Category Archives: WIT

Final Fantasy 9 – Initial Design Impressions

Steams recent winter sale had Final Fantasy 9 on discount. Since I’ve been meaning to play FF9 for awhile now, that and a good price made for a match made in heaven!

Whilst playing these are ‘designery’ thoughts I had during the first several hours of it:

Like

  • FF9 starts you off in a dark room where it easy to focus on your player and understand movement. It then lights up the wider environment.
  • Narrative reinforcement – One moment where you have to remember and mention the princess name when they are going over kidnapping plan.
  • Level Exploration – In the scene below your character enters the scene from the bottom of the screen. Once you have control of the character the world fulfills the expectation of continuity by providing an area that’s the opposite way the player is encouraged to go (using the crowd who moves forward).

Lots of and easy to find initial pick ups from environment to quickly establish and encourage exploring the environment for rewards.

  • Storytelling Moments – Initial area showcases poverty/class differences through characters in the scene.
  • Lots of encouragement to explore through cutscenes. For example Steiner locked in room and the cutscene shows you are treasure chest which encourages you to go there.
  • Love the variation of activities right from the start such as finding the knights of pluto, and a scene of quick time events of sword fighting.
Continue reading Final Fantasy 9 – Initial Design Impressions

Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

In this article I will chronicle the design process and lessons learned in creating Trash Traders a multiplayer iPad game aiming to empower a sustainability mindset.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Trash Traders.

Trash Traders is an iOS app built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for West Virginia’s Steenrod Elementary. Trash Traders is an experience that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life.

Continue reading Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

A Transformational Puzzle – Angle Jungle

In this article I will chronicle my design process in creating Angle Jungle an award winning transformational puzzle. Then how I went creating the puzzles within the experience, and finally lessons learned.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Angle Jungle.

Angle Jungle is an award winning educational puzzle game for fourth to sixth graders studying geometry. At the start of development our requirements were up in the air. Following discussions with our client we settled on the following objectives:

  1. Create an experience involving angles.
  2. Integrate the protractor tool.

Design

Our ideation process began with brainstorming based on the objectives of our project. We then went through two iterations of paper prototypes.

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From our paper prototypes, we choose to refine two based on feedback.

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In parallel we began the process of creating digital prototypes based off these paper prototypes.

Pirates Life – Digital

Our breakthrough moment came when Jesse Schell, a faculty member at the ETC, posed to us that though these games used angles, both could be played without thinking about angles. We needed to make an angles essential experience. This priceless notion lead us to create Angle Jungle’s progenitor which we called Treasure Hunter.

Treasure Hunter V1

Treasure Hunters mechanic encoded the relationship between the numeric and spatial representation of angles. This was achieved by having players use numeric representations to create spatial representations in-order to solve a puzzle. We believed this embodied a system where angles were essentialWe then began refining Treasure Hunter.

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After positive feedback from playtesting we next created a digital prototype.

In the above video players slot numeric values into a beam maker which creates a spatial value. A certain spatial value is required to hit an objective to solve a puzzle and receive treasure. This digital prototype then went through many more iterations.

At this point in development we had the foundations for an experience. What was needed next was to design that experience.

Experience Crafting

How does one go about creating an experience? There are infinite ways, but we began with considering the difficulty curve within our experience.

Difficulty Curve

The above graph is an abstract difficulty curve which displays a sequence of tense and release cycles of increasing difficulty. This curve would form the underlying foundation of our experience. 

Gameplay Elements

With an idea of what we wanted the experience to look like, next we conceptualized the elements within the greater experience. The inspiration for this process came from a number of sources including the learning materials of our target demographic.

Our aim was essentially to gamify our target demographics learning material. We would achieve this through gameplay elements which attempted to capture aspects of the kind of problems they faced in the classroom. These gameplay elements would form the core components of the experience.

More Motivation

Whilst conceptualizing our gameplay elements we also considered the possibility that the puzzle may not be intrinsically motivating enough for players. Therefore we created two additional supporting motivational factors.

Supporting Actor

A gender-neutral character that needed assistance (inspired by Jesse Schell’s Lens of Help). Given the use of supporting characters in educational experiences is common, and there exists research on the potential beneficial effects for players. We hoped this would augment learning within our experience.

Golden Expectations

In addition we created The Cabin. The Cabin would contain rewards in the form of treasures and trophies. The Cabin would act as motivational element by creating Golden Expectations (expectation of rewards) through the aesthetic use of empty shelves as well as serve as a measure of game progress.

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We also recognized the need to space out our rewards for better impact. We therefore arranged rewards into evenly spaced intervals.

All Together

Together these pieces could further flesh out the difficulty curve of our experience. The peaks of our difficulty curve would now commonly correspond to the introduction of gameplay elements, and the dips would be periods of rest at The Cabin.

The experience needed more though, it cried out for substance in the form of puzzle content.

Transformational Puzzle Complexity

With a high-level view, and the fundamental elements of the experience in mind we went about crafting a set of transformational puzzles.

This process resulted in a jumbled pile of puzzles. This was a good first step, but it did not fit the experience structure we wanted. We therefore turned to a mighty tool. The spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet consisted of columns of each gameplay element which we incrementally increased to raise puzzle complexity. This tool complemented the design process as we created more puzzles based on these new complexity constraints.

Two additional considerations came to mind during this process:

  1. Include drops in puzzle complexity when introducing new gameplay elements to allow for more effective tutorials.
  2. Have the majority of learning occur early when complexity is low.

The result of this work was a structure of thirty levels which we then playtested.

Although initial playtests were largely positive they revealed two design issues:

  1. Lack of Angle Diversity – High occurrence totals of fewer number of angle values in the total experience meant a lesser exposure to different angle values.
  2. One Gem Solutions – Solutions which required only one angle gem on more complex levels meant less interaction with different angle values.

Both issues were detrimental to our goal of building familiarity with the angle system. Therefore, two methods of analysis were used to solve these issues:

  1. Angle Distribution Analysis – Counts of each angle value used.
  2. Angle Solution Analysis – A comparison of solution angles against angle values used.

These methods revealed a number of such ‘issue’ levels.

Angle Analysis Results – First Pass

The result of iteratively applying this analysis was that both the complexity and angle diversity was maintained and improved. This ultimately meant a better attempt at achieving our transformational goal.

Occurrence Totals of Angle Values

Transformational Objectives

At the end of the project we ended up with a concrete primary transformational objective, and several secondary transformational objectives.

Primary Transformation

Build familiarity with the angle system by having players practice solving puzzles using a mechanic that has an encoded relationship between the numeric and spatial representations of angles.

Academic Support

Secondary Transformations

In addition to our primary transformational objective we took the opportunity to introduce a number of secondary transformational objectives in manners that were natural extensions of the core experience (providing the experience with more puzzle content).

Protractor Tool Usage

To solve a puzzle, players had to work out the angle that was required to be made. This was difficult for some playtesters and therefore provided a natural opportunity to introduce a protractor scaffolding tool.

By making this tool available we built in the protractor in a manner that was of a natural clear benefit to our players. We hoped by doing so to build familiarity and appreciation of the tool by creating a puzzle environment where it was undoubtedly helpful. Playtesting showed that this strategy ‘seemed’ to work.

Sharon Carver – ‘I especially like the meter that shows the full 360 degrees while the player is working on selecting angles.  It would definitely be worth testing the impact’

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angles

Introduce the notion of positive and negative angle values.

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angle Addition

Introduce both anticlockwise and clockwise rotation, and angle addition and subtraction.

Angles Above 180

Expose students to angles greater than 180 degrees.

Design Considerations

Whilst exposing students to our core mechanic (an encoding between the numeric and spatial representation of angles), initial levels would allow brute force approaches to be rewarded in order to draw in the player with easy rewards.

Allowing for such ‘brute force’ (choices made without solid reasoning) approaches, resulted in the following criticism being raised:

What if players are not doing the thinking you want?

In the defense of brute force, we responded with the following counter points:

  1. Absolute mindless play is rare, so since the use of numeric angle values are essential even with a brute force approach, players are likely to at least reason about this aspect of the game.
  2. Supporting brute force approaches makes the experience more accessible (we had first graders reach level 22 with help!).
  3. Brute force approaches are only reasonably satisfying in low complexity puzzles (playtesters who solely practiced a brute force approach experienced frustration on more complex puzzles).

Most importantly though, we admitted that when complexity was low players would not have to think ‘much’. This was intentional. The experience allowed it for a deeper purpose.

We intended to combine that brute force motivation together with puzzle complexity as a transformative tool to incentivize a ‘logical’ approach. As puzzle complexity slowly increased the experience would naturally create skill appropriate ‘teachable moments’ for teachers to capitalize on.

Results

The results of this process created an experience that contained:

  1. Suitable learning and puzzle complexity curves
  2. An appropriate pattern of tense and release
  3. Appropriately interspersed rewards
  4. An exposure to a wide variety of angle values 
  5. A mechanic where angles were essential (encoded the relationship between spatial and numeric representations of angles)
  6. Relevant and effective motivational elements

This combination resulted in:

  1. An engaging enjoyable experience
  2. Naturally occurring skill appropriate teachable moments
  3. An environment fostering collaborative play

The transformational puzzle complexity in Angle Jungle can be best exemplified by the following diagram (note it dips at times of gameplay element introduction).

Number of Gems against Level

Well what did the games design ultimately translate into? Get a glimpse in the following promotional video (I’m happy to share raw footage on request).

Lessons Learned

So what can we take away from this experience. First some classics:

  • Paper prototypes are your friend!
  • Ask yourself can I play this game without thinking about the core subject matter? Is the subject matter essential to the experience?
  • Consider experience curves from the get go to help structure your experience
  • Study your target demographics source material, and use it as an additional source of inspiration in your design process
  • When introducing new gameplay elements introduce it in a low complexity environment to make learning easier
  • Have most of learning occur early when complexity is low
  • When designing scaffolding tools try to design them in a manner that is of a natural clear benefit to the experience
  • If extending your experience is necessary, do so with natural gameplay elements that can serve transformational goals
  • Guess and check is not the enemy of education. In fact, I believe the availability of simple strategies can create accessibility to larger demographics

Additionally, whilst designing this educational puzzle game one question came to mind.

How can puzzles serve transformational goals?

At present my thoughts are twofold:

  1. Well designed puzzles can create engaging experiences for players which designers can use to piggyback onto to achieve a transformational goal.
  2. Puzzle complexity with brute force motivation can be combined into a transformative tool to create skill appropriate teachable moments at the boundaries of brute force and logical gameplay strategies.

Golden Expectations

As part of the educational game project my team was working on we were required to build a reward system. This system took the form of a trophy room which would display trophies that players had earned. After playtesting though we found we had created an expectation for treasure which we were not fulfilling. The following is a gameplay video where our players would collect treasure chests at the end of each level.

So in order to fulfill this expectation we created additional art assets which we would use to fill up our empty room. We faced a dilemma in this regard. We did not want to force players to see treasure added to the room at the end of every level. This would be far too disruptive to the game experience. So how does one fulfill the expectation of reward without forcibly having the player see the reward appear?

Well one thing helped us in this regard. We already designed fixed reward intervals through the trophy system which forced players to go to the trophy room and observe the new trophy being added to the trophy room.

Fixed Visitation

In our experience we had periods of fixed visitation where the player would be guaranteed to be seeing the Trophy Room. Looking at the experience more methodically we were giving trophy’s at the following intervals (we had thirty levels).

One and thirty were absolutely necessary since they began and ended the experience. The others were decided based on difficulty curve which was designed in previous weeks. Again we asked ourselves the question. How does one fulfill the expectation of reward without forcibly having the player see the reward appear?

Continue reading Golden Expectations

How Improv is Relevant

Improv is a skill we use every single day, it is a facet of how we deal with the unknown, and its development has incalculable benefits to our lives. Whilst at The Entertainment Technology Center the following exercises I found most useful:

I Own This Place

In this exercise we would receive a card from a pack of playing cards which would assign us a number. Based on that number we would adopt a status between extreme high and low.

Learning the concept of high, and low status as well as their traits has allowed me to reflect on myself. Not only do I better recognize status traits in others, but I intend to use this knowledge. I aim to exhibit higher status, and avoid lower status traits as I feel they are essential for many things including leadership positions which is what I aim for in my career.

Different Language Conversation

This exercise involved sitting in a semi-circle, and talking to each other in different languages.

My take away was a reinforcement of how paying attention despite not understanding is important. In and out of the industry we will have conversations where we don’t understand the ‘lingo’ of the speaker, such as when listening to highly technical speakers. Listening intently in those cases improves the conversation by respecting the speaker, and allows for a smoother transition to a language one does understand.

Continue reading How Improv is Relevant

Angle Analysis

Recently we have been working to create an educational game on angles. Part of that requires designing puzzles that try to provide educational value. The following blog post is a continuation of a look at our process.

Breakdown

The most important part when analyzing our puzzles was first to recognize our puzzle metrics. Initially these metrics were as follows:

  1. Mirror Numbers
  2. Number of slots
  3. Number of gems
  4. Gem Types
  5. Receivers

Game Elements – Draft

First Pass

We began our first pass using these metrics to craft the thirty puzzles that would form the core structure of our game. The process essentially boiled down to a table of each of these metrics listed in columns. We incrementally increased metrics until key climax moments which we referred to as ‘boss levels’. Following a boss level we dropped the metrics to allow for the introduction of a new system in a simpler environment.

Level Structure Table

Second Pass

Our first pass at developing the puzzles allowed us to create the initial structure of the experience. On further examination, points three and four actually had more depth to them. We broke these points into each and every gem value. This additional depth warranted further analysis.

We then went about constructing a meaningful method of presenting what we called ‘angle distribution’. Using this we mapped out each and every gem per level. This method of analysis revealed several levels that were problematic for different reasons such as:

  • High angle overlap
  • Had no garbage
  • Levels that were similarly structured

Gem Distribution Analysis Result

These key points conflicted with our main educational objective of improving familiarity with both numeric and visual representations of angles. As for one having a large degree of similar angles meant that the exposure to different angle values in the 360 angle system was lower. So for our second pass we went about redesigning certain levels adding in garbage, and choosing angle gems carefully to avoid overlap.

Third Pass

On making a third pass at the we again found a problem. Our third pass took the form of playing the levels. What we found was some gems were included that were direct solutions to problems in hard puzzles.

Third Pass Adjustments

We needed to weed out as though it is good that players are able to discern such a solution, we felt that doing so would mean engaging less with the angle gems in the level as several other gems were left out entirely in the solution. Thus we weeded such scenarios out during our third pass.

Conclusion

Essentially the process boiled down to a number of steps:

Analyze

  1. Carefully study the components within our structure
  2. Extrapolate areas for further fine grained analysis
  3. Develop a tool for analysis

 Adjust

  1. Apply the tool
  2. Identify and address problem areas
  3. Replay the experience
  4. Repeat adjustment

Using this process we iteratively analyzed our puzzles redesigning when necessary to ensure levels had particular solutions to problems with minimal overlap. Now with a clear design process, all thats left to do is playtest and hope the design worked!

GDC 2017, Game Design Workshop

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this years Game Developer Conference (GDC). Whilst there I had the pleasure of attending its Game Design Workshop.

The Game Design Workshop took place over two days. Both days included a general session, and an elective. I attended both Day 1 & Day 2. The following is a brief account of the experience. If you are an aspiring designer, and have the opportunity to attend the workshop this is a must do event!

Day 1

SiSSYFiGHT

On the workshops first day we played SiSSYFiGHT. After playing a few rounds, we were asked to come up with a new theme for the game. This involved each team member writing sticky notes, grouping them then voting on a theme.

With a theme of ‘artists vying for attention in the art world’ we added a steal mechanic. The steal mechanic would allow the attacking player to gain the points the other player lost. We quickly found that this mechanic made the game go on infinitely.

We then changed our chosen mechanic to Favor. The Favor mechanic gave a single point to the player of our choosing. This mechanic was better balanced, and encouraged cooperative behavior.

Game of Games

The first elective I chose was Game of Games run by Marc LeBlanc. For the elective we created a system (we did a card game) with a single rule. Our rule had players first play two cards of the same suite. Then play another two cards which had to add up to the higher of the last played two cards. We then were instructed to merge our game with another.

Fortunately the merge was easy as the other game employed a rule that was similar to ours (it was another card constraint rule where the total of the two cards needed to add up to an odd number). We repeated this system merge process four times, until finally we had to merge sixteen different systems.

During this ‘ordeal’ the hardest part was merging a card based system with a dice based system. Our first attempt to tackle this merge was setting up two asymmetric games which were played simultaneously against each other, but this was not a satisfactory outcome.

Equipment

We continued to struggle until Marc LeBlanc allowed us to cut from the system during merging the only constraint being to keep the core components (the dominoes, dice, and cards). At that point we brainstormed and came up with a method of dealing with this which was to combine the system through a medium they all shared, which was numbers.

What we created was a game which involved matching numbers based on eleven dice that were initially rolled, and remained fixed throughout the game. Cards, and dominoes played sequentially, and had to get a pair of numbers that matched the dice’s number to be able to claim it. The winner claimed six out of eleven available dice.

A Messy Attempt at Rules

By the end of  the workshop Marc LeBlanc introduced the MDA Framework, an awesome way of design a game.

Continue reading GDC 2017, Game Design Workshop

Educational Interest

As part of my Masters in Entertainment Technology I am working on an educational game project at The Entertainment Technology Center. My team aims to essentially create a living 360 degree angle system for fourth to six graders to interact with whilst solving puzzles. We hope that through our demographics interaction with this system we will:

  • Clarify misconceptions about the system
  • Build a familiarity with the system through puzzles which require students to use estimation

In approaching this problem we have gone through an extensive ideation process, and the result is that we finally nailed down a core mechanic that makes considering angles essential. The following is a prototype of what we came up with:

Currently in our project we are at a point where we have to create the puzzles that will make up the heart of our educational game. To do this properly requires the creation of an interest curve; but not just any interest curve! As well needing to be an entertaining experience we must go one step further, and include the element of educational value.

Design Process

With the objective of gamifying the material that our client uses to teach their students we began designing an interest curve. The first part of this process is to study the material which took the form of common core sheets.

We looked at each of the sheets, and broke down the different tasks involved which were as follows:

  1. Create an angle using a protractor
  2. Obtuse, acute, right, and straight problems
  3. Visual identification of obtuse, acute, right, and straight
  4. Identification of obtuse, acute, right within different shapes
  5. Given a protractor diagram identify the angle
  6. Estimate an angle between two points
  7. Find the missing angle given a total angle
  8. Find supplementary angles
  9. Finding complementary angles
  10. Find missing angles in a cross shaped
  11. Find angles in portions of a circle
  12. Find the angles in a triangle

Next with these tasks we looked at what tasks were best suited to the game we have created which was 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12.

In parallel we created a number of game elements to help us create these problems:

  • Clockwise Gem
  • Anticlockwise Gem
  • Beam Generator
  • Power Gem
  • Receivers & Obstacles

Game Elements

We then identified what is essentially our core gameplay challenges that our player will face:

  • Dragging angle gems into beam generator/receivers
  • Remove angle gems from beam generator/receivers
  • Value deciesions between angle gems
  • Clockwise angle gem addition problems
  • Anticlockwise angle gem addition problems

Given our design and students curriculum, we made some assumptions about these challenges:

  • We consider clockwise movement a more advanced topic
  • Increasing complexity means increasing challenge, which can be achieved with more mirrors, angle gem slots, and receivers with obstacles

Now with these elements we imagined an interest curve.

Continue reading Educational Interest

Building Trust

How can we build trust as game designers? This is a question I’ve been asking myself, and in doing so came across an awesome video by James Everett, Lead Game Designer at Magic Leap (talking at Game Connect Asia Pacific).

In the above video James discusses the following.

Saruman vs Hobbit

Don’t be a Saruman, someone who ‘dispenses wisdom’ from an ivory tower. Instead be a hobbit. Be a comrade, a facilitator, filter, and collaborator for the people around you.

Trust

Everett breaks down trust into two components.

Logical

The logical component is based on the societal structure that we expect from normal, rational human beings, comprised of:

  1. Contractual obligations
  2. Past behavior
  3. Following social norms
  4. Following the law

Emotional

Emotional trust is:

  • The default in healthy teams
  • Reciprocal
  • Pleasant and efficient

Everett then discusses three ways in which designers can build or break trust.

Continue reading Building Trust

Grapes of Wrath – Map Design Lessons

Last week I designed Grapes of Wrath, a concept for a multiplayer level in Battlefield 1. Reflecting on the experience I will detail my process, and lessons learned in the hope of enriching myself and others.

I initially split design into two segments. Theme & Structure.

Theme

Given an aim to create a post apocalyptic theme I began my research with reference images.

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In addition to reference images I sought out other forms of media such as movies, book and games that were set in a post apocalyptic setting.

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What struck me most when reviewing this material was the desolate landscapes, and ruinous infrastructure. I intended to include these elements in some manner in the map I designed.

Structure

In the context of Battlefield 1 I define structure as map objectives, points of interest, unit design, and player flow.

Research

My research into structure began with two of Battlefield 1’s modes, Conquest & Rush, both of which I intended to accommodate within my map design.

Modes

Not only did I experience these modes by playing them, but I used spectator mode to watch the battle play out at a meta level. This allowed me easily see how objective placement, and points of interest affected player flows.

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Unit

I then looked at Battlefield 1’s units. A study of the different infantry classes, tanks, airplanes, and vehicles revealed sub-categories, each of which had different play styles:

  • Air
    • A fast but weak plane
    • A slow but powerful bomber
    • A hybrid plane
  • Tanks
    • Glass cannon artillery
    • A fast but weak tank
    • Slow but powerful tank
    • A hybrid
  • Infantry
    • Short
    • Medium
    • Long range
  • The Behemoth – A lead breaker

Battlefield 1 is a web of balance, and what I found was their vehicles cater to extreme playstyles with disadvantages, and usually a third averaged option.

Cerebral Design

Combining map knowledge and player elements I created a ‘cerebral map’ for Rush and Conquest. These maps included player flows, and major elements such as the Behemoth route, and an underground bridge.

For Rush mode the map intended to convey that attackers would become weaker over time, and defenders stronger whereas in Conquest it should be balanced strength. I hoped to achieve this experience with various measures such as:

  • Placing map objectives progressively further from attackers and closer to defenders in Rush
  • Giving more elite kits and vehicles to defenders as the attackers captured objectives in Rush
  • Balancing elite kits and vehicle spawns in Conquest

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My cerebral map was an initial pass at an experience, which was all well and good, but it clearly was not a map! What I had created was akin to a disfigured skeleton which needed a layer of flesh, and its bones tweaked.  A location was needed to root these abstract concepts in. Therefore Location became the third segment of my design process.

Continue reading Grapes of Wrath – Map Design Lessons

Difficulty in Difficulty

How does one convey difficulty levels?

The most common method in video games is through a menu from which players choose terms to set the difficulty of the game. Such menus generally take the form of the following:

  1. Easier than Easy
  2. Easy
  3. Medium
  4. Hard
  5. Harder than Hard

With each term developers have two ‘paths’ they can take. A generic or idiosyncratic term.

  1. Generic – Commonly used terms which have no thematic basis in a game
  2. Idiosyncratic – Terms that have a thematic basis in a game

Generic

The following are examples of generic terms:

  1. Beginner
  2. Easy
  3. Medium / Normal
  4. Hard
  5. Expert

A clear advantage to using such terms is they are established concepts in the gamer zeitgeist making them more likely to be know across cultures, and languages.

On the other hand a number of issues arise when using generic terms such as:

  1. Different MeaningsNintendo Hard’s easy is harder than Western easy
  2. Different Connotations – There are many interpretations of the term. For example Easy can have negative connotations to a players self sense of skill though it may be appropriate. This may cause them to choose a higher difficulty than is appropriate resulting in a less enjoyable experience.
  3. Not Thematic – Alone they add little flavor to the game

Continue reading Difficulty in Difficulty

Shadow of The Colossus, Visual Story Assignment

As part of our Visual Story course at Carnegie Mellons Entertainment Technology Center we were required to briefly analyze visual imagery in a piece of media. I choose the game Shadow of The Colossus as my subject matter.

Diagonal Lines

As the game begins with an eagle in the distance. The eagle descends into a mountain range flying rapidly, in a titled manner past our hero creating a momentary clear diagonal, and frame within a frame. The combination of techniques draw our eyes into that area of the screen where we our introduced to our hero clearly contrasted in brighter colors against the dark mountains.

Contrast

As our hero continues to travel under the cover of darkness, we see the moon peer out from the canopy. the contrast between the moon and the dark leaves draws our eyes in which the director then uses for a smooth visual transition to the next scene which has a horse’s feet moving at the position of the moon.

As our hero approaches his destination he encounters a pass. Our eyes are drawn to our hero in his bright cape, and the glowing pass which contrasts with the stone grey scene. The techniques help setup our eyes on to our hero and where he is heading.

Continue reading Shadow of The Colossus, Visual Story Assignment

Entwined, Impressions

Entwined is a rhythm game developed by PixelOpus for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.

Warning there be spoilers ahead! Read at your own peril!

Entwined’s gameplay can be broken down into two sections:

PowerUp

  • An on the rails experience in a tube game space with a fish and bird respectively confined to a half of the tube.

  • Each side of the tube has a PowerUp bar that is filled by the player collecting objects contained on that side.
  • Objects are collected through the player moving the fish and bird using their controllers joysticks.
  • When the bar is full the player morphs into a dragon and goes into the SkyWrite section.

SkyWrite

  • A freeroam experience where players use their controllers joysticks to fly around a fixed area collecting orbs till the sections PowerUp bar is filled.
  • Once the PowerUp bar is filled the player can SkyWrite leaving a persistant trail.
  • When SkyWriting is complete the player can proceed to the next PowerUp section to continue the game.

Like

  • Beautiful visuals
  • When the bird and fish come close together their color melds into a green, which is the same color of the dragon they later morph into.

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  • Little orbs used to direct player to fly interesting areas

  • Powerup system links into joystick controls well
  • Great tutorial. The developers employed practical examples with clear visual indicators in both PowerUp and SkyWrite sections.

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  • Good use of orange and blue which are strong color themes throughout game

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Continue reading Entwined, Impressions

Almost Famous, Heroes Journey Assignment

From suburbia to rock heaven and back again, Almost Famous is a story of an out of place boy sent into the unknown, to return with the truth.

Warning there be spoilers ahead! Read at your own peril!

The Known

The Heroes Journey of Almost Famous begins with our protagonist William, and his known world. William is a boy ahead of the curve, being significantly younger than his classroom peers.

Despite Williams gifts, he has his share of troubles due in part to two differences:

Physical examples:

  • Where are your pubes? – incident in Williams High School.
  • Looking out of place when brushing his hair in the bathroom due to not having a beard

Mental examples:

  • His joy when others are corrected – incident with the ‘Xmas’ painter where William happily looks on
  • An intense interest in his mother’s interests – whilst cooking soy cutlets
  • Nobody includes him. They call him “The Narc” – this is indicative of Williams dislike of drugs, a quality presumably gained from his mother

Due in part to internalizing his mother’s choices at a young age, William is an abnormality in the ordinary world, and he is scorned by his peers for it. Williams mother, and their home is what he knows, and is thus symbolic of the known world. The known world is not without conflict though.

Troubles manifest themselves through William’s sister who rebels against against the known. During this time William is shown not only to have a limited awareness of his problem, but is unable to influence his world. 

Watching helplessly Williams mother and sister fight infront of him. Ultimately Williams sister abandons the known for the unknown world, though not before aiding William. Williams sister increases his awareness of a need for change, through her music records.

Continue reading Almost Famous, Heroes Journey Assignment

Heart of The Swarm, Impressions

Recently I’ve been playing Starcraft 2 Heart of The Swarm, a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. The following are my notes:

There be spoilers ahead, read at your own peril!

Like

  • The Hyperion mission! Having to manage one unit with a continuous stream of battling non playable characters takes away the added task of micro management and lets me enjoy a feeling of ‘distinctiveness’

  • How ‘cutscenes’ meld into gameplay e.g when saving Raynor, Kerrigan’s Leviathan arms smash into the prison ship which then transitions into the game level

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  • Evolution missions really helps players understand how an evolution works and how to use it

Dislike

  • After Kerrigan’s battle with Narud, I felt she recovered too quickly. It drew from the gravity of the fight. She should have been in an injured state for the Leviathan section where characters could comment on her fight. Then by the next mission having recovered, there would be a contextual piece of dialog about it

Continue reading Heart of The Swarm, Impressions

Dyscourse, Impressions

Recently I’ve been playing Dyscourse, a survival adventure video game developed and published by Owlchemy. The following are my notes:

There be spoilers ahead, read at your own peril!

Like

  • Effective non playable character ‘humanization’
    • Text – One character makes a reference to the main players clothes
    • Actions – Passing around of water bottles scene

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  • Warm colorful storybook art style
  • Characters reflect ‘character’ through facial expressions, walking style, and speech which conveys the characters emotion
  • ‘Torchlight Talk’ mechanic, it makes sense that the fire goes out over time making talking limited

  • Time based events with clearly conveyed state e.g combo sequence required to defeat boar

  • Color coding for character dialog messages

  • Slight shine on wooden planks to attract players attention

  • Choice confirmation points that give a player a chance to again consider

  • Rewind feature, which allows player to go through the story again and try get the outcome they actually desire

Continue reading Dyscourse, Impressions

Pocket Legends Ability System

Pocket legends is a multi-platform mobile massively multiplayer online game where players play with a variety of classes which have unique abilities. For this exercise I will be analyzing the ability system in Pocket Legends with a focus on the player vs environment (PvE) tank system for the warrior class.

Classes

In Pocket Legends each class has a role they perform, one such class is the warrior which suits the role of ‘protector’. During gameplay the warrior attracts the attention of enemies, and takes the majority of incoming damage. This role is referred to as being a ‘tank’.

To enact the role of tank, the warrior has an ability system. A tank that is unable to hold the attention of enemies will most likely result in the death of the party. This causes dissatisfaction with the game, which leads to lower player retention. It is therefore important that this system functions well.

Abilities

The fundamental building blocks of the ability system are the abilities. Warriors have unique abilities they can perform such as Vengeful Slash which has usage requirements, and effects when used. These usage requirements are mana, cooldown, and player level which are the primary variables that control this system.

When an ability is enabled it can be cast, and when cast goes into a ‘cooling’ time period. When cooling the ability cannot be used until the cooling period is over. Once the ability has cooled down, the player is able to cast it again. This process repeats as long as the player is able to cast the ability. Disabled abilities cannot be used at all due not meeting usage requirements such as lack of mana, character being dead etc.

Enabled, Cooling, Disabled

We can represent this loop with the following diagram.

Continue reading Pocket Legends Ability System

Champion Designs – League of Legends

Whilst playing League of Legends I hosted a review center on EU West, and with that experience created a number of champions.

I did not create the following art, they were used as reference images during the design process.

Development

Design Goals

Each champion had distinct design goals which drove its creation.

Euler

Euler
Euler

  • Tank that absorbs his allies pain (relevant when considering his lore).
  • A sand Golem, so integrating sand into his design was vital.

Hungarfen

Hungarfen
Hungarfen

  • Biological experiment. A mutated monster that creates and’s spreads spores.

Chowder

Chowder
Chowder

  • A tank that utilized stealth.

Continue reading Champion Designs – League of Legends

An Impression of 140

Melding music and game play is an interesting area of game development which games such as Crypt of the NecroDancer, Beat Buddy, and Guitar Hero, have explored. Whilst exploring my own shamefully large collection of untouched games on Humble Bundle I happened upon the game 140 which makes its own contribution to this area.

140_game_logo

With lead designer Jeppe Carlson, (co-designer of the well know title Limbo) 140 was created by Carlson Games. Paraphrasing Jeppe, he describes 140 as an old school platformer, where the challenge is in syncing up your moves, and jumps to the music controlled elements.

After a short time with 140 I thought to briefly note my impressions of the game.

Disclaimer – This is not a  thorough review, but notes of an impression based on approximately 20 minutes of game play. Everyone is fallible.

Impression Notes

  • On launching 140, the first thing that hit me was its minimalist art style. Its distinctive color scheme made it easy to identify puzzle patterns, and game elements.
  • In 140, music is at the heart of its game-play with appropriately pulsating background, and game elements used with rhythm based mechanics to make interesting puzzles.
  • 140 relies on players exploration of controls as I noticed no traditional tutorial which can be fine. Although some helpful information based on monitoring of the game state is good e.g explain to jump or move if a player hasn’t moved for a long time.
  • Like other titles in this area 140 suffers slightly from issues of repetitive music. This issue I believe essentially stems from player progression which is something hard to control. I felt this game handled this issue well by splitting music into short levels.

140_game_elements

  • The difficulty of the game quickly ramps up, likely making it less accessible to the casual gamer. On the other hand though, this meant 140 presented more challenging puzzles, which is delight for some. It’s good that the creators of 140 realized the game difficulty, and employed frequent checkpoints through out the game.
  • 140 bravely deviates off a more traditional pattern of game mastery by transitioning to a hail shooter from a rhythm based platformer at the first boss fight. I found the hail shooter boss encounter to be a disproportionately high increase in difficulty from the challenges before. The encounter left me frustrated (maybe I just sucked bad). Perhaps an easier encounter, or a series of checkpoints through the boss encounter would have been preferable.
  • Raph Koster said ‘noise is patterns we don’t understand’, and so it felt appropriate that the ‘death blocks’ were static noise. 140s creators took this concept even further during the first boss fight as static noise breaks down into music.

First Boss Fight
First Boss Fight

  • Like other titles in this area of game development, 140 suffers from issues of repetitive music. This issue I believe essentially stems from player progression which is something hard to control. 140 tackled this issue well by shortening levels, and splitting up music into those levels.
  • I liked how the levels key (item objective) was innately tied to the next level through music. When hearing the keys music was excited thinking about how it would later manifest itself as a mechanic.

Conclusion

All in all I enjoyed 140, being a nicely designed little gem it was a happy little surprise. Budding game designers should definitely give it a play as its a game well focused on how to meld music, and game-play.

Shogun 2s User Interface, Center

The central area of the Total War interface receives the highest attention from the player. This post will look at a number of the elements that appear there.

Total War Encyclopedia

There are many pages within the encyclopedia. A look at one page gives a good understanding of the user interface (UI) element given the consistency used throughout the encyclopedia.

Encyclopedia Page

  • Light Blue – Main Subject Categories.
  • Dark Blue – Scroll Bar.
  • Green – Navigation Buttons.
  • Light Green – Part of Page Description.
  • Orange – Topic Navigation.
  • Pink – Relevant UI Image.
  • Purple – Page Title.
  • Red – Main Title.
  • Yellow – Browser Breadcrumb.

Notes

  • The scroll bar (Dark Blue) is not themed, resulting in it looking quite out of place. Perhaps this area was not given as much priority which is understandable as perhaps players don’t use the encyclopedia so much? From my experience I didn’t, and that is a sign of good game design.
  • The designers used the encyclopedia icon next to the UI elements main title (Red) likely to subtly have a player associate the image with the words Total War Encyclopedia.
  • The cancel button, and the navigation buttons are grouped together (Green) in the top left. For this area the designers have used the Main Menu button for the Home Button in the encyclopedia, they rely an understanding of ‘importance’.
  • The use of bread crumbs is good for players to quickly backtrack when navigating (Yellow).
  • The on hover underlining used for the main page categories is more link like (Light Blue).
  • There is a further reading tab located at the bottom of the page (Orange) which makes sense since the read is likely to look there. At the bottom of the page, the left and right topic options are displayed based on related topics in the manual.
  • For the main article they used topic headings, text descriptions with images, and icons which prove to be very helpful (Pink & Light Green) in conveying the point of the article.

Continue reading Shogun 2s User Interface, Center