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Joe Cooper
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I guess that is the first question. Somewhere I got the impression that it had millions of users. In any case, I feel much better now. For a bit there I had no idea what was going on.
Toggle Commented Nov 25, 2011 on The Two Viralities [Marketing] at What Games Are
I have a question, maybe it's a worth a post. I played Sims Social; I was pressed to a bit by a friend and I kept getting gifts and such and Sims 2 is one of my favorite games so I tried to play it. But I found it significantly less engaging than Farmville; so much of the play dynamics of Sims had been stripped away (and music and fun animations) that literally all I could see there was "click on things, numbers go up", like some sort of Cow Clicker joke but with more art. In Farmville you at least have to think about when you'll be at a computer before you select a crop - and to me this sort of "clock game" is bare minimum to qualify as a game - but there doesn't seem to be that here. I'm not sure that I even see a skinner box. In short, it was hopelessly flat and boring. I don't consider it anti-resonant with me and I even liked Sims, but this wasn't working. This is in line with the mental model of "what games are" that I got from here... So the question is; why does this work with people? What am I missing?
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2011 on The Two Viralities [Marketing] at What Games Are
I've always been bugged by the "are games art?" debates not only because of the horribly obvious validation component but because not only is "art" often ill-defined but "games" are too. When we say "video games" we are often talking about "interactive entertainment products" which sometimes - but not always! - feature gaming as a component, dressed up with a lot of art. Is art art? Of course it is. In any case, all this and your talk of roles and the play-art brain separation reminds me of Braid. Braid breaks a number of fads and conventions of the '00s including immersion and so forth by treating "listen to story" and "solve puzzle" as different roles in the most overt way possible; dropping opaque prose between the levels and showing you paintings with no clear connection to the play section. And as it happens it works just fine (at least it did for me, the wife and a friend of mine.) Then at the end is that it uses the mechanic established in the play sections to communicate one more point to reframe all the story & art components you were shown leading up to the end. I think it's interesting at least because certain components (the prose and paintings) are explicitly not dressing up the game. The reverse seems to be true; the time mechanic is used at the end to express one more point and the different time puzzles leading up to it could be seen as a storytelling tactic to cultivate an idea that there is no relation so it can come a bit out of the left field with it. Taking a step back, is the product as a whole an art piece? I think in this case, sure, but is the game art? Is running back and forth figuring out a key art? No, and I think that why it works so well is that it seems to realize this and doesn't pretend you are the dude in the red tie. And, if you enjoy the art of it before the ending as I did, than you've seen it work with no apparent relation to the gameplay whatsoever. Ironically, I think that may be a point we once understood but everyone just forget. FF7 and MGS and others enthralled millions with their long talky sections entirely because they worked largely as a separate... Thing... From the play.
While there are a lot of silly ideas out there - I think this idea that one imagines they're actors is one of them - it's worth noting that numerous games usings story-telling effectively and are classics because of it. Listen to story can itself be treated as a role and a person can be entertained by a game product that features it. A theme throughout all these discussions - are games art? can they tell stores? is X a game? is pluto a planet? etc. - is that people aren't actually trying to come up with any useful definitions. They just see a kind of pedestal and they want their favorite thing to be on it. We have a plethora of different types of interactive entertainment products that we lump together as "video games", but if we have to pretend they're all the same thing than that seriously holds back the development of any kind of useful theory or model. And if we're refusing to realize that they're different things because, like the "pluto is a planet" folks they see the change in classification as a "demotion", than we're just going to have dumb "debates" where people do nothing but spout rationalizations for things they wish to be true. Observing a story is not playing, and a story is not a game, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, nor is there any reason doubt that fact that numerous "video games" are heavy on story-time and numerous people love them to death for it. And if we understand what's what and how these components relate and don't pollute our terms in an effort to make everyone feel good, than we can probably do things things better, not worse.
Phoenix Wright is an interesting one and I had a discussion a while back about it; someone suggested it was bad because "you can lose" (I guess this is some fad these days) but the reason you can lose in it is to avoid the problem you noted that players will try to think in terms of permutations. By the game design being able to "smack" the player and doom him to reading a bunch of text again (clearly nobody wants to do that any more than re-play a level of Doom), the player is strongly encouraged not to brute force a solution, focuses on the wording and understanding of the text and is thus engaged. This simple (and maybe out-of-fashion) feature is what makes the game work even though it's basically like a reading comprehension test on an SAT. This and the fantastic writing is why me and the missus were able to play through three of them - she played them twice - and enjoy them thoroughly. I've since recommended the series to other people who also enjoyed them, and only played the game in the first place because it was recommended to me by a friend. "Like the SATs but with lawyers in cravats" sounds like a terrible elevator pitch but it worked, and I otherwise do not play or enjoy traditional adventure games at all.
I've programmed in Java, C++ and right now am using a Unity-like kit. It's like this... To express the concept to the computer, you must break things down into procedures. Computers are bureaucracy machines. This is the act of programming. There are a lot of attempts to make things "easier" by trying to make it "intuitive", but the problem is the same as the one you describe as "opacity" in games; languages like C#, while complicated and strict, have a lot of transparency. Most attempts are a more "natural" approach tend to allow problems to occur more due to ambiguity and, at worst, are like "guess the verb" games. Now you mention something about "90 days to see if it works". The tools have developed -a lot- and this is simply not the case. I made most prototypes in about a week's time. Right now I'm working at my first "real job" in game industry, and I got my game semi-working in about a week. (The next two weeks I'll be experimenting with it, trying to find the "dynamic", etc.) A coworker who I'm "pair programming" with got a simpler game (that is more suited to the kit) working in about a day. We're using the same kit. Over the years, many many approaches have been tried to escape the need for programmers and, for whatever reason, programmers have not been able to come up with it (not for a lack of trying). The simple fact that computers are machines of finite capability and that they lack genuine intelligence is a problem. Visual programming languages, "natural" feeling languages, etc. have all been tried and the above facts that the computer is a machine means that if you want to tell it to do something new, you must program. Finally, there is the problem that kits that try to do more for you (say "RPG maker") naturally restrict you to what the kit designers envisioned. Unless you learn how the machine works and its arcane expectations and force it do something else. In other words, program. So I say yes, it is possible if the computer is intelligent enough to do the programming, but not for the foreseeable future as we don't know in principle how to make a computer that can do that and therefore you cannot predict when that will change. (Maybe someone's working on it now, maybe the 23rd century...)
Simulators are no so void as games. I've been thinking about this a bit lately due to one of your previous posts (don't remember which) but I observed an argument on the internet once between users of Celestia and players of Orbiter. I'll summarize it like this: Celestia user: "Orbiter pretends to have physics, but they're not really physics, it's newtonian physics and they're even inaccurate cause of the limits of computer simulation." (it isn't practical for Orbiter sim to perfectly model solar system scale flight physics, in fact it's very difficult, so it fails to do so perfectly) Orbiter player: "I don't care, I like orbiter" This hints at the difference, one that Celestia user in question doesn't see and the Orbiter player can't articulate. Orbiter is constrained by rules. Celestia lets you look at things and look at planets and such. It's a planetarium. Orbiter restricts you to a vehicle with finite fuel, thrust, a strict set of actions governed by rules. It's a simulator. Celestia lacks this restriction, so the Celestia user in question doesn't see why he'd want it, while the Orbiter player is bored without it. While it's absolutely the case that Orbiter doesn't have designated "win" states and provided goals, it does allow for death, and the ability to (with planning and work) achieve one state from another. All sims I've encountered fulfill this, and this is enough for the player to make up a goal and achieve a win in a somewhat deformalized way. His win isn't validated by the machine, but it is a win nevertheless. I've had a multiple great experiences playing X-plane, Orbiter and Jane's F-15E sim and they 100% felt like wins, some very thrilling and stressful. It's certainly clear that some people, often programmers want to treat everything in a simulationist manner (though these days tower defense seems to be The Thing To Do) and this is usually not appropriate. But I think it's worth pointing out that simulations do work as games because the people that play them fill in the blanks in terms of constraints, challenges, goals and rules. Like action figures.
Toggle Commented Aug 28, 2011 on Worlds in Motion [Game Design] at What Games Are
Harald, (Not that you asked me but) I tried to build some games around a "quiz" mechanic. The purpose was for "drilling" (things that must be learnt by rote) so it might not be applicable, but I tried embedding the quiz mechanic into a more conventional game and integrating it in some way. The sign game prototype was first: It's explained in the second post, but the short of it is that the player chooses a "risk level" by choosing either easy, medium or hard questions based on game state. The 3rd link includes a playable version of the prototype. There was a second experiment, "Spell Tanks" but it's less interesting here I think.
Also, about the California thing. I'm from Oregon (north of Cali) which has a similar west-coast "frontier culture". Selenologist Dennis Wingo called Cai "the last place in America where people understand that sometimes the reward justifies the risk" and is also where Apple, SpaceX, that whole Hollywood thing and other trend-setters base themselves. I think that some of what's written here about achieving remarkability and respect for art as a business and so on may have more resonance with that culture.
I've enjoyed this blog because you think deeply about the topic and what you write rings true with me as a consumer of games as well as an observer of other consumers. It's never just a regurgitation of the standard lines and is above all else useful. You've succeeded in both remarkability and over-delivery. I'm looking forward to your book, I'll be buying it and recommending it.
Inventory isn't necessarily busywork, no, I kinda glossed over that. I used to spend time doing that and even enjoyed it. Sorting your inventory according to your situation and plan is something only the player can do and takes some thought an the decisions matter. But if you want to take all from a chest, you don't have to click one by one, there's a button for that so that the computer can smooth the process for you. This is the mindfulness I refer to. I don't know much about WoW but they are reportedly hitting some hard times also so if they changed from non-busywork to busywork, that might be related.
Toggle Commented Jun 2, 2011 on Busywork is not Fun [Design] at What Games Are
I don't know that that actually qualifies as busywork. When I played Morrowind, I preferred to walk through the wilderness and eschewed Strider use specifically because I felt that being in the wilderness, dealing with monsters, the logistical challenge, finding ruins and being in a dangerous situation _was_ the core game. But they have a skip-that feature because of the quest system; someone may have something specific on their minds and prefer to step over the wilderness to get to what they're doing. The dialog, at least in Morrowind (the hideous face art, writing and bad voice work in Oblivion and limited personal time made me skip that one) didn't have much of the busywork either. Click click and you see the writing, no branching nonsese. The prime example of busywork in the game would be moving inventory items, and in Morrowind they added buttons like "remove all" (from a body) and they take steps to mitigate these. The fast walk and striders are an example of adding a skip-that feature to something that SOME players MIGHT consider busywork SOMETIMES even though it isn't exactly so. In short, the ES games were very mindful of busywork and worked to alleviate it even when only a subset of players might consider something in the way. Fast walk is far more akin to games like Mario RPG which have "Choose location" style maps than optional busywork.
Toggle Commented Jun 2, 2011 on Busywork is not Fun [Design] at What Games Are
I wanna second what Harald said; this blog is deeply refreshing and now most other game design writings look like the grunting of drooling monkeys in comparison. I've read it all and recommended it to people.
It might be worth it to consider what we're talking about. It's commonly noted that simulations "aren't games", and I think the same might apply to "Adventure games" and other interactive computer products. This gets people upset because when one says something "isn't a game" it can be seen as a knock, just like Pluto fans in that whole stupid "what's a planet?" debate. But for definitions to be useful, they need to be more specific and not have to contort themselves to include everything we feel like ought to be included. There's a lot of relevant aspects to (for example) adventure games that consist of a series of hand crafted puzzles wrapped in art, or (similar) a jigsaw puzzle. But it's plainly a different beast than the rule based systems that usually count as game. So are simulations. Doesn't mean they're less or bad or inferior and certainly doesn't mean they aren't worth discussion, but one ought to recognize that they're different entertainments in key ways and not refuse to discuss the aspects of one because some elements don't apply to the other.
Fantastic as usual. Sorry to bother about this, but I sent an e-mail, just mentioning it here in case it was spam-bucketed.
Toggle Commented May 26, 2011 on You Need a Look [Game Development] at What Games Are
I don't see the confusion with the other posters. I read it like this: 'Gameplay' is an aspect of the product and continues to be so. Just like visual arts or music. It's important, obviously. 'Engagement' is what you're measuring in the end product. It's an alternative to, for example, saying that "games should be fun", instead you'd say "games should be engaging; they need to grab and hold attention". The connection between 'gameplay' and 'engagement' is that one used to be an important buzzword, now that latter is. Not that they're analogous and they're CERTAINLY not renaming one to the other. Engagement is not strictly dependent on any particular aspect of the product and many engaging entertainment products have 0 gameplay. There's a whole range of entertainments that engage in different ways. The purpose of thinking in terms of engagement is that you have some guidance on what you're trying to achieve with all the tools you have; you want to see a player who is interested, has your attention, wants to interact, wants to know more. Do I understand this correctly?
About video connectors. A lot of TVs have RCA jacks on the front. I've seen gizmos exactly as you describe; one product was a joystick or something (can't quite remember) but the cable comes out and goes directly to the TV. It was a little more timid than a guitar controller, I think it was a joystick with some options of games. Completely unnoticeable (and we all know being invisible makes business MUCH less risky!) but there it was. This was in the states somewhere.
I just learned this over the course of my learning projects. With my previous game, we started asking "what's it all about?" and decided to make a game "about Bigfoot", and came up with a story about him being a retired CIA agent, etc. etc. etc. It was all very creative and 15,000 lines of code later it was not a game. Bigfoot walked around and stuff, but there was no game. There was a shining example of second system syndrome but... Yeah. We wound up deciding the project couldn't be saved. My next project (the current one) started along these action lines. I drafted a prototype on paper and played it with people, then I built a Java prototype and finally I am producing a full working model in for iOS. I decided that I am going to put my art hat on and enrich it with some world building and characters, but understanding that it is a game first set the project on the right course.
Speaking of jargon-craft, the whole bit about using the term "doll" reminds me of Zelda. The player's doll is named "Link" because "he's the link between the player and the game", and in Zelda II, you literally find little link dolls that give you extra lives.
I've always thought the simulation thing was a bit duh; it's the game design equivalent to telling someone to use less adverbs or cut superfluous words. The bare basics. Beyond that, I think it might be interesting to explore. Games like Civilization 3 and others have a lot of what I'd call "conceptual realism" and it works fine. If one plans to build a real game, drawing from life is a great way to gather material. The alternative is the endless cycle of basing it on whatever game or movie you just saw, and that can lead to a lot of tired tropes like space marines. Stepping back and looking at it from the start to reassess is always a good idea and can lead to some novel results. Then there's the superficial realism (shadows, etc.) and simulation realism (Jane's F-15 Flight Sim) that, yeah, has nothing direct to do with games.
I tried applying this sort of model, actually, after I read an article on Gamasutra trying to describe games as being "like a painting you can explore". All the commenters threw a fit about about, but nevermind that. Upshot is, some guy needed some text blurbs for an online crime game; stories that come out when you try different crimes, detailing how you succeeded, failed or were arrested. He had a model where it would string together different pieces of prose to make stories that "vary" more, but I made the case for full paragraphs because the auto-assembly would make blurbs not worth reading in the first place. Anyway, I took the opportunity to try the painting model... We removed any "exposition" or intro blurb larger than a sentence, and then with every blurb tried to characterize the setting (which he wanted to be a dystopia). For example: 'The market for fake IDs is booming now that possession of pornography, flavored cough syrup and overly ethnic music is punishable by revoking your work license.' '...right before the dude pays, he tells you he’s a cop and you're under arrest. “But marijuana was legalized!”, you say. “Yes, but you didn’t file form QXR-47G. That’s a violation of the Gardening Finance Reform Act.”' It all worked well enough and received unsolicited compliments from players.
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Mar 11, 2010