I just got Wolfenstein RPG for my iPhone because I felt I wanted something RPG-ish to play and I hadn't yet played any of the Id FPS RPG-thingies, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
Anyhow, the thing I wanted to share with you was something that happened to me. Have a look at this first screen and look at the top of the screen and then in the center at the syringe that's referred to.
When I noticed the open hand icon and the text "Evade Syringe" I thought; "Whoah! That was close. I almost stepped on the syringe! I'd better avoid it.", so I left it alone and moved on.
I read the open hand as "Stop!" and "Evade Syringe" as a warning. But lookie, lookie, what I noticed shortly thereafter:
The hand means to pick up and not to stop and the text was the name of the object. The "Evade Syringe" was a usable item that I could use to gain some evasion skill for a short duration.
It's not a huge deal, and I won't be making that mistake again. But the hand in combination with that name sure fooled me.
So lesson learned for me, when making user interface you have to think on how it's read.
This is more how a pick up hand looks in my head:
I try to be a pretty organized guy, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. I just found a post-it note under my Wacom that's probably about six months old. It's a note saying I should post on this blog about Synthetic Happiness and the freedom of choice as discussed by Dan Gilbert over at TED.
Okay, so I'm a bit late, but it's time to do the post-it justice!
In this talk, Gilbert talks about two things of interest.
- Our frontal lobe and the prefrontal cortex
- Synthetic happiness
The prefrontal cortex makes it possible for us to simulate experiences in our head, so we don't actually have to carry them out. I won't put my head in a door opening and slam the door shut, because without even trying, I bet it'd hurt.
For a gamer, the prefrontal cortex gets to work a lot when we're playing RPG's and we have to place our skill points. In a way, I hate that part of RPG's because I always have such a hard time deciding on where to place my points, what skills to learn and even which class to play. I run every solution I can think of in my head to see what will result as the best/most fun way.
Because of that damn simulator in my head I can sit and stare at the character improvement screen for ages without making a decision. And I'm so scared of making the "wrong" choice.
And this is where the second point kicks into action, the Synthetic Happiness in relation to the freedom of choice.
Basically, the results of some research show that people feel happy even if they "shouldn't". After some time, a person winning the lottery and a person becoming handicapped are just as happy. And synthetic, the fake happiness is just as valid as the "real happiness".
But also, they show that people are much more satisfied with their choices if they were irreversible.
The example they give is a university hosting a photo course. At the end of the course, the students are only allowed to keep one out of two photos as a huge print. Half the group are told that they can always change which one to keep later, by just returning the old one. While the other half are told that they must make the decision now and they can't change it later on.
The numbers then show that most of the people that could change it afterwards weren't satisfied with their choice, while the people that got stuck with their choice were much more satisfied. The mind adapts to the current situation because it can't be changed, and they're experiencing synthetic happiness.
So if we then translate this into games; the way to make players feel best is by not letting them edit their choices during the game. Not allowing re-assignment of skill points and "unlearning of spells".
In a typical RPG you can't really make this bulletproof though, since you can always restart the game with a new character. As it should be, if you ask me.
But all in all, I think designers should really take the adaptation and synthetic happiness into consideration when designing.
Heavy Rain is doing really well in the reviews. I haven't actually read any of them, but Metacritic is my friend at times.
Nor have I played the entire game, only the demo but that's enough for me to discuss one thing.
The other day I was talking to a friend who'd just tried out the Heavy Rain demo on PSN and he said he really liked it. He said he liked that it seems like the game has a ton of story and that he really enjoyed the gameplay.
I agree about the story part, but the gameplay? Come on!?
During the entire demo, I rarely ever knew what I was doing untill afterwards, when it was already done.
Okay, I'm guessing and hoping this is something that has been discussed already in... Every review, but if it is, why is the game scoring so incredibly high? It's at 88/100 right now.
Let me explain. In the game, a bunch of different commands pop up on the screen. A normal situation in the game might offer you these options:
- Pull your right stick right.
- Pull your right stick in a semi circle counter clockwise.
- Press R1.
But the thing is; they don't tell you what each of the commands does. I don't know, maybe you're just supposed to "get it" naturally, but I sure didn't. They try and make them somewhat understandable since pulling the stick right will likely do something towards the right, like reaching out an arm, but I can't be sure.
For me, personally, that's completely crazy and I wouldn't dream of doing such a control scheme. However, that being said; I'm not saying it's a bad game. Everyone seems to love it, so maybe it's just me not getting it, and maybe it all becomes crystal clear if I get the entire game.
It's just that I can't let go of this weird design choice. Sure, maybe it's immersive for most, but for me it just breaks my suspension of disbelief.
When I told another friend about my frustration, he sent me a link to one of the comics over at Ctrl-Alt-Delete and really, they nailed it.
Despite all this, maybe it really is an amazing adventure to be had? I'm not saying it isn't.
Here's another "just thinking out loud".
I'm one of those guys who like to watch anime. I recently watched the Eureka Seven series. It's 50 episodes, each spanning around 20 minutes. It took me less than a week to finish. After that I watched Clannad After Story. It's 25 eps and took me three days.
The reason I can finish them so fast is because it's passive entertainment that doesn't require much from my side. When I get tired at night, I can watch a couple of hours with anime before going to bed. This is of course true to any kind of show, and not just anime.
Another thing is that since it requires so little from me, it's easy for me to do it for extended amounts of time without getting "exhausted".
Here's what I'm thinking. Is it the same with games?
Games are a very active activity. It often requires me to stay sharp, think hard and execute physical actions, even if it's just with my hands. No game can be purely passive, but the things required from me can differ. I'd say that a Point & Click Adventure Game doesn't require as much activity as a Quake Death match.
Is it easier to spend time with passive games than active ones?
If I want to make a game in which player can spend many hours with without getting tired, should I aim for a passive one? I have no idea.
And how do I make a really passive game? Personally, when I'm tired and I'm still up for some anime (or Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, or whatever) even adventure games are too much. Hm... This deserves some thinking. How do I make an extremly passive game that's actually fun? Not only passive in actions, but also in mind efforts, while still not being too easy and boring.
Every now and then I bash other games' design choices, making it sound like I'm so much better (which of course, I am). And it's not like I each and every time give some examples of how to do it in a better way.
Anyway I thought it would be fun (for you, not me) to see some of my bad designs as well.
Back in the summer 2006 I wrote a game design document for a game I was thinking about trying to have developed as a spare time project. I called it Agumented as a project name and it was a top down shooter with some strategic elements in a Sci-Fi setting. I might have been a fun game indeed, but not earth shaking in it's innovations. In the end, I never tried to develop it.
Looking back at it, the "worst" part about it must be my mini-map.
How it works:
- It's in full 3D, formed as a cube, where each side represent a perspective of the level.
- The player wouldn't start with 100% of the map discovered, unless it's been acquired somehow in advance.
- The cube could be rotated by being controlled by the player.
- It would show your location as well as enemies within your line of sight or otherwise detected with various equipment.
- It would be placed in a corner of the screen meanwhile playing, so keep in mind that it's a mini-map and not a map reached from the Pause screen.
Have a looksie at the picture.
Why it's bad:
If I were to see this design in a game today, it would probably drive me crazy. I can really understand how I thought back then and in theory it works, but the problem is that I don't think it's easy to read at all. To actually understand my surrounding and what's going on, I would have to look at all three sides individually and then combine the gathered data into one piece of information.
Heck, I don't know. Maybe that's easy for a person to do, but if there's a complex environment with walls, stairs and the player's position along with five enemies, I think it would be hard to get an instant overview.
When using a simple top-down map like in most games, we can process the information instantaneously.
Any piece of on-screen-information like this should require an absolute minimum of time and effort to compute, if you ask me. Clearly, that's not the case here.
The mistake I made:
Unfortunately, I think the main reason for why "this happened" was because I wanted to make something new and interesting, instead of using something old that's proved to work. I'm not against innovative thinking at all, but I don't think it should be forced like I did here. I did it "because" even though the results were worse, which I didn't see at the time.
There you have it. One of my bad designs over the years. I hope enjoyed it, because I didn't...
I'm still sick, so I don't really have the juice and magical mojo required to write a fancy post but still, I don't want you to think I'm dead so I'll just go ahead and ramble on some things that's been on my mind today.
This year I've been playing a lot of Point & Click Adventure games; mostly thanks to Telltale Games. I try to play through Monkey Island 1-3 every now and then along with Grim Fandango, but this year I've played the first six Sam & Max games, the first four of the "Tales"-series of Monkey Island and yesterday Beneath a Steel Sky (remastered edition, on the iPhone).
I enjoyed them all, some more than other.
What I'm thinking about is:
What makes a fun adventure game?
Many would say that the story is the most and only important thing. While that really is a very important part with the story, setting and great dialogue I still don't think it's what makes it a great game.
I think it's just like with any other game; the gameplay and pacing. The gameplay here would partly be the dialogue, but mostly the puzzles and how you solve them. One could argue that the "gameplay" would only be the clicking on an object to use and then the object to use it on, but I'm willing to stretch it a bit for this genre.
Even though the puzzles themselves are directly connected to the story, I think there's more going on there than you'd think of at first glance. For example, can't think of any other genre that use the cognitive process involving affordances and what we expect and item to be able to do, just by looking at it. "This probably fits here", "Oh, a credit card is often used to open locks in movies", "Hm, it's shaped like a moon", and so forth.
I've never tried to make an adventure game, so I'm absolutely no guru in this matter, but I think it's extremely hard to set the pacing. How much dialogue between the puzzles? How long should it be between gaining an object and having to use it?
I think you have to consider all these factors and more, to make a truly great adventure game.
Another thing I think is especially important for this kind of game, is something that I'll dedicate an entire post to later on once I get healthy: It have to be fun to make mistakes.
Okay, enough rambling!
Words are powerful things, they are. Sure, they can be really helpful, but sometimes, they can be a bitch...
You don't like it when people call you mean things, right?
I've been having some trouble with a part of the design for Iskall. Way back when, in the beginning of the project the game was supposed to have a simple system for... Let's call it special attacks. The problem is, because of the lack of a better word at the time, we called it "magic".
Because of that, the word magic got stuck in my head and refuses to leave. Whenever I think of and work on the system, I keep thinking about magic. Magics in other games. Spells. Mana. Elemental attacks, etc. The stuff that you think of when you put games and magic together. But it's not magic!
It is not Magic, but because that's the word we've been using for a while, it keeps restricting me!
Be really, really careful about what words and descriptions you use for stuff, because it sticks!
I think Project Natal can prove to be a stroke of genius from Microsoft’s side if the technology actually works.
But the one big issue I have with it is that it is input only.
I’m not in any way saying that this will cause it’s utter and complete failure, but it is something that every “Natal game designer” will have to work on.
If Natal actually works, it will be able to pretty much keep track of your entire bodies motions, facial recognition, color recognition and voice recognition. These are all inputs. It gives nothing in return.
What the player will get is audio/visual feedback from the TV/speakers just like with any other game and the designers will have to make that part top notch if it is to provide a great gaming experience.
A “normal” controller gives lots and lots of feedback! Not only does is shake/rumble that might be the first thing people think of, but every time you press a button you can feel yourself doing it, you can feel when it’s pressed and when it’s released. When you’re pulling the sticks, there’s a force applied to your thumb that along with its position and angle tells you how far you’ve pulled it.
Some might argue that Natal is like Wii with its motion sensors, but I disagree. You still have the physical Wii-mote, its weight and its buttons. I don’t think it’s anywhere near Natal.
I think even the iPhone would be a better comparison. There are tons and tons of games being released for the iPhone and many of them suffer from not being able to give the player enough feedback when it comes to controls. I get sad every time I see an iPhone game with a D-Pad smacked right onto the screen. It really never works.
But games using the accelerometer and make games that you lean and tilt the iPhone to control, they work like a charm, because you get 1:1 feedback. I lean the iPhone, I lean what’s inside the iPhone.
Another input only gaming device are microphones used in singing games, like Singstar. The microphones don’t give any feedback to the player and the great thing is; they don’t have to!
Just as Singstar single handedly proves that it doesn’t have to be problem, a game for Natal could easily do the same. But I’m really hoping that all Natal designers out there will work hard on this issue and create something other than karaoke games and “dodge the ball”-stuff.
I have no doubt in my mind that it’s possible.
And btw, no one said you can’t have a game that uses both a normal controller and the Natal-camera, right? Enhancing!
Today I read a really great post about Curiosity over at "Johnny Holland Magazine". To quote the site:
Johnny is an open collective talking, sharing and finding answers about the interaction between people and products, systems or processes.
-Johnny Holland Magazine
The text was about curiosity and interaction and can be found here:
It has absolutely nothing to do with gaming or game design per se, but it's still a great read for any designer, because it's really easy to directly translate most of the content into game design.
In it, you'll find explicit tips on how you can tease the customer (for us; player) to wanting to know more. Exploration games, anyone?
Apparently this behavioral economist; Geroge Loewenstein has a "Information-Gap Theory" which states that “curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.”
The article goes on and on with great insights and things that makes my mind sparkle with excitement!
The feeling we get from these information gaps is best described as deprivation, which is critical to understanding why it is we are motivated by curiosity. In order to “eliminate the feeling of deprivation,” we seek out the missing information. This is of course ironic, considering that we routinely seek out puzzles, mystery novels and other curious situations that create this sense of deprivation. However, it’s important to note that many researchers once viewed curiosity as something aversive; a decision-theoretic view suggests we should only want to know something if it helps us make more informed decisions. Why would be attracted to something that offers no extrinsic benefit? Many other debates have surrounded curiosity: Is curiosity internally or externally stimulated? Is curiosity a primary drive, like hunger or fear? Is curiosity a state or trait? And this one: “If people like positive levels of curiosity, why do they attempt to resolve the curiosity?”
After reading it, even if it's not a master piece in anyway, I suddenly realize how I somehow never really given the simple (well, extremly complex!) concept of curiosity enough thought regarding game design! What an incredibly powerful tool it is.
I think I knew this already, but I needed a whack on the head to realise it. It's really time for me to read up on curiosity, as after reading this I have a gap of information about it... It makes me curious.
I know the RTS-genre is huge especially with games like Starcraft and Warcraft III (Go Blizzard!) but I have one major beef with games like that; the input.
Real Time Strategy. I love the concept. Control a vast amount of units, having them execute strategic manouvers to overcome the resistance of the enemies.
But I don't have the über-micro (micro management of the units)... I can, in my head, decide what I want each and every single unit to do. Where they should go, what they should attack and how. But I can't execute by clicking like a madman with the mouse and using hotkeys on the keyboard.
That's not what I'm looking for in a strategy game. For me, the appealing part is ordering my units, not the actual physical process of having to successfully select them and click on things.
I know that a lot of people like that aspect as well. "The micro is what makes the game fun!", "It's what seperates the skilled from the n00b.". Too bad, I say.
Since that is the case, I suppose there should be games just like Starcraft, where micro is power. But I want a strategy game where someone has drastically reimagined how to control it. I'm afraid I don't know how. If I did, it'd already be working on that game on my spare time.
Since I know what I want to do, I don't want to have any problems doing it. I think "standard controls" does nothing but thwart me.
So someone, preferably a Game Designer for an upcoming RTS, create a strategy game I can enjoy to the fullest!