Posts Tagged ‘today’s response’

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 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 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.

Today’s Response: Learning Curves!

12 December, 2009

Every game has a learning curve. Even Pong has a learning curve. Through trial and error a player will learn that the ball must not cross their line of defense. Also, by hitting the ball with the paddle you can make challenging plays for your opponent. Pong has a fairly simple learning curve. It doesn’t take very long to learn, and there aren’t many instructions to follow. The MMO EVE on the other hand has one of the most difficult learning curves. There are many complex strategies that a player must learn to even begin. Once the initial gameplay is introduced a player has to decide what skills they want to use, what factions or corporations to join, and how to make money. Here is a picture someone made about learning curves and MMOs.  I find it to be quite accurate, and if you don’t believe me about EVE just sign up for a trial account.

Those two examples obviously don’t represent the bulk of video games. There is usually a “tutorial island” in video games that guide a player through how to play the game. Most often they cover movement, how to interact with objects, and what players should generally do in the game. These can be tedious if they move too slowly, but if they move too quickly players will be lost. The worst way to start a game off is by making the player frustrated. This is why considering a learning curve in development should be done constantly. Adding a new element into a game should be carefully considered, and developers should seek out how to teach players about new elements effectively. For example, if the fighting system is original, a great deal of time should be placed in how to teach players the fighting system. Developers should place the players in real-time simulations of gameplay. Doing is learning. There also needs to be an examination on how much time a player needs to spend on each topic. If there are elements that are in almost every game in the genre, there doesn’t need to be a long explanation of the elements. Almost all characters move the same way in first person shooters, if there needs to be a tutorial on how to move it should be optional or very brief.

A developer should choose who their target audience is, and what that audience’s experiences have been. Players should know the difference between the game they are learning and games they have already mastered. A player will most likely be able to find their way around from playing other MMOs. What players might need to be taught is if  an element is different, such as a whole new way to do transactions with other players. These elements could be awkward and daunting if players aren’t taught how to use them. An entire aspect of the game may initially be avoided by players, and the hard work that the developers put into creating the element will have gone to waste. The developers might also have to work on creating ways to bring players back to that element without the players having negative biases based on their past experiences with the element.

Players will always learn how to play if they have enough will power to continue playing. Players will also continue playing if they feel they are being rewarded for learning. In arcade games if a player died they would usually continue playing because they learned new patterns while playing. There are times when the game needs to let go and allow the player to enjoy themselves. Its just like teaching a kid to ride a bike, and letting go of the handlebars. In a puzzle game there needs to be trial and error and the players should not be told how to solve the puzzles, otherwise the purpose of the game would be defeated. Players learn at different rates, and one size does not fit all in tutorials.

Developers should constantly be considering how to introduce elements of their game to players. As my friend says, “perhaps in the end, we will invariably see the rise of more sophisticated tutorials; because all in all, to assume humans as intelligent, skill grasping beings we would be short sighting the fact that people enjoy having their hands held, no matter the trial before them.”

Today’s Response: Where are games heading?

12 December, 2009

I’ve always thought of basing the growth of video games on the way the graphics look. Most of us grew up when games were just starting to define themselves. Computers improved at astronomical rates, and so did games. I suppose the reason I look at graphics as a reference is because most games have the same basic mechanics. The only elements that changed noticeably were graphics. After playing some recent games I thought that graphics don’t have much more room to improve. Physics can still improve, but they are already improving rapidly to keep up with graphics. I started wondering, will our kids ever worry about how games look? What will be the basis of our comparisons in the future?

There are several ways that the gaming industry can head. I want to focus more on two elements. One way could be studying the psychology of gamers, and changing the way that they relate to characters. The other is expanding games into the social interactions that people have outside of the traditional gaming environment.

Creating a character that players can relate to has been the goal of video games designers since the existence of video games. Well maybe not quite…but some games try. Heavy Rain for the PS3 is based on creating an emotional attachment between the characters and the player. This is an interesting take on games. Usually if someone dies they come back right away. The player doesn’t become quite as worried if the character is in a life-or-death situation. RPG’s have always tried to push the limits with emotional ties. Final Fantasy 7 has a sad moment where one of the characters actually dies and doesn’t come back for the rest of the game. These however seem only one-dimensional, or two at best. How about a character that plays the way that you feel as you play? I know a player controls the character, but what if something shocking just happens and the player wants revenge. Shouldn’t the character also want revenge? Shouldn’t the character act differently while in this altered emotional state? Maybe given extra strength, but not accurate movement. I think there needs to be an expansion on these emotional ties between the player and the character. Perhaps the best way is to make more emotionally flexible characters. Characters currently seem one minded. This character is the big tough one that busts a hole in any thing the looks at him the wrong way. Oh, a girl just hugged him? Punch a hole in the wall. Oh, he just found out who his father is? Punch a hole in the wall. Oh, an enemy just killed his best friend of 17 years? Punch a hole in the wall. I know this will take a lot of programming, and it will be almost impossible, but it would help in creating an emotional tie between players and characters.

Can the line between video games and reality become non-existant? Augmented reality seeks to bridge the gap between the two. ARhrrr is one game that can be played from a phone, where the player hovers over a map (placed on a table) and shoots virtual zombies. Objects can be placed on to the map and utilized in the game. People can mark actual objects, such as landmarks, and write a story about the location. A game could be played out in real life in real time. Suppose there was a mission to meet a virtual character at a certain location at a certain time, then the player actually has to travel to that place, say a mile away, and meet with the virtual character. Maybe players can place items in various real locations, hoping other players won’t find and steal those items. I can see it expanding very rapidly. I can also see it getting out of hand rather quickly. People already have enough trouble being distracted by texting, throwing video games into the mix might not help.

No matter what happens, I hope our kids, and our kid’s kids will grow up in a time where video games are still exploring the boundaries of technology and entertainment.

Note: There are many developers that have already started working on these two elements. I don’t want to demean the value of games by saying all players place their judgments entirely on graphics. That is not true, and a lot of games deserve more credit for their development in areas outside of graphics.