Entropy as a display of Time

July 7, 2008

I came across this article through Digg about a physicist’s theory on the multiverse, the big bang and entropy. I find it to be extremely fascinating and actually had a little tie in to game design.

Sean Carroll, the physicist being interviewed in the article, talks about entropy. Specifically one thing he said stuck in my head.

The reason why you are not surprised when you open a deck of cards and it’s in perfect order is not because it’s just easy and natural to find it in perfect order, it’s because the deck of cards is not a closed system.

We assume that everything starts from order and moves into chaos. The same goes for video games. I’ve heard lots of design students talk about making something completely random, but players don’t like that. In fact, it seems humans don’t like that, not just game players in general.

You want players to be able to grok your game. If you make something completely random, there is nothing the player can learn as far as how your system works. Sure, you can have randomness inside of your system (that’s what dice are for), but it’s not 100% random. A single six sided die, for instance, has 6 possible outcomes. Now, there is no way to determine what the outcome will be before hand, but you know that when you roll a D6 you won’t get “porcupine” as a possible result.

Players want a fixed number of ppossible results that will occur because of the actions they take. When you start to change this, the game may get too difficult and the player walks away. And the worse thing you can do is make a game that no one is playing…

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The Launch of an MMO from a Player’s Perspective.

June 15, 2008

Every major MMO that I have played upon release (Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft just to name a few) has always had “bugs” upon launch. This is to be expected, IMO, because of the vast scale of the projects. Usually, these “bugs” are more balance issues than anything else. Which leads to a conundrum for player’s on whether to play at launch or not.

The obvious disadvantage of playing from launch date is having to deal with these issues while the devs try to solve them. Look at WoW, for instance. It took Blizzard about a year to tweak talent trees, class abilities and other aspects after launch (and some would say there are still imbalances in classes.) This can lead to a frustrating player experience. Sometimes, these issues don’t even let the MMO get off the ground and it dies before it has had a chance to build a strong player base.

The advantage, however, of getting in at launch is that you are there from the start. You are able to see content before it becomes outdated. A player starting WoW at this point in time will probably never run any of the content for level 60 characters because they will be in the Outlands, where item drops and experience gain are much better than the old 10 and 25 man raids.

Too all my MMO player’s out there, do you think it’s worth waiting for the issues to be resolved or should you dive in head first and deal with them? 


Project Loyola Blog

April 6, 2008

As part of the documentation of Project Loyola, our team has setup a blog where we will be discussing things behind the curtain. It should be considered a kl00-free zone, but for people that aren’t on the cutting edge of the ARG there may be some spoiler information. We promise not to talk about anything that hasn’t already been discovered by other players and is part of the ARG past not ARG future.

Project Loyola Blog


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.


Gender Inclusive Games and the Three Stooges.

December 10, 2007

What? What kind of topic is that? How does this have any correlation at all?

Well, let me explain…

I just read Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding The Market by Sheri Graner Ray, a great book about creating games that appeal to both males and females. The problem is that the genders have different concepts and procedures when it comes to game play. One of the many issues covered in the book, which I recommend everyone interested in game design reads, is that of violence. In a study, according to Graner Ray, females said that violence wasn’t what turned them away from a game as much as violence without reason or plot.

Recently I was talking to my SO (significant other) about the Three Stooges. I forget exactly how the conversation started, but she made the following statement during our conversation: “I have never met a woman that enjoys the Three Stooges. It’s a guy thing.” She’s right, of course (She usually is). I don’t ever recall meeting a woman that enjoyed the slap-stick antics of those three knuckle heads. I’ve met plenty of guys, but I doubt I’ll see a woman that would willing go to a three hour marathon of the Stooges.

This conversation led me back to Graner Ray’s book. It seems that the dislike of non-plot based violence is cross medium, and not just limited to the video game genre. Look at all of the shoot-em-up, big explosion movies. They have little to no female appeal, from my own conversations with the opposite sex. This, I feel, is why it’s so important to read Gender Inclusive Game Design. It covers all of the issues that arise from developing a game with blinders on towards the opposite sex. That’s cutting out 50% of a possible target market; not a smart business decision.

Any females out there love the Three Stooges?

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Activision Blizzard

December 3, 2007

If you were stuck under a rock yesterday, go seek medical attention. If you meant that metaphorically, then you may not have heard the big news: Activision and Vivendi have merged. The $18 billion merger came as a surprise to many (including me, but who am I). I read two of the interviews with Blizzard President Mike Morhaime and it seems that the merger is purely for financial reasons. The two interviews, one at 1UP (who mispell Morhaime’s last name with an ‘n’) and one at IGN, both talk with Morhaime about what the merger means for the companies and for players.

Activision, who had a representative come talk to SCAD students last year, has a very open, independent developer mentality, something I was impressed with during the presentation. Blizzard is…well…Blizzard. Just look at their track record. Not taking into account Ghost, they have a very strong base of games with a fanatic following. Not to mention the number one MMO in the industry.

Time will only really tell what this means for gamers. I just pray that we don’t see Guitar Hero IV: Frozen Throne, with downloadable tracks like “Spawn More Overlords”, anytime in the near future…

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What Makes a Good Game?

November 15, 2007

When taking a look at any artistic medium, be it visual, audial or in my case interactive, their comes up the issue of what would be considered “good”. The entire video game review market, from websites to magazines, is based around this concept of good games and bad games. Recently, Mario Galaxy has been released for the Nintendo Wii console and has been getting very positive reviews from most game review outlets. But this brings up the question….What makes a “good” game?

The issue, for me, is that it depends on who is answering the question. Are you asking a player, a content artist, a business person or a game designer?

Player

For the player, replay ability seems to be the number one factor when determining a good game. Of course, game play and graphics are also placed into consideration, but money invested into the game needs to be rewarded with replay value. This is why online, multiplayer functionality is one of the top features gamers look for in games. Halo 3, for example, has a small, single player campaign. The $59.99 is viable for gamers, though, because of online capabilities. The console market has taken this to heart, with most games now featuring at least some aspect of online capability, be it purchasing extra content or featuring extra content. Of course, the PC market has taken advantage of this feature for many years, which is why you can see people still playing more computer games than console games for multiple years. Since online content changes the game (just look at any ESRB rating on an online game) and provides interaction with other players, the replay factor of the game increases.

Content Artist

The multimedia aspect of the game is probably the largest consideration for a good game from a content artists perspective. Content artist, such as modelers and animators, check out how the game “looks and feels” from a visual and audial aspect. This does affect some of the player’s judging of a good game. You can hear people talking about the “killer graphics” in games like Crysis, when they have not even played the game yet. The multimedia aspect will wear thin over time, as it becomes part of the game. One such game I’ve been playing recently which is very appealing to the content artist side of me is Team Fortress 2. The game’s ability to create a cartoonish reality, reminiscent of Pixar’s animation style, makes the characters in the game more lifelike and personable.

Business Person

Profit. End of story. Good games are games which allow investors to make back the money they have invested into the game. This is not a bad thing, by any means. Without money, games of the caliber we have seen in the past decade could not be made. Of course, Greg Costikyan’s Death to the Game Industry (Part I and II) does have valid points to be made about the current business model of the industry. But, the good game for a business person is the one that will make a profit. Profit allows the company to continue and make more games, which can never be seen as a bad thing. I do, however, want to point out that horrible games can be “good” from this perspective. I’ve been looking around for the sales figures on “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing” to prove my point

Game Designer

Finally, the lowly designer. The person not interested in how a game looks, but the experience that you walk away from the game with. For the designer, good games are ones that bring innovation to the market. If you look at the key figures in the industry (Miyamoto, Wright, Meiers, Molyneux, etc), they are key because they brought innovative design to the industry. They also think and design in innovative ways. None of these designers have ever released something that wasn’t accepted as great by the industry, and the reason for this is their innovation. When I pick up a game for the first time, I always wonder what’s going to be different about this game than the others in the genre. That’s what designers do. They create new experiences to differentiate themselves from the rest of the plethora of games out there.

Like any other medium, the definition of good varies from person to person and year to year. Other mediums have developed a way for us to judge their work through a common vocabulary to be able to accurately discuss this with others. (Brenda has posted a topic about this on her blog). Any medium has the ability to place a price tag based off of whether a the art is good or not (A Picasso vs a Paint by Numbers). Because of the interactive nature of our medium, we are forced to compete on many levels, so it really does depend on who you ask.