Jesse Schell gave an engaging presentation at DICE 2010 about game design “outside the box, beyond Facebook” and more:
Archive for February, 2010
Is Your Life Just One Big RPG
Behaviorist Game Design
Dan Lawrence recently posted a thoughtful essay about ethics, psychology, and game design:
It seems to me that the very interactivity of games that makes them so compelling also makes considering their ethical dimension more vital. Every game is a system that you interact with; listening to and responding to your actions in a certain way. While the game is responding to you, you are responding back to it even if you don’t realise it. Every game is teaching your brain something, every game is a dialogue with its player.
It worries me that this power of games to teach and train their players is either not understood or being wilfully misused for commercial gain. It doesn’t strike me as ethical to train a player to want to do something that they wouldn’t want to do in the absence of an external reward.
One particular example that always sticks with me is how closely the reward system of item drops in most modern roguelike games closely mirrors psychological research on the most effective methods to encourage repeated human (and animal) behaviour. By which I mean they could train mice to hit buttons over and over again by rewarding them in a certain way for this behaviour, even though the mouse would never normally perform that action.
Behaviourist psychologists spent a long time analyzing which type of reinforcement strategy was most effective in conditioning animals to respond how they wanted … the ‘best’ schedule is variable reinforcement where a reward is given not every time an action is performed but at a random time conforming to an average.
Whether designers are doing this deliberately or subconciously I believe its damaging to the people who play these games and obscures what is otherwise often excellent craftsmanship and polish in their production. There can be excellent intrinsically rewarding game design built up around this core unethical mechanic but that conditioning mechanic is still there lurking at the centre.
- Dan Lawrence @ Robotic Shed
See also Behaviorism @ Wikipedia.
Gameshastra opens 1000-seat game design studio
Gaming is big business — bigger than movies, worldwide. Item, this recent business news:
Gameshastra opens 1000-seat facility in Hyderabad
Game outsourcing services provider Gameshastra on Tuesday opened a 1,000-seater game design studio in Hyderabad to cater to the growing demand for its services worldwide including from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.
The 50,000-sft facility will focus on a full range of game development, game art, animation and quality assurance services for console, PC and online gaming platforms.
“We are currently 220-people strong and expect to reach 1,000 headcount by the end of this year to support new projects,” Prakash Ahuja, chief executive officer of Gameshastra, told mediapersons here.
Stating that Gameshastra had invested $7 million (approximately Rs 33 crore) in its operations over the last three years, Ahuja said the company was developing an Indian mythological game, Ekalavya, for Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation3 (PS3) platform.
“Shastra is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘Science’, which also indicates specialized knowledge. And true to our name, we are specialists in the domain of game services.”
Maryland Budget Game
I have a longstanding interest in games with practical real-world applications. For example, this budget balancer game, where you try to put the State of Maryland’s financial house in order:
Travel to different locations on the main map. Each location represents a policy area (like higher education, revenues, or general government) where you can choose different budget options. Click on an option to select it. Click on it again if you change your mind.
… You need to pay attention to this year’s budget balance. Making the “current year balance” a positive number is what you are required to do under the constitution.
… Each choice you make will not only affect the budget totals, it will also affect your popularity with ten different interest groups. If you make too many of these groups too unhappy, it might affect your and your party’s political future badly.
~ Maryland Budget Map Game @ University of Baltimore
I’m reminded of Budget Hero from American Public Radio, where you try to balance the Federal budget.
German Tower by Pxbeetle
German Tower by Pxbeetle
Pxbeetle makes some of the most beautiful maps I’ve ever seen. This guy knows that he’s doing!
See his Facebook album for more pix.
Dan Griliopoulos, a lifelong gamer who suffers from deuteranopia, a form of red-green colourblindness, has written a very interesting essay about colour and game design. In this excerpt he’s playing Bioshock 2:
I have a clever hacking dart gun, which requires my simply pressing a button when a needle on its meter passes through a certain colour. I shoot, I score … and get a mild electric shock. I repeat. Again and again. There’s an endless supply of darts so I keep shooting until I die of Electron Overdose and respawn, humiliated, at a Vitachamber. Yet again, someone on the art team has thoughtlessly swallowed the Manichean standard that red is bad and green is good, and decided he should use a primary palette to distinguish between these opposites — which means poor old colour-blind me gets killed.
In my case, both red and green appear as a murky yellow. Or so I’m told -– it’s not as though I’ve ever seen what green, red or yellow looks like to everyone else. Eventually, through trial and error, I worked out there are just-detectable contrast and location differences in the puzzle, and that if I focus really hard and fast, I can just work out which is which before the timer runs out. Bioshock 2 just got challenging.
… Here’s some tips for developers.
… How can a firm the size of Activision or EA consistently ignore what could be 8-12% of their paying customers? That could be a million of the people who bought Modern Warfare 2, for example.
The Photoshopped image below demonstrates roughly what the Bioshock 2 hacking dial looks like to someone with deuteranopia — you don’t see red, and you don’t see green, both look like dull gold:
Image borrowed from What BioShock 2’s Hacking Looks Like if You’re Colour Blind at Negative Gamer, which has more images simulating other types of color blindness.
The subject of color blindness and information systems is of interest to me professionally: I’ve recently done some research into web site accessibility, such as Section 508 requirements and the target.com lawsuit.
If you are doing business with the federal government, this is a big legal deal.
And in any case, we should be designing information systems (and everything else) to work as well as possible for as many different people as possible.
The Massively-Multiplayer winter getaway
In this time of white-out blizzards and severe cabin fever, many of us look for engaging mental getaways that don’t involve braving the frigid outside world. One increasingly popular solution over the past decade has involved diving into a richly-detailed world via the home computer or console system. With the proliferation of high-speed Internet access, whether broadband or DSL, the number of persistent-world or “Massively Multiplayer Online” (MMO) games has absolutely exploded. Some, like the recent “Champions Online” release, rely on the strong reputation of the developers (in this case, Cryptic Studios, makers of the similar and successful City of Heroes/Villains games) or the source franchise (the old-school pencil-and-dice RPG, “Champions”) to create demand and attract subscribers. Others, which may have fewer engaging marketing prospects, or whose initial “buzz” has died down, elect to woo potential customers via the free trial. These companies may miss out on the $40 software purchase price (though some offer only limited content via download), but they know that the real cash cow lies in the monthly subscription.
I’ve played around at a few of these games over the years, some more seriously than others. Eventually, these games lose their lustrous appeal, whether because of lacking content/development or simply because the community of player diminishes or degrades. But what about satisfying the persistent jones for living a double life in a compelling sci-fi/fantasy world? Jumping into a whole new world can be a daunting prospect, especially if one has to make one’s decision based on software boxes on a shelf at Best Buy.
After a little searching, I was able to find a nicely comprehensive list of persistent-world games (http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/gameId/0), which includes a number of titles still in development. The list is quite handy, in terms of knowing the genre, developers, cost and distribution options for the games, but doesn’t jump that final, crucial hurdle of documenting which games offer free trials. Skimming through the list, though, one can easily enough navigate to the parent sites for each game, where promotional options can be found. For those interested in MMOs, here’s a short list of the games that will let you try before you buy. And at 10-14 days per game, one can pretty easily while away the remaining winter months by exploring life in a multitude of interesting worlds.
For the “sword-and-sorcery” crowd:
- EverQuest II
- Asheron’s Call
- World of Warcraft
- Lord of the Rings Online
- Dark Age of Camelot
- Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
- Ultima Online
- Dungeons & Dragons Online
For those whose interest lies with advanced technology, rather than magic, there’s:
- Star Wars Galaxies
- EVE Online
- StarQuest Online
As previously mentioned, these are short lists of free trials available to the gaming consumer. Try some out. Find a game that best suits your own personal sense of escapism. That way, when you do decide to buy, in most cases you’ve already got the client software installed and the $30-$50 purchase price you would have spent can be put towards two or three months’ worth of subscription fees.
But maybe that’s just the frugal Scot in me talkin’…
How to Become an Indie Developer in Eight Steps
The Guardian recently posted a list of principles for aspiring game designers. Here’s an excerpt:
Choose the right project
Be realistic, and think indie. You’re not making Modern Warfare 3. “The best advice I can give is really simple: don’t make your dream game,” says [Terry] Cavanagh. “Work on small games. It’s so easy to fall in love with an idea and get carried away with it until it becomes a magnum opus that you sink all your time into, and there’s nothing more demotivating. It’s far more rewarding to work on games that you can actually finish! Every time you finish a game, you’ll learn something. If you want to be a better game designer, the best way to do it is to make games. Lots of them.”
Most indie developers start by working in a well-established genre. Platformers and shooters are popular – as shoot-’em-up expert Charlie Knight explains, “Mostly it’s because I like shooting things, but also because it’s easier to put my vision for the game across when I’m not having to work around some sort of physically accurate setting. They’re also a good showcase for more abstract graphic styles.”
If inspiration is lacking, remaking a classic title is a good way to flex those creative muscles.
- Keith Stuart @ The Guardian
Terry Cavanaugh is the author of Don’t Look Back and WWW.