In Living Colour

For the most part I don’t dream in colour. Oh, sometimes I can vaguely remember a splash of red or blue on infrequent occasions, but for the most part all I remember is shades of black and grey. I can’t visualize colour either, I can’t see it in my mind’s eye. I can see shapes and silhouettes (vague, grey, and indistinct though they may be), I can hold 3d objects in my mind and rotate them around, and intellectually I could tell you the colour of something I remember… but the colours are just words to me. Red is “R” “E” “D”, not RED. I understand why this means that I do not draw or paint well. I cannot capture an image in full definition in my mind so that I might reproduce it on paper.

Which leaves me wondering why I need to work and design in living colour.

In my previous post (Following the White Rabbit) I discussed how the idea for Gauge came about, and how it pushed aside the other projects I was working on and insisted that I take care of it first. Inspiration, if you will. But most of that work was documenting what I already knew. The rules and structure of the game arrived fully formed. I could picture the dance of cards across the table, where they go, how they work. I only needed to spend the time to put that knowledge into words in much the same way I imagine an artist would put paint onto canvas.

To me the cards were simple black shapes, like ants in an anthill, moving not in a chaotic riot but in an intricate pattern of purpose and meaning. It made sense because I knew what each card was, what it did, how it was used, and it turned chaos into grace and order.

An order that fled as soon as pen touched paper. Suddenly my dancing cards became grey, rotting zombies, shuffling mindlessly back and forth across the table with no purpose and even less sense. Black text on white cards was enough to leech all the feeling and intuition from the game. The graceful game that I had in my head becomes an intellectual exercise of remembering numbers and reading text – and all the fun of working with a spreadsheet. (No offense intended towards anyone who does find working with spreadsheets fun – I do see the appeal within certain contexts, but it’s not what I enjoy about a game).

When I play a game, I play by feel and by intuition. I play quickly, recklessly, with a devil-may-care attitude. I rely on my understanding of how the mechanics of a game work, my underlying strategy, and an on-the-fly situational assessment to dictate my choices. I do not spend the time to think through or analyze a situation in a game unless I absolutely must –not that I cannot do so, but I derive my fun from reacting to a changing situation rather than the methodical planning of my moves. As a result, I tend to make mistakes, I miss opportunities, I fail to see threats, at least until I internalize those situations and accounting for them becomes second-nature.

And that leads me back to colour. In order to turn a spreadsheet into a game of perception and intuition, I need another layer of information to be present that I can process instinctually rather than logically. I need to be able to see and feel what is happening, without having to read and process it for a game to appeal to me.

Although the goal of an early prototype is to get something in your hands to play with, and then iterate to make it better, that method of a sharpie and a deck of cards doesn’t work for me. Even the most interesting games become tedious without those visual cues. That is why I spent hours creating card templates, adding shape and colour, and then painstakingly transcribing 150 unique cards into those templates before ever putting anything down on the table.

Crafting a look and feel to a set of components for a game is easily as critical to my process of understanding how a game works as is the text written on them. Moreso. I can always take a sharpie and tweak the numbers later, adjust the rules, modify the balance. But if I cannot see and make the visual connections between the pieces that are on the table, then no amount of refinement will ever make a game work for me.

Form and colour open the doors to my intuition. Although I am not a person who can turn an idea into an image resplendent with colour in my mind, I have discovered that the opposite is true. I cannot visualize colour, but to understand something I must live in it.