January 25, 2023

Bottom-Up & Top-Down Design – A Baseline

The Genvid team is delighted to present this three-part article mini-series exploring the concepts of Top-Down and Bottom-Up design within the context of MILEs.

This first article will focus on the basics – observing Top-Down & Bottom-Up design across a variety of games and interactive experiences to set a baseline.

The second article focuses on these concepts specifically in the context of Interactive Streaming & MILEs – we’ll look at framing devices, the technological base and combining both approaches.

Finally, we will end with a practical framework for Interactive Streaming & MILE designs, with a step-by-step example that you can fill in as an exercise or read-along.

To begin – why are we looking at these concepts in the first place?

New technological spaces are complex and innovation can be difficult to ideate, let alone execute. The single process of starting is crucial, and having a direction aids this a lot.

The question then becomes – where to start?

Top-Down & Bottom-Up approaches essentially look at the problem from opposing points – do you start from a larger vision and break it down into its components, or do we look at the individual components that this new innovative space allows us to work with and create a cohesive experience from that?

Image that shows elements converging into one, a bottom up approach, and a single element that derives in other elements, a top down approach.

Let’s explore Top-Down design first.

Top-Down design (not to be confused with top-down viewpoint), is the process of breaking down a vision or larger general aspects into smaller components and their details. In Interactive Streaming experiences this can be seen as starting with a base framing device, creating a rationale for why the creation exists. For example: creating a video game version of Tennis or an adventure set in the world of Alice in Wonderland – the core premise forces smaller components to exist and support the setup.

Let’s break down the above by looking at three examples and how they could have been approached from a Top-Down design perspective: a gaming classic; one that interfaces as an interactive stream; and one of Genvid’s offerings.
These will be SimCity, Twitch Plays Pokemon & The Walking Dead: Last Mile.

SimCity (1989), at its core, is an open-ended city-building video game. The whole mechanical suite stems from that principle: there are residential areas to develop not because these are a neat mechanic but because the vision depends on the existence of these to work. You need tension because it has to feel like a real city, so elements like funds and crime get added along with power plants, pollution and more – all these get implemented to service that starting vision.

The global phenomenon of Twitch Plays Pokemon started with a very clear constraint – it is a single instance of a classic Pokémon game (Red). The rest stems from this – you need a way for audiences to interact; at the time, that was via chat inputs, limited to 8 options. As the audience grew larger, individual inputs gained in importance and the need for communal decision-making rather than any participant being able to decide alone became apparent (Democracy v. Anarchy).
All the subcomponents are set by the core message of completing the original Pokémon Red as a community, and all the mechanics service this goal.

The Walking Dead: Last Mile is clearly delimited in many ways – it focuses on a specific brand, with history related to its lore. When creating a MILE set in this environment, the parameters are fixed. These cascade (Survival, Horror, Choice, Zombies and more) down into its subcomponents, supporting the overall vision. As the story is driven by fans, systems that allow for their communal choices to be present and matter also have to be built. Step-by-step, the setting takes more naturally shape because fans expect certain aspects to be present. World-building and narrative are paramount in The Walking Dead: Last Mile, with mechanics servicing these.

Top-Down design has what seems like an unbeatable advantage as a powerful framing device. It makes for a design that is easier to communicate and explain. But enjoyment, and the process of discovering it, isn’t monolithic.

Bottom-Up design looks at the design problem in another way – often, there is a neat prototype mechanic or system that feels good to interact with. With no framing, testers come back again and again to enjoy the same prototype, indicating that it is worth building around. This often comes about with new technologies and, unsurprisingly, interactive streaming has a lot of Bottom-Up designs as developers try new systems.

Let’s look at two examples for Bottom-Up design considerations: Tetris and Project Monarch. 

Tetris (inspired from Pentominoes), evolved via its mechanics:

  • Initially, the goal was to fill the pieces in a set space (similar to a puzzle to complete) – this only worked once with no interest to replay after by testers;
  • The next evolution was pieces falling from the top to make it more exciting – replayable, but having no difference between a full row and a non-full row was lackluster;
  • Finally – when the ability for rows to vanish when completed was added, the game became addictive.

Each step started by a single aspect, was tested, iterating a new tweak until the final product arrived in its built form.

Project Monarch had a lot of discrete components – technology providers Intel, which provided its Smart Edge technology, and Genvid’s MILE SDK, plus access to some incredible real-estate in the heart of Manhattan.
The question is what to do with it, which is where Bottom-Up design comes up. Because it is a mix of real-world visitors and a low latency interactive stream, the separate pieces get created in order to build towards a cohesive experience. It is difficult to describe Project Monarch via a single-sentence, as a result of a direct focus of the experience and its possibilities for nearby visitors to enjoy.

You can see how it all ended up here – Project Monarch – Genvid Technologies.

While we hope you learned something new from the above, it is quite possible you already had knowledge on these aspects. In the follow-up articles, we will look at how Top-Down & Bottom-Up can be combined in the context of an Interactive Streaming experience / MILE, allowing us to mix narrative framing with new technology and create fascinating and novel designs.

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