I helped my girlfriend with using PowerPoint earlier and while screwing around with the animations and triggers it hit me that you can make for some decent kiddie-games in PowerPoint. And since then, I can't stop thinking about it. I tried going to sleep but I just lied there making plans for an adventure game that would be possible to do using nothing but PowerPoint. It's awesome!
It has support for graphics, sound effects, triggers, mouse clicks, timing and text as output well as input. With all those tools, you should really be able to do something!
So I just got up again, it's the middle of the night and I've been googling. There are actually quite a few educational PowerPoint games out there but they all seem to... Suck. Hard. Big time. That's too bad really. But one could ask, why make a "game" in PowerPoint when there's Flash, etc. My answer is; because of the fun of it and because it's possible.
I'm gonna prototype!
Update: 45 minutes later and I got a prototype "up and running". It's just a proof of concept, but it does what it's supposed to. You can click on the door, the lock, the key and the window with the ladder. You can climb out, get the key and unlock the door. Feel free to try it. Nothing fancy. I'm happy, maybe I can finally get some sleep.
Download The Castle Game
One of the biggest and most respected Swedish game journalist, Petter Hegevall recently complained a bit about Splinter Cell: Conviction on his blog. He says he doesn't like the game holding his hand while playing:
Easy game control is a good thing. Well-done game mechanics is another good thing. But when Ubisoft removes much of the charm of being stealthy and sneaky by rewarding me with the function to be able to shoot all the bad guys I see with the touch of a button - then I wonder, was it really a gameplay related point of the reward?
It works like that, the new system of Conviction. A possibility to win by putting out a small red marker to kill a whole bunch of enemies by pressing a button. In my world it becomes more of a punishment, because I play stealth games to get to feel really über-awesome to sneak up on every enemy - and kill them silently.
This is surely wonderful for many when Conviction turns into a cool movie, complete with the Jason Bourne-influences and everything.
(Translated from Swedish) - http://www.gamereactor.se/blog/petter/#162263 (18/4/2010)
I disagree and I think he just doesn't get it. It's weird, really. I respect him and he usually writes good stuff, but this time I'm just no sure what he's thinking. He complains about the game turning into a movie instead of game, because of the feature to "mark" several enemies and execute them with a press of a button. I see it another way. All they've done is that they've moved and refocused the gameplay.
To be able to execute this technique you first need to perform special actions, like killing someone in stealth close combat, so the stealth gameplay is still very much there and heavily encouraged. The gameplay now focuses on preparation, placement of Sam Fisher (the avatar) and the execution/activation of a planned attack. That for me, is still a whole lot of fun, interactive and not in any way "automatic" or a movie.
Basically, they've just done the shooting aspect of the game more streamlined, which still isn't the entire game, thanks to the stealth, the gadgets and the maneuverability.
Sure, one could argue that the result is a less fun game if you're looking for a precision shooter. But I'm pretty sure the devs knew the game inside and out when designing the levels and scenarios, so claiming that the game became too easy just because of this it strange, because it's a result of many things.
At work today some of us were talking about sports like ice hockey, soccer and curling and one of the other guys mentioned that the games are designed to be fun to look at.
Should we design video games to be "spectator sports"? Of course, the game have to be fun for the player as well, but should we spend resources on making the game more fun for the people not playing it as well?
It would help sell the game, obviously. Seeing a game that was fun even just to watch, you'd be more likely to wanting to experience more of it.
Take Rock Band and Guitar Hero for example. And Singstar for that matter. They're games that usually have more people than the game can handle at once, so people pass around the instruments at parties and such. But if you ask me, they're not fun to watch... At all!
A lot of improvements could be made to make the game more enjoyable to watch. At least, that's what I think. Although, admittedly, I can't think of any excellent ones at the moment.
Games like Grim Fandango are great to watch, because they in a way present the same value as a movie.
But here's a question: Except for cinematics and things very similar to that, what makes a game enjoyable to watch? The game being unpredictable? Cool effects? Awesome one-liners? Amazing graphics? Ninjas? Or is it something completely different that's the secret ingredient?
I don't have a definite answer, but I think it's safe to assume that there are many different ways to go.
When we see a door we expect us to be able to open it. When we see a key we expect to pick it up. When we get a pistol we expect to use it to kill stuff. When there's a hallway in Resident Evil, we expect it to be scary as hell.
There are all forms of expectations when we play games. Many are based on other similar games, like when playing an FPS you keep comparing it to how other FPS games work. If you get a handgrenade, you'd expect to throw it. Not to pull the pin, hold the grenade and then die.
Whenever I play a new Mario-game I can be sure of a few things. Like that it'll be accessible, charming and that I won't pee myself because of fear. Hopefully I won't pee myself at all, come to think of it. Anyway, my point is we always have references while playing and we base our expectations on those.
One of the most brilliant ones I've ever played is in the "Lost in Nightmares" expansion for Resident Evil 5.
Back in -96, the first Resident Evil was released and while the game became a hit, there was one part in particular that came to become an instant cult classic. I'm talking about a hallway in which dogs jump in from outside through the windows. The first time around, players weren't ready for it and it scared the living shit out of them, me included. I remember actually having nightmares... Come on, I was 10 years old.
Whenever people talk about scary moments in games, that scene is brought up.
All of the following Resident Evil games of course had more (in amount) scary moments but I don't think anyone was as effective.
In the Lost in Nightmares expansion, you're playing in an estate extremly similar to that in the first game and to the right of the main hall, just like in the original, there's an identical hallway and guess what; it gave me the chills. In addition, you also hear dogs barking. Not nice!
Déjà vu in all its glory. When walking in the exact same corridor again, you get that eerier feeling if knowing that you're in a very, very scary place, but because it's something new at the same time, you do not know what's gonna happen.
It's an excellent example of a good use of the references players that knows about the first Resident Evil have.
If you haven't played it, I'm not gonna spoil what does, or does not happen...
Finally, things are as they should again. I'm back home and the celebration of Easter is over and done with, even though I miss the food. And I'm finally working again. Six days without game development... Crazy!
Apart from professional work, I spend my time with Iskall as usual and the thing I wanted to discuss was a problem I'm having.
I'm constantly being very influenced by other games and I have to say "No!", to myself.
A big part of Iskall is it's fighting mechanics and the core has been set since last year. Yet, as soon as I play a game with a good fighting mechanics I think "Wow, our game should work more like this!", and the. I have to have an internal struggle with myself, convincing me it's not a good idea because it's not according to the set key points.
Some of the key points about the fighting in Iskall are:
- Uncomplicated controls
- Puzzle elements into it
- Require a lot of moving about with the avatar
There are a few more, but those are the ones relevant for this example. Even though I have these points, when I recently played BlazBlue which is an extremly fast paced and tremendously hardcore fighting game which in no way fits my key points, I can't help but think that since the game's fighting is great, it'd be swell to incorporate some of it into Iskall.
This has happened while playing a bunch of games, and not only regarding the fighting.
I definately think it's great to look at other games to isolate what's good and what's not but even more important than a "design" is to have a "vision" and a "goal" of what you're trying to achieve, so you always have something to work against when getting new ideas.
"Wouldn't it be cool if you could throw puppies into a meat grinder?". It would, but it's not a good idea if you're making a children's game.
I think this is true not only for game design, but every kind of creative work that requires many decisions to be made: Game Design, Level Design, Art, Concepts, etc.
Btw, crunching the Farcry 2 editor at the moment for a mini-mini-project. I'd never used it before tonight but it's actually quite simple. At least the stuff I've been doing so far. Maybe I'll upload some pictures of the level in a couple of days.
Back to work along with my great friend, the energy drink!
A pretty default section of a contract you sign with a game developing company is that the company owns whatever you do within the area of video games, on and off working hours. And some companies doesn't like you doing anything at all regarding video game development other than what you do at work.
I know a horror story about a guy working at company X (I shouldn't mention which one here) but did modding and level designing using another rival company's engine/editor during his spare time. He got fired for working with the enemy.
Of course, you can always try and negotiate your contract. When I signed with Hello There we made it perfectly clear that they only own the stuff I do for their project in their office. They leave my site, my own designs and every spare time project alone. It wasn't a problem.
I understand why companies do this:
- The risk of people taking explicit things they learn at work and implementing it in their own projects.
- The risk of people working very hard on projects in their own time, affecting their performance at work.
But me, personally, I'm still not entirely convinced it's the way to go, because I think it's choking peoples' creativity and blowing our their fire.
If I hire a level designer, I would be thrilled if she's so passionate about level design that after she goes home, she keeps doing it, even if it's not for me. She's still practicing her craft and makes for a better resource for my company. Maybe she learnt something amazing while playing around at home?
Take me for example, I run this site where I write about game design, right? Because of, or thanks to this site, I keep focusing my thoughts and try to communicate different ways of thinking, problems, solutions and ways of doing things. If I didn't "practice" at home, I would be much less of a designer than I am today. (Not saying I'm anything special.)
And besides, if I wasn't able to, or allowed to do what I love during my own time as well, I would be less of a happy guy. And a sad person is a bad worker.
I say: Let people keep doing what they're doing!
At the moment, I'm working on some design for my spare time project I've been talking about earlier; Iskall.
The challenge I'm currently working on is to have the story, its events and the introduction of new gameplay elements to work together.
The game's overall story is set. There are a few scenarios in it, not dependent on being in a particular order to work. And all the themes for the levels are set. Right now, they're all listed in the order that makes most sense and creates the best narrative, experience and allows for some nice transitions between the levels. That is, if you only look at the story.
But here's the catch. Many of the events are directly intertwined with the introduction of new gameplay mechanics. For me, gameplay always comes first, but sometimes you have to compromise since a game is not only mechanics, it's an experience to be had by the player.
Let's draw a parallel to Super Mario Bros.. Nintendo could have introduced the Mushroom that turns Mario into Super Mario during the last levels, but it was better for the game to introduce it in the very first level. I can introduce some of Iskall's stuff very late, but it'll be better if it's early and vice versa.
And also, some events are directly tied to a specific level. Some events I can move freely between the levels, while some must be at specific theme.
Meaning, different story sections have different dependencies like theme, level and gameplay mechanic.
I have a chart showing in what order and when I want each new gameplay element to be introduced. Stuff like new enemies, new abilities, etc. But just cutting and pasting in the story to accomodate that chart doesn't result in a tight presentation context-wise. So what I'm doing right now is to find that balance.
I don't have a sure solution for this, and I don't know how it'll end since I'm not done yet. But the way I'm approaching it is to try and constantly look at the big picture and I'm trying to spread it out, so all the good stuff isn't too close together.
There will have to be some editing from both ends to make it feel just right.
I'm a bit busy now and during this weekend, so I'll use my old trick of doing a repost of a post I wrote for AboutGameDesign.com when the topic was:
Reward and Punishment
To get the really cool power ups in games, I usually have to be quite skilled to get them. If I'm skilled enough to get them, it's likely that I'm skilled enough to beat the game without them. If I'm not skilled enough to get them, it's likely that I'm not skilled enough to beat the game without them.
I want to discuss a common problem I see in games, to which I don't have a great solution; We often make the weak even weaker and the strong even stronger.
Shouldn't we encourage the weak to keep trying and give him some help? But then, if I get rewards for playing badly, why should I try to excel?
If I'm playing a game I'm good at, I feel that it's nothing short of damn right that I get to have the good stuff in the game. I've earned them. While playing Gradius and managing to keep level up my weapons, I'm on top of the world when I'm maxed up. But when I die, I lose my powers and the game gets a lot harder.
Now, in games like those Shoot 'em Ups it might be taken to the extreme, but the effect is most often there in games. If I'm a really good shot, I don't need as many bullets to kill my enemies, resulting in me having more bullets left to spend. If I'm a bad shot, I spend more bullets, making me have fewer left while I would need way more.
It's a natural way of things. Of course we want to create incentive for the player to play as well as he can and try and not to screw up. But some people just can't help themself from screwing up and what are we going to then? We could just say "Well, then you're not the right kind of person for this game." or we could give him a bigger gun and say "Okay, try again.".
I'm both pro and against the use of auto adjustment of the difficulty level. It's a great thing since, assuming it works, all players gets the "right" difficulty, but in a way, increased difficulty can be considered a punishment.
RPG's and other games where you can level up have a way of fixing this: Grinding. If you're beat, then just stay where you are in the game untill you're stronger and then continue. People complain about "grinding" but that's a topic on its own. Either way, it works.
But really, both the difficulty adjustments and the grinding aren't solutions for the problems with rewards and punishment, only whether or not the player can beat the game.
Some games, like Ninja Gaiden Sigma starts helping you out if you die too much (which I did...) where they basically say "Wow, you really suck. Do you want to admit your failure and play on the n00b-difficulty? We'll give you some health potions.", whereas I chose to accept.
So, in a way you get rewarded for not making it, but the reward isn't worth much. But at least it's something positive.
I'm not a fan of punishing the player as long as he's trying to play the game (cheaters, etc. deserve it). I think it's better to "not reward"
As I said, I don't have a great solution, but I think it's important to look at the situation and think long and hard about it. If the game is already hard enough, it shouldn't get even harder if you're a bad player.
I guess I'd have a roll of 15 in Strength or something in D&D and the Default Body in a character maker tool.
Not extraordinary in any way regarding my pshysique and I rarely (read: never) work out. If I did, how would I get the time to blog?
But the thing is, there's this iPhone App; "100 Pushups" that's an application you run every second day and it tells you how many push-ups to do (at least) for you to be able to 100 of them within six weeks. (There's also another version that's "200 Situps".)
Basically, it does:
- Keeps track of the day and week for you
- Adjusts the program to suit you level after each exhaustion tests
- Has a rest timer so you don’t need to remember the time between sets
- Allows you to do follow the six-week plan wherever you are and without the need to be near a computer
The brilliant thing here is, it works! Well, I don't know if I'll be able to do 100 when it's all over, but it actually makes me wanna try and keep on doing it because of one simple thing:
It shows me how many I've been able to do each time and if I do well, it increases ever so slowly. It's a highscore table, damn it!
They've created a real world meta game for me to play. I want to really push it to be able to get the real high scores.
There's just one tiny problem. I haven't been able to try it more than once, because after my first day I got muscle inflammation because of over exertion. FAIL! And now I have to wait for it to go away before I can continue.
So really, all we (I?) need to change my way of doing things is a highscore table? Looks like it.
This case is really a lot like what Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell talks about at DICE at one point. How "games" are reaching into the real world.
It's a great vid and I highly recommend it. He talks about several interesting things, some of which I'll discuss later here on my site as well. But in it, he talks about how Fords 's new hybrid cars have a field with leaves in the dashboard. Depending on how environmental friendly you drive, the leaves increase, increasing your "highscore".
It's absolutely fantastic! A simple display with some vegetation on it change how people drive!
It, in turn is just like "The Fun Theory", where they make people take the stairs instead of escalator and throw things in the trash instead of on the ground, by making it fun. It was initiated by Volkswagen.
Amazing power is to be had if making things fun.