This means that I will spend more space going over fundamentals. After all, revolutions always throw us back onto first principles. It was only a few years ago that the role of interactivity was seriously questioned. Indeed, several authors in this Journal (I won’t name names; they know who they are) once claimed that interactivity is not so important.

However, these skeptics of interactivity will have one victory to claim: although interactivity is now widely recognized as the heart and soul of this field, there is also a developing recognition that interactivity can be entertaining in various degrees. We need not demand that the couch potato transform into a whirling dervish; a couch lizard can be good enough. But considerable effort will be required to explore and characterize these various degrees of interactivity.

This also means that I will curtail the more technical material. Let’s face it, an article such as last issue’s long piece on compression methods (complete with three pages of code) is fine for a technical journal, but that’s not the stuff of which revolutions are made.

I do want to cover some of the new technologies that will shape the future. I think that there’s a lot of room for debate about the role of CD technology in the future. This industry spent the last five years making goo-goo eyes at CD technology (with me the only naysayer). At long last, people are starting to voice serious doubts about the notion that CD is the essence of the next big wave. Fortunately, we now have a body of experience in designing with this technology. We aren’t strapped with a lot of hot air about what CD might be. We can talk about what it actually delivers. We need to digest the design experience we have been acquiring.

Similarly, we need more discussion of the coming high-speed data networks. For years we’ve been poking along with analog telephone line networks, but in the next few years we’re going to see a giant leap in capabilities with ISDN and ATM. And when optical fibers are widely installed, we’ll see even greater change. These technologies will completely change the nature of interactive entertainment, yet most of us know little or nothing about them.

The emphasis in discussing these technologies will not lie on how to write code for them, but rather to discuss their implications. When we can move data into a home at, say, 100 kilobaud, how does that change the nature of our designs? More important, how will such technology change the audience, and how will that affect our designs?

The core of the Journal will remain with design issues. How are we to design the new kinds of products that this brave new world will require? I am less interested in an article on, say, how to maneuver through a hexgrid (yawn) than one on how to create artificial personality.

One other realization: after six years of running this Journal, I have to concede defeat on the matter of article submissions. I’d really like to publish more stuff from others, but for the last two years it’s been a simple cycle. First comes an issue that I wrote almost entirely, complete with desperate pleas for article submissions. That shakes loose a few articles, which go into the next issue. Since the next issue has plenty of articles, nobody writes anything for it, and so the cycle begins again.

I expect to be writing most of the material in the Journal of Interactive Entertainment Design. I have several ideas for additional material. One of these is "reactive articles". Rather than confine my articles to pure creation, I’d like to write a few articles that present my reaction to current books or products.

I must admit, there is some irony in all this. Less than a year ago, in the August 1992 issue, I printed an editorial ("Five Years and It’s Time for a Change") declaring that the revolutionary times in the computer games world were over, and the Journal would accordingly focus on more pragmatic concerns. There would be more technical material, more source code, more techie stuff. Now here I am trading my business suit for a beret and an armband. It’s back to the barricades for me. Some people have revolution in their blood.

The Journal of Interactive Entertainment Design will not abandon computer games. After all, computer game designers are today the prime body of talent in interactive entertainment design. This group understands interactivity better than any other group of professionals. They provide the springboard for the future -- if they’re willing to jump.

Here’s one way to look at it: Back in the late 1970’s, coin-operated games were the cutting edge in interactive entertainment. The coin-op designers were the brightest and best, and their work was always superior to that of the fledgling cartridge and computer industries. These other fields drew much of their inspiration from the coin-op designs. But by the early 1980s, the coin-op market was stabilizing, and with that stabilization came stagnation. The creative torch was passed to a new generation of cartridge designers, many of whom had migrated from the coin-op industry. They reigned supreme for a number of years, but then the cartridge market collapsed. Out of its rubble emerged the computer game designers, some of whom were cartridge designers who moved on. For the last eight years, computer games have been the cutting edge field, the focal point of the creative energies. But now the computer games market is maturing, and the time has come to pass the torch to a new generation of designers. As before, many of the best designers of the new interactive entertainment field will be ex-computer game designers who migrated to the new pastures.

This new field of interactive entertainment is tiny. It is financially insignificant. Because of this, many in the computer games field will be wont to dismiss it. To them I can only say, by the time it’s big enough to command your respect, it will be too late for you to make your mark on the field. I am taking this Journal into the future. I hope that current subscribers will not be so hidebound as to abandon the Journal because it is no longer covering safe territory.

There’s a whole new world out there. I’m going. Are you coming?