The Factors of Creative Computing

I’ve learned a lot from making me and my team’s project, Pioned, this semester. The project involved the creative practice of game design, the process we used to develop a fun, yet simple and accessible game. The process of game design also involved a creative collaboration component. One thing I’ve learned from such collaboration is that collaborators should try to work closely with one another without interfering with each other’s work. This leads to a game that is efficient, cohesive, and well-understood.

We made a lot of progress on Pioned this semester. Some of our accomplishments include a clean-looking, easy-to-use game that features an open world for building, open-ended objectives, and player interactivity. Despite our achievements, however, the game still lacks a few key components that we had originally hoped for. The game currently has no reward system for player objective completion. Players who complete their objectives will receive an “objective complete” message, but have no way of documenting their success. Additionally, the game is very short-term. Players have no save states, and therefore have no way of continuing progress after closing their browser window. Additionally, the current implementation allows the map to quickly become bloated and nearly devoid of resources, forcing a server-side restart often. If there was one thing I wish I knew before starting this project, it’s the importance of player rewards. I‘ve learned that games with player rewards typically have much more depth and player satisfaction than those that don’t. Despite these missing features, however, I am happy to say I’m extremely satisfied with what my teammates and I were able to accomplish, and I believe more time would allow us to develop creative solutions to these potholes.

I feel I have a greater understanding of creativity and creative practice after taking this class. I believe all creative practices share the following components: ingenuity, pleasure to the senses, and efficiency. Ingenuity is probably the most obvious of the three. Original ideas are what define processes as creative. This does not mean one cannot build off of another project for their own to be creative, but every creative practice must involve some component that hasn’t been previously developed or used in the same way. I believe all creative processes should pleasure the senses, either by being aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, or by appealing to other senses like hearing, touch, taste, smell, etc. Anyone should be able to use their senses to indulge themselves in or be audience to a creative process. Lastly, efficiency is a key component of creativity. Part of what makes creative practices novel is the efficiency in the way they approach certain objectives. Inefficient designs can turn great ideas into poorly-executed projects. I believe these three components can be used as metrics for both facilitating and evaluating creativity. Creators can focus on these ideas to help build on their designs, as well use them as evaluation measurements for iterations on their artifact. Every creative process is fundamentally different, but they all share aspects of these three key principles.

I’ve also learned a lot about creativity in general from working on Pioned and seeing others’ projects. Computers have proven to be extremely useful tools for creative practices. One interesting observation I’ve made is that while computers are very linear machines that only support explicit, limited instructions with virtually no room for error or deviation, they’re still capable of facilitating creative practice by allowing development of widely open-ended, novel designs. Most computer programmers are used to creating strict, rigorous applications that never fluctuate in execution. Creative computing provides a different approach to software development.

We’ve focused primarily on the class’ “ambiguity vs. constraint” theme throughout the development of Pioned. Even after all the great examples of this theme shown to us in our first few lectures, I still had trouble wrapping my head around its meaning. I’ve learned that in game design, balancing ambiguity and constraint can greatly affect the final product. In Pioned’s case, we favored ambiguity over constraint. Players are placed into an open world where they are free to travel around the map and build structures as they please. The only constraining factor, the player objectives, offer the player direction in their adventure, but don’t impede on how the player plays the game or their own personal goals and achievements. For example, I once entered a newly-loaded map with the intention of making a large island out of wooden bridges. In the process, I completed my “Mr. Worldwide” objective by visiting 5 different islands while I travelled around the map collecting resources. In the end, I was able to achieve my goal of building a large wooden island without the game placing restrictions on my actions. This, I’ve found, is what makes Pioned a fun game. While many groups chose to use “ambiguity vs. constraint” as a theme to guide their creative process specifically for this class, I believe it’s imperative to consider such a concept for any task in creative computing.

The paper I read this semester for my reading presentation assignment was “Ensemble: Exploring Complementary Strengths of Leaders and Crowds in Creative Collaboration,” written by the Stanford University HCI Group and published to  the CSCW 2014 conference. I chose this paper because I am currently doing an independent study in the Virginia Tech Crowd Intelligence Lab, led by Dr. Kurt Luther, and I found this paper’s crowdsourcing topic of interest. In summary, the paper involved developing an online collaborative writing platform where a writer could allow crowd workers to write, rewrite, or refine portions of their creative writing essays to produce a stronger final product. A study was also conducted with Stanford students and members of online writing forums to test the effectiveness of the Ensemble platform, from which they found a significant increase in each essay’s creativity and overall quality. While the development and deployment of the Ensemble platform was primarily a research task, I believe it utilized elements of creative computing, as well. It was an original approach to facilitating the common task of creative writing, and it proved to be effective in doing so. In general, while research is not typically associated with creative practice and creative computing, I believe both can serve to benefit one another.

Overall, I was very satisfied with how the course was carried out. I appreciated the layout of the milestone assignments and how we were able to document and present our project’s progress for each one. Additionally, I liked how such progress reports were open-ended, and much of what and how we presented was up to me and my teammates. Another aspect of the class I liked was the usage of the themes. I think they did a great job in facilitating creativity without restricting how we developed Pioned. There are a few components of the course I believe could use some improvement. While the feedback responses for the first two milestones were likely formatted in such a way to improve feedback quality, I believe they had the opposite effect. They were too restrictive on the way presentation feedback could be provided, and I believe this improved significantly with the open-ended response forms provided for milestone 3. Another part of the course I think could use improvement is the usage of the blog site. While I think having the blog is a great way to inspire creativity, I believe there was too much emphasis on posting to the blog and not enough on reading and responding to posts. I can’t recall actually reading and reflecting on anyone else’s post, and I feel as though most posts are only read by its writer and the instructor. I think it’d be cool if at any point during the semester, students could choose one or two posts they’re interested in and write either a reflection on it or a response to the writer. This could replace one of the blog post assignments, and would make better overall use of the class blog. Despite these small criticisms, I’m glad I enrolled in this course and I had a ton of fun working with my team and creating Pioned.

I’d like to make my takeaway message about balancing ambiguity and constraint. I believe it is a critical concept for every creative practice.

My Takeaway Message:

The design of your artifact should be molded by your balance of ambiguity and constraint. This balance should be determined, or at least estimated, early on in the design process, and the level of each that you choose will have significant effects on your final product.


– Chris Hurt