Archive for December, 2009

This Week’s Question: Linear versus Open-Ended?

28 December, 2009

Which game model do you prefer, linear games(which guide a player through the game), or open games(non-linear games which allow for more creativity and offer more side quests than a core story). An example of a linear game would be Mario where you have to complete each level to find out something new. An example of an open-ended game would be the Elder Scrolls series. Can games be both effectively, or are they exclusive? What are the positives and negatives of each?

Today’s Response: What Keeps Players Coming Back To Games!

22 December, 2009

Entertainment, critical thinking, and sense of self achievement.

Entertainment: I don’t always think of games as entertainment. Sometimes games are down-right tedious. They make the player do chores and then don’t reward the player properly. Taken out of context games could be viewed as the most boring form of work. “I sat all day pushing buttons that didn’t decide an outcome in the real world.” I’m sure people will gladly want to join in next time you want to play a game and tell them what really is happening physically. Sometimes I ask myself why I keep playing. Then Diablo II will be sitting on my desktop and says, “PLAY MEEEEEE!!!!” Video games are of course a lot deeper than just pushing a button. Diablo II proves this very well. A player could make it through the entire game by just left clicking, but thats not the point. The point is that demons are running around everywhere and you have the fun task of eliminating them all. Pure entertainment should take us out of the boring world that we spend most of our lives in. Games are meant to take us into other worlds where we can be a knight, a race car driver, or a horse. As long as a game is entertaining a player will come back to play. When games become a chore then players will find other games to play which fulfill their entertainment needs. I am making an assumption that chores are boring, which not be the case, as in Harvest Moon. I suppose a deeper question is what makes a game entertaining? That is a personal question, and I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. For me, critical thinking is high up on the entertaining meter.

Critical thinking: What keeps bringing me back to RPGs and strategy games is critical thinking. I feel a challenge that can be thought through and “solved” is a challenge worth taking on. Brute strength has its perks, but for me its thinking through all possibilities and choosing an action is entertaining. This is a very tricky element to carry out in games. If there is too much information given, then I won’t want to play because I will think it is too easy. If there isn’t enough information given, I will stop playing the game eventually (I’ll try for a while but if I don’t see any way to make progress I become frustrated). I love puzzles, choosing which equipment will give the best outcomes in the battle, or flanking a force in the heat of battle. As long as a game keeps a player thinking about the game, a player will return to play. One of the best ways to keep a player thinking about a game is to give them something they can think about without actually having to physically be playing the game. I suppose this would be taking the game out of the tv or computer and into the player’s mind. When there is a puzzle that I can’t solve I usually think about it all day until I can return to the game. This keeps me coming back to games.

Self Achievement: Feeling that you have improved in some way by playing the game. There are the achievement mongers that thrive on this ideology. Play XBOX 360 or on Steam and you will know what I mean. Although achievements keep a player challenging themselves, I want to focus on personal improvement. When a player can use knowledge from inside a game in the world outside of the game, then they will feel a sense of achievement. I know a lot more about racing after I played Gran Turismo 2, and that made me keep coming back. I would see something on tv about racing, and I would know what the announcers were talking about. I felt proud about what I learned from the game. I wanted to keep playing so that I could know more about racing. There is also a sense of achievement when I obtained the licenses because they were almost impossible to complete. I remember being a little frustrated, but it wasn’t an unfair game so I kept trying until I succeeded. When I did I felt more proud than I had in almost any other game I played. Of course completing any game might give a player a similar feeling. We all have stories of games we played where there were insurmountable odds, but we didn’t back down. We did the impossible in a way that no one else might be able to do, and that is a feeling of self achievement. One can also measure growth in games this way. When they start playing a person might not be able to beat level 1, but after a month they have completed all 100 levels. If a player feels that they are improving they will come back to a game. There is also the dreaded “brick wall” in games where no matter what a player does it feels they haven’t improved at all. Maybe they have mastered the game. When this happens the player might not return but find a new game to master. They will still love the game, but they might not play it for a while.

Today’s Question: What keeps players coming back to games?

21 December, 2009

What keeps players coming back to games? Why do you return to games?

Today’s question will be reflected on tonight, to allow for ample thinking time. Also, any comments will be highly appreciated and considered for use in tonight’s post.

Today’s Response: What game have you spent the most time on!

19 December, 2009

There are many games that I simply can’t stop playing. Tetris, Age of Empires 2, Driver, Final Fantasy XII…but the most time I think I have ever spent on a game is on Roller Coaster Tycoon. I have played Roller Coaster Tycoon on and off for over 5 years, and will probably play for many more. Why Roller Coaster Tycoon? Well, I’m a sucker for creation, and RCT allowed for plenty of creation. Not only could I create my own parks, but I could create roller coasters! What impressed me the most was that the roller coasters followed actual physics, which should be basic for a roller coaster simulation, but I was impressed by the quality placed in creating the physics for RCT. I know that the physics aren’t altogether real (I made a roller coaster that exceeded 100 mph and went through 20 vertical g’s) but I had to constantly think about where I placed turns and drops in rollers coasters. There was always a balancing act between how long and exciting a coaster could be, while still staying within a certain price range.

I enjoyed the economy of the game. I couldn’t just build roller coasters, I had to build a park with food, restrooms, and workers. I was fascinated by the depth of the people in the park, how they had needs and would leave if those needs weren’t taken care of. Specific roller coasters had to be built for specific people. There were those who enjoyed excitement, or those who craved a quiet peaceful ride. I never had to think so much about the computer controlled characters in a game before. There was never any question as to what was being done wrong either. If people were leaving your park they would say why they were leaving. Maybe the park needs more security, or the sidewalks aren’t clean. Maybe there just aren’t enough rides, or everything is too expensive.

Roller Coaster Tycoon was such a great game in that it allowed me to search new territories that I had never thought about before. I got my first taste of economics from RCT. My friend and I were playing once and he raised the price of a ride to what I thought was an absurd amount. I asked him what he was doing, and he just replied, “they’ll pay for it, and if they don’t we’ll just lower it a little.” I had always thought in terms of what I thought was a reasonable price. I had never thought about what the people would be willing to pay for the rides. The whole economy of RCT is excellent. I could get a loan from the bank, but not too high of a loan. If people didn’t buy anything, I couldn’t build anything. To expand I had to know what the people wanted. I couldn’t just think about myself like I had in most of the other games I played. It was a whole new experience, and I think that is what has stuck with me for all these years. I’m sure I could have just as easily picked up another sim and had a similar experience. In fact I just picked up Capitalism 2, which came out in 2001. I am completely absorbed in that game, and maybe the next time I ask this question Capitalism 2 will be my answer.

I remember the first time I played RCT was at my cousin’s house. I was over there for Christmas and I was running out of things to do, so my cousin showed me RCT. I was hooked instantly. The pace of it wasn’t overbearing. It wasn’t too slow or too fast, it never felt out of control. When I was younger I always played with Legos, and I suppose I always wanted to build something. RCT was that outlet where I could build, where I wasn’t limited to the world around me, but a virtual world where there were no bounds. I found this so appealing that I kept asking my parents about buying the game. They quickly gave in, and I was on the computer constantly playing. It was also fun because people could see what I had made. My dad was able to watch me play and comment on my roller coasters. It was something he could grasp, unlike an RPG or Mario, where he could see something interesting was happening, but it only lasted for a few minutes. A jump in Mario only lasts a second, while a roller coaster last a lifetime.

Roller Coaster Tycoon also opened my eyes to theme parks. Whenever I went to a theme park I couldn’t help but relate it to the ones I had created. When I saw a roller coaster I was amazed by the design, but I also thought about how it could be improved. I could relate to the people in the game, if I was hungry and couldn’t find food then I became upset. I know that sounds a little strange, but its true. That is why I played RCT so much.

Today’s Question: What game have you spent the most time on?

18 December, 2009

What game have you spent the most time on? Why have you spent so much time on it? What did you love or hate about the game?

Today’s question will be answered tonight, to allow for ample thinking time. Also, any comments will be highly appreciated and considered for use in tonight’s post.

Today’s Response: How big is too big?

18 December, 2009

Games have the potential to be needlessly complex. Developers sometimes throw in elements that are not needed to drive the game forward, or add elements that end up hindering a player. Is it pride that prevents developers from taking out such elements? Could it be that developers want to create this content so that they appear to have created something that is new and fresh? Could too much information and too many decisions be a sign of poor game design?

Certainly there a people who enjoy complex systems. There are war games which have an absurd amount of objects to control. There are games where skill trees alone are almost impossible to read comprehensively. People enjoy this though on some level, because it gives them something to learn. These games give players the ability to test their limits of memory and coordination. Such games can be very telling of a player. If a player who doesn’t fully understand the complexities of a game is playing against a veteran (who has seen every strategy that can be used) then the chance of the inexperienced player defeating the veteran is very slim. These games can lead to a true use of skill and knowledge by players for advantage in a game.

Some games don’t have to be complex in design, but the strategies developed by players can be very complex. Chess is a game with very simple rules. Each piece moves a certain way, and when a king is threatened with no form of escape the game is over. These simple rules are very deceiving. The strategies involved in playing chess are very complex and differ wildly from person to person. This complexity is very rewarding for the player who takes the time to learn every aspect of the game. Can video games be the same way? I think a lot of developers are trying to shy away from simplicity, thinking if there are few rules, stories, or bits of information, then the players won’t be able to create vastly different strategies. I can only think of a few games which can claim such simple rules and yet produce such complex strategies. One of those is Tetris. Within Tetris there is one rule: don’t let the pieces reach the top of the screen. However, arranging the pieces so that they don’t reach the screen requires many strategies. Learning patterns is rewarding for the player because they have a better chance of improving over time.

What about story telling in games? Isn’t it important that the player knows a back story to a character? Yes, but when games go into great detail about histories of characters and backgrounds their races, does that really benefit the player? I played through Vagrant Story several times, and each time I was amazed by how Squaresoft developed the characters. They tell very little about the characters inside the game. It isn’t necessary for them to do so, because all that matters is the main plot arc. If they need to bring up characters in another game they can develop those characters for that plot arc. A game doesn’t need to go through 100 years of history just to explain why x is fighting y. It may develop the characters, but honestly, I won’t care unless it advances the plot. If you learn about an enemy and their weakness through a flash back, then it would be helpful to learn about. If you learn that the Hero used to pull a bucket up from a well all day only to see his or her father once a day, well, that really doesn’t concern me as a player. What generally happens in these situations is that games have so many back stories of characters that it is almost impossible for the player to keep track of accurately. I don’t want to sit through cut-scene after cut-scene of history that doesn’t affect the game play at all. What is worse is having to read through a mountain of information inside of a game only to find out one or two details that will advance the plot. Riven is an excellent game, but at times I was frustrated that to advance in the game the player had to read dozens of books, some of which never aided in advancing the player.

Games can quickly become too big too handle. When I play a game where information is constantly being thrown at the player I have to sit back and wonder, “why is this information here?” Could the developers have spent less time focusing on creating a mountain of information, and instead focused on problems with game play? I think people sometimes are confused by the difference of enjoyably complex and needlessly complex. If the game play revolves around being complex, like in chess where the player has to know all information at all times throughout the game, then it is fine to include complexity. Otherwise think carefully about spending the time and energy to develop or play a game which is complex just for complexities sake.

Symbll days 7 & 8

17 December, 2009

Symbll Day 7:

I worked on the map structure of the game, and made a simple mall design. In essence there are three different types of shapes that can be used in creating the layout of the mall: straight, diagonal, and curved. Each of these shapes can be rotated 90 degrees, which will allow for almost unlimited customization of mall layouts. Each shape is set in a square, and each square can be placed on a grid, I’m still working on how big the grid should be, and how big each square of the grid should be as well. I don’t think there will be too many constraints will computing power. I’m thinking of making it just black and white for now, and as minimalistic as possible.

I worked out how the icons will fit into the map as well. Each square of the grid will have the potential of storing a shop. When a square is occupied by a shop an icon displaying the nature of the shop will appear. I’m still wondering how shops will be placed inside the mall though. I want players to be able to select where a shop will be placed, because this is an important aspect of the game. A player will have to arrange stores to play with shoppers psychology, as well as increasing a shop’s interest in staying at the mall. The two options I am considering would be: a shop requests to be placed in the mall, or a player requests a certain type of shop to be placed in a square in the mall. The second option would just have the player decide as soon as the square is built what type of shop will be placed there, such as a retail store or fast food. Shops will then automatically appear. The first option would be focusing on a shop requesting a space in the mall, and the player finding an appropriate spot on a shop by shop basis. I’m not sure on this one because it might be too demanding on the player if 10 store requests appear every minute. I think this will have to be decided once I actually write the game, when I can play a little bit with the timing of events.

I also came up with a monetary system that wouldn’t involve numbers. The system would have five rows with ten columns each. The first row would be coins, the second row dollar bills, the third row dollar signs, the fourth row vaults, and the fifth row banks. A coin would be the basic unit of money, 10 coins equals 1 dollar bill. 10 dollar bills would equal 1 dollar sign, and so on. 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000 units would be shown, and a player will know exactly how many coins they have. So, if the player has 2 dollar signs, a dollar bill, and 9 coins then the player has 219 coins. The calculation wouldn’t have to be made in numbers though, because profits and losses will be described in these units. A wall could cost a dollar sign, so when a player has a lot of money, a dollar sign will just be taken out of their display.

Symbll Day 8:

I’ve been thinking a lot of how the game will look. I’m thinking minimalistic, but should it be in color? Black and White has always appealed to me, but I can see how players might be turned off by such a simplistic and “emotionless” atmosphere. I’m thinking the walls will be solid, the floors will be empty except for icons. I’ve been looking at mall directories, as many as I could find online. I want the game to look like a mall directory, and I want players to focus more on the game play than what the game looks like. I’m going to constantly work on removing distractions from the game play. Does this remove some of the fun from the game though? Will people want to play for a 3D experience where it feels like they are walking through a mall? Could this possibly be the future of online shopping, where you create an avatar and walk through a virtual mall to shop? I might explore that idea more. Marketing would be a lot more organic. I think for the game I will just keep it top-down, 2d and as minimal as possible. There will be the shoppers of course, which will add chaos to the floors. OOOoooooo. I just thought about describing the details of a store and how many people are currently in the store. If a player hovers over a shop icon with the cursor then information will pop-up, like how much they are paying for rent, how many people are in the shop currently, how many shoppers per day on average, and like/dislike of the mall environment. I’ll have to figure out how to display averages.

Today’s Question: How big is too big?

17 December, 2009

Where is the tipping point between an epic game and a game that is too ambitious? Games have the ability to become increasingly complex with an increasing amount of features. What are the risks of developing a behemoth? What are the risks a player takes on when they are starting an epic game? How big is too big?

Today’s Response: What role does character selection play in a game!

17 December, 2009

First, read Gil’s comment in Today’s Question. Then read “But You’re a Girl: Gender in Video Game Character Selection” by Ayse Gursoy. Both are very insightful, and I didn’t expect a couple things when I wrote this question. For some reason I hadn’t considered the gender aspect of choosing characters before Gil had talked about it in the comments. Gil addresses the fact that games are starting to base game play on gender selection. Game play such as the skills and decisions in Fallout 3 and equipment in Demon’s Soul. Hopefully, there will be more of these changes in game play soon. As long as developers know that both genders can cross the lines of conventional stereotypes. For example, if you choose a female character you shouldn’t be forced to wear bikinis and thongs all the time. Gender choices shouldn’t just affect outer appearances either. There should be unique paths that are only available to each gender. I know this might seem a bit paradoxical. People can argue that there should be gender equality, and some people might actually enjoy the fact that their character acts like their gender. When I say act like their gender I can just hear the cry of stereotyping, but its true that men and women think differently. That being said women think differently than other women, and men think differently than other men. Everyone has their own personality, which brings me to the core of character selection.

If there are pre-defined characters in a game that a player has to select from, then there will always be a conflict of choosing which character fits the player’s personality. Usually in character selections there are only a handful to choose from, and most of the time these seem extremely biased towards one aspect of personality. The muscle guy, the girl who is a hopeless romantic, the guy that always “saves the day” at the last second, or the girl who is helpless in any situation that requires thinking. Using such extreme personalities alienates the player from injecting their own personality into the game. I know games need to do this so that they can write a semi-linear story and have it actually make sense. It would be difficult if a player did have the option to inject their personalities into the game because there would have to be an infinite amount of stories and cut-scenes developed for any action. Some games need the structure of specific character types.

What about more open ended games like MMOs? Often times they don’t have the rigid structure of a story to tell, where characters “develop” on their own throughout a story arc. Usually players can create their own looks, but there is still a stigma of creating a character that looks “different.” Read this article by Cuppycake, it describes how people playing in virtual worlds expect everyone to look “ideal.” I don’t find this all too surprising, as some argue characters are supposed to be how you fantasize yourself as being perfect. The argument is that since most players want to change their appearances in real life, then naturally they will create a virtual image of themselves that is “perfect.” I do find it disgusting that people insulted a player who looked different. Such incidents could be an outlet for releasing frustrations from the real world, but it is extremely harmful to bring this mentality into games. Players might also create characters that they can look at while playing. Ayse Gursoy asks in “But You’re a Girl”:

Of course, I also cannot forget that the very nature of video game characters means they are constructed as objects to be looked at.  For all the game cares, I could play as an amorphous blob.  This is why so many pre-designed characters are heavily sexualized, especially the female ones.  So what does it say about me, when I choose certain appearances?  What do I like to see in front of me, and if that matters, why don’t I ever pick characters that look exactly like Johnny Depp?

Its a very intimate time when a player is creating a character, especially in games that allow you to change every aspect of appearance. I remember when my friend bought Saints Row 2 and we had friends over (both genders) when he was making a character to play. We sat for an hour or more just telling him what to change on the character. Aspects like how fat he was, what kind of voice he had, what kind of hair should he have, or what race he should be came up. Gender was settled fairly early, because he didn’t want to play as a woman. We did however laugh when he decided to see what our final man looked like as we slowly slid the gender bar from male to female. I found it very strange while doing this though, because each of us had a unique opinion on how there character looked. Everyone would have made their character differently, which is the power of sculpting your own character. When we played the game though it seemed like all that work went to the wayside. Nothing changed in the actual game play, I made a character later and it played the exact same. Gil remarked on this  saying,

“I’m sure that in the future, games will allow NPC’s and enemy AI to recognize nuances of our physical appearances and react accordingly. I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

I never thought about that before. Games really don’t adjust to how you make a character. MMOs only do because players will talk to each other, NPCs don’t act differently. Gil also mentions from the very beginning of the comment (I think I’ve quoted almost everything Gil said in the comment):

“I’ve noticed that typically outer appearance makes absolutely no difference in most games. Even games that allow almost infinite possibilities considering the look of your character (ie Fallout 3 & Demon’s Souls). Even with the allowance of changing physical appearance, it’s not often you are looking that closely at your character to even notice. I’ve honestly forgotten what my characters look like especially since they have headgear that covers their features.”

I agree. This is why games need to start focusing on what player created characters look like. NPC’s should act differently based on who is around them. NPCs could even have biases towards players who choose to be “conservative” or “revealing” with their outfits. For example a woman might provide hospitality if you look respectable, like if you have a full set of clothes on. It might also be based on gender, she might provide hospitality to women and not men, because of some past history. I can see why people might object, like games are supposed to be for entertainment and if you need to rest then you should be able to rest anywhere. I disagree, if a game already has the feature of changing the appearance of the character, then what purpose does it serve when it doesn’t affect the game play? Players will just continue to create characters that they want to see, instead of creating characters that will fit their game play styles. When these changes do happen I could see people who create specific characters for specific situations, just so the game is easier for them. Developers will have to be careful in how they balance the effects of character appearance. I think this would be a wonderful element that could be expanded in the future, Gil thinks so too. Its not going to be something that happens overnight, and it will probably take numerous iterations before someone finally gets it right, but I think its worth building on for the future of games.

I wanted to talk about class selection in games as well. So far I’ve really just wrote on and on about appearance, when a lot of games don’t even let you change appearance. A lot of games offer a generic character which doesn’t affect game play at all. Thats fine. I want to talk about games with classes though, where you have to select a certain type of character to play as for the entire game. Examples would be WoW or Diablo II, where there are a limited selection of classes to choose from. I will admit, I’m not a huge fan of classes, but I’ll try not to be too biased when tearing them apart. Classes limit a character to play a certain role throughout the game. When a player chooses a class they have to choose the class that best defines them such as a character that focuses melee, ranged, or magic skills. This isn’t a bad system, especially since a lot of these games focus on gathering experience and leveling up to gain more skill points. I think the idea of classes exist so that players know what to focus on when they choose which skills to build up throughout the game. Choosing the melee class will lead a player to focus on melee skills. This leads to roles in MMOs, where groups form on players who specialize in a certain area. It would be best to have an even amount of all three types while fighting, that way you gain the benefits of those skills. This is what I don’t like because a player has to decide at the very beginning of the game which class to be. Often times the player won’t know what class fits their style best in the game until they have played for several hours or more. This is a gross misuse of time. When the player does find their desired class, they find a guild or group to be in for help while playing the game. Bringing your skills aids the guild that a player is in, but it also limits what roles the player can fit. For example if you play best as a melee character and then want to join a guild they might not accept you because they already have x amount of melee players. However, if you were a magic user they would gladly accept you. I might be over-simplifying the system, but its the way I have experienced playing with classes. I think class systems are flawed because of this structure. What happens when you are a high level and you want to change skills? Well you usually have to start a new character and play through past experiences again. In real life a person has a set of skills, but they are constantly building on those skills. If I decide I want to drop painting so that I can play basketball, I don’t lose all the time I put into painting. I still have those skills. This is the way I think it should be in games. Some games already do this, like EVE and Runescape, where there isn’t a class selection. I’m not sure if I just talked myself in a circle. I can understand the reasoning behind classes. They allow for a quick access to builds which a player has a want for personally. I just don’t agree with the way it sets a player in stone sometimes, such as when a game says, “you will do this as a melee player and nothing else”

To sum up (I just realized this is over 2000 words):

  • Game that allow for a player to alter the appearance of their character should also create elements in the game that are affected by appearance. This will take a long time to balance and create, so we should all starting working on it (as a players speaking up or developers expanding the norm).
  • People should feel comfortable creating a character that they feel describes them, and players should not discriminate in games where players have created their own characters appearance.
  • Just because you are a girl doesn’t mean you have to play a girl character.
  • Players might want to play as people they can relate to, so games in the future should at least place one character in character selections that is “average” and not a stereotype.

I will probably edit this a few times, I don’t have the time to proof read it currently…

Today’s Question: What role does character selection play in a game?

16 December, 2009

What role does character selection play in a game? A lot of game now allow for changing the outer appearance of your character. How does the appearance of your character affect your play? A lot games also have classes that are geared for certain styles of playing. How does class selection affect your game play?

Today’s question will be answered tonight, to allow for ample thinking time. Also, any comments will be highly appreciated and considered for use in tonight’s post.