This is Danctheduck's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Danctheduck's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Danctheduck
Recent Activity
I've had a bit of a journey with commenting. At first, there was this lovely exchange of pertinent feedback and commentary. The community was small and we were all searching through the weeds together. Or at least that was my perception. Then the negative and knee-jerk comments started appearing. Comments became a culture of shouting an outside opinion and less a means of exploring the topic at hand. I also continued making more game and realized to my horror that making games was dramatically harder than writing about making games. I've always made games, but as the years wore on the key problems I noticed in my younger stopped feeling 'solvable with time'. My writing was hopeful writing and my hope was fading. But heaven forbid one stop. Instead, I refocused. So writing took a back seat to making. And commenting was left on the curb several miles back. So cheers to comments. Let us drink. Danc.
Toggle Commented Jun 19, 2014 on The Meta-Campaign at Only a Game
1 reply
Perhaps it would be useful to dig deeper into how theme supports or fails to support mechanics using the yardstick of "Does this situation make rewrapping easier or harder?" I've run into several situations where these two essential ingredients are mis-baked: 1) Theme activates schema in the player that fail to ease understanding of the system dynamics. For example I choose an upfront theme about writing poetry to a lover when the core mechanic is about launching objects that destroy other objects. You *can* make this work. However the key 'poetry' doesn't immediately trigger thinking about trajectories. It is a poor gate into the game. In Triple Town, we initially made the bears into children. Mechanically, the bears were obstacles that you wanted to remove. When they were children, many players activated the schema that they should be protected. Expectations did not match mechanics. Confusion, irritation and uneasiness results. Of course just like in music or cooking, sour notes can also be used with finesse to add delightful emotional complexity. However, you usually don't put those notes upfront since it is a giant middle finger to your audience. Big-A Artists and their parasitic critics love this because it gives them something to blather on about, but it does horrible things to your 1-day retention. 2. Self contained systems of value are amendable to a wider variety of themes. Endogenous systems like the mathematical games you mention can be played and understood with little external reference to narrative or theme. They use many of the mathematical topologies and problem spaces that Raph discusses when he speaks of the mathematical underpinnings of games. What I personally find fascinating about these mathematical topics is that they occur regularly throughout the natural world. Lots of systems exhibit them so therefore you might expect lots of real world themes would apply. If a game is about managing exponential growth (cookie clicker), there are all sorts of existing stories that might give players a very reasonable and natural entrance into the mechanics since they have a wide range of pre-existing experiences that deal with exponential growth. The opposite of this are systems of value that rely heavily upon external knowledge and context. Consider the fun of chess vs the fun of a pun (My favorite is the one about the frayed knot). The pun requires a deep knowledge of language in order to provoke even a minor chuckle. If you reduce it to mechanics, "Word A sounds like word A-prime" it loses the puzzle. The context is essential to the moment of mastery. Chess is far more amendable to being rethemed because the context, though important, is not critical to its base functioning. 3) When the larger culture context provides the majority of the value, not the mechanics. Football comes to mind. You can retheme / reskin a sport and it loses the vast majority of its value. The culture and the community around the game has turned into an intricate, many layered game of its own. The chants, the commentators, the game night scheduling, the tribal associations are the real game. To copy out the core mechanics and give them a new game is like copying out raw DNA and thinking you have a complete ecosystem of living and breathing organisms. In fact, the act of reusing core mechanics becomes more like terraforming a barren world. You need to build up culture and community from scratch and this is a remarkably difficult task. It is perhaps not a surprise that most eSports are grown semi-organically from the loam of existing robust communities as opposed to invented or authored like you might a text adventure. All the best! Danc.
Toggle Commented Oct 20, 2013 on Is Fiction Just a Wrapper for Games? at ihobo
1 reply
It feels like the conversation has moved on past this point. Yes, we have functional elements and structures (story, mechanics, images, sound, pacing, etc). Yes, they all contribute to the final experience. What seems to be the point here is A) There are play styles for certain games that learn to turn down the volume of certain evocative stimuli as noise. B) There are other play styles that don't. C) The existence of Style A does not invalidate B. That's a fine point. However, the way I see this example being used more often than not is in the context of getting people to think about games analytically vs as a blob-like impenetrable experience over which we have zero control or understanding. Games are not some spiritual indivisible thing. The lessons being taught are closer to: 1) You can use the miracles of analysis to conceptually separate various thematic and evocative stimuli from various mechanics and systems. 2) As a developer, you can use these theoretical constructs as ingredient to bake a new game. 3) Sometimes this means removing the theming and replacing it with a different theme. Conceptually you can perform this operation. Practically, this is done all the time and if you do it from the ground up, question your assumptions (instead of just implementing patterns) and iterate in order to tuck in all the lose ends, it can be quite effective. Yes, it is hard. But development difficulty is not a sufficient concern to invalidate a popular and proven design tool. Some other extremely useful lessons I personally get from the cloud of metaphors that the wrapping paper strawman feeds upon: - Theme is a great entrance into learning a system. It triggers pre-existing schema and makes mastering the basics of the game much easier. Be warned that different people need different themes. - Some people do ignore story and theme after they get to mastery. These people are extremely annoying to have at a roleplaying table. However, they demonstrate an important concept of Efficient Play (aka the inherent laziness of players). If theme was seen as an entrance into the gameplay, it takes a certain mental effort to maintain that conceit. Once an alternate means of formulating the world is perceived, the old method is used less often. This happens and is a good thing to watch for in all sorts of the situations. - The final experience *is* filtered through the theme. This is one reason I prefer a game atom approach since it lets you look at an integrated view of mechanics, evocative feedback and impact on the player in either macro or micro interaction loops. The story-mechanics dichotomy is lame. Let's move on. Happy day, Danc.
Toggle Commented Oct 9, 2013 on Is Fiction Just a Wrapper for Games? at ihobo
1 reply
@Chris, the Quasi-emotions that you've mentioned are really rather interesting. As is often the case, I use slightly different terminology, but the observations are rather related. For example: - By executing various loops, we can often generate what I've been calling Primary emotions or 'body loop' emotion in Somatic Marker Theory. - These raw emotions are post processed into a variety of different flavors. We do this by applying a mental schema or label to the emotion. - These cognitive labels are rather close to your definition of 'fiction'. You get something very similar to the 'quasi-emotions' by evoking the physiological response and then labeling it as 'safe'...the brain moderates the result. I suspect there is a whole class of experiences that plays with that boundary. (Hence the invention of safe words :-) So I tend to come at it not so much from the standpoint of ignoring fiction, but from integrating it into a primarily interactive experience. That doesn't put it on a pedestal. Nor does it put it out to pasture. It has a role to serve. take care, Danc.
1 reply
Re: Curiosity. Curiosity always leads to learning. :-) You see an unexpected stimuli. You poke and you prod it through the various acts of exploration. You determine if the stimuli is meaningful or just noise. The determination that something is meaningless and should be ignored is still learning. It is not a success story as you might find in a book, but it is the bedrock of the pattern-matching, tool acquisition process. All this often happens at a subconscious level. Yet there is certainly a buzz of pleasure. You call it curiosity. I call it an essential aspect of human learning. Observation: We are adapting creatures and we seem wired for rewards if we engage in exploratory learning behavior that is otherwise not directly utilitarian. It is biologically expensive to play and adapt. Curiosity is the thread that lets us wander off and with luck and a large enough population find a path that is even more successful than the current one. Re: Mastery I would also poke a little into the mastery aesthetic. Tell me if you will of a single case of mastery where you perform the same 'learned' action again and again that doesn't in turn yield additional learning. Often the repetition of an activity results in a slow accumulation of learning (over a period of years!) that is not immediately recognizable as learning except in the long run. It gets tricky for a player to label their learning consciously for a couple reasons: 1)Learning occurs on multiple time scales and our conscious brain is not equipped to deal with neither very short periods of time nor very long periods of time. Yet we still need to adapt on those time scales so our observed behavior keeps up even if our conscious mind does not. 2) Chunked learning ends up being an essential tool for learning some other skill. Adding two numbers is a trivial skill that mathematicians perform again and again. Why? In the service of mastering other more complex mathematical problems. The player is an obsessive acquirers of tools and users of tools explore new terrain. So there is room in this philosophy for the musician that practices even though they've mastered the tune. They are in it for the long haul. And the basic skills enable the acquisition of new skills. Now some musicians may claim that they are just 'playing for the sake of playing'. This shows a lack of insight, not a failure of the model. We can test this. When I build game systems that cut off the ability for players to improve...even if the learning occurs slowly or subconsciously...that claims disappears from playtests. The player is bored. If the tool ceases to have potential utility, it is tossed aside. So we've got learning and its associated emotional feedback, we've got tool usage for additional learning and a prediction that if potential utility is not uncovered, the tool is set aside. That's a predictive model. Which really gets to the heart of what I'm trying to do: create design tools that let us more easily build functional systems of applied psychology. To a degree, I don't care if it is called a mastery aesthetic, a curiosity aesthetic or a learning aesthetic, as long as the framework produces working results across a broad enough sample of players. :-) Lovely article! Looking forward to the next one. Danc.
1 reply
Here was my comment from G+ I find Chris's discussions of game aesthetics some of the most approachable I've read. He takes on the rare role of being a translator between wildly diverse disciplines, a trait that enriches us all. *Definitions of games* I agree with his basic premise that there are all sorts of games, toys and interactions extravaganzas. And yes, the borders between them get more than a little fuzzy. As such tend to offer definitions of games as a view upon a problem, but try not to get too caught up in sorting every grain of sand into an appropriate box. Such exercises drive me a bit bonkers. *Great games* I'm very comfortable with the idea that there are many potential 'great games'. Many of the topics I write about involve interesting high points within this messy topography. How do we reach them? Where might they be? How do we travel there quickly and lightly? Admittedly, this nuance can be confusing to people wanting binary answers to hard questions. To say "Hey, F2P has these valuable properties" is often interpreted as "All paid retail games must die and if you make retail games you suck." Bless be the internet and the polarized lenses through which all ideas pass. :-) *Bad games* However, I'm deeply wary of the counter statement that there is no objective measure of a bad game. To allow multiple peaks also allows for multiple valleys. Assuming everything has value creates a warm pustulent space where incompetence festers unchecked and unconsidered. I can see the appeal, especially if you've given up on personal excellence or if you never had much talent to begin with. However, those who are not actively engaged in some form of hill climbing are not worthy of respect. A subtle variation on this relativistic view is that as long as one person finds value, the game can be classified as 'good'. The 'value' can be as non-causal as 'My dog died and I felt really crappy playing the game that day.' This is a valid viewpoint for a consumer. However, it does little for a creator of games. In the end, great games 'function', that is they yield a predictable causal effect in a substantial percentage of their players. When your game yields negative, unexpected, unengaging results for a large percentage of your audience, perhaps your game is broken. You can observe this. You can see where your game sucks. And you should improve upon issue with whatever tools at hand. Sometimes that means removing the unexpected result. Sometimes it means performing jiu-jitsu and transforming the negative energy into something more interesting. It does not mean throwing up your hands and saying "Oh, well. Even this horrible game is inherently valid...maybe I'll write a paper or give a talk on how awesome I am." That isn't the attitude of a great game developer. That is the attitude of a poser. The fact that this even needs to be stated blows my mind on a regular basis. :-)
Toggle Commented Mar 21, 2012 on Beyond Definitions of Game at ihobo
1 reply
(Copied from G+) Perhaps this difference of opinion stems from a discussion of how players treat a game as 'real' or 'play'. In certain games such as chess or certain types of pretend play like attacking a weed with a stick and pretending it is a monster, there is a clear boundary between the results according to the game and the impact on real life. Your king doesn't actually die in the real world when you lose a king in chess. Nor do you feel the emotion of actually killing a living animal when you hit the weed. These situations could be described in terms of shadow emotions and this thread of "Games are absolutely defined as imaginary / leisure activities" is perhaps one of the most consistent threads in the study of games. Yet there's another thread of games as utilitarian pursuits. When I play a game of Werewolf, I'm learning about how certain people lie and whether or not I can trust them. As you say, certain games can ruin (or make) friendships. When a child plays with sticks, they are learning critical skills about object manipulation. When the stick slips and puts splinters in your finger, the lesson is quite physical and very real. You aren't feeling pain and the associated irritation because of some simulation, but because you had a direct experience that caused an emotional reaction. (I use such blunt examples since I'm trying to be very clear...I really don't see how being upset about a splinter in your finger could be considered a 'shadow emotion'.) I'd guess when games become more real and utilitarian, you see more primary emotions. Because the game matters and not just within the magic circle of the rules or fiction. Consider the following spectrum of experiences, all of which are roughly identical in roles and rules, but vary in degree of 'realness': Prisoner / Guard relationships in A) Abu Ghraib B) The Stanford Prison Experiment C) A LARP in which a group of players was captured and is being guarded by another group of opposing players. The emotions experiences in Abu Ghraib are far more in the camp of primary emotions (those derived from direct experience) than they are from shadow emotions. The emotions in the LARP are heavily moderated by the expectations of boundaries and to a lesser degree the fiction of the event. Realm of the Mad God is an interesting example here. People 'rage quit' and experience such strong emotional highs and lows because the game doesn't quite fit the dismissive model of games as 'an activity done for fun and leisure with no utilitarian purpose." Many players passionately pursue excellence in the game and give it everything they can. Their time, social status, relationships and identity are deeply bound up in that little 8x8 pixel character. That provide are large dose of 'realness' and therefore acts a solid foundation for the generation of primary emotions.
Toggle Commented Dec 15, 2011 on Stories and Games (3): Experiencing Fiction at ihobo
1 reply
Lovely write up. Some clarifications about my essay that may nor may not alter the points you are making. Primary Emotions are different in type, not intensity Consider the definition: - Primary Emotions: Emotions felt by person A placed directly in situation X - Shadow Emotions: Emotions felt by person A simulating person B in situation X. There is some backing from neuroscience that these are different paths for processing experience, hence the reference to somatic marker theory and its 'body loop' vs 'as-if-body loop'. There is a less a judgement of superiority than an acknowledgement that both paths exist. The terminology is less important to me than the concepts so if the term 'primary' suggests superiority, we could replace it with 'direct' vs 'indirect'. I would also make the argument that games tend to be well suited to producing these primary emotions for the simple reason that games tend to put players directly in complex situations that involve decisions and emotional reactions all the time. Evocative media such as books, movies, etc do not do this all that often. Instead, they rely heavily on shadow emotions...most such works are very much about "simulating person B in situation X". The 'turning the page' affordance creates a shallow rule space for generating interesting primary emotions. (Improv drama is a notable exception here and it is as much a game as anything else.) So I'm not talking about intensity. I'm talking about type. And yes, these things get mixed together. Our brains are multi-channel devices that melt many means of processing reality together. Yet, these two classes of emotional response are rather fundamentally different. They are triggered using different methods and they yield different results. And as chefs, we should know our ingredients. If anything, my promotion of primary emotions stems from the fact that they a) aren't well studied b) seem at the heart of many good game experiences and c) are often swamped by the immense amount of writing dedicated to shadow emotions. Do not mistake "Hey, look at idea A!" for "Only idea A matters". For a more nuanced application of both primary and shadow emotions, check out: http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/10/triple-town-beta-now-with-bears.html The games as art discussion is something I'll stay out of. I love redefining of the institution of fine art been seen as an (arbitrary, culturally dependent, endogenous system of value) game. Past that point we enter the realm of arguing over house rules. :-) take care, Danc
Toggle Commented Dec 14, 2011 on Stories and Games (3): Experiencing Fiction at ihobo
1 reply
Good points about retention. Substantial long term retention = ongoing revenue streams = removal of revenue variability = ability to invest predictably = a long term sustainable studio. I will note that Panda Poet is a poor example of a game that has difficulty getting 100,000 users. Simple, inherently social games that can be spread across a dozen platforms cheaply rapidly gather millions of players. It is the big iron games that require an install that are burdened by major customer acquisition problems. Their business model / upgrade cycle also makes it dramatically less likely that they'll invest in the necessary systems needed to create long term retention. take care, Danc.
"When the player dies in Realm of the Mad God, is the tragedy rooted in the player being unable to access that save file again or in the fact their character is dead and gone forever?" I'd rewrite this as "tragedy that their *tool* is gone forever" A lot of what happens in games is closer to the rubber hand experiment (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxwn1w7MJvk) than anything even vaguely connected to 'character' as you might use it in a narrative sense.
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2011 on No Tears for Mario at ihobo
1 reply
I think the issue here is that you've limited the definition of meaningful crying to "the ability to evoke empathy". Emotions exist outside of books, movies and images! When I stub my toe it is just as meaningful as any tragic story. And it did not require a book or empathetic character to provoke a burst of crying. Somewhere along the line, we started ignoring primary, personal sources of emotion and elevating secondary, empathetic sources of emotion. I suspect this is because 'empathy' is how non-game media works so you can't even formulate the concept of real emotions in the context of the media. I'm curious about your thoughts on the primary vs shadow (or body loop vs as-if-body loop in somatic marker theory): http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/07/shadow-emotions-and-primary-emotions.html Game tragedy isn't about a character's tragedy or your cousin's tragedy. It is about me and my personal tragedy. I personally want to toss the whole 'narrative' nomenclature out the door when talking about games. It is a poor fit to talk about the intense emotions of the Stanford Prison Experiment using the language of observational media. Instead: Set up real world situations involve time, social and resource pressure. As players respond physically, layer on appropriate cognitive labels to crystallize the exact flavor of emotion. take care, Danc.
Toggle Commented Sep 8, 2011 on No Tears for Mario at ihobo
1 reply
You've identified a fascinating trend. Historically, 'games'(plural) was a hobby. Now a single 'game' can be the entire extent of your gaming hobby. My wife does not consider herself a gamer, yet she plays 10-30 games of Words with Friends daily. It is a self contained hobby that in her mind has zero connection with any other game. I'm sure that there is some overlap between someone who does rock climbing, someone who does quilting and someone who does stamp collecting. However, as each game become rich and deep enough to be a hobby onto itself, I'm guessing we'll see participation trends similar to other hobbies. Does this lead to a new hobby-specific classification system for users that smashes the idea of 'gamers' as a unified tribe (I suspect you'd be fine with that Chris) - Dabbler: Someone trying out a hobby for the first time and is dreaming they might be a life long master. The majority. - Serial Dabbler: Someone who tries many hobbies and never quite seems to settle on one. - Social Hobbyist: Someone who only participates in it on social occasions. - Life long master: Someone who has dedicated their life to a hobby. The minority and the core of any hobby. take care, Danc. PS: I shall strive to be less evangelical. ;-)
Toggle Commented Aug 10, 2011 on Do You Use Games-as-Service? at ihobo
1 reply
The id example is an interesting one. Quake was originally a single player game with a multiplayer component. The multiplayer was so popular that they spun out a multiplayer only Quake Arena (Epic did the same with Unreal). That was a reasonable success. I agree that Blizzard could have messaged it all better. The changes they made are the natural result of running a primarily online game, but their customers didn't really expect it to be such. Nor did they describe it as such. Imagine the excitement if they had. Yeah, I do worry about Blizzard long term as well. It has been a while since they pulled a new Diablo or World of Warcraft out of their hat. take care, Danc.
What you are missing is that Diablo 3 is an online game that is run as a service. All the attributes that folks are upset about flow directly and inevitably from this basic premise. The word 'security' comes up multiple times because traditional offline play and modding outside a rather difficult to setup sandbox tends to result in massive, game killing fraud. (See the rather pertinent example of the broken online community for Diablo 1) Why not stick with the old ways? It is no longer a 'traditional' offline boxed retail game because you'd need to be a complete idiot to make a game with a lifespan of at least 10 years that is fundamentally tied to a dying, unsustainable business model. Millions will still buy the next Diablo and Blizzard will be very happy. Do not mistake whining about relatively small changes for a rejection of the immense value a revised product offers. If anything, I'd expect the community to be stronger for Diablo 3 because you'll see Blizzard investing heavily in it. -Danc.
Let's put some percentages on this. Consoles, the last refuge of the AAA blockbuster are currently at 40% of the videogame market and falling. Certainly a large and meaningful chunk of the gaming industry, but not the only valid portion. Ten years ago (when they were at 80%) it may have been valid to call them "towering media juggernauts", but less so now. (ref: http://www.industrygamers.com/news/ea-ceo-consoles-now-only-40-of-games-industry/) I'm not sure I'd classify many of the newer markets as 'specialist'. I know that I personally don't always design for them as such. (Both Triple Town and Panda Poets skew heavily female) Both Facebook and Mobile games are targeted women as much if not more than 15-25 year old males. The high failure rate of small studios is perhaps inevitable. It is certainly no worse than that of the failure rate of musicians or painters. My suspicion is that over time the power laws of success will result in a handful of highly financially successful services with a modest middle ground making a reasonable wage. I find the economics of these new business models quite intriguing from the perspective of a smaller developer. 20-100k steady users of a decently monetizing game can keep a team going for a very long time. There's a financial stability there that is quite unlike that of a current retail company that sells less than 1 million units. It isn't always as simple as applying for a job, but a 6-12 month stint at entrepreneurship is something a surprising percentage of developers can pull off (and fail at!) without irreparably damaging their career. Starting to feel a little better! Mostly have been sleeping all day today. :-) take care Danc.
1 reply
If small teams of 2 or 3 can make games that are played by millions and are able to support themselves financially, why lament the limitations of the studio model? Just make games outside that system. Those who due to various blinders voluntarily seek to participate in a broken system will run into some of the issues that you mention, but it is by no means necessary or predetermined for all. As for engines limiting games, this is certainly true. Cardboard and dice form strong limits on board games so the same holds for other engines. However, it is easy enough to find an inexpensive engine that handles a vast range of potential designs. Engines are not a blocker, they are just another interesting creative constraint. I know that I regularly bring forth ideas by a single creative individual and don't feel in the least limited by engines. Also it may not be apparent from your current watchtower, but large portions of the industry have set aside the race for superior graphics. It is easy to keep fighting the last war, but not necessary. take care, Danc. PS: It has been great chatting while you are here in the land of almost sun. :-)
1 reply
Kudos to fbindie, derek and baneau for trying to bring a bit of hard won wisdom to the discussion. As for the rest, there are large quantities of poor information here: - Yes, you can make a living off Flash games. It is a regularly reproducible tale, not some crazy outlier. - However you need to be competent at both making a good game and distributing your game. This isn't rocket science, but many small developers screw it up. Practice and research makes perfect. - Have skills in server-backed games and micro-transactions helps immensely. If you do not have the skills to make modern games, acquire those skills through practice. Hiring multiple people to make up for your inadequacies is just poor business on your part, not an impossible barrier for everyone. - No, you really do not need to spend $100,000 to make a high quality game. This is old industry thinking radically scaled down but still out of touch with the realities of indie development. This entire conversation is couched poorly. - Success in the low budget world is often a long term activity. You use moderate successes to build brand and community. The measuring stick of 'a single game that made a lot of money' is outdated. Instead, it is far more sane to ask if a person or team's multiple games over a long period of time (years) resulted in a sustainable business. - Most of the high growth opportunities are in less mature markets so the fundamental assumption that you need a certain level of polish to make money is flawed. In the end, the major claim of this essay (you need $100,000 to make a decent game or else you are doomed from that start) is an easy excuse for an risk-adverse individual to not make a great game. Beware the lies you tell yourselves to makes your current failure more palatable. take care, Danc.
Asynchronous multiplayer is still multiplayer. A leaderboard in an arcade is still a multiplayer experience. All multiplayer games contain single player activities, but that does not prevent them from being multiplayer in the end. Most designers who state that single player is an aberration use the broader definition. Let's not be trapped by the console designer's limited definition of multiplayer as 'concurrent play with strangers'. To me it comes down to whether or not you are building or maintaining a relationship with other people. Most (but not all) human activities strive for this goal and so I'd ultimately expect most (but not all) games to also end up as multiplayer activities. take care, Danc.
There is a mixture of truth and questionable definitions in this essay. I find myself agreeing with the conclusion, but disagreeing with the strawman term 'Tetrist' Not all indies with a love of minimalism are moping retro fetishists. (In fact, I don't know any) I see no need to regard yourself as a failure simply because you feel the purity of Tetris (and games like it) are a strong path forward. There is plenty of undiscovered country out in the world of mechanics and systems. And yes, for the most part, the fantasy is merely an entrance and a context, not an end. take care Danc.
Toggle Commented Dec 22, 2010 on Tetris Is Not The Answer [Tetrism] at What Games Are
Danctheduck is now following The Typepad Team
Dec 22, 2010