zaterdag 28 maart 2009

The experimental gameplay sessions

As always the session begins with a chaotic, but relaxed fiddling with cables, plugs and laptops on stage. The biggest room in the north hall fills up to the last chair. Whe’re of for two hours of the newest and weirdest games of the year, collected by Jonathn Blow and presented by their makers:

The unfinished Swan
Ian Dallas
This beautiful game is a FPS with a twist. The player has a paintballgun that shoots only black paint. The whole screen starts white. As the player begin to randomly shoot around, the black paint reveals walls, blocks, balls, benches an trees. This is a wonderful pure mechanic that would lend it self perfectly for puzzles, but Dallas felt that would be too obvious. Almost that all new mechanics are first tried out in a puzzle. Inspired by a childrensbook he decided to make a beautiful short story in which the player sees only the traces of a swan in the white world, and has to find it. It is an exploratory paintball game.

Shadow physics
Steve Swink, Scot Anderson (flashbang studios)
In this game the player is the shadow of an avatar that can walk on the shadows of all objects. The player has to find a way from A to B moving on the shadows. To complete a level he can move objects (by pushing their shadows: so Y-ax on one wall, and X-ax on the other), and move around the camera and lights.

Marc ten Bosch
This was probably the weirdest game ever: it is an exploration game, navigating from A to B in a level, but the puzzles have to be solved in 4 dimensions!
I’m not even try to explain this in text, but it really where 4 spatial dimensions. And the weird thing is: after 5 minutes of seeing him play, it didn’t seem all that hard to imagine. After al, like Marc said: as every programmer knows, space is just a list of numbers, so add something to the list and you have another dimension.

Spy party
Chris Heckler
This ‘side-project’ is a game based on the principle of the Turing test, but a bit more complex. Let me explain the game first: it is a multiplayer gamer, set at a cocktail party hosted by the ambassador. One player is a sniper outside the room looking in. He has a mission to kill a double agent but doesn’t know who that is. Most guests are NPC’s, but an other human plays the double agent. The game is: can the sniper distinguish the AI from a human player? Hence the Turing test.

Moon Stories
Daniel Benmergui
This is a beautiful storybased puzzelgame. Each level the player gets a short story in a few frames. By moving objects around in one frame, the player can influence the course of events in the later frames. Goal is to create a satisfying ending.

Jenova Chen, Nick Clark (theatgamecompany)
Everybody knows flower on PS3, right? The makers showed some interesting prototypes. Did you know it had rollercoaster’s at one point?

Chris Hazard, Mike Resnick (Hazardous Studios)
This in the ‘braid-time-travel-mechanic’ built in RTS. This meant really complicated gameplay, which usually led to a race towards the past. Both players trying to compete by changing history in their favor.

In this 2D platformer every character is lend from the famous arcade games. So Mario is there, with some of his enemies, but also the spaceships from spacewar and space invaders etc. and they all keep their abilities. So Mario can run both ways and jump, but the space invader ship can only move from left to right and shoot. Every level, both protagonist and antagonist change. So each level requires a different strategy.

Where is my Heart
Bernhard Schulenberg
This game is a poetry based, up-scroller. It begins with a sad, short poem written by a girl who is committing suicide by drowning right below the poem. You can help her in many ways by changing some words in the poem. (if you change the sentence “this makes me sad” in “this makes me shine”, she will start shining and scare the dangerous creatures threatening her, away)

Tyler Glasiel
it is basically a platformer with three avatars controlled by the player. Al characters have different abilities and they have to work together to reach the end. To make it abit more interesting Glasiel has cut up the screen like a comic book and put the pieces together in a weird order. So when a character leaves a panel, you it turns up in very unexpected places: going up might result in going down….

Extreme Consequence (rogue-likes)
Derek Yu
this was a seemingly arbitrary collection of rogue like games and a short presentation of a rogue like game he made himself called spellunky-in. It was clear he was intrigued by this genre, but did not succeed in transferring his enthusiasm to me, or show what was special or experimental about his game.

The last presentation was a bit of a dispointment, but I’m not complaining. These where 2.5 hours well spend. My suggestion: play them all!

donderdag 26 maart 2009

X-form rules @ GDC

In a sponsored meeting Pieter Albers and Diederik Groesbeek from Xform, both DVTG alumni where on stage to tell about their new kartgame an their experience with shockwave games.
Although they where the youngest at the table, they seemed at least as experienced as the others. (and their game looked by far the best)

I especially love the part where the moderator asked why they made 3D games instead of the cheaper and faster developed 2D games. Everybody nicely answered that it game more compelling player-experiences, better turnover and conversion rates and so on, then Diederik grabbed the microphone and said [and I rephrase]: sorry, but we just really like making 3D games better, we always have. Its just more fun. So even when we make 2D games we set-up a 3D pipeline and render it all out.

This seemed a superficial argument, and knowing Diederik it maybe was (sorry D. ;-P) But it reminded me of a talk yesterday by Kellee Santiago from thatgamecompany about managing a small creative team. Rule number one was: If the team doesn’t love the game, it will suck.

In short: They did great on stage, they have a great little company going and it showed.

Meaningful User Generated Content

This was my favorite talk of GDC2009, and I don’t think anyone is going to beat it. But I’m chewing on it, so forgive me if it’s not totally clear yet.

The past year User Generated Content (UGC) has been carried around on a pedestal as if it were the holy grail for games. Yet nobody seemed to know what it was exactly or how it was supposed to be applied. Chris Hecker, designer on spore, tries to get a grip on this phenomenon.

To begin with: what is UGC?
How much must the user generate for it to be UGC, and as he generates too much: isn’t he then the gamedesigner instead of the user?
The cycle of editing, testing and then evaluating if the design is working is the same for both designer and (content generating) user only the designers loop is bigger. You could say that there is a hierarchy in generated content by looking at how it’s made. Generating content in Second Life is easy, generating content in a C&C level editor is doable, but harder, and the hardest tool for generating content is C++. But then you ‘re probably an indie gamedesigner…

Why do we need USC is his second question he proposes. Isn’t the game made by the authors usually better? Jonathan Blow argued last year that the traditional message model of meaning has broken down. The viewers don’t watch, reflect and then construct meaning. They do things while immersed and construct meaning from that experimental action.

Chris Hecker leaves the stage, Will Wright enters.
Wright talks for one minute about how and why the Russians reacted the way they did to the US Starwars program and the launch of the first space-shuttles.
And of course why and how their attempts failed after the falling of the Berlin wall.
Wright leaves, Hecker enters stage and continues.

This is an immersive model of meaning. This leads to abdicating authorship. The designer should give some of his authorship to the player, not in the sense that the player can decide what to do first, and only has influence on the plot or order of things, but the designer should give the player the possibility to construct meaning.

And the last question of course: How do we do it?
Here I’m grasping on with my fingernails and I find out that reading parts of Kants work, only once (and the other parts not at all) is not sufficient. (Erik B. if you’re reading this, please help me out,
It has to do with making the different between Kants notions of the beautiful and the sublime. During the talk I understood on some level, but not enough so I can explain it now.
But we do have to leave gaps of meaning in games for the player to fill in. This of course should not be a puzzle (“mmm,…which meaning goes in which gap to get the optimum highscore?”). I’ll write on this further when I get an idea about Kants theories that does it justice.

book of lenses

Jesse Schell talked about his new book on (teaching) game design. As head of Carnegie Melons gamedesign department, former imagineer at Disney and gamedesigner, who better than him to write about this. (I bought the book on Monday already. I haven’t had the time to read it, but that will come…) Surprisingly enough most of the talk was about his doubts about writing. What he had done over the last years he now had to write down in a structured, readable way. This proved to be a big problem. Gamedesign is a process in which everything touches everything, and a book is linear by nature, and in his own words: “linear sucks!”
What proved to be his answer to this problem was the idea of the lenses. Each chapter is a description of a lens, or perspective on a game or gamedesign, trough which one can look at the work or artefact. All in all he describes 100 lenses. His motto: I don’t have all the answers, but I do know what questions to ask.

Designing a new kind of ARG

Area/Code is a company that has been around for some time. They have always built games that took place in real life an online. They themselves have called them “Big Games”, now term “Reality Game” is probably more known and covers more or less the same genre. They have built an ARG for the CBS series NUMB3RS. Frank Lantz, one of the co-founders elaborates on their design-goals and the choices they made.
He feels lucky that most clients who ask for an ARG do not have a clue of what an ARG really is or can be. This gave them in this case the freedom to redefine the genre to their own standards. Usually an ARG is a very mysterious and confusing world that can only be understood by expert players. Area/Code wanted to make an ARG that was also accessible for casual, or fist time players.
Though traditionally ARGs are story-based and rely heavily on the puppetmaster who develops the game and the story real-time, Area/Code developed an ARG that was preprogrammed in a system that could also handle the unexpected player-actions.
Their ARG had to meet the following demands:
- procedural
- a dynamic system
- rulebased (focus on gameplay, not content)
and at the same time be:
- storybased
- dramatic
- mysterious
- casual!
Key factor in this was that they did not want to make a puzzle AND a story, but make a puzzle AS a story.
The result was “Chainfactor”. In the ARG, one of the characters out of a NUMB3RS episode has created an online puzzle game. The deeper meaning of the game and the mysteries that surround it ca only be played out by the more hardcore ARG players, but the game itself is very well played by casual gamers. The whole ARG is balanced in such a way that hardcore and casual players need each other to finish the game. This makes this game appealing to a far larger group, though in my opinion they did not succeed in designing a new kind of ARG. The core of the ARG was still only for the experts. Noobs where useful to them as casual puzzle players.

dinsdag 24 maart 2009

Changing the Future by Game Design

Jane McGonnigal works at the Institute For The Future and leading research on how Games will change the world or how game design can be used to design human life. Games like world without oil and rubysbequest are part of this research.
This keynote she gave a very inspiring talk about the way she sees the world is going to change and what game designers could add in value to that.
On of those talks that give you the feeling that this changes everything, but you can’t put your finger on it yet. I’ll get beck to you on this….

maandag 23 maart 2009

Indie summit

In the indie-summit I watched three short presentations on design and development.
The three designers at the microphone where ‘Cactus’ (I was in the War), Petri Purho (Crayon Physics) and Dylan Fitinger (audiosurf). All talks where very entertaining and above all interesting.

They all talked about constraints. Cactus builds his games in four hours (although this is only the development part), and both Petri and Dylan limit the time they will work on a game before its published. Petri is well known for his Kloonigames and Dylan publishes on his site

Limiting the time is only one possibility. For Audiosurf, Fittinger borrowed icons from other game interfaces without knowing what the icon was used for in the original. Only after deciding on the list of icons that would be in the game he started working on what the icons would mean in the game.
These constraints, if chosen well, encourage creativity. It is important though that the constraints are for the core activity. As Fittinger put it: “coding with your toes is just annoying.”

Also all three discussed the function of making prototypes. Petri compared prototyping as foreplay because most guys want to skip it, baking prototypes proved him to be very useful.
First it is a way of testing your idea: will it work.
Secondly it is a good way to get the bad ideas out of your system.
And last but not least making a prototype will give your more and better ideas for the game.
crayon physics was based on a prototype for a physics game with lemmings…!