Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I'm eyebrow deep in getting networking happy again, and it's destroying my soul. I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Memorial Day weekend. So there. :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Neater

An old coworker and buddy, Scott Stoddard, has been doing his own games for some time now, and I just saw on Kotaku that his latest, Robot Unicorn Attack a tribute to Canabalt, is being released on iPhone. I hope it does well. Doing a little research, it appears to have caught on. Give it a try here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Neat

Let the brainfeed continue. This has little to do with games, though it has a "virtual reality vibe," and it reminds me of how much power technology puts is in the hands of enthusiasts to do something really cool. If I had seen this as a kid, I might have had a different calling in life. Bakshi's words keep ringing true. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Distracted

I'm a sucker for Street Fighter. I was introduced to SF2 in High School, and spent countless hours in with arcade buddies after school, trying to get better and better at it. I used to love holidays, when moms would dump their kids in the arcade with fists full of quarters, because it meant I had a long line of people to defeat, allowing me to play for hours on a single quarter. There are a lot of things I miss about those days.

Street Fighter 4 felt like the game I knew and loved, nicely updated. I played the hell out of it, picking Gen because he seemed so odd, and even got into the SLC SF scene, playing in tournaments, and against some truly great players. It was tons of fun.

Recently I decided to pick up Super Street Fighter 4 and check out the new characters. I've been distracted, going through the trials with every character to get a feel for new characters and satisfy my completionist urges, but I'm terrified to actually play the game because I already know how it will consume me. I think I'll start up Heavy Rain instead.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In-N-Out

I went back and watched a few more of those RSA vids I linked to a few days ago. There is one on "drive" by a guy I think I saw in a TED Talk awhile back, that I really enjoyed. I won't link to any more of the vids, but there are other cool ones to view.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Must... Play...

I've been sitting on Heavy Rain for something like a month now. It's not that I don't want to play it, it's just that Christmas + New Years gaming was strenuous, and I needed a break. Now the games are getting to be a "pile" again, and I need to dive back in. Also on the short list is Red Dead..., Alan Wake, Splinter Cell, Dragon Age, Monster Hunter, Lost Planet, Red Steel 2, Mario Galaxy 2, among too many others. This is friggin' ridiculous.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feelin' Laaaaazy

So I'm sharing brainfeed: some student animation (thanks Jason Aldermann) and whiteboard drahns.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Re: Re: Addiction is Quality?

Yesterday's comments contain some interesting ideas from Ethan about the nature of fun in games, with links to a great post on his blog and an article from New Scientist about how the brain interacts differently with desire and pleasure. If this sounds like your cup of tea, give it a look-see. I enjoyed the discussion and links, and think you might too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Re: Addiction is Quality?

I thought I'd follow up on some comments from yesterday. Hopefully Ethan doesn't feel picked on, since I agree with everything he wrote and liked his feedback; but it prompted more thought.

Ethan pointed out that addiction could also be called "fun." This seems utterly appropriate because players are clearly engrossed from moment to moment. However, I wonder how often the intended experience is to make players feel addicted instead of afraid, sorrowful, powerful, etc. Though I admire games whose sole purpose is to be engrossingly addictive and many players prefer this kind of fun to the exclusion of others, I wonder if many times, designers and players get engrossing experiences confused with engrossing addictions.

I'm not sure what the point of my musing is. Perhaps because I care about greater purpose in games, I find myself wanting to parse the term "fun." Some insist that the "purpose" of a game is fun, and nothing more. I can see how "fun" could be used as a catch-all term that covers an "immersive experience," but I don't think it's fair to those who think games' only worthwhile endeavor is entertainment without higher purpose, nor is it useful to those trying to enable greater purpose, only to have it confused with addiction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Addiction is Quality?

Many games are praised because of how time flies as you follow your nose from one objective to the next, and though this layering of goals and rewards is a meaningful and valuable part of an experience, I tend to knock it down if it ultimately leaves me with that "wasted my time" vibe. I'm sure the line is different for everyone, but if I can reasonably predict the results of gameplay systems interacting but the game keeps me going because of how it layers goals and rewards, then I want to limit the credit I grant it. If another game has less nuanced gameplay interactions, but it keeps feeding me new (i.e., unpredictable) input, I don't walk away with the "wasted my time" vibe and want to give it more credit.

But can it be broken down so simply? Exceptions to the rule pop in my head too easily. For example, I can reasonably predict the results of a night of Street Fighter, Tribes, or Subspace but I still give them high marks. Maybe the exception to the rule is competitive multiplayer; that player unpredictability is more interesting than single-player unpredictability to me. I don't appreciate random events driven by numbers nearly as much.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Transitions Ahoy

Level transitions are working nicely now. Once a few more stats are tracked (easy!) and multiplayer gets scrubbed (hard!) it should feel like a so-so game, and the fun, advanced design starts getting implemented.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tumblr

An article yapping about Tumblr piqued my curiosity, so I got an account to play around with it, but wasn't expecting something so blog-focused. The article compared it to Twitter and I'm not sure why. Perhaps because posts there go to Facebook and Twitter? I like how template-friendly it is, but I wonder if anyone more familiar with it can share a few pros and cons.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Going Hungry

Do you ever get so busy you forget to eat lunch? Women always look at me in horror when I ask this, while guys just knowingly nod.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Left Turn at Albuquerque

Veering way off today. I browsed game news and nothing caught my eye, I didn't feel like getting epic, so no review or design discussion was initiated, and when I tried to brainfeed, I wound up on the dark side of the internet with Isabella Rosselini. Unbridled, educational madness.

Monday, May 10, 2010

To OCD, or not?

As my project becomes increasingly complicated, the details in scripting are starting to overwhelm me. At first I thought being obsessive would be a helpful trait, but I'm beginning to wonder if the opposite is true. My brain can't realistically follow every chain reaction of a new code addition through to the end and account for all of it, but it doesn't stop me from grinding to a complete halt trying. To the pain.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Heavenly Numbers

I love this video. It reminds me of short indie games like Canabalt or Small Worlds that explore one game concept quickly and succinctly. A director could aim to achieve themes of longing, mistaken prejudice, cold reality, and dark humor in a two-hour film and have a tough road ahead of them. Color me impressed when it gets done in 30 seconds.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Save Games

Woo, save games are working! Though not remotely secure, I'm happy that I can "login" and have my progress saved, and I'm a step closer to "first playable" (a completely different objective than "first fun-able").

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Junior High Reader

I've been returning to books I loved in junior high as an escape from middling adult fiction, and they've been thrilling enough to make me wonder if I should even consider myself an adult reader.

It seems that in all popular "mature" fiction, the format is usually pages upon pages of middling setup and tension building with only a few pages of payoff, and I'm tired of it. Is it worth slogging through 700 pages of blah in anticipation of 10 pages of holy-hell-yes? It reminds me of Sixth Sense, which upon first viewing was like 1.5 hours of moderate scares followed by a couple minutes of thrill, and everyone walked away happy while I complained about the 1.5 hours. (I actually enjoyed the movie more knowing its secret. The premise of a ghost not knowing about his death, and watching how he acts with that in mind, was more fun to watch.) It also reminds me of why I stopped playing JRPGs. I asked myself whether it was worth sitting through 60 hours of bad story and a gameplay system that I "got" within the first couple of hours when I could replace the entire experience with 5 novels worth of excellent storytelling (irony!).

I contrast this with young adult fiction like, say, Harry Potter, which is more or less exciting from page to page, and still builds up to a thrilling conclusion. The first few books, at least, were real page-turners. Maybe all I want is a "page turner," and I'm giving false credit to the things that seem "meant" for a junior high audience.

Maybe that's the problem. Does everyone regard page turners as immature, or is that a personal bias? I just want to be entertained through the entire read, not strung along for a wow ending, no matter the wow.

Lately, I've been going back to books I loved in junior high to see how they hold up, and so far, so good. I borrowed the Dark Elf Trilogy from the library, and it was entertaining as hell, particularly book one. I'll gladly accept the label of "immature reader" if I get to enjoy myself this much.

I'm not an avid reader, so my opinion isn't serious. I probably just need better recommendations, or need to read more to mature my tastes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Experience First, pt.6

That designers sometimes prioritize gameplay to the detriment of the experience is a matter of confusion. On one hand, designers are craftsman, creating gameplay. On the other, designers are shepherds, guiding elements from all disciplines into a powerful sum experience. Because "design" means both things, some designers assume that crafting, like shepherding, should direct other disciplines.

But people play games for experiences, not mechanics. Crafting design is not necessarily more important than crafting audio, art, or story, and its true value can only be assessed in reference to the experience it informs.

Design should be "experience first," not "mechanics first." It helps guide designers as shepherds and advances their craft, inspiring innovation because so many experiences await exploration, and because even familiar experiences treat gameplay as a variable to be filled in interesting new ways, instead of the end itself. [1][2][3][4][5][6]

Monday, May 3, 2010

Experience First, pt.5

Another game with questionable gameplay that might have been a boon to the experience is Everquest. As a rabid fan of MUDs in college, I was excited by the idea of playing a "graphical MUD" (MMORPG), and dreamed about what it would be like to see the worlds I previously only read about. Ultima Online was interesting, but I was more excited by Everquest because it seemed more similar to the MUDs I used to play.

But it was a big disappointment because it seemed so convoluted. It was incredibly difficult to tell where to go, what to do, how to manipulate my interface, or do things with my fellow players, and what documentation existed was actually more confusing than some text-based MUDs I had played, and that's saying a lot. I was so unimpressed that I quickly passed on the experience, but was surprised at how it kept rising in popularity. I wondered why.

The sense of confusion was so vivid -- players shouting in channels begging for information from other players that might be a little farther ahead -- that it made me wonder if that early lack of information actually helped community form. You needed to make connections with other players just to make it out the front door to a confusing city or know where to train, and community is a big part of an MMORPG appealing. It's interesting to wonder whether poor starting information along with required grouping, corpse-runs, and a host of other painful conventions -- that WoW improved on, but needed to have an exhaustively fun, lone experience in place to do (in addition to new social mechanics) -- was really a benefit.

Labeling gameplay "good" or "bad" is meaningless without considering the experience they inform. Sometimes, even random guessing, bad controls, and awful learning curves can help build a classic. Tomorrow, a final word on "experience first" vs. "mechanics first" design. [1][2][3][4][5][6]