Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Golden Ticket

Today I would like to talk about something relatively specific. I would like to talk around the idea that we don’t actually know what waits for us after we die, and how some media has attempted to make a story about what might happen. Grim Fandango just happens to be one of these, with the idea that after we die, our soul travels through the land of the dead for an average of about four years before reaching the land of eternal rest. Your personal worth also plays a factor of how much help you get in your travels on the other side, whether it is being a saint or a hard worker. The idea that you have a last chance to redeem yourself after you die is also a factor, as you always have a choice to “work off your time” as they put it in the game. Finally there are ways of accepting punishment for your sins in life, such as being trapped in a foam packed coffin for four years with nothing to preoccupy yourself but a mug. The ideas in this games world do sound very different from what many religions of our world believe, but they do hold the same morals that nearly all of them do too. Being a selfless person, or someone who does tasks for others is considered a productive member of society and therefore gets rewarded in the afterlife. Being selfish or greedy instead has you punished or offers one last chance at redemption. The reasons I am saying this is that what we know can be changed to make interesting stories, and help us better understand why these morals exist. Grim fandango is about a journey, one which we make after death. We don’t know if this journey exists, or if there even is an afterlife. But the quote at the end of the game truly does say it all. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so we might as well enjoy the trip.”

This is dedicated to my Aunt, who passed away last week. I hope her golden ticket is waiting for her on the other side.

Monday, 10 March 2014

A World of Possibility

Characterization is a very important step in game design, even for the simplest of characters. Simple characters like the Wigglers from Mario have a lot of thought and effort put into how they look, move and act, even though in their first appearance they only appeared in a couple of levels. But we always should take a step back and look at the world our games are based in.

A worlds characterization is just as important as its inhabitants, and making a world is not as hard as it sounds. A good world can make a game, even without a lot of characters in it. Well designed worlds can encourage exploration, as well as being good at conveying story elements. Some world are just fun to explore because they are filled with interesting things like animals, contraptions, history, and playthings.

A good example of world creation is the classic series Myst. Myst is a game series that not only has one world, but several per game, many of which have different elements about them which make them unique and interesting. A good example is the second game in the series, Riven. Riven is primarily based in one large central world which the player only gets to leave twice throughout the game, and only to get a small glimpse of the other two ages. That being said the age of Riven is spectacularly fleshed out with unique physics, language, social structure, and natural phenomena. One of my personal favorites is how minute lifeforms in the waters of Riven push themselves away from heat. This is used in the world to make underwater tunnels only with heating element and tram rails. Another example from the Myst series is from their MMO (massively multiplayer online game), Myst URU where you get to visit a world where the Dunni people make food for the florescent Algi in the Dunni cavern, a large cave city where there is no sunlight. Better yet, this wasn't even compulsory for the main story of URU, it was just a extra puzzle to expand the world and explain how the Dunni had a day night cycle.

Another game which has a massively intricate world is the fantastic puzzle platformer FEZ. Fez is a game which has a lot of bad press for all the wrong reasons, but i will have to come back to why in a later post. Fez itself has a strange concept about what happens when a 2D character gets to see the world in 3D (to an extent). This concept isn't that unique by this point, with even Nentendo having a crack at it with its Paper Mario series. However its the world that truly makes this game stand out. Each screen of this game has interesting mechanics, structures, animals and puzzles. Even the environments play into just how exciting it is to travel through this game and enjoy its world. Fez even has its own language and number system that plays into a number of the puzzles throughout the game, and a lot of effort has been put into the game to give some sense of story even when you can't read the text.

Some other games I love the world of are the Monkey Island series, Within a Deep Forest, Grim Fandango, The longest Journey, Shadowrun, the Oddworld series, The Fallout series, The Deponia Trilogy, The King of Dragon Pass, the Souls series. I could go on but you might start to see a pattern of sorts. All the games I have listed ether are role-play games, or have puzzle elements. This isn't true for all games, but its generally the case for a few different reasons. Role-play games are easy to explain, as they are basically an opportunity to interact in situations that we don't usually get into in real life. A interesting world can add options for us to interact in different ways, but it also asks us to imagine life in that situation. Games like this ask us what might change our choices in game based on what we know about the world. King of Dragon Pass specifically asks us to reset our morals and thoughts about our world, and accept the status quo of the game world while we are playing it. We are no longer us, we are now our character, and a good role-play game should emphasis that.

Puzzle games have a bit longer an explanation, but they come down to the same basic concept. We are not us when playing games in other worlds. In our world pirates are known savage and bloodthirsty lawbreakers, but in a game like monkey island, pirating is just another profession in life with rules and regulations. Pirates are seen as friendlier towards our goody two shoes protagonist, by just putting up with him instead of outright killing him as we would expect from real pirates. Puzzle creation also gets easier the more abstract the world is, mainly just because there is more the designer can play with in a situation to create a puzzle. Something we don't expect can happen when playing in the world, which can give us a clue about what we need to do to progress. Next puzzles that have an odd solution feel better to accomplish, just because we had to learn about the situation before solving the puzzle. A puzzle Deponia has you get rid of a guard dog with a stick, but not quite in the way you expect. Instead of throwing the stick you have to electrocute yourself with it instead. It may not make the most sense but in a game world anything goes as long as its possible create the connections needed to solve the puzzle. Finally Designers spend a lot of time thinking about puzzles when making a puzzle game, and also about how to give the player clues about what they have to do. This also means that the designer puts the player in awkward situations, and hence the player will start to think what could be happening in the world to cause the situation.

One last point about some platformers, as some of them have really intricate worlds. The main thing about platformers is that the ones with interesting worlds usually have some sort of puzzle elements, and the puzzle are sometimes just as easy as find the appropriate key for the appropriate door. An example of this is the Metroid series, where most of the puzzles are just like this. Don't get me wrong I really like this design method too, its just that some other types of games could have more expansive worlds without needing an puzzle element to explain why the world is so in depth, or a story reason to explore.

I have explained why certain genres usually have more expansive worlds than others, but I said at the beginning that world creation is easy, so here is why I believe that.

A lot of games use a basic world that are already established mainly just because people already expect certain things, so the game doesn't have to explain the basics to them. Its basically like a giant shortcut to the player understanding, but at the same time (going back to my post about unique experience) we want to new things to play with as players, so using this shortcut means we need more from the mechanics, story and gameplay to get the same feeling of enjoyment.

Unique world in games are usually created just by starting with a simple twist on something we already understand. For example the main twist of Myst is that books, when written in a certain way, are actually  portals to the worlds written within. The main twist of Shadowrun is what would it be like if a western fantasy world was brought a couple of thousand years into the future. The main twist of grim fandango is if there is a purgatory, what would it be like to live in if there are as few regulations as there are in the real world.

So what we start with is a twist, something that would be different than what we are used to. It can be as simple as what if light and darkness are reversed so the sun emits darkness to a floodlit planet, or what if planets and space are reversed so we live in a hallow in the midst of masses of rock and mineral. From that first twist if you start to ask more questions of yourself then you have a good start. So for example if we live in a hollow where do we get light from? Maybe there is a large sunorb suspended just above everyone's head which magnetically pushes itself  from the rock. Then how do we have a night day cycle? Maybe the sun decays and the inhabitants of our planet feed it with mined resources. Is there stars? Technically no, but you can see a million house lights at night time that fill the sky. Do we have space travel? Yes but its more digging tunnels than flying. Who feeds the sunorb? There could be a company that is charging everyone for the light they bring to the world and has a monopoly on the business. How do we dig through so much rock? Maybe we have a type of psychic that can fuse areas of the earth with different types of essence which magnetically pushes tunnels in the rock. It doesn't matter how strange the world you come up with is, its yours and as long as you can explain what is happening in the world it will be interesting to a decently sized group people out there. As long as you can snowball your ideas then you should never run out of stuff to add to the world. This works when creating groups and religions too, they can also intertwine to create a world that feels alive with activity.

In summery, making a unique world for your game can capture players imagination, and building it can start with a single question. So why not leave fantasy behind for a bit, or give the zombie apocalypse to someone else for a while. Its your chance to make a world designed to fit with your game instead of cramming it into an old cookie cutter. Try starting those high concepts with "Imagine a world" once again, or not. Just don't forget its a tool in your development arsenal and you should dust it off and use it once and a while.

If your interested in giving world creation a go with a few friends you should try this. Its a set of rules for group creation of role play worlds, but its good for making a developed history of a game world too.

This weeks readers challenge is to find a good twist for a world, a question that snowballs your ideas in making a place all of your own. Give it a try and post it below in the comments, I would love to see them.

Alas, this is the end for this week, but check back next Monday for "A Horrific Theory". See you next week.

An Early Celebration

Last week I announced, that my first game Only One was for sale on the Ouya. However I was a bit premature on my celebration, as it had a major bug in the code. It took me all week to fix the bug with the help of the awesome guys from the Ouya team.

Today I finally got Only One into the hands of the public today, which I am really exited about.

This week I will be back on schedule with updates starting tonight with last Mondays post. Thanks to everyone out there for coming and viewing my content so far. I hope everyone is enjoying the posts so far and in the future.

Let's get back to the interesting stuff shall we.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Only One now for sale on the OUYA

And here we begin

My first game is out there, on the vast interwebs for them OUYA owners to enjoy.

If you happen to own an OUYA you can check it out here.

It feels great to have my first project done, even if it is small.

Time to move onto the next project, something a little more active and social i think.

See you on Monday.

Readers Challenge - The Immersion is BLINDING!

Two weeks ago I set a challenge to make a game which you could not use visuals, and used sensors on the players hands to play. I was set a similar task during a university module, but my challenge was just to make a game with no visuals. I have added to the idea I had since the module to make the experience more interesting.

Lets start with the visual aspect of this brief, and the fact there isn't any. My first thought when i got this brief, was that the obvious choice was to do something with the main character being bind. But I added something to the brief for your guys that you could use in your ideas. I said that your controls attached to your hands could be lights instead of contacts, and hence you could do something with them changing color to signify something. That being said, I'll leave that for now as I didn't have that in my brief. Another thing that I had in my brief was I had to use a 3D sound-scape, so a player playing could hear what was going on around them. For this I thought that a good horror based game would be appropriate for the brief, as ambiance is usually something commonly associated with horror. I had also experienced a sound based game, where players listened to a recording with their eyes closed. This recording had the sounds of a rather disturbing haircut, while other things happened ether in the background or to the listener. One of the events in the recording had the barber put a plastic bag over your head, which makes you feel short of breath. Next I needed a setting, so i started thinking about that. When I made the game I was taking notes on Mass Effect 2 and Dead Space, so i jumped to space being the preferred setting. This wasn't a bad jump as a space theme actually gives me a bunch of machinery and electronics to make sounds out of. Buzzing wires, flickering clicks from malfunctioning lights, metal crashes, and glass thuds from asteroids all where available for me to shape into an environment. Now I had a setting and a base genera, all I had to do now was come up with some mechanics. I began thinking about how hard it is for us to discern where objects are just by sound, we mostly use sight and touch for spacial awareness, so making navigation as simple as possible was important to me. I also though that because sound was important that there should be a way of the player making sound to figure out where they are. With these things in mind i decided that the game would be about walking down a corridor, and tapping on the walls or sidling up to walls to get past obstacles. These controls when i made the game where as simple as up and down on the keyboard to move forward and back, tapping left and right  knocked on the walls of the corridor, and finally holding left or right put made the character put their back to that wall. So where is the horror, you might be asking. Well there needs to be some sort of threat so the simple thing to do was to add a monster that is a recurring obstacle. Finally I just added some other obstacles that get in the players way, like swinging electrical wires, doors which need keypads to be pressed, and lockers to hide from the monster. That was it, everything I made for the module, but I always wanted to add more to the experience. I decided that the game could have the player on a treadmill which was rigged to move forward or backward in relation to the player, and also that the player had to actually reach up and touch the walls with gloves that had contacts in to tap or outright sidle up to the wall to do the commands. Next you could also have the player duck by touching the ground, all the time having the movement of the players head change what they heard. Now you have my full explanation, but lets make this into a high concept shall we.

You play as a worker on the space station tilde. Alien life as invaded the station causing mayhem on board, and after an encounter with one of the alien lifeforms which unfortunately blinded you, you found a place to hide. Hours pass and you exit your hiding spot to find help, but the station is quiet, and destroyed. You need to go through the corridors of the station to get to safety, while avoiding the aliens. You have to do this only using your sense of hearing, and your intuitive use of the environment around you. Can you get off the station, or will you end up being just another meal.

So what did you guys come up with, I would love to see the designs in the comments below.

Don't forget to check back on Monday for the next post about game worlds.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Toxicity of Multiplayer

Multiplayer games make up a sizable chunk of our industry, with the biggest games coming out each year being based majorly on the mechanic. unfortunately however a bunch of the multiplayer games out there aren't designed with player community in mind, and hence cause a toxic atmosphere in their communities. This can be seen in a number of games, but probably the most notable are "MOBAs" (multiplayer online battle arenas).

What causes toxic atmospheres? Well there is a number of things but in MOBAs like league of legends, the most prominent is the fact that the teams can be dragged down by one player playing badly. Normally this isn't a problem in a game where a good player can counterbalance a bad player, but its not really possible in these games as the games mechanics are all based on snowballing effects.

Let me explain, MOBAs are based on the idea that you play as a character that has to build up their abilities and equipment as fast as possible, and then use your upgraded character to destroy the enemy teams structures. The games act like gigantic tug of wars with all players trying to push their way to victory against the enemy team. These mechanics would be fine if the game acted like a real tug of war, using momentum as the teams greatest asset instead of snowballing. The issue is that single players can "feed" the other team, dieing a bunch to opponents attacks and giving the opposing players extra gold. This doesn't only mean that the bad player is under equipped, as they lose time to farm gold and experience, it also means that the opponents have been given a advantage against the entire team, so even a mediocre player can beat a good player if they have been fed my a bad player. This causes teams to blame their worst player, as it end up with them causing their team to fail. This blame game causes a toxic atmosphere for the general community, however teams of friends usually are more willing to accept the shortcomings of their friends, and help them learn to get better.

How would I solve this problem? I would remove bonuses for killing players, I know it sounds daft, but if there was no bonus for killing players apart from setting back the player you killed, then you would would then have to kill every opponent on the opposing team before you got the outright advantage over all the opposing players. You would have to be the best player to be able to one up the entire enemy team, or you would have to work with your other team mates to get the best of each of the opponents team. It may not seem like the most existing solution, but with it good players cant be dragged down by bad ones through feeding, and hence remove part of the blame game. This still means that bad teams will still lose, but it removes the fact that the team is only as good as its worst player and averages it out the skill of the team amongst all the players, as long as they work as a team.

Lets jump to a different genre now, the first person shooter. I have expressed my distaste for call of duty's game design before, but here is probably the biggest sin. Because players can shoot and kill each other in a few bullets, a single player can rush into a room and kill four or five enemies before they even know what I going on. The game is mostly about instant awareness instead of strategy or team work, a type of information that is very hard to communicate to people you don't know over a microphone, so most players don't bother and play the game solo instead. A game where you play in a team but its better to play solo has a different problem compared to MOBAs. Players start see their team mates like they would NPCs, expecting them to fulfill a role, and then get annoyed when they don't fulfill that role adequately. Not seeing team mates as people, makes players more willing to insult other players, as they don't think about social consequence, (This is a general problem with online play, but its especially bad in FPSs). The other problem with the game is the fact that it is very much luck based. Being in the right place at the right time is what makes you able to easily kill other players, which in general pisses them off as it wasn't skill that killed them, just luck. This is also the reason why the aspect of camping is usually frowned upon. Camping is the act of staying in a good position for players to come into your cross-hairs. Basically finding the right place and then waiting for the right time. Its a generally good strategy, but one that annoys people as they don't believe it to be skillful, and just unfair instead. Lastly players are only awarded for getting kills in a row and hence getting more toys to play with, and not for completing the objective. Players feel accomplishment from not being a team player as the kill death ratio is more important than leading your team to victory. All these factors mean that in general its more fun to be on your own rather than in a team, as well as the fact that players feel cheated when they die, giving players resentment for the other players on both teams. The community hence descends into a lot of insults and bickering, and does not form bonds with players at all.

How would I solve this? well this problem has many facets so ill explain some fixes to some of them. I would add Items and weapons that are more useful to your entire team than just you, like cameras and trip wires that when triggered provide the information to your whole team. Targeting lasers which other players can use when calling down airstrikes and such (I know some of these things already exist but they weren't very well implemented and were generally useless). Just have a slot in the load-outs specifically for team based items. Have kill-streaks be based around completing the objective instead of just killing the opposing team, and have each of the kill-streaks require another player to use, so you need your team mates in order to do the cool stuff. For example, and air strike requires you to fly the plane over the right place while your team mate drops the bomb at the right time. How about giving players more health so they get a chance to take cover from gunfire and have the regenerating health act slower, this would mean players will still get an advantage from getting the jump on the opponent, but there is still a gunfight. What if one shot kill weapons are notoriously hard to use but for those who mastered them it felt like a skill. finally glorify the player who did the most for the team and not the one who got the last kill of the game.

I have ragged about what makes a community toxic, but what makes a good community? Staying on FPSs there is Team Fortress 2. TF2 has a bunch of the ideas stated above implemented in their most basic form, and although it could do more, it does enough to make the community enjoyable to interact with. In TF2 there is entire classes based on helping and working with team mates. These classes are the engineer and medic, and although they can be used as normal to kill other players on the other team, they are much better when used in conjunction with other players playing other classes. Engineers can make structures that teleport other players to better locations and heal other players, while medics can heal, buff and make other players invincible for a short amount of time. Other classes also have team effects as well, the soldier for example has ways of buffing other team mates in the area with large bonuses when they gather enough fury. Next all players have a decent amount of health, meaning they can always get into a gunfight with people shooting at them, so players don't feel cheated. One shot kills are only available for two classes, the sniper and the spy and causing the one shot kills are really hard to pull off, and so happen rarely and truly feel skillful when they are pulled off. Finally there is no glorification of people with a good kill death ratio, and instead focuses on objectives to be taken, and when an objective is taken, the entire team is given a reward for accomplishing an objective by getting a critical boost for a short time. Finally the general game attitude is about enjoying the game win or lose, as there is no ongoing scoreboards except your personal accomplishments. You get the same rewards for playing whether win or lose, its the amount of time you play and not how well you did which is what your rewarded for.

 Dark souls has a very accomplished PVP community even though it is very much a single player game. Their community has golden rules and each player is usually honorable enough to allow their opponent to get ready before a fight. Here is an idea, how about a high score board based on the players who have lost their battles, voting for their opponent? Well its a thing in dark souls, indictments are a way of scoring yourself and getting more appropriate opponents, but you have to be indited by an opponent you have killed. Its a weird system but it works for the high scoreboard. Some players even give indictments, humanity (what it costs to be human), and souls (what you lose when you die) to their opponents before attacking. There is also the golden rules, which are only in place because the game is unbalanced and players get more enjoyment out of fair fights than unfair ones. The golden rules include, no healing in a battle, if you enter a world of a player already in a battle wait untill its over before you attack, allow your opponent time to buff their weapons and use items and heal to full health before you start. These are pretty much enforced by most players, as its just more fun to be fair. Also things like healing during a battle is already a bad idea as the animation is long and your opponent can punish you with a back-stab, and then do the exact same action while you get to your feet. Finally you are rewarded for being nice to others through handy hints and helping others through boss fights already, so these ideals of being friendly carry over to the PVP as well. 

To summarize, for a good community you game should have these aspects. If you have team based game play, have players be required to work together for the best results. Make sure the worst player isn't the most important part of your team, and your teams skill is based around the average skill of the team. Have bonuses for players who do work together, and also bonuses for players who are friendly or helpful (make sure the bonuses actually matter to the players). Finally make sure players are put up against those of an appropriate skill level so that players feel like they have had a good battle and respect their opponent.

The readers challenge this week is about game community's, choose a multiplayer game you enjoy playing and try interacting with some other players, or you could just watch or listen to the conversation going on. Figure out whether you think the community is friendly or not, and then think about what the game has done to create that kind of game community.

I will be posting the missing post from last Friday, next Friday, sorry for the delay. Next week I will be having a look into something a bit less depressing, so join me for next weeks post "A World of Possibility".

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Immersion is BLINDING!

Immersion is considered a major factor when designing games, but as we get better technology that allows us to get more and more immersed in the games we are playing, we have to ask is there a ceiling to how immersed we should be before the experience is no longer enjoyable. This is mainly targeted at horror or action games, as most of these situations we would not want to be in if they where real. Just how immersed can we be with the current technology available? The gadget show made a simulator for battlefield 3 using a bunch of different technologies. Although this was an entertaining show, using some of these gadgets and joining them others currently available may make the simulating a bit too realistic for some.

If you haven't watched it yet, you can see the gadget shows experiment here. I'll be using this as a starting point.

In the episode there is a multi-directional treadmill, there is several kinds currently available with the Virtuix Omni probably being the most affordable for home use. For now though we will use the example from the program as it seems more sensitive and natural for movement. In the program they use a large tent with 360 degree projection to simulate being able to see in all directions. More recently however the Oculus Rift has been made publicly available and (although I have never had a chance to try it) has had a lot of people saying that its just like being in the game. Next we have the control, which in the program is being done by a smart phone taking over the mouse control. The Oculus Rift however takes over mouse control, so if we wanted the gun and the camera to function separately, we would have to have a game which they are not connected. Theoretically this is very much possible but games made like this would have to be specifically made for this setup. Right so now we have movement, vision, and control covered, let me start to make things a bit unsettling. In the program there is the use of paintball guns to represent being hit, but there is a more high tech way of getting people to feel like they are being hit. There is a form of brainwave manipulation that can trick the brain into thinking its feeling pressure, pain, or pleasure from different parts of the body. This same manipulation can forcefully cause you to feel unease or panic as well and it all has to do with electromagnetism. Unfortunately I cant find a clip of the documentory I saw this on but it has the same idea behind it as the Koren Helmet (aka God Helmet), a experiment that was carried out in the late 80s - early 90s. It's currently considered a medical science, but has seen some use outside of medicine for relaxation purposes. Adding the sense of pain and panic to the sights and sounds, as well as having everything in game reacting as though the player was in the protagonists situation, then we might start having some players having un-enjoyable experiences, as they feel its all just a bit too real.

Don't believe that there could be a roof for some of us, well think of this. You are playing assasins creed from a first person perspective, as you make a jump off a ledge you don't quite make the next building and go plummeting to the street below. You take some falling damage so you feel a sharp pain in your right ancle as if you had twisted it. Next a group of guards spot you and you get into a fight with three of them. You clash swords with one of them before slicing a cut in his gut, letting his guts start to fall out as he falls to the ground. Suddenly one of them plunges a knife into your back giving you a large sharp pain in your back and a smaller pain in your chest. Your low on life so you start to panic, more guards show up from an alleyway. I'll stop here but I would suggest reading that through again and thinking hard about what it would feel like if you where really feeling those pains and emotions, not though any choice of your own but through the equipment that was immersing you in the game. If you think its fine, good for you, but just so you know some of us start to feel uneasy when things are a bit too realistic. One last thing to think about is if you have ever played a game where you kill? well think about that game and then think about the same situation in real life and think about whether you could watch the same scene knowing it was real.

Don't get me wrong, I think immersion is a great thing. Graphics, sound and control all make us feel that little bit closer to being part of the game. But separation is good too, knowing it is all just a game, being able to look around at the room you are in and thanking "I'm glad I'm not in their shoes". Besides, I'm sure some people might realize that having to run a mile every round of Team Fortress 2 gets exhausting quickly.

I have a lot more to say about horror games (even though I don't personally enjoy playing them), and how good ones use their environments and mechanics to give good, yet horrifying experiences. Unfortunately that will be for another time.

Now, on with the readers challenge. This time we are going to get creative, so I have a brief for some of you to try and come up with an idea for. Design a game with no visuals, and the player uses gloves with contacts on the palms, to touch objects around them to play. The contacts could be swapped with lights and light sensors if you wish. Lets see some creativity, and again I will post my design next Friday-Saturday, along with my train of thought, so I'll see you then.

Next week, join me for my next post "The Toxicity of Multiplayer".

Friday, 14 February 2014

Experience and Replay-ability

Going back to my last post, I kept on saying that new experiences are why we enjoy certain pieces of entertainment. However some readers may be thinking that, if this was true, why we enjoying replaying games multiple times. Well there are three things that can variate each time a player plays through a game. These three things give us a new experience of a game each time we play, and hence gives a game replay ability.

Depth of story, game play and mechanics is the first of this trio, coming in the form of many different things. Some good examples of game depth can be found in games such as Donkey Kong 64, where players have a wealth of collectibles to attempt for, giving the player a lot to do even tough most of them are not needed to complete the game. Another good example of game depth is Risk of Rain as players can play though the game with an entirely different set of moves and ability's each time. Lastly, Knights of the Old Republic allows you to take control of the story to a extent. This gives the player an option to try something else story wise next time they play. Collectibles, story forks, and game mechanic changes all give the player a sense of depth to the game they are playing.

Next we have player skill and challenge. This is where, as the player gets better at the game, they want tougher more varied challenges to keep them learning how to play better. This is in most games as a basic difficulty selection, but there is also some games that have a creative way of handle this. Dark Souls has a lot of features that ether teach the player or reward the player for their skill and knowledge. A player of dark souls will struggle the first time they play the game, but as players get better at the game and learn more about how the game works, options open up to try things differently on a second play through. Allowing the player to learn your games skills and strategies, and appropriately challenging them as they get better give the player a sense of achievement for each step they take.

Finally, we have multiplayer. Just allowing a game to be played with friends, adds variance to a players experience. No one plays games the same, so each player has a different strategy or skill in terms of games. This works great for games where players play against each other, as each player will have their own strategy, but will have to adapt it to defeat there opponent. This works the same way when players collaborate towards a common goal, just instead of adapting a strategy against other players, they adapt to work with other players. A good example player verses player is the Street Fighter series, where players choose characters, and try and adapt their characters strengths and weaknesses against the other players character to be the first to a set amount of damage. on the cooperative side there is Left 4 Dead, where some players might be better as a sniper, and some as a shot-gunner and you build your teams strategy for moving through the levels from that. Allowing a player to play with or against others allows them to exercise critical thinking as each scenario is unique.

Depth, Learnability, and Sociability are the three words we need to use when designing our games if we want them to join the classics.

**After writing this I recently watched a video that had some surprising similarity to what I'm talking about, but is more about what we need from games. Check it out, its quite interesting.**

So lets break down a game which has, to some people, unlimited replay ability, League of Legends.
League of Legends (aka LoL) falls into all three of our key areas for replay ability, so lets start with Depth and work our way from there. LoL has a number of characters, which all have their own selection of abilities, strengths and weaknesses. The list of characters and their various costumes are the players collectibles, the player earns more the more they play or the more they spend (more on monetization later). These feed into the games depth, as players feel there is so much to do. Next we have Leanability, the ability to learn and progress as a player. Players have a range of items they can buy during the game, allowing them to choose a strategy they think will be the best for them. The more they know, the more they can strategize about what items to buy. Each character has a selection of abilities players have to use at the right time, with the right aim to be effective. Each opposing character has a selection of abilities as well but unless the player knows how to best handle situations with enemy characters, they will end up losing combats. These are the elements of skill and strategy that players have to exercise during each game. Finally we have Sociability, the variety of playing with or against other players. Players both play in a team, and against another team, with both teams having an equal chance to win at the beginning of the game. Team composition is important, so having a team that covers all roles and is full of characters which work well together is important. When playing against certain item strategies, appropriate purchases from the shop can give players a upper hand. Working well as a team to out maneuver the opponent can cause your team to gain the upper hand. These elements are why the game works well with multiple people, and give players unique experiences each game.

I believe limited replay ability is why second hand games are so easy to come by now days. Hopefully developers can see this point in the future, instead of blaming bad sales on second hand sales. Not an easy fix but certainly one that can prevent a lot of bad press. This i just an opinion though and i would like to hear your thoughts. See you on Monday!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Entertainment Is A Strange Concept

Those who know me have probably have heard at one point or another, that being entertained is not about watching, reading or playing something fun to do. It is instead, being involved in an activity that is new or different than what we usually experience. Unfortunately I usually have to explain this in a hurry as I'm trying to make another point which it is related to, so for once I'm going to explain why I believe this in as much detail as I can.

Lets start with the basics: An entertaining activity is something we want to do instead of something we have to do. This can be anything from reading a book to throwing ourselves out of a plane with a parachute. But no matter what, all pieces of entertainment get old eventually. Everyone moves on from certain activities for either another activity or an activity that is similar but not the same. This can be moving from LARPing to archery, or from skydiving alone to team skydiving. This is normal for everyone, once someone has had enough of an experience they move on. A lot of people will never read a book more than once or twice because they have had the experience once already and will be bored of  it a second time. Some people say they enjoy certain types of entertainment and hate others, thinking to themselves as having a good or bad experience with that particular medium. This gives us the basis of why certain people like some types of entertainment which others hate.

I have used some fairly wide terms here, so lets get into more specifics. Would you, the reader, say that a movie like Citizen Kane or Aliens is fun? Most people would say no, mainly because they are not enjoyable to watch. They are however putting the watcher in a position to experience a situation they would normally not experience. The story itself is strange and new to most people but still relatable to an extent to make the watcher feel attached to the experience. This is often referred to as immersion and is often considered a major factor in game development, but more on this later. Either way immersion is a factor which is necessary to make the watcher experience the movie to an appropriate extent. Looking at games from this same standpoint, games have an advantage by making the connection between the story and player physical as well as mental. Players actually have a part to play in the story instead of just imagining being in the position of one of the characters, allowing them to experience the game both physically and mentally.

Now I have attempted to prove my point I would like to talk about two things: Sequels and games that many consider as interactive cut scenes. Lets start with the latter with games like Heavy Rain and The Stanley Parable. The cut scene heavy nature of these games leads to many people dismissing them as 'not games', and therefore not worth the attention. This is a massive mistake as the game play is still there, and therefore it should still be considered a game. The game play comes in the form of personal choice instead of being dexterously or mentally challenging. In fact most of the active game play could be stripped out and the core experience would be pretty much the same. The reason for the quick-time events that are found in Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead is to add a sense of immersion which would otherwise not be there. Some say it's lazy game design but to be honest if these quick-time events (aka QTE's) weren't present, the game itself would not be anywhere near as effective. QTE's are important to these types of games whether people like it or not, however there are always other ways of allowing players to experience a story, which is where the Stanley Parable comes in. The Stanley Parable (for those who haven't heard about it) is a game where players take control of Stanley in first person though a story with a bunch of choices and nothing more. There is no point of the game apart from just experiencing the stories that come out of your choices. Its an amazing experience that I would recommend, but uses no challenge or skill to get its experience across. The quote "It's not the destination, but the journey that counts" are what these games are based on, sometimes we forget that when playing games with a goal. Take a step back before judging these games too harshly, to the point where you ask yourself, "Why do I play games?"

Now I come to a personal gripe with the current state of the games industry, sequels and rip-offs. Most people would wish for a sequel of one of their favorite games, but I stand firm in saying that I usually don't want a sequel to my favorite games, as I love the fact that the stories and experiences I have are confined packages. Instead, what I do love from a new release, is a new game with familiar game play, but with which I can have new experiences. A good example of this is the Shock series. System Shock, Bioshock and Infinite all have different story's, mechanics and worlds to enjoy, but are also built on the same FPS core game play. So what would I consider a good sequel? Well any sequel which adds more to the game, as if it was an entirely new game, that is what I view a good sequel. The sequel I keep bringing up for my point is Banjo Tooie, as it has more of the familiar game play, but adds to the story, player abilities, locations, collectibles, characters, enemies, features, and just overall experiences. Its an entirely new game from the first, building from its foundations and making a richer experience because of it.

At this point, some of you might be saying, "Well duh!, all sequels are like that", but in truth most sequel are not. Call of Duty is probably the worst franchise for this as each sequel gets more and more like the last. Campaigns all have samey levels where players gun through thousands of enemies which all look similar, hide behind cover, shoot back ineffectually etc. The set pieces where the only thing that holds the previous games together, and now the games are only made up of set pieces. At this point there are no longer any real set pieces in the games, as there are no lows and highs in the story. Memorable experiences are few and far between and mostly easily forgettable. The multiplayer suffers from the same problems, as differences from game to game are few and could just be easily added through DLC. Sequels can have another set of problems: They are entirely distinct from their origin game, copying game play and mechanics from a different game or genera, and hence losing their individuality. Resident evil happens to be one of these in their fifth and sixth installment. Resident evil four was an entirely new game from three, that had a third person shooter aesthetic, but retained a lot of what made resident evil what it was, with limited ammo, stationary shooting, grim settings and an interesting story. From that point on though, the series glided not so gracefully to a third person, cover based shooter, that ended up much like gears of war, losing all identity of what it used to be. This stripped everything interesting and unique out of the series, which means that the experience is not very interesting for third person shooter players, and not enough like the origins for fans.

In summery, my point is that developers need to do new things with their games to keep people interested, instead of remodeling the same thing again and again. "Riding a cash cow" as it is sometimes said, only works for so long. This is why I personally believe that there is a current boom with indie studios, as they are developing new ideas, while bigger companies are repackaging old ones. Some say "don't redesign the wheel", I say "Why not? It might be more fun if it was square".

This week the readers challenge is to think up five games that you have "Experienced", that you think have been unique in what they made you feel. If you want to comment, add a note on each one about why each of them is unique. I would love to see them!

I will be posting a short follow up post on Friday-Saturday about "Experience and Replay-ability".

Also look out next week for my next post titled "The Immersion Is BLINDING!".

Finally, here is a video about Experiences and how it effects some of us. See you next week!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Readers Challenge - To Jam or Not To Jam

Some people express themselves through writing, some through art or photography, and some through music. Consider a game about music where you play as a character who is deaf. In this game you would play a character who has taken a higher course in music, and has been asked along with two of her friends to put together a concert set for the school. The game takes place solely in a music room with a bunch of instruments from guitars and pianos to fiddles and cornets. The characters are yourself, Alicia and Euan. The game play would focus around each day Alicia would write some pieces of music, and it is your job to figure out which one to use as well as which instruments would fit the best, as well as who is the best person to play each instrument. To do this you can suggest a person to try an instrument for each of the three parts of a piece of music, and then you can look at the person playing to see how much they are enjoying the piece or instrument. To hear the part of the piece of music yourself you have your character ether put their head on the instrument or speaker or a solid object on the instrument to feel its vibrations (This would translate to sound through the speakers). So the challenge lies in not only your ability to form music in your head but to also read body language. Finally once you have chosen your music pieces a concert would be held and you can hear the full pieces all together so you can judge how you did yourself, It will give you a vague score and give you some hints how to improve for the next time. Lastly this game would mostly be based around the characterization of Alicia and Euan and how you and your friends interact while events are happening. For example Euan might start playing a random piece of music on the viola while he is waiting for you to choose what to do next, or Alicia might screw up her face after she plays a piece on guitar to explain she doesn't approve. A game without words or speech, a game where everything is explained to you through actions.

So this game idea was a game I came up with for a brief during a university module. The brief itself had nothing to do with music or deafness, but was instead to do with language barriers. The brief was about making a game with no speech or text at all.

I hear you saying that I have had a long time to think about this and i would never come up with this idea in a game jam in time. Actually this was the first thing that came to mind when I read the brief and I constructed the idea in less than an hour. So now I have blown my horn I'll explain how this idea formed so naturally.

First of all the "theme" for me was "no text or speech" so lets start from there.

So thinking about text and speech, how would one go about doing characterization and storytelling without using these elements. Well there is actually several mediums where this already happens, but i picked two which I thought would make an interesting pair, Music and Body Language. Music has been doing this for a very long time with my favorite example being Danse Macabre or Dance of Death from Camille Saint-Saƫns, made from original poetry by Henri Cazalis (aka Jean Lahor). Danse Macabre is a story about how death (represented in the music by a fiddle) comes out to a graveyard every Halloween at midnight and plays a tune for the skeletons and ghosts to come dance. Its an interesting piece with a bunch of interpretations out there about what is actually happening in each "scene" of the music. Music like this great for getting the listener involved in making the story in there own way, but more on that later. Body language is not always thought of as a story telling medium but can be a great tool in giving emotion when there is no speech to give tone of voice. Its usually used mostly as a supplement to other mediums, but sometimes its used all on its own to explain a situation better than words ever could. My favorite example of this can be seen in UP. During the beginning of the movie there is a section with only music and video. This section is already very famous for being able to tell a heart wrenching life story in only a few minuets but for now lets just look at two specific parts of it. The second time we see Ellie and Carl cloud gazing, Carl points out a cloud that looks like a baby, then a rather exited Ellie nods and with frantic arm gestures suggests all the clouds look like babies. A few scenes later we see a upset Ellie sitting in the sun head back, eyes closed and shoulders slouched. Body language can be used to powerful effect and animation studios have been showing us this for years. So we have our story telling mediums, but how do we explain the absence of text and speech? Well a deaf protagonist would not be able to hear speech so it removes it from any world we put them in, and text is also fairly easy if we use a environment based mainly around another medium. From that point you just choose a situation where these elements are present, in my case a music classroom, and voila you have a story and some basic elements to base your game around. This reasoning could just as easily be put into a game about ballroom dancing and trying to impress ladies by offering to dance with them during certain kinds of dance (Tango, Waltz, Jig, etc.), but for me, I know more about instruments than dances.

Do i expect this to ever get made? No, but i do keep the idea handy in case parts of it can be used somewhere else.

So what about you guys, what train of thought brought you to your idea? I would love to see them.

Monday, 3 February 2014

To Jam or Not To Jam

So this morning i was looking at my toast with a jar of strawberry jam in my hand thinking whether or not i wanted jam on toast. Of course that is not at all what this post is about and I'm making bad jokes already.

As my first post I thought I might as well start with something fairly recent. About a week ago, me and some colleagues where at the Global Game Jam. We had a great time and made a fantastic rhythm based game for the OUYA which we might release some point in the near future. I came into Jaming rather recently, with this being my third since November. Since starting i have thoroughly enjoyed it, so i decided to explain why i have enjoyed them so much.

For those who don't know a game jam is a challenge to make a game in a certain amount of time (usually 24 or 48 hours) with a theme to get you started. It also usually has a competition attached as well to get participants excited about it.

What i have enjoyed the most about the jams i have participated in is how much the themes make you think, and when you have your ideas, which ones you are willing to try that you would normally dismiss. I think looking at a theme and thinking what would everyone else do is good, as long as you attempt to do something different and interesting. I say this knowing that a lot of people have difficulty coming up with ideas for jams a lot of the time (at least from what i have heard), and hence i feel blessed with being able to come up with a bunch ideas quickly. Challenging yourself with really difficult design restraints is fun, just start thinking about things that have a loose connection, and never say that idea is dumb until you have sifted it through for anything you might find useful.

I know i am fairly new at this so i want to point out this is just my opinion, if you have your own opinion i wold love to hear it. I would rather spur conversation than stifle it, so let me know whats on your mind.

Before i forget if you are interested in my previous jam games, then you can find my last Ludum Dare game here. Other jams where on site and i'll post up links to the games as they become available.

So i have been at this for long enough i suppose so i should end it off with something, so how about a readers challenge.

I have talked about jam themes so here is one for you guys. "Music of the deaf"

My next post will be one of my idea for these words but look out for my next post after that entitled
"Entertainment is a strange concept"

A little celebration and a large undertaking

RIG Studios has existed for a few days now and our first project is well underway, but i have noticed there is something I personally should have been doing for years. So here it is, a simple blog to explain my thoughts. I should point out that this is the first time i have done something like this so we will have to see how this pans out. For now though i would just like to celebrate a new journey for me and RIG Studios, lets see how far i can run with this, and keep you guys out there entertained along the way.