We get a lot of people asking about a certain technique in a game.

eg:

etc. And sometimes they get closed because "How to make X is off-topic". It's fine that asking about a whole game is both too broad and too specific, but why apply this to individual techniques that were used in one or more games?

A previous discussion was here: Is "How was entire game X made?" off-topic?

And the top reasons given there are:

  • Nobody can know how it was done
  • Asking about a whole game is overly broad
  • They're 'trivia' questions

Yet we're closing things where none of these really apply. For example:

  • we may not know exactly how Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder was rendered, but it's easy to supply a useful and practical guess as to how games of that type were rendered;
  • the rendering technique is quite a specific area and not too broad to be covered in a single focused answer;
  • a correct answer is more than just trivia - it's a useful resource for people making retro games and remakes.

I would argue that we are wrong to close such topics - my full explanation is in my answer below.

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Indeed, I totally agree with you! –  speeder Feb 21 '13 at 23:44
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As someone who comments asking people to change their question, I do so because I don't believe "how did X do Y" and "how can I do Y like X" are equivalent. As I say in my comment on Trevor's answer, those two can often be very different. It's more likely an answer will be useful if the answer is telling someone how they can do Y, instead of how someone else (likely with different goals/limitations) did Y. –  Byte56 Feb 22 '13 at 21:30
    
Also, I only down voted this question because it contains your answer, which I don't agree with. Maybe you could separate your question and answer? (I'd like to down vote the answer, not the question :)) –  Byte56 Feb 22 '13 at 21:33
    
@Byte56: done - see below. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:20
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I suspect that the crux of the disagreement is this: If someone was to ask how Dungeon Master rendered its graphics, does your picture of a "correct answer" involve assembly language, RAM page layouts, and clever use of native hardware registers? In my head, I say yes -- that would be the "correct answer" to this question. I assume, @Kylotan, that you say no? –  Trevor Powell Feb 22 '13 at 23:25
    
@TrevorPowell: Nobody is defending a "how does Dungeon Master render its graphics" question. I'm defending a "how did games like that achieve the specific effect of 3D environments with 2D sprites" question, and there's no need to consider assembly language, RAM, etc. in that context. We're wrongly labelling perfectly specific questions like this and pretending they are "How was Game X made" questions in a rush to close them. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 1:53
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Okay, fine. If someone was to ask "how did games like Dungeon Master render their graphics", does your picture of a "correct answer" involve assembly language, RAM page layouts, and clever use of native hardware registers? In my head, I say yes -- that would be the "correct answer" to how games of that era rendered their graphics. I assume, @Kylotan, that you say no? –  Trevor Powell Feb 23 '13 at 2:04
    
@TrevorPowell: I would say such a question is too broad to have a correct answer. Not sure what your point is here, because that question is nothing like the questions I cited. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 13:32
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BS. You know perfectly well that your very first cited question is "How did oldschool dungeon crawlers ie Dungeon Master/Eye of the Beholder render?". That's precisely the same question I asked in my "How did games like Dungeon Master render their graphics?" hypothetical upon which I asked you for further comment. –  Trevor Powell Feb 23 '13 at 23:35
    
The title of the question is a summary. Look at the content of the question for what was intended, where the question was clarified to make it very clear what aspect was asked about. Do you really think a question should be closed simply because its title isn't a complete representation of exactly what the asker wants to know? If so, why bother having content beyond the title? –  Kylotan Feb 24 '13 at 0:02
    
Kindly refrain from putting words in my mouth, @Kylotan. I said nothing of the sort, and you know it. I'm clearly wasting both my time and yours here, so I'm going to politely bow out of this conversation. The matter appears to have been decided, regardless. –  Trevor Powell Feb 24 '13 at 0:20
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What if I'm targeting an old platform? –  Veehmot Mar 1 '13 at 0:46
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7 Answers

"How did game X implement technique Y" is historical trivia. It has nothing to do with developing a game, and is therefore off-topic. Even if the author of game X happens to be on-hand and is legally and ethically able to give an objectively correct answer to the question, while such an answer would undoubtedly be interesting and probably entertaining, it is still off-topic, because the question is fundamentally not about developing a game.

"How can I do thing X, so that it looks like game Y?" on the other hand, is a relevant, completely on-topic question, and can be correctly answered by anyone with relevant experience, in a way which is practically useful in the future.

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so I assume you mean it's merely a problem with word ordering? instead of "how X is implemented in Y", one should ask "How can I implement X so that it looks like Y". –  Ali.S Feb 22 '13 at 8:53
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That isn't a problem of word ordering. It's a difference of the question's subject, verb tense, and overall intent: "How can I accomplish something now", versus "How did somebody else accomplish something back then". One is a practical question which is relevant to the site, the people on it, and future developers, and the other is a request for a trivial factoid. My intuition is that most people who ask the "How X is implemented in Y" question aren't actually planning to do Y; they're just asking out of idle curiosity because it costs them nothing to ask any whim that comes into their head. –  Trevor Powell Feb 22 '13 at 9:20
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1) "it is still off-topic, because the question is fundamentally not about developing a game". This is not the case, though several people seem to think it is. The FAQ says this site is about game development. It doesn't stipulate that you must be making a game. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 11:31
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2) "overall intent", "My intuition is": you're judging a question on the asker's intent. Who are we to read minds, or police what people want to do? We should be judging the question purely on its utility for the site as a whole. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 11:33
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+1 Knowing how they did it and how I can do it are totally different things. Especially when it comes to retro games. We don't have anywhere near the limitations that old game developers did, so telling someone how they can flip bits to optimize their game play for 64k of RAM is totally irrelevant. It would be far more useful to know how you can create that effect using today's technology. How someone else did it doesn't actually matter, it's far less likely to apply to the current situation. –  Byte56 Feb 22 '13 at 21:00
    
@Byte56: we can judge that on a case by case basis. Techniques unnecessary on modern hardware can be written off as trivia. Techniques still important in some way, such as how to implement a faux-3D effect with a 2D engine, are useful and relevant. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:22
    
@Kylotan It's not only the age of the hardware, there are plenty of other restrictions that the original developer may have been dealing with, that are not necessarily present with the current developer. All in all, I think it's better to just have a general rule to convert them into a "How can I do X like Y?". Those questions should get the OP what they want, without the issues raised by "How did Y do X?" –  Byte56 Feb 22 '13 at 22:32
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@Byte56: but there's often no good way to describe the technique without referring to a game as an example. We're getting hung up on the idea that the asker wants to know precisely how that game was implemented when they almost never do - they just want to know how to achieve the same effect. Closing the question instead of editing it slightly to accommodate this is a pretty hostile thing that we do to people eager to learn. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:38
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@Kylotan "Who are we to read minds" applies to you, too. All we have to go on is the question that they actually asked. And the question they actually asked (in this theoretical situation of which we're speaking) was for historical trivia, not for help in developing a game. –  Trevor Powell Feb 22 '13 at 22:41
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@Kylotan I agree, referencing a game is fine. And we agree that they almost never do want to know exactly how "they" did it. That's why I comment asking them to change the question, because it's likely what they mean is how they can do it, and I'm trying to ensure that they're asking a question that's on topic, instead of a question that's off topic. I vote to close if I see that the user has been active since I commented, but hasn't changed the question. To me, that means they intended their original meaning (wanting to know how "they" did it) –  Byte56 Feb 22 '13 at 22:41
    
@TrevorPowell: but I'm not trying to read their mind, because I'm not interested in their motivation at all. If they ask "how did games like Dungeon Master render the graphics" then that is something that can be meaningfully answered no matter why they asked it. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:53
    
And I'll reiterate, there's no reason why someone who asks a question must be developing a game. The only bit of the FAQ that implies that is the "actual problem you face" issue - but not only do I disagree with having that in the FAQ, but I think that research into techniques is itself a legitimate problem. To decide whether something is research or trivia is really about the usefulness of the answers and not the intent of the question. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:58
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@Kylotan If you really want to discuss throwing out and/or reinterpreting the FAQ, that should probably be introduced as a separate meta question, not introduced twelve comments into a comment thread on an answer on an unrelated question. –  Trevor Powell Feb 22 '13 at 23:04
    
I view the whole of this Meta site as an opportunity to debate what the rules should or should not be. I don't think of it as a place to play rules lawyers, treating the FAQ as the law. That seems back-to-front to me. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 1:49
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"How did game X implement technique Y" is historical trivia. It has nothing to do with developing a game." => I disagree with this. Knowing how some game implemented some feature can be a huge boost for inspiration, so asking about it seems perfectly fine to me. In other words it can be "an actual problem that you face". Provided that the question doesn't violate other faq items: e.g. asking about how was the whole game made, being too vague... I'm thus upvoting Tetrad's answer. –  Laurent Couvidou Feb 26 '13 at 10:48
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The two examples in your question, if they were closed, would be closed for different reasons.

The first one is just trivia. It isn't really a question that needs an answer. If you (the question asker) were trying to create that look, then you should do your research and come up with a solution that works with your constraints instead of asking how somebody else did something. See also Are "why did game X do Y questions" not constructive?

The second one was closed by me because I felt that it has two problems with it. 1) It basically asks "how to make entire game x", along with the recent discussion presented here: How can I do X? My idea is to use plan Y. Would that work?

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Sorry, I don't agree. It's not 'just trivia'. It's useful information for someone who wants to implement that sort of game, "If you were trying to create that look, then you should do your research and come up with a solution". That's the entire reason such questions get asked! People come to GD.SE to do that research and get the solution. I strongly disagree with the idea that we should be blocking off people's research efforts because we secretly suspect they're not going to go away and implement anything. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 11:35
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@Kylotan Asking a question on StackExchange is not "research". "Research" is consulting a variety of specifically chosen primary/secondary sources and analysing them to find an answer for yourself. Asking a question on StackExchange is more like asking your professor for the solution to your problem; it's what you do after you've done the research and turned up nothing conclusive. –  Trevor Powell Feb 22 '13 at 23:15
    
Don't agree, sorry. Asking experts for advice is a useful way of doing research, and StackExchange is an effective way of asking experts for advice. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 1:48
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Amazed that people are upvoting that comment. The reason you don't ask your professor for answers is because part of their job is to keep standards of education high by testing your ability to find the answer independently, and also because they know that the question they set you can be answered by reference to already-published texts. Neither of these are true with GD.SE. This site is here to help and inform people, and probably 90% of questions here are actually of the form "how do I do X". If the answer to that is, "you should research elsewhere", then this site is pointless. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 13:46
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@Kylotan I think the key takeaway here is not that you can't ask "how do I do X", but that a lot of people don't know what X is exactly and are fishing this SE site for suggestions on what they should do. Maybe not specifically regarding the "how did old school game do Y" questions that you are originally asking about, but as a reaction to a lot of the design paralysis you see with newbies. The whole "what should I do next" type of questions that are really unanswerable. –  Tetrad Feb 23 '13 at 17:19
    
@Tetrad: the body of the second question does indeed look far too broad - no disagreement there. But the title of it is quite specific, and could have been answered. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 21:16
    
I think this is the most reasonable answer. We don't need a flame war on this, some questions of this type as reasonable, some aren't. This isn't a decisive criteria for closing questions, maybe just a warning sign. So I personally wouldn't declare a total ban on questions that ask about a particular game's feature. Inspiration is a part of game development after all. I personally answered a question on Rayman Origins that seemed valid to me, but those two questions were indeed quite un-answerable. –  Laurent Couvidou Feb 26 '13 at 10:41
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At Byte56's request:

I would argue that we are wrong to close such topics, and equally wrong to dogmatically insist in the comments that the original asker edits their question to fit some arbitrary rule. If specifically focused on a certain technique, the fact that the asker used the phrase "how did X do Y" instead of "how can I do Y like X" should not be our cue to close the question. It's not our job to be the secret police dedicated to flushing out miscreants who never intend to implement the algorithm they ask about - if the answer will be useful to the world, then the question is surely useful also.

EDIT:

I think the criteria we judge the question on should be:

  • Is the technique relevant to modern developers (bearing in mind that many are working with restricted resources, eg. limited to 2D, small amounts of RAM, etc).
  • Is the technique possibly documented somewhere, or is it one that experienced developers will be able to comment on with authority?
  • Is the technique notable, whether for being innovative (eg. the rewind mechanic in Braid) or widely used (eg. the faux-3D rendering in Dungeon Master etc)

If these are true, or mostly true, I think it would be disingenuous to argue that the question and good answers to it would not benefit the community, meaning that closing the question is a net loss for the site.

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I think you misunderstand the reason why we want "how do I do something like X." Answering that question is very different from answering the question of "how did X do Y." I cannot tell you how X did Y if I haven't studied X in any detail. However, I can tell you how to do something like X, in many cases after a cursory evaluation of X. Or, to put it another way, the way Dungeon Master did it's rendering is not necessarily the same way we would implement it today. How it was done in the past is mostly irrelevant to the idea of achieving the same effect in the present. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 22 '13 at 23:26
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Also, questions of notability are far too subjective. Who decides that something is "notable". Who decides what is "relevant to modern developers?" –  Nicol Bolas Feb 22 '13 at 23:28
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I don't think I misunderstand it; I think moderators here take too narrow a view of what sort of answer the question is looking for. If someone says "oldschool dungeon crawlers" it's clear they're looking for general principles, and not specifics of one individual game. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 1:47
    
And I don't particularly see any issue at all about the notability argument. Moderators make their own judgement calls all the time on whether to close a question or not, eg. whether it's "too localized". Notability is just another way of looking at how localized the question and the answers are. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 1:57
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"I think moderators here take too narrow a view of what sort of answer the question is looking for." So you're saying that we should guess what they're actually looking for, instead of assuming that what they're looking for is what they asked for. That's been brought up on MSO before, and it did not go over well. It is not our job to find the good question in someone else's crap. It's their job to provide it, and if they don't, they get their question closed until they do. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 23 '13 at 2:23
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Or, to put it another way, "what sort of answer the question is looking for" is an answer that answers what the question asks. Anything else is mind-reading or making assumptions. And that's not what we should be doing. If someone sees a "how did X do Y" question, they're going to think that the answers are going to explain "how did X do Y". They're not going to assume that the answers will explain "how to do Y on modern systems." –  Nicol Bolas Feb 23 '13 at 2:24
    
"If someone says "oldschool dungeon crawlers" it's clear they're looking for general principles, and not specifics of one individual game." The problem there is a lack of specifics: there are a lot of "oldschool dungeon crawlers". Indeed, there are a lot of schools of "oldschool dungeon crawlers", all with their own visual style. So there are no "general principles" to be had with a question that broad. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 23 '13 at 2:27
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I don't agree that we should keep closing questions until someone can guess the right combination of words to get past the moderators. Moderators should take some responsibility for editing questions that are nearly-acceptable into ones that are acceptable. Otherwise the first hit for many Google searches is a closed question when it could have been an open question with good answers. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 13:38
    
As for your last comment, this is you moving the goalposts. If a question mentions a specific game, you say it's trivia or too localised. If a question mentions all games of a certain type, you say it's too broad. So they mention a certain type with some key examples to narrow it down and put it right in the middle, and you act like it has both problems now when in fact it has neither. It is perfectly possible to explain how the graphics in games like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder game were rendered using 2D tech, but people are pretending it is not to justify closing the question. –  Kylotan Feb 23 '13 at 13:39
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"Moderators should take some responsibility for editing questions that are nearly-acceptable into ones that are acceptable." It is not the responsibility of others to fix your questions for you. Doing that only encourages people to keep giving you crap questions. Such questions are not "nearly-acceptable", because in order to make them acceptable, you have to make them into a different question with a different intent. And if that was their original intent, then it is their responsibility to state it correctly. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 23 '13 at 23:33
    
Jeff Atwood's 'A Theory Of Moderation' talks about closing blatantly off-topic questions. Questions like this are not blatantly off-topic. They are often a minor edit away from being salvaged, which is preferable to closing. It's unnecessarily punitive to close the whole thing and it leaves the site with an unanswered question coming up in search results and a reputation for harshness towards newbies. Who does that benefit, exactly? –  Kylotan Feb 24 '13 at 0:12
    
It benefits the community by: 1) giving people an incentive to ask appropriate questions 2) dis-incentivising people who refuse to take responsibility for their own questions 3) making it clear that such questions are not welcome. I'm happy with a "reputation for harshness towards" people who disrespect the site by asking inappropriate questions and won't correct those question when asked to do so. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 24 '13 at 0:32
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Also, you keep talking about what "moderators" do. "Moderators" did not close that "Dungeon Master" question; 5 users with close votes did. And most importantly, it took thrity-four hours for that question to be closed. In that time, the OP did not edit the question at all. The OP did not talk to anyone who suggested improvements. The OP clearly did not care to ask a proper question. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 24 '13 at 0:36
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Lastly, closing is not permanent. If someone corrects their question, as advised in the comments, it can be reopened. Granted, given how few close/reopen voters there are on this site, that's not likely without moderator intervention. But moderators can be flagged for this. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 24 '13 at 0:37
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From the FAQ:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

You say

we may not know exactly how Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder was rendered, but it's easy to supply a useful and practical guess as to how games of that type were rendered;

Bolding mine. I think it's pretty clear from the FAQ that these questions are off-topic.

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Firstly, wanting to know how something is done but not knowing it can be considered a legitimate problem. As I said on other answers, we shouldn't be trying to guess someone's intent or refusing good content just because the asker isn't going to go away and code it. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 20:04
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Secondly, the FAQ shouldn't be considered prescriptive. If the site is governed by the FAQ, then who chooses what goes in the FAQ? Surely the FAQ should adjust to our rules, not the other way around. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 20:07
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We should follow the StackOverflow methodology as closely as possible. It works. It was very carefully designed to make a Q&A site goverened by its users work properly. One reason it works is that it focuses on straightforward answerable questions. If we have to guess at the answer, that's not a good fit for what a StackExchange site should be. –  Almo Feb 22 '13 at 20:34
    
I think you're understating how useful an educated estimate can be. Many of our highly-voted answers are basically opinion backed up with logic, and the same would apply here. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:26
    
SE sites are not about getting educated estimates. They are about getting answers. –  Almo Feb 22 '13 at 22:31
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Educated estimates are a type of answer. There are many thousands of them both here and on Stack Overflow, voted up because they're useful. They're not off-topic as long as they're backed by logic or experience. –  Kylotan Feb 22 '13 at 22:35
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Considering the FAQ and considering the value such question may pose to someone who is either attempting to recreate a look or just learn how to accomplish a task it seems like our FAQ should change.

"Practical" is a term that is very subjective to the task at hand. Depending on what I wished to do examining how a game did a specific feature could put me on the right track, or it could be completely off base. "Practical" seems like it is too open to interpretation.

"Answerable" is dependent on the people in the community as a whole. If a question is about a specific implementation we can't make the assumption that a person who had a part in the implementation is not a member of this site. Furthermore many companies release production details about components of games. We can't make the assumption that the data is not out there.

Along with a question being answerable, it seems that many individuals with closed questions are looking more for a point in the right direction than a specific answer.

I agree that a "How do I implement entire game X?" question is too broad, but questions about specific features that are narrow enough should be allowed.

Answers to questions such as these don't seem to be trivia as they have real practical use to people who are looking to develop something similar.

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The criteria by which a question is deemed off topic should be changed such that these types of questions, provided they are specific enough and the implication is "How does X do Y, so that I may do something simliar in my game, which I may or may not be currently developing," are considered on-topic.

I have two primary reasons:

First: These questions are not trivia and are absolutely relevant for developers seeking out knowledge on how to develop their game.

StackExchange is a great thing because you can google for a specific question and get a specific answer. But sometimes your question wording doesn't quite work out, and you really meant something entirely different which may come up based on search terms in another question or answer framed in the context of asking how a specific game works.

Second: This site has a problem in that it overlaps significantly with StackOverflow.

It was pointed out in chat recently that a question on StackOverflow that would clearly fit extremely well in GameDev.StackExchange was found, but moderators on StackOverflow refused to migrate it. These "how did game X accomplish specific effect Y" would help differentiate GDSE. And if we encourage a culture of focusing on games that had a unique effect they can be a really valuable part of this site.

But isn't that hard to moderate?

Not any harder than filtering out all the redundant questions we currently get anyway that aren't in violation of this rule. and it would actually add explicit value to this community over StackOverflow, as these kinds of questions would definitely not fit on SO but that is not clearly the case for GDSE.

Of course, we could end up with a bunch of "How did Call of Duty 1 implement Physics? How did Call of Duty 2 implement Physics?" and such. But that problem comes with any question asker who thinks their particular problem is special. The community standard is that the effect Y in game X should be unique enough to be exclusively associated with game X as a GDSE question. Everyone who asks, answers, or reviews one of these questions should have an obligation to search for preexisting questions that already provide an answer out of the context of the game, closing the question if it is asked and is found to be redundant.

But proprietary knowledge, breaking contracts!

Who gives a shit?

Don't answer if you can't legally do so. Askers won't care about how it was actually implemented. They want how it was probably implemented. Out of all arguments against allowing these, this is the weakest one.

What about effects that are just painfully out of date?

It's not entirely bad to have trivia like that on here, in my opinion, but I understand why we'd want to keep it out.

One reason to have it is that old approaches can often inspire modern solutions both from a technical and design perspective. "Game Development" is supposed to include design, right? This information is valuable for design, or possibly people experimenting with weird platforms. And if you're experimenting on a weird platform, nobody's going to have a real answer for you, so it's much more useful to ask about older games that were on older platforms with similar but different peculiarities.

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"These "how did game X accomplish specific effect Y" would help differentiate GDSE." If by "differentiate" you mean "make me never want to come back here", then yes. These are not the kinds of questions that bring me to SE sites. "the implication is" No. We don't deal with questions by implication; we deal with the question that was asked. To do any less would invite people to just answer in whatever way you think the OP was asking about. If your question doesn't state what you truly want, then it's a bad question. And bad questions should get closed. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 28 '13 at 8:22
    
@NicolBolas Are many current questions really actively engaging you on this site anyway? –  michael.bartnett Feb 28 '13 at 15:05
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_ "How does X do Y, so that I may do something simliar in my game..."_ I don't think anybody is saying that those kinds of questions are off topic. It's more that there are a certain kind of question that are basically historical trivia and not really relevant to, well, anybody. Unless somebody says up front that they're doing a C64 game jam or something like that, that is. Personally I think part of the backlash is due to the fact that game development has a lot of onlookers who aren't really vested in the field as a whole and just think questions like that are "neat". –  Tetrad Mar 1 '13 at 0:46
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How about taking a real example, where such a question leads to insights?

How did Castle Master show so many colors on 16-color systems?

Answer: With the Color Graphics Adapter they could address each pixel individually so they could use dithering to give the illusion of more colors. They had to restrict themselves to using only 4 of the 16 available colors at the same time, though, and only one color could be selected freely, the others were fixed. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_Graphics_Adapter#Standard_graphics_modes

New insight: That’s why they had so distinctly colored scenes! They had to assemble the scene from only 4 colors - that’s almost like todays designers who build websites from only 3 to 4 matching colors to make them recognizable. If I restrict my scene design to only 3 base colors plus one scene-specific color, I might get a similar effect.

So I think asking how a specific game realized a given effect is relevant, because it can have a big influence on other aspects of the game - which might have been misjudged as intentional design decisions instead of simply the result of choosing a specific approach to solve an unrelated problem.

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"New insight: That’s why they had so distinctly colored scenes!" Besides personal interest... how does that help you make your game? Are you making your game on CGA hardware? No, you're not. So it has no value outside of trivia. GDSE is not for trivia. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 27 '13 at 21:09
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