Ed Fries: Working under constraint is the future

Ed Fries: Working under constraint is the future

By Will Freeman in Montréal

November 8th 2010 at 4:42PM

MIGS 2010: Imposed creative restrictions could save the industry from boring games, claims Xbox co-creator

In his opening keynote at MIGS 2010 Ed Fries has suggested that working under creative constraint offers developers the opportunity to save the industry from the dominance of 'boring' games.

The former vice president of Microsoft Game Studios' tech-focused session, titled 'Beauty, Constraint and the Atari 2600', detailed his work creating Halo 2600 for the famous Atari console; an experience that Fries' says helped him understand how the development of games can evolve for the better.

"Progress and art don't necessarily go hand in hand," suggested Fries, who was fundamental in creating the original Xbox, later adding: "Constraint is a way to go forward. It is a way to stop games being boring."

Arguing a case for "an evolutionary narrowing down",  Fries compared the advancements in game development with the history of art, drawing a parallel with the point at which painters mastered realism and the development sector today.

"In art's history, eventually it got really boring," said Fries. "When everybody can paint reality, everything starts to become the same thing."

To laughter from the crowd, Fries insisted he wasn't trying to suggest anything about games today, before admitting that he was 'maybe' poking fun at modern triple-A titles.

Fries highlighted Minecraft's 'lo-fi' offering and Madworld's restricted colour palette as examples of imposed restrictions that make for more interesting games. He also praised the European demoscene as something developers could draw inspiration from.

In the session, Fries also made a playful dig at Bungie's Halo Reach team. Making clear he is friends with those at the studio behind the latest game in the Halo series, Fries compared Reach with late classical Greek vases that had "a little too much going on" thanks to the over-ambitous creativity of artists in 400 BC trying to better the simpler forms of earlier pottery.

Fries, who is himself involved in archaeological work, drew comparison with the original Halo and Greek vases made 200 years previously, which he described as as "the most beautiful objects ever created by man,"