Designers: master one game, or else

In a new Gamasutra feature, Gameloft’s Christian Philippe Guay suggests some simple ideas for getting better at making fun games — by breaking them down into component elements.
“We have to be aware of what has been done before, as it is important to not repeat past mistakes,” writes Guay.

To design fun games, he writes, “I would suggest to any designer to take one game and spend enough time to master it. There are things that can only be properly understood once they’re truly experienced.”

“In reality, the more we master an experience, the more others become alike, because everything in this universe is based on the same principles. We realize that the same mechanics are used, but in a different context. By doing this, it becomes easier to create interesting gameplay mechanics or learn how to fix them.”

There is one important consideration, though, Guay does suggest.

“I tend to think that to study the greatest games of all time would help us to better understand how to make better games. However, those games are often so engaging that we might not see how to make greater things, because when we play them, we aren’t thinking critically about how they’re constructed; we’re experiencing them as players.”

The antidote?

“However, if we play the worst games, then everything frustrating will jump in our faces. Then we will see what needs to be improved, and that forces us to be creative and find how to fix those problems.”

The full feature, in which Guay breaks down fun into seven different layers to offer his take on the essential elements of game design, is live now on Gamasutra.

[link]

Story Design Challenge: Best Entrance Eve

Once a month, the Story Design Tips column is going to have a story design challenge. Whereas we usually use that space for tips about dialogue, world-building, plot, comedy, endings, and more, the story design challenge is the place where you can show us what you’ve got, get some feedback, and maybe get some exposure. The story design challenge is cross-posted on Gamasutra and GameCareerGuide. To participate, just submit your entry in the comments section of the Gamasutra blog post.

Let’s get to it.

Memorable Entrances

As a writer in games or any other media, you’ve got a few tools. One of them, which you can choose to use or ignore, is the first impression a character makes when she/he/it first appears in the plot.

A memorable entrance is a good way for a writer to try and establish his most important characters. Rather than think about what your plot needs, think about the most memorable way for your character to make an entrance. Find a way that is unforgettable and also shows who the character is.

What’s memorable? Think about the first time you saw Doc in Back to the Future. Think about Yoda’s first scene (in Chapter IV). Think about the first time you saw the terminator: the way he got his clothes and sunglasses right after he appeared. Think about Steve Martin’s first few minutes in Little Shop of Horrors. Think about the first scene of every James Bond film. Think about Indiana Jones’ first few minutes on screen in his first and second films.

The Rules:

  • Please don’t use anything anyone owns the rights to, even if you’re the one who owns those rights. Let’s have no variations on existing games, movies, or stories. That includes anything you or your company are working on at the moment.
  • Please keep your entry under 1000 words. 1000 words translate roughly to 4 double-spaced pages. That should be more than enough.
  • Winners will be announced on Gamasutra and GameCareerGuide on Tuesday, April 3rd. This means you have six days (Monday is the last day) to publish your entry.
  • Please publish your entry in the comments of this article. If you want to do it anonymously, use Gamasutra’s system to log in anonymously.
  • Important: When you publish your entry, send it to me simultaneously via email (at guyhasson at gmail dot com). That way, you make your entry public (in the comments), while ensuring I have your real email address if you win.

The prize: The prize that’s mine to give is a free electronic copy of my book, Secret Thoughts. It’s science fiction, recently published by Apex Books, and so far has gotten great reviews. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website, where you can check out the plot and the reviews. When you send your email, please specify the type of file you want (pdf, epub, or mobi). If you’ve already won a Story Design Challenge, all I have to give you is glory.

Link: http://gamecareerguide.com/features/1062/story_design_challenge_best_.php

World of Warcraft, Call of Duty accused of violating virtual worlds patent

This is too shock not to share. According to Tom Curtis, a company named Worlds Inc. claims that World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty franchise has violated one of its patents that covers a “system and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space”. This is not the first case that the company filed a similar lawsuit agains City of Heroes.

CEO of the World Inc. states “While we are pleased to see that the gaming industry and its rapidly growing customer base have enthusiastically embraced our patented technologies, we deserve fair compensation for their use.”

I thought this is too ridiculous. We had a lecture in SecondLife. Talking about virtual world, I’m sure the company deserves certain profit, but this is too funny to determine who owns virtual world. Any thought?

Talking about Drawsomething

We had talked about what makes games few weeks ago, such as Facebook games (Farmville, CityVille, and so on). Currently, new game called Draw Something is positioned to top 4 Facebook game. I personally think it is more fun to play on your smartphones or tablets. Anyway, to introduce what is Draw something, it is similar to Pictionary. Based on given word, one person draws and send it to the other person and the other player guesses about it. If you think about it, it is not really a game. It doesn’t have scores or leaderboards,and the players in the game aren’t actually competing against each other. They’re working together in a cooperative manner. It’s something more like a social communications app. Instead of competition, it requires cooperation.

If you think this way, then it somewhat goes back to the idea about the Farmville.  Even though it requires some competitions (such as having more items than the others), it still works fine when the players help each other (such as sending energy as a gift). Then, does it mean that in order to be a current popular game it has to do with cooperation? What makes game? Does cooperation make the game?

Facebook’s honeymoon with social gaming is over, report claims

We have studied social games on Facebook. How much these games are addictive to Facebook users! Remember Cow Clicker?  However, this report shows that the numbers of players decreased over the year and the game designers should look for any new elements to the game to bring new users or protect current users.

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After several years of incredible growth, Facebook’s gaming market could be slowing down, according to a new study from analyst firm IHS.

The report studied recent trends on the major social network, and found that the number of users playing games has stagnated over the last several months, and that increased competition has made it much more difficult for developers to attract and engage new users.

Looking specifically at the platform’s growth, IHS found that the number of users playing games on Facebook increased dramatically during 2009 and 2010, but that plateaued in 2011. The report did not provide hard numbers, but said that Facebook as a whole saw continued growth during 2011, while the number of users playing games “changed little.”

To put things into perspective, the report said that the percentage of users playing games on Facebook dropped to 25 percent in 2011, down from 50 percent at the end of 2010.

The firm specifically noted that even the platform’s biggest game companies have seen lagging performance. The FarmVille giant Zynga, for instance, dropped to 225 million monthly active users by the end of its fourth quarter in 2011, down from 266 million users just one quarter prior.

IHS said with this slowing growth, Facebook developers will need to be more cautious in the months ahead. In particular, the firm noted that acquiring new users has become much more difficult thanks to increasing costs and competition, so developers will need to find new and more efficient ways to attract users to their games.

In addition, Facebook users have begun to trend away from simple, accessible games, and instead have turned to titles that demand more skill or commitment. IHS suggested that developers focus on games that better encourage long-term engagement from their audiences.

Read article: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/162718/Facebooks_honeymoon_with_social_gaming_is_over_report_claims.php

Computing in Schools – Lets Not Rush Things

So we have been studying how these new technologies will influence to schooling and education throughout this semester. I found interesting aspects from this article. The author tells us about his experience who “had first hand experience of the kind of topics, software and skills taught to children in classes across the UK” and gives us some advises what should we prepare or be aware before we teach them with computers.

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There has been a significant amount of press in the UK about the quality of computer related education at Key Stage 3 and 4 (Secondary School level with pupils ages 11-16 years old) and to a much lesser extent Key Stage 5 (college or 6th form students aged 17-18 years old).

As someone who used to teach ICT at these level I have first hand experience of the kind of topics, software and skills taught to children in classes across the UK, and agree 100% that, as a subject, ICT should be kicked to the kerb and approached from a completely different angle.

And we’re certainly heading in the right direction.

The Next Gen. report by Livingstone and Hope details how we can provide the skills our children require to take our industries to the next level and beyond and even the current Education Secretary Michael Gove is making moves in the right direction. Change is coming and it’s change for the better.

But we must be careful not to rush these changes and to make sure the structure and content is right, that suitable facilities are available and we have the right people in place before we start this process otherwise we’ll be back to square one within a couple of years.

You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know

The largest problem facing the introduction of a new, highly scientific and difficult subject is getting the right people in place to teach. And the most important word in that sentence is ‘right’.

Sure we can use existing ICT teachers but it’s clear that the skills required to teach ICT are not the same skills required to teach a Computing GCSE. Also, don’t get me started on the number of ICT teachers who don’t actually know how to use a computer…

We can draft in science and maths teachers to teach elements of the course others are unable to but those teachers already have working place directives in place limiting how many hours they can teach and those hours will already be more than accounted for.

If we really want to create a next generation of developers is passionate and knowledgeable educators pushing that passion onto the open minds in front of them. Sure, anyone can learn enough to teach a subject, but it wont be exciting, it won’t be boundary defining and it won’t make those pupils crave more. Sure, some teachers will really take to this, will develop that passion along with their students, but the majority won’t and as a result the subject could easily be seen as stale, boring and dull.

So the ideal solution is to hire for the shortfall but with approximately 3,900 state run secondary schools in the UK and with many schools having the need for more than one or two teachers per subject that’s a big recruitment drive.

Custom Content Is Risky But Rewarding

One of the most interesting aspects of this push towards a more computing focused subject is the idea of having a more flexible curriculum. Now this could mean a myriad of things though I’m taking it to mean schools being given the ability to cherry pick the elements they want to teach and to ignore elements they don’t.

This is extremely useful especially with a lack of specialist teachers and it also tackles one of the main criticisms of the National Curriculum, that it creates boilerplate content and restricts creativity and freedom in the classroom.

So by allowing schools to be flexible with what they teach we allow our teachers to experiment and push the boundaries of our children’s imaginations, if they have the knowledge to do that.

But it also opens up the possibility of a (and I hate myself for using this awful and overused phrase) postcode lottery where some schools are teaching more valuable skills than others. It complicates the act of awarding consistent and meaningful grades across the country and it could lead to stagnation as some schools resist pressure to improve as technology moves on.

Though you could make that argument for the education system as a whole due to the varying levels of skills between teachers of all subjects in all schools.

We’re A Fickle Bunch

With the issues highlighted above there is every chance that if we rush headlong into these changes we risk the first years being less than stellar as people find their feet, new teachers are recruited and less talented teachers are let go.

And this one worries me the most.

With every change of Government, or in many cases with every change in Education Secretary, schools are given newer mandates, newer targets and newer goals. And it’s always in response to a perceived failure by the last Government/Secretary.

If the introduction of a Computer focused subject is seen as a failure in any way then the next Education Secretary will trip over themselves to ‘fix’ the situation. Not by removing the subject but by constantly tweaking and ‘refocusing’, leading to a course that drives schools (and good teachers) away from the subject and turns it into something resembling what we already have.

ICT Isn’t All Bad

ICT isn’t just Word and Excel. There’s some really interesting content in there that shouldn’t just be discarded out of hand.

I’ve taught lessons in web design and planning using both graphical editors (Dreamweaver at the time) and text editors. We used some rudimentary programming tools in the early years (getting frogs safely across the road by managing traffic light systems) and video editing tools in later years. All of these were exciting, interesting and (usually) generated some pretty interesting results!

I’m confident that these elements will not be lost no matter what comes next, but we must be careful not to discard what we have and what actually works for want of a ‘better’ system.

Word Processing Skills Are Important

Something we need to acknowledge is that (this might nark some people) word processing and spreadsheet skills, and the ability to use MS products, are important skills that pupils need to have. Whether we like it or not the majority of the world uses MS Office and while this might change in the future having the ability to use these tools improves a child’s employability, their work rate at school and their computer literacy in general.

But the removal of these ‘skills’ from a specific subject is nothing but good news. By teaching these skills as part of other subjects will lead them to be seen as more natural tools that can be used in a wide range of situations rather than just in their ICT lesson.

But we need to make sure that time is available in all subjects to do this and acknowledge that it’ll take a whole school approach to achieve, something that will vary greatly on a school by school basis.
I’m certainly excited about how these changes will alter how our children see and use computers on a daily basis and how that can only improve the industry in general. But there are significant challenges that must be faced before we can move forward, confidently, and create a true next generation of developers.

Article from: http://altdevblogaday.com/2012/02/10/computing-in-schools-lets-not-rush-things/

The Role of Self Image in Video Game Play

After commenting about why I used to love playing Sims, I found this interesting article. It’s about your choice of games and motivations is heavily depends on how much the game can allow you to experience more personally.

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So why do you think you choose to play the games you do? NO! WRONG ANSWER! Well, actually, you’re probably mostly right about that, but an upcoming article in Psychological Science suggests that your choice of games and your motivation to keep playing them may have something to do with how well they allow you to experience something deeper and more personal.

In the article, Andrew Przybylski (who sent me an advance copy so I could read it myself) and his co-authors hypothesize that we’re motivated to play video games to the extent that they allow us to sample our “ideal self characteristics,” especially when there’s a large gap between our ideal selves and who we actually think we are. This could help explain why people are attracted to games in a way that’s unique to the medium.

Przybylski and his colleagues tested this theory in a couple of experiments in which they had gamers self-report their personality (using a standard “Big 5” personality measure) in three contexts:

1. As they think they are IRL
2. As the type of person would like to ideally be IRL
3. As the type of person they felt like while playing a certain game

They found that we apparently enjoy games most when they let us feel like an idealized version of ourselves (i.e., #2 and #3 above are similar), and that effect is greatest when there’s a big discrepancy with our ideal self and our perceived self (i.e., #1 and #2 are dissimilar).

So if I fantasize about being a loquacious, extroverted type of person, I feel better about myself when I’m able to play a game that lets me do that even though in reality I get tongue-tied in public. Or if I strive to be a more conscientious master of details and micromanagement, I might prefer a real-time strategy game over a first person shooter.

You may think this is a bit obvious, but I think some of the implications are profound for game designers, especially those working on role-playing games. We’re all probably familiar with the binary “Do you murder the puppy or do you help the puppy?” morality choices in some such games.

Many of my favorite games in this genre include choices or developments that were much more complicated than that. Taking Przybylski’s research to heart, effective choices in these games are going to be the ones that allow let players adopt a much wider spectrum of personality, desires, values, and judgments.

I won’t share any spoilers, but those of you who have made it to the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be familiar with a good example of this. It provides choices that allow you to have Adam –and through him yourself– weigh the importance of freedom, progress, purity, justice, honesty, and the like.

Similarly, many paths in Dragon Age 2 ask you to create a persona that reflects varying emphasis on loyalty, dogmatism, anarchy, and justice. And while there’s something to be said about “playing the dark side” in these games for fun, one could hypothesize that that kind of thrill comes most strongly from playing something equally complicated, just in the opposite direction from your ideal self.

But there’s more. I haven’t played Bioware’s new Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG yet, but from what I’ve heard there are some improvements to that game suggested by the above research. In keeping with the Star Wars tradition, the game lets you play on either end of the “light side” or “dark side” morality spectrum. But as is common with such systems, meeting certain thresholds of good or evil are required to use certain equipment and abilities. You get light or dark points by role-playing certain actions, so most players are on the lookout for ways to boost their standing.

The problem with this is that it may not only over simplify the role-playing in the game, but dangling a carrot from such choices the game may actively discourage players from exploring more subtle choices and consequences that let them feel more like their idealized self and thus motivate them to continue playing.

So, game writers take note. When you’re dreaming up your game’s stable of complex supporting characters, don’t leave the player character out of the action.

We all love trying on different hats in the way that only video games allow, but some of us have very oddly shaped heads.

[Jamie Madigan examines the overlap of psychology and video games at PsychologyOfGames.com. He can be reached at jamie@psychologyofgames.com.]

REFERENCES
Przybylski, A., Weinstein, N., Kou, M., Lynch, M. & Ryan, R. (in press). The Ideal Self At Play: The Appeal of Video Games That Let You Be All You Can Be. Manuscript in Preparation Psychological Science.

Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/40093/The_role_of_self_image_in_video_game_play.php                         

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