Puzzle Shooters? (spoilerish alert)

Jump to the bottom to see the pretty videos, if you’re like me and have no patience…

I just wanted to point out some new games that have come out in the last two weeks that defy standard catergorization, by being creative and putting new twists onto an old game:  the FPS.  You see, I’m not really taken in by the “novelty” of being more real.  COD?  How is Black Ops REALLY that different from the first COD?  How are the newest sports games REALLY different from past ones?  How are the newest fighting games REALLY different from the old ones?  More real, more complex.  (Though I have to say that I found the insanity of the combat and storyline in COD:BO, to be rather… unrealistic, and the people I know who spent time in the Army agree.  I mean, really?  One or two people versus a hundred – or more?  I don’t think so. Special ops only works in real life when they don’t know you’re there!)  Anyways, one way that “new” game types are created is by combining genres.  In this case, FPS and puzzles, as in the two games below. 

In case you haven’t been inundated with the ads yet (I’m sure most computer gamers already know about this, at least) Portal 2 came out yesterday.  Portal 1 was what I have best seen summarized as a “glorified tech demo” in which the developers played with the idea of having a gun that can create a portal you can walk through on (almost) any surface, to (almost) any other surface.  It’s a FPS, but only in that you have a gun that shoots something – but not people, just portals.  In fact, in the entire game, you character is the ONLY human you see the entire time and then almost only through the portals (see about 1:25 in this vid where the character is literally chasing themself through some portals.  Worse than a dog chasing its tail!).  It’s really a puzzle game, in which the goal is to get through multi-dimensional mazes.  The premise is that you are a “test subject” in an Aperture Labs facility, and you learn more and more sophisticated ways of using the portals (and learning about 3D thinking, momentum, velocity, frames of reference, gravitational acceleration, etc.).  You then use this new knowledge and your convenient portal generating gun to escape from GLaDOS, the evil supercomputer AI that is trying kill… ahem… I mean test you.  Spoiler alert:  You DO escape (assuming you win) and leave GLaDOS in a sorry state.  (Destroyed?)

Nope.  Not destroyed.  Portal 2 brings us back to the lab, where we find ourselves as test subject AI robots, that can now work cooperatively to pass the tests… and then what?  I don’t know.  It’s also cool because there is a cooperative mode, where two people have to work together to get to the end.  Finally, there are challenges, for time, fewest steps taken, etc.  Motivation to earn them all, I would say.

Sanctum is the newest and most interesting Tower Defense game I have ever seen.  Again, the developers add the 3D FPS aspect to the game, and learn by trying the puzzles over and over again.  This game has a fair amount of “just in time” info provided, and again, in a first for tower defense, I believe, there is a cooperative mode.  There is also an “infinite” mode in which you try to last as long as possible against wave after wave of alien destruction, which of course is tied to the leaderboards… motivation, anyone?

Both games meet more of Gee’s principles than you can shake a stick at, opportunities for Flow, ways of “cheating” (or is it?), problem solving, identity issues, motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), reflection, and enough other “educational” aspects that you could make a career of studying them… or at least until the next big thing comes out…

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The Angry Birds User Experience

My specialization for the degree I’m pursuing is Human-Computer Interaction. This means that I’m studying user experience and interaction design. Because of this, I found this piece on the user experience of Angry Birds interesting indeed.

Why is it that over 50 million individuals have downloaded this simple game? Many paid a few dollars or more for the advanced version. More compelling is the fact that not only do huge numbers download this game, they play it with such focus that the total number of hours consumed by Angry Birds players world-wide is roughly 200 million minutes a DAY, which translates into 1.2 billion hours a year. To compare, all person-hours spent creating and updating Wikipedia totals about 100 million hours over the entire life span of Wikipedia (Neiman Journalism Lab). I say these Angry Birds are clearly up to something worth looking into. Why is this seemly simple game so massively compelling? Creating truly engaging software experiences is far more complex than one might assume, even in the simplest of computer games. Here is some of the cognitive science behind why Angry Birds is a truly winning user experience.

The article goes on to discuss at length the ins and outs of the user experience of playing Angry Birds. Now if only someone could tell me why the pigs stockpile ham (it’s so disturbing).

Game Design Similar to Ender’s Game

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/03/the-enemy-gate-is-down-5th-cell-debuts-innovative-shooter-hybrid.ars

Jeremiah Slaczka may have never read Ender’s Game, but his game HYBRID looks a lot like the Battle Room from the famous science fiction novel. And although the game was not designed to be a “learning” game, it seems to owe at least some of its success to the application of learning principles.  5th Cell was looking for a new spin on third person shooters, something that could be differentiated from classics such as Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War.  The result was a shooter with a parkour-style movement and cover system emphasizing slower, more careful battlefield tactics.

The part of the article above that struck me most was that it took them a whole year to design (just) the movement system, but it only takes about twenty minutes for a player to learn, thanks in part to the simplicity of the controls.  To run across a room filled with whizzing bullets, from one point of cover to another, you simply point one of the thumbsticks in the direction you want to go and tap A.  Your player will automatically jump/flip/parkour-move over any obstacles in the way.  Oh, and if you double tap A you can fight on ceilings and walls.  The rest of the moves are simple one or two button combinations, too.  Sounds a lot like Gee’s Amplification of Input Principle to me.  And the gameplay seems like it utilizes Gee’s Multiple Routes Principle pretty heavily.  If you can fight from any surface of a room, including the ceiling, using everything and anything as cover, you’re going to have plenty of options.

I, for one, am excited about this game.  I think that although the game is not a learning game in the sense that it teaches any K-12 content, it still has the potential to teach gamers a lot.  Especially those of us that love first and third person shooters, but don’t know much about battlefield/movement tactics.  I can definitely see myself taking tactical concepts learned from HYBRID and applying them to my favorite shooters, such as Call of Duty and Halo.  And even though the tactics won’t translate perfectly – I don’t think the next Call of Duty will allow you to walk on ceilings – I’m guessing that my gameplay will still improve (Gee’s Transfer Principle, anyone?).

For People who need some game design inspiration..

https://chrome.google.com/webstore?category=app/8-education

^^This is the link to the Chrome’s new app page, education section

There are a couple free games that you could browse for some quick ideas. Some seem to be more story driven whereas others more skills driven. You could possibly ponder this balance when it comes time to at the end of the semester. Hope this helps.

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