Anticipating Inception

The movie of the now is obviously Inception. It’s not out yet in Germany but being such a sucker for Christopher Nolan, I decided to watch in anyway. I leave it up it your imagination how that’s possible. I can tell you that it was about as cinematic as having the movie conveyed to you verbally by a drunken hobo with a broken jaw… through a telephone with bad reception… wearing green, smudgy glasses… and the hobo passes out 10 minutes before the ending.

So yeah I have no idea what the movie is about.

But even in spite of all this I can tell that it is an excellent movie. The few details I picked up were already enough to get my brain working on new game ideas. One of the reasons I respond so well to that particular movie is that there is some significant overlap with TRAUMA, the project I’m currently wrapping up. In fact, in my final thesis I laid out a couple of influences and trends I consciously tied in with TRAUMA. I see some of those influences re-appear again in Inception. It’s a good thing. It means that my process works. It means that I was able to capture and harness a sliver of the Zeitgeist. But it also means that I’m too slow and TRAUMA might suffer from it. Now that Inception came out earlier, some parts may seem to some as if they they were inspired by Inception, even though I probably started my project earlier than Nolan did.

But it’s not that bad. Despite some overlap, there is lots of divergence as well so I should be fine. Overall, the two projects are very dissimilar after all.

Coming back to Inception – I have two interesting articles to share with you if you liked the movie and if you are interested in further discussion. SPOILER COUNTRY. First of, this interview with the actor Dileep Rao does a great job at discussing the plot and potential interpretations. I like especially the following argument. In many movies everything turns out to be a big dream in the end. Rao argues that this is cheap.

The weakness of “It’s all a dream” — why we hate that, why we feel cheated when narratively anything is revealed to be all a dream — is that you’ve just asked me to spend so much time and emotional capital investing in the stakes of this, and you’ve now swept it away with the most anti-narrative structuralism that doesn’t have anything to substitute in its place. It’s laughing at you for even taking it seriously. You don’t want to feel like a victim of the narrative, and I don’t think Christopher Nolan would do that.

The second article comes from Kirk Hamilton, whom I had the pleasure with at this years GDC. It’s a rather negative one for a change. He compares the first half of the movie with a game tutorial and points out how it repeats many mistakes game tutorials do.

Like a game designer who crams too many rules and mechanics into his creation, Nolan expects his viewers to digest and master a bevvy of complex, foreign concepts without giving them the time or the space to do so. As abstractly fascinating as those big ideas are, Inception is the first film I’ve seen that feels like it would have benefited from more playtesting.

It’s very refreshing to hear some well-formulated, negative opinions about the movie. Kirk’s take on this is pretty awesome, too. It really does seem like Inception is one of the first movies we can also analyze by using tools from the critique of videogames. It just made me realize how much more leeway we seem to give to the film medium. Why can they get away with such poor usability? Is it because the medium is older and filmmakers can assume a certain base of expertise among the audience? If that’s the case, will the games of the future be intentionally more cryptic and depend less on tutorials?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Anticipating Inception”

  1. sirleto

    will read your text after seeing movie. fear of spoilers =)

    1. Krystian Majewski

      That’s totally ok. It won’t be long now. :)


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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