Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Good limitations

I can't recommend a better blog than Dubious Quality, and I thank the brethren OtohBotohs around here for turning me on to him. It's an almost perfect blog according to the standards laid-out in the Why We Blog post - in that it's a delightful solace from the workday.

Today Dubious posted a snippet regarding Spore - the forthcoming video game from Will Wright, creator of The Sims. In the game, the God-like gamer evolves an organism into a species "through open-ended, on-the-fly, user-guided evolution." (source: Wikipedia)

I first heard about Spore in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. He was talking about the customization of the means of production for products, like toys, and mentioned that in Spore gamers would be able to create their own Spore-character, send it off to the developer, who would then create a figurine of said Spore and send back to the gamer - all in a matter of weeks, if not shorter. Amazing, I thought.

Well now apparently Spore is hitting productions lags and won't be out until maybe 2009. What would have been amazing a year ago will be maybe-kinda cool two years from now. Which sucks.

Here's Dubious:

I think that for some people, having nearly unlimited budget and total schedule flexibility is a curse. Actually, I wouldn't say that for "some" people--I'd say it for everyone. When no possible choices are excluded, then every possible choice must be considered.

Couldn't agree more. I think one needs to look no further than Star Wars to find an example. The original film is now legendary for the challenges Lucas faced on set. In fact, it almost killed him which is why he took so long to direct again. More Wikipedia:
The production company, not to mention many involved in the actual production, had little faith in the film. According to reports, it was a daily struggle merely to complete the film on time.

Contrast that with The Phantom Menace.

I think a root cause is Lucas did not have positive limitations. No one in pre-production said, "Honestly sir, is it possible that the script has maybe a lot of dialogue?" and it doesn't seem like anyone in post said, "Ya know, I don't wanna overstep here, but my instinct is that I don't quite think this Jar Jar character is really, like really working." (All hypothetical production workers are passive-aggressive by nature.)

If I had more space I would draw the distinction between struggle and limitations, but this post is long enough already.

If you'd prefer more philosophical evidence then take a look at Rollo May's The Courage to Create, where May argues that limitations are essential to the creative process. Rather than try to summarize from memory, I pulled these quotes from a blog called In a Dark Time:
May’s major argument is that 'conflict presupposes limits, and the struggle with limits is actually the source of creative productions... The limits are as necessary as those provided by the banks of a river, without which the water would be dispersed on the earth and there would be no river-that is, the river is constituted by the tension between the flowing water and the banks. Art in the same way requires limits as a necessary factor in its birth.”

I've often wondered why the best works of artists are usually their first, and I think the fact that they have to fight against all kinds of limitations has something to do with it. Once achieved though, these same artists, armed with unlimited resources, cannot stop the flood.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I never put much thought in the subject of having limitations. It actually forces you to be more creative. Maybe that's why as Bill Gates becomes wealthier and wealthier, his OS's seem to be worse than the last on a consistant basis. He couldn't possibly have any fewer limitations; budget-wise at least.