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 You are able to see content before it becomes outdated.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? 


Not about the Benjamins

December 10, 2007

There’s an interesting series of posts over on Brenda Brathwaite’s blog where she answers the search engine terms that lead people to her blog. One of the recurring themes recently seems to be pay in the industry. What do designers make? What seems to be the average? What about for entry level positions?

While it’s good to hear about all of the different ways that designers get paid, from salary (which is deemed as the average format) to hourly, with lots of benefits like health, 401k, stock, etc, I found one of the best statements to be made in her comments section.

“…compensation isn’t even the most important thing to consider when looking for a job!”

Out of all other types of payment I plan on getting for working, the intrinsic value of the job I’m doing is the most rewarding. I’ve worked many different jobs in my life, especially since I took time off between high school and my college career. The way I see it, there are two different kinds of jobs: ones you do for the money and ones you do for intrinsic value.

Game design definitely falls into the second category for most. I don’t think many people say “I want to be a game designer because I’ll make lots of money”. It’s just not in the nature of the beast. Most of the people currently in the industry could make a lot more money working outside of the industry, except for the rock stars of course. Why do they do it then?

It’s because they enjoy the work they do. They find it fascinating. They find it challenging. They find it fulfilling. They get job satisfaction. That is the biggest thing you could ever ask from any job, be it game design, working at the local Wal-Mart, creating your own business or even doing volunteer work.

Maybe that’s just me, but it is why I went to school for game design instead of engineering.

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.

Matt Kohr and SketchBlogging

October 24, 2007

Matt Kohr is an aspiring concept artist. Actually, he’s not aspiring. He’s a “currently working in the industry while still going to school” concept artist. His work has always impressed me. You can see his stuff over at his website.

Anyways, he recently started a sketch blog on Blogspot, and it got me to thinking about the weekly game design sketches I wanted to do for my own blog. Basically, the plan is that every Friday, Saturday, Sunday (whichever day of the weekend I decide) I’ll goto Wikipedia and find a totally random article to use as the core of a game (be in narrative or mechanic). This is to not only break out of my habit of using the same narratives over and over again, and also to let me “sketch” as a game designer.I actually tried this out with the students we taught in the first week at the Summer Seminar, and it seemed to worked rather well (as far as finding random articles to make games off of), so hopefully it won’t turn into an exercise in futility.