The First Rule Of Fight Club Is You DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB

February 6, 2008

Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies

Today I presented what our group has worked on so far for the ARG project. Actually, I presented the method we are using to do our work. I didn’t show anything that we have actually created. This seemed to upset some of the people in the class, since I wouldn’t answer certain questions. One person even made the comment that I should go into politics.

The truth is that I wish I could tell everyone what we are working on so that we could get feedback on whether or not it plays well. But there are some problems with this.

Linear Narrative

ARGs have a linear narrative that is non-repeatable. Once one aspect of the ARG has been discovered there is no way to hide that information again. The only option is to change the important piece of information. This may sound simple, but all of the information surrounding it will have to change in a cascade of content revamp. If even a small granule of important information is leaked before it is intended to be released, then our team will have to go through a mad scramble to try and fix the problem.

Episodal Development

Our team has decided to develop while the ARG is being played. Unlike a more traditional video game model, in which the game is released “completed”, ARGs have the ability to have content change or added before the end of the ARG is reached. The information I tell you about today may have little-to-no relevance on what the ARG will become in the future.

Content Development

The needle in the haystack seems to be the best way of thinking about ARG creation. You make a single piece of information that is important and hide in a vast amount of information that isn’t. In fact, it’s one factor our team hadn’t counted on and has pushed development time much longer. We are stuck making hay right now. If we showed you what we had at this moment, it wouldn’t make much sense unless we pointed out the needle to you directly. This kills the “discovery” aspect of playing the ARG.

Playtesting

One issue our team is going to have to face in the upcoming weeks as we approach one of our major milestones is how to get people to play test the game. I have three thoughts on this.

  • NDA Testers – By making our testers sign NDAs, it will hopefully protect content from being leaked. The problem is that even a simple slip of the tongue could divulge too much information to future players and throw off our whole design path.
  • Don’t Test It – This goes against everything I’ve ever been taught or learned about games. Games are interactive, and the only way to test them is to interact with them.
  • Just Release – If we just release what we have as the beginning of the ARG, then we can do “on-the-fly” testing. Of course, we couldn’t fix any issues inherent to what we have, but we could make sure we don’t do the same mistakes when we actually release the next phase.

No matter what, I know that we will be scrambling after release to see how this thing all plays out. I know that we are going to have to change how we are doing things to compensate.


Qantm Education?

December 5, 2007

According to an interview with Tom Misner, CEO and founder of the SAE group, I just wasted four years of my life getting a degree that wasn’t from Qantm, an Australian based college. There seems to be quite an uproar over the statements made in Mr. Misner’s interview. Many industry veterans turned academic professors, including Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schrieber, have posted about how they feel about the statements made in this interview.

As a current student in a game design curriculum outside of Mr. Misner’s college, I feel that his statements were…well…totally and ridiculously unfounded in the world of reality. While I try to create virtual worlds for others to explore, it seems that Mr. Misner has created one inside of his head to justify these outrageous statements. The largest part of his interview that is upsetting to me his is notion that it takes “three years for a college to change a course“. I’m not sure what university he attended, but it must not have been a very good one to have to take three years to update a course.

There are many courses taught here at SCAD that offer not only up-to-date practical, technology based teachings, such as using the latest version of popular modeling programs like Max, Maya and ZBrush, but also the newest theoretical teachings on the game design process. I have never once felt behind the curve so much that when I got out of school I would be unprepared. Even if colleges are “behind the times”, a three year delay is ridiculous. If I ever attended any sort of educational institution that was that far behind, I would consider my time a waste.

Many colleges with a focus on training individuals entering into technology fields understand that the industry drives education. It’s usually not the other way around, and especially not in game design, where academics are so young. I would be wary of schools, or individuals, that don’t understand this.


No Zombies, Ninjas, Pirates, Prostitutes

November 10, 2007

Advice for Design Students from a Design Student

A lot of people wonder where to get ideas for game design. Most students, it seem, use the same method: starting with narrative (I’ve got this idea about a game involving the fall of the roman empire). While these methods are certainly fine, they usually are more geared towards the creation of content over design. The fall of the roman empire is certainly a fine narrative basis for a game, but I believe it’s not because the student is thinking of what sort of mechanics (political systems, health of the populace, defending against barbarian hordes (Go Celts!)) can be used in the game but more what the visual style of the game will be. Certainly they can model all sorts of Roman Centurions, Senate Members, along with all of the various architectural elements, but what sort of game experience do you offer the player? This, I feel, is the number one overlooked aspect of game development when it comes to student design.Students seem to be under the impression that complexity equals fun. I know I’ve been guilty of this designer drug. The more complex the system is, the more fun it is for me to create.However, it is one of the biggest things you can do to make your player put your game down and walk away. Intuitive interaction should be your goal, not “Let’s make the player read 20 pages in the manual to figure out how to combine game items together”.There’s a mantra I try to make everyone I talk to at the school follow: No Zombies, No Ninjas, No Pirates, No Prostitutes. It seems that most student designers try to put one of these four stereotypes into their game. If your goal is to create a unique experience, how are you going to do that when you are releasing Zombie Shooter # 176? The best means for creating a unique game play experience is to combine two design methods: Core Design philosophy and Hunicke, LeBlanc and Zubek’s MDA approach.

Core Design Philosophy

Endorsed by Miyamoto of Nintendo God-Status, the Core Design philosophy involves the creation of a single “nugget” of game design goodness. If you look at any of the Mario Brothers game series, for instance, they have a core of “jumping”. Everything in the game involves jumping. You jump on things, into things, over things, etc. This creates a great game play experience for many reasons. First, by understanding one simple mechanic (Pressing A makes my character jump), the player is able to go through a discovery of all of the different things they can now do with this one mechanic. This allows for a minimal amount of tutorial time. By starting with a core, the designer can develop the rest of the game based all around that core. If it doesn’t use the core, then cut it (another thing students don’t seem to like doing). Get rid of it. It doesn’t go with the core.But what core should I start with? Should I take another game’s core and try to use it in a new way? Certainly. The probability of you coming up with something 100% original is very minimal, at least in your early design process. Start with something you think is a good core and try to improve upon it. What if you had zero gravity jumping in Mario? Or perhaps the world was spherical, and so jumping wasn’t a straight up and down process? This seems to be what the designers at Nintendo have implemented in the upcoming Mario Galaxy.

Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics

This leads to the second thing that students usually overlook: certain mechanics will cause the player to have a certain experience. If Mario couldn’t hop on enemies to squash them, the game play experience changes completely. Now, instead of feeling empowered over the enemies in the world, the player has to avoid them, dodging around and over them as much as possible. This is an example of the MDA concept: Mechanics lead to Dynamics which lead to Aesthetics. The Aesthetic of a game has nothing to do with the visual components in a pure design sense. It has to do with the experience that the player will have. Is the game scary? happy? silly? All of these come from the mechanics of the game.So, say the student wants to make a game about the fall of the Roman Empire. Does the player need to feel a sense of impending doom? What mechanics can be placed in the game for the player to feel this? Even if we visually create the world with this in mind (dirty, unkempt populace, broken and destroyed buildings, dark and ominous music), if the player has complete control of the world and nothing goes wrong, then the game will be a failure at instilling the aesthetic. A mechanic in which the player has no control over certain elements, and those elements are always a negative (senate members being assassinated or corrupted easily, things that decrease the populations belief in their government) then their will be a much greater effect on the gaming experience than any visual element will.In the end, I think something that most students forget is that games are an interactive medium. Unlike film, television or stage, gaming involves creating a connection between the player and the world in which their avatar exist. Without this connection, the player is simply an observer. Of course, in the world of an observer, visual style is a major factor in creating the experience. But in the world of a participant, it is only part of the gestalt.


A Busy Jeff = A Lonely Blog

November 6, 2007

I haven’t had much time in the past couple of days to update my blog, since it’s getting to be crunch time around here. Finals and all. I also just realized that I haven’t done my weekly design practice that I was planning on doing. It’s something that is going on the back burner for a week or so while I finish up with finals.

In other news, it seems that my ARG has made quite an impression on a lot of people in our major. I’ve had a couple of people not on my project offer to help in anyway they can just to be a part of it. Makes me feel good as a designer to have the potential to create a project that can get so many people interested.


ARG Greenlit

November 4, 2007

Well, my ARG got picked up by the class, along with two other projects (Tank and Avatars). I’m really looking forward to it, in all honesty. The only other academic produced ARG I’ve heard of is Pac Manhattan, which got widespread press coverage in the industry. Let’s hope ours gets the same.


My Studio 2 Pitch

November 3, 2007

So, this is a day late, but it’s finals…

My pitch was an ARG. I feel that there are some issues that are going on in the game industry right now, such as focusing on technology over design innovation. ARGs allow a more design oriented mentality when it comes to games, since the technology is something that anyone with a computer, even someone with a 10 year old computer using dial up internet, can be a part of.

The other major factor that intrigues me is the idea of the “collective intelligence” that is needed to solve ARG puzzles. No one person should have the ability to complete an ARG, due to the limitations of geographical location and time. Dani Berry’s concepts on multi-player can be brought to life inside of an ARG, since it has all of the benefits and few of the hindrances of current MMO designs.

The other big factor for why I though our class should do one is because of the “freshness” of ARGs. The genre only started 6 years ago in 2001 with The Beast. If you look at FPSs, for instance, they have been around for over 20 years. Innovation is hard to do in a genre that has been around for that long, especially because of the iterative nature of game design.

Finally, I felt that since there has only been one ARG created by an academic group (PacManhattan), that it would be something that could grab the attention of the design community.

I’ll be sure to try and keep an update on the progress of the ARG without, hopefully, giving away too much info regarding it.


Friday: Pitch for Studio 2

November 1, 2007

Next quarter, I start my second to last quarter at SCAD. I’m a bit scared by this and feel unprepared, but I think that’s normal, so I won’t worry about it too much. Anyways, this Friday we have the option to give game pitches for teams to work on in our Studio 2 class and I plan on giving one. I’ve given a game pitch for every class where it’s an option (only about 3 I think), but my pitches always get picked up and I’m usually a lead for the project because of this.

I’m kind of torn between wanting to do a project or not in all honesty. I don’t have much experience as a non-lead on a project, which I don’t feel is a big advantage when entering the industry (since there’s no way I’m going to be lead of a team straight from college). I wouldn’t mind not having the responsibility of being responsible for other people for once, but I also have a really, really good idea for a pitch (I’ll post it here after I give it on Friday).

One interesting side note: Today I Googled my name (I love how that’s a verb now) and this site and my main site come up in the top three results. I’m happy about that. It means my “digital presence” is well on its way to being developed.