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Monthly Archives: October 2009
Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the launch of Smiles.
Yeah, it’s been that long already.
This weekend I’m giving Smiles Zen away for FREE. Also, I’ve discounting Smiles to $1.99 to reflect the price. I guess that’s how we celebrate 1 year on iPhone.
In other news, Smiles 1.3 is on the [...] Continue reading
I’ve posted about graphviz in an earlier post. Basically, I find it immensely useful to sketch out gameplay ideas in terms of dependencies.
Flower Power Example
Suppose you have an idea for your game, a “flower boss”. To defeat this boss, you imagine the player attacking it with a fertilizer bomb. In Graphviz:
flower_boss [shape=octagon]; // we want bosses as octagons
flower_boss -> fertilizer_bomb; // beating the flower boss depends on the f-bomb
fertilizer_bomb [shape=box]; // items will be squares
Graphviz will draw this as a octagon of the flower boss with an arrow pointing down to the fertilizer bomb:
It might not seem like much. But the important thing is you’ve encoded something specific about your game. Later on, you’re going to have to figure out how the player will get this fertilizer bomb.
Organize Ideas As-U-Go!
By doing this iteratively, you can organize your ideas. You will start to see how the different pieces of your game fit together. You can even see if things are getting ugly, like I did in the following diagram:
Here the problem is it’s highly horizontal. A lot of players will say they value nonlinearity but too much of it is just overwhelming and confusing. As well, too much nonlinearity will destroy any sense of flow or progression within the story.
If you just have to complete 100 tasks in any order, that interrelate in unpredictable ways, you’re going to feel less than compelled beforehand and less than satisfied afterwards.
Then, Reorganize Them!
The beautiful thing though, is even with an ugly graph there are parts of it that will crystallize. You immediately get ideas suggested to you for genuinely interesting events, quests, and relationships. You can spot things that seem a bit out of place or wacky.
Another thing I do is put “want” nodes. These are actually maybe the most important nodes, and represent the player’s desire. A want node “deliver_letter” pointing to an npc “npc_joe” means that when the player interacts with Joe, they should end up wanting to deliver the letter. Simple as that!
I’ve also realized that “want” nodes map very nicely to my “notes” system. So this design document works on a few different levels.
Here’s the Final Graph
This graph is the product of almost a week of work. It’s a wonderful thing because it’s specific and at the same time very “light”. I jogged and jostled nodes around and could very easily imagine the gameplay flow as I did so. You can see, this one looks much more managable.
Everything flows so logically, and for the most part is balanced. It’s less linear than you might expect, but there is a definite story progression.
Now I get to implement it! =) Continue reading
If you’re like me, you recently obtained a Wii and have almost no idea what games released over the past three years are worth playing. I asked for advice from friends, family, coworkers, and Twitter followers, and I received quite a few suggestions. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 revealed 20 [...] Continue reading
The Great Pumpkin still needs your help! As is his way, he’ll be going away after Halloween is over, so I suggest you get in there and do some damage. The Happy Pony has been greatly weakened from the constant struggle for the past month (not that he’d ever complain – he’s always happy!), so now is your best shot! The Pony will also now return hourly, and you can get new items as much as every 5 minutes!.
So don’t miss out on the most exciting Halloween event this side of a haunted hayride! He won’t be around forever, so SAVE THE PUMPKIN! Continue reading
A Preliminary Poetics for Interactive Drama and Games by Michael Mateas discusses an interesting concept for video games called agency. Mateas describes agency as “the feeling of empowerment that comes from being able to take actions in the world whose effects relate to the player’s intention”. Basically, that means that the player is coming up with goals they want to reach (that is, they are forming intentions), and based on them decide on in-game actions to take which will move them towards their goal. A more simplistic way to say it would be that the player can do the things that they want to do, and have them cause effects related to what they were expecting.
Sounds great, how do we do that?
If a game gives the player agency, then the act of playing the game becomes more directed and enjoyable. But, how does a game make this happen? Mateas answers this by first bringing up two concepts from Aristotle’s theory of drama: material cause and formal cause.
Aristotelian what now?
Material cause and formal cause have opaque names, but they’re actually pretty simple concepts. Material cause means the components that make up something. In drama, this means things like the acting and dialog that you see when you watch it. By finding patterns in these elements, you can infer things about how the characters are feeling, and what direction the plot as a whole is going to go. This leads to the formal cause, which is the overall goal, or plan. In drama, this refers to the plot, or the theme. The author is the only one who knows the exact formal cause, but the viewer infers it from the material cause.
But wait, we were talking about games
Mateas takes adds player interaction to these concepts to map these concepts to video games. He redefines formal cause as being not only the game’s end goal, but also incorporating the goals of the player. The player forms new intentions as they’re playing, and those intentions shape what they do in the game. They become the “plot” of the gameplay experience. He also reevaluates the role of formal causation:
In noninteractive drama, understanding the formal chain of causation allows the audience to appreciate how all the action of the play stems from the dramatic necessity of the plot and theme. In interactive drama, the understanding of the formal causation from the level of plot to character additionally helps the player to have an understanding of what to do, that is, why they should take action within the story world at all.
That is, the context of the game which makes up the formal causation actually indicate to the player what actions they should expect to be able to take.
However, affordances given to the player given by the material cause also suggest actions to take. This just means that if you see something in a game, you expect to be able to interact with it and use it for something. This ties in with the concept of affordance from user interface design. For example, when a weapon drops in Super Smash Bros., not only do you expect to be able to interact with it, but its very presence suggests to you that you should do so.
What does this have to do with agency?
Mateas uses the concepts of formal and material cause to indicate how a game can give the player a sense of agency:
A player will experience agency when there is a balance between the material and formal constraints. When the actions motivated by the formal constraints (affordances) via dramatic probability in the plot are commensurate with the material constraints (affordances) made available from the levels of spectacle, pattern, language, and thought, then the player will experience agency.
The player will feel agency when the goals coming from the game’s plot or context match up with the things that the game mechanics allow and encourage the player to do. This is because the player’s long-term goals cause them to decide to take certain actions (to form intentions), and the material causes (mechanics, items) allow them to take these actions in a way that produces results. Not only that, but these results are then meaningful because they are relevant to the game’s plot or the game’s intentions (usually because the results were expected by the player). This means that the player is constantly driven to make meaningful decisions and getting meaningful results.
If you’re like me, you recently obtained a Wii and have almost no idea what games released over the past three years are worth playing. I asked for advice from friends, family, coworkers, and Twitter followers, and I received quite a few suggestions. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 revealed 15 games I was [...] Continue reading
If you’re like me, you recently obtained a Wii and have almost no idea what games released over the past three years are worth playing. I asked for advice from friends, family, coworkers, and Twitter followers, and I received quite a few suggestions. Part 1 and Part 2 revealed 10 games I was told I [...] Continue reading
A game made for the minild educational compo.
If you’re like me, you recently obtained a Wii and have almost no idea what games released over the past three years are worth playing. I asked for advice from friends, family, coworkers, and Twitter followers, and I received quite a few suggestions. Yesterday I posted Part 1 in this series, featuring five games I [...] Continue reading
I’ve been rewriting the entire framework code and am just about finished. I have a couple more things to do in the GUI module and I still need to redo the homestarrunner menu demo, but after that I can finally release everything to the public. I’m a little nervous because of the severity of this [...] Continue reading
So last Thursday I got sick, maybe this H1N1 thing. I’m feeling better now.
The Library Event
So last week I showed the game off at a small business fair at the local library to the general public. Lots of non-gamers present and many I convinced to try the game. It was really illuminating! Here are some fun facts:
- Women really enjoy it.
- They require some major cajoling to give it a try.
- The “sticking to walls” bug is very disrupting.
- There are some visibility issues that are very disrupting.
- Maybe 50% of the people asked, before trying the game, “What’s the point?”
The last point is really interesting. Remember these are mostly non-gamers. Could it be people don’t play games because they don’t see any point to it? Weird!
By the time it was done I answered this last question along the lines of:
“It tells the story of a man from Texas who takes a Holiday in England, and then slips through a rabbit-hole like in Alice in Wonderland and ends up in an alternate Texas. He has to find his way back home, to the Real Texas, which is what the game is called: The Real Texas.”
It was a bit more polished on Tuesday and I should probably have written it down.
What’s next? Collisions fixed!
Well, I’ve fixed the collision code so that you don’t get caught on walls anymore. That was yesterday, and it was a surprisingly clean fix. Very satisfying as well, and amazing that I let it go for so long with such a poor implementation.
Wednesday, the day after the library, I had an epiphany. I was half-slumburing on the couch and realized what I need to do to restructure the start of the game, introduce a much snappier flow and prevent the player getting bogged down in puzzle solving before any action hits.
It’s so obvious, and so smart! You’ll have to wait for the next demo to see, and before I actually do implementation I need to do some short-story writing and diagram sketching. But this is truly rewarding:
I’ve been gathering feedback, observing, and thinking about the game and all it’s virtues and problems for over a month now. Finally, it all sort of jellied together and that is indeed satisfying. This is why user feedback is vital, folks!
My fellow game devs, do everything you can to get feedback on your game, earlier the better! Continue reading
After years of waiting, I purchased a Nintendo Wii. A friend’s uncle was selling the Wii, 9 games, and a few controllers and peripherals for a little over $200, and I couldn’t pass up the deal.
With the recent price drop, I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has a new Wii and [...] Continue reading
5 framework demos down, 1 to go. After that, writing them as tutorials. # Helped someone start learning pygame today and ended up with a semi-useful tutorial. Considering a whole tutorial set now… # Animations Demo is officially working. Man I wrote those wrong the first time around… # I’ve let this new tutorial get [...] Continue reading
From the evening session of a game jam today.
play in browser (flash)
source (as3 w/ flixel)
Hey, everybody, check out some really amusing pictures, and vote for your favorites!
Costume Contest entries here
Not-So-Costume Contest entries here
(Links take you to the entries. To place your vote, scroll the page to the top)
Best Halloween Ever is underway… and by the way, if you haven’t sent in your Halloween Horror world yet, get on that, because they’re due today! Just seven days until it all blows up! Continue reading
This is for the beta release, and most(I think all) of these bugs have been reported in the bug tracker. (Note the bug tracker is currently reporting errors… so I can not link to bugs).I do like a lot of things about the release… these are mainly … Continue reading
Beta Testing Disaster: “It Crashed”
I smiled as the AdHoc version of my new iPhone game zipped through the intertubes, neatly delivering itself to each beta tester to enjoy with his cheese and wine. What could go wrong, my code is perfect as always. (Yeah…)
My smirk turned to horror as the replies came in – two [...]
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