Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Games To Play

When you've had your money's worth out of my Christmas Tripeaks game you might fancy playing a game with your family and friends, in the classic Christmas style. 

Over on my personal blog I implore you not to go for the usual Monopoly default and play something more interesting instead!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pesky Games

Video games are, naturally, at it again. At what? Destroying society, that's what. The latest offering to be targeted by those that seek publicity by launching a crusade against the popular (am I being cynical? Perhaps I just don't notice the campaigns against less high profile targets) is Skyrim. 

Apparently, the psychological and spiritual damage that this game metes out is more than any other game ever before. I can only assume that what these critics actually mean is "this game will take up a lot of time" although it's not going to be as much as World Of Warcraft.

This case if put forth in a petition, which you can read (I'm assuming you won't be signing it) here.

Everyone has a right to their opinion. 

And I have a right to laugh at it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

DIY Usability

Once upon a time I designed software without using any usability testing. Those were crazy days, full of arguments between team members, which went a lot like this:

Someone: I think it should be like this.
Someone Else: No, I think it should be like this.
Repeat for evvvvvvvvvvvver...

And so, time was wasted.

Then I found myself working at a company that had a usability lab, which I embraced like a bear greeting a picnic basket carrying long lost friend. 

Of course, not every company thinks it can afford a usability lab. So it's up to you, yes you, whoever you are dear reader, to step up to the oche (I've never played baseball, so "plate" has no personal meaning for me, however I have played quite a lot of darts). And I've just read a book that tells you how: Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Steve Krug is the Thomas Harris of factual books, i.e. it takes him a long time to release a new book. His books are 100% wisdom, and 0% waffle. If you're not familiar with his work, you should be.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Game About Game Literacy

This morning I have mostly been playing a brilliant little game called A Game About Game Literacy. It's a... I reckon you can figure it out. And you too can play it here.

Please play this game, it's superb...

Literacy of the audience, in any medium, is a problem for those that create in the medium: You can't sell a novel to someone who can't read. To pick up and play a video game you need to know how to read it and how to write to it, i.e. how to understand what's going on and then use the controller to respond to it.

All good games have some level of tutorial that helps the player to learn the controls. Which is just as well, because learning and remembering a control scheme is a difficult experience for most new video game players. Regular players (and I include game developers in this) rarely understand this problem, because games of the same genre often have similar controls. 

A good example of this are 3rd person games, like Uncharted and God Of War. In these games the character is moved with the left stick, the camera can be swung around with the right stick and the character controls are always relative to the camera. This last point is important, because the camera in these games is always dynamic, often moving around to frame the action. If the player wants to run in a straight line then they have to compensate for the camera as it moves. Equally, the player can just push in one direction on the left stick and manually move the camera with the right stick, changing the direction the character is running in that way. It takes some getting used to. Then, on top of this there are all the buttons, like jump, punch and shoot.

Generally, games pile on the control options quickly. That all adds up to a lot of learning, which (again), is tough on a player who's new to the genre. Bear in mind that your average human can only really learn about three things per hour! So, the more game literate the audience, the easier it is to make games for them.

And that's why most games are made for quite a small percentage of the population, the game literate. For the most part the most expensive games are made for a slice of the population that's probably no bigger than 20 million people.

I think the AAA console game makers need to address this and they need become as ambitious as the social and casual games makers. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

So Long Steve Jobs

On the odd occasion I have been known to mock Steve Jobs in my Mars Rocks! cartoons. In fact, just yesterday I was having a dig at Apple in general, a dig which had it’s seed in a Steve Jobs’ comment from last year.
The original Mac, one of the cutest computers ever made...

But I do have a great admiration for Steve Jobs as a rare type of person – a businessman with vision. Steve Wozniak might have been the technical genius, Xerox might have actually done the R&D on graphical interfaces and Jonathan Ive made sure we desired these things, but it was Jobs that got the damned things on the market.

I don’t personally think the world is particularly short on smart people creating, or at least trying to create, impressive things. However, the world has a dire paucity of people who have the talent and intuition to encourage, cajole and help the creative types. While he was still alive there weren’t enough Steve Jobs’ in the world, now the deficit is a lot worse.

It’s going the be very hard to replace the crowning glory of the breed.

To all those that actually knew and loved Steve Jobs in person, my thoughts go out to you, especially his family.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Play Games And Do Science

Game visionaries like Jane McGonigal have an ambition to make games that make the world better. I have an ambition to make games that the make the world better. Normally these games centre on social awareness, which is important, but the results are hard to measure. 

Jane McGonigal - doing some future envisioning, by the looks of it...

However, a crowd sourced, video game derived solution has now been found to the structure of a molecule, the form of which has been eluding scientists for longer than they would have liked. Further work through this approach to the problem could lead to a cure for AIDS. 

Ask not what science can do for you, but what you can do for science. Let's all go play Fold It.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Help Required to Help Others

Ok, so I'm working on a game that's so simple I'm probably never going to write a design doc. I've roped in a coder and an artist, who will do most of the work on the actual game, because, like I say, the design is so simple. 

However this doesn't leave me with nothing to do, just nothing to do that I have the faintest idea about. 

You see, the intention of the game is to raise money for the ongoing disaster that is the Christchurch earthquake, and its exorbitant number of aftershocks. 

Game development - we can't stop earthquakes, but we can help out in the aftermath...

It's also scalable, so new 'levels' can be added and bought with micro transactions to raise money for other unfortunate earthquakes around the world when they happen.

The game design is good, we're proud of the business model, but how the hell do we structure the business entity? The organisation we need to form won’t be a charity itself, but we do plan on giving away all the money we make (above operating costs) to different charities that are on the ground, doing the hard work of saving lives, cleaning up and rebuilding. 

New Zealand business law isn't area of expertise, and this is way outside of my business experience, so if anyone out there can give any advice (for free, of course) then please, please, please drop me a line at – thanks in advance!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Podcast 2 - Scrum on Down!

There's a new podcast available from me available here. This one's on the subject of Scrum, which is a project management process that I am passionate about. I also worry about it being wrecked, at least in the games industry, by poor practices.

Not that kind of scrum...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Social Space Gaming

Gameful is a community dedicated to the pursuit of making games that are of benefit. As part of this they run regular game design challenges. Here's my go at a game that encourages strangers in a public space to get to know each other:

A cafe: Friends sit drinking, chatting and having a bite to eat. It’s a common enough seen. But then the countdown begins. Folk eagerly finish off their drinks, revealing three digit numbers in the bottoms of their cups. None of these cups are the same; each has a unique number and a barcode on the underside of it, which was scanned when the cup was filled, so the system knows which numbers are in circulation. As the countdown continues, everyone looks to a large display, to see what the six digit number will be. Six digits? The six digit number is a compound of two of the three digit numbers that everyone has in their cup. When the number is announced it’s up to the holders of each half of the number to find one another, and claim their prize, free cake and cup of whatever they’re drinking to share while they get acquainted. 

The whole set up could be used for paring people in any event where mixing up the social group is of benefit, such conferences, singles nights, fundraisers and, of course, networking events. In commercial settings it also has the benefit of encouraging people to finish their drinks, probably before they really want to, so they’ll order another one.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Value Proposition

Apparently there's a serious error with this here blog. Is it the lack of HTML5 coolness? That is a problem but it's not the serious error. Is it the lack of real news half the time? I wish I could remedy that, but contracts bind me quite firmly, and it's not the problem to which I allude. 

The problem is that I don't tell you what exactly it is that I can give you. I don' tell you my value proposition. This is such an obvious error that I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been told by Mark Robotham.

So, without further ado... I can make whatever you're doing a whole lot more fun!

That still doesn't really work, does it? I'm going to have to think about this one...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Podcast 1

I thought I'd have a bash at doing a podcast. This week's topic (that isn't a promise that there will be a next week's topic) is: More Bucks For You Bang!

Friday, July 22, 2011

UX11 and Design Through Story

A couple of weeks ago I was at UX11, which was entirely excellent and everything I hoped it would be. Tim Train from Zynga was there and his words about the dynamics within a social game were particularly useful - instead of writing down notes that related to the games he was talking about, I was able to apply the information directly to notes about a game I am working on.

One thread that ran through all the talks, as it should, was the notion of 'story', in all its forms and scales. Find the story or stories and you're away, whatever you're doing. 

But the best example of how to apply story telling to design, and how deeply you should apply story telling to design, came from Alex McDowell, who's a production designer. He's worked on a few odds and sods like Fight Club, Minority Report and Watchmen.

Alex McDowell...

He talked about designing the house that featured in Fight Club, the one that Tyler lives in. Yeah, it's a house that's a bit dilapidated in an industrial wasteland. True, but the story goes much further back than that. Alex told a story like the following, but better...

The house was originally built by a wealthy family, so it's a respectable size. Also, there would have been servants, so each room has two entrances. This is important for a significant part of the greater story of the film (he says, skirting around the issue of plot spoilers, just in case). Over time the family's fortune dwindled and the land around the house was occupied by industry. Then the house was sub divided, meaning that a second staircase was put in, again useful for the flow of characters in the house and causing a significant schism in the decor. The industry died away, leading to the wasteland and useful privacy. Squatters moved in and lit a fire, causing some damage. Finally, Tyler comes across the place and moves in to cause some serious bedlam.

The lesson I learned - I need to do a lot, lot more thinking about the back story of everything.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nice Mechanic - Not 100%

The world of board games is a rich hunting ground for ideas and game mechanics. With this in mind I task myself with the not very hard job of playing board games as much as possible, which isn't half enough.

One game mechanic that's really impressed me of late is in a board game called Colosseum (read my review here). In it you have to buy and trade performers (gladiators, horses, lions, stuff like that) in order to use them in spectacular shows. These shows have defined requirements, for instance one might require 2 gladiators, 2 horses and 2 lions. However, you don't have to have 100% of the required performers, you can have one or two missing. You take a penalty for this, but you can still progress.

You see versions of this often - you might not have to come first in a race to unlock the next or you only need half the stars to finish the game - but I especially like it applied to a shopping list criteria like this. I'll be borrowing this mechanic for sure.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Get To The Chopper

There are now quite a few independent game developers in Wellington and, naturally, the iOS devices are generally their target platform. One such developer, Rocket Jump, is the venture of my former colleague Antony Blackett. Check out this video of his game, Get To The Chopper. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Number 1

It's about 2 years since Shatter was launched, and I was starting to think to myself "you know Jon, maybe you should stop mentioning it in presentations and stuff, maybe it's time to move on."

But then IGN goes and announces that Shatter is the best PSN game of all time.


So expect at least another year of me going on about it. You have been warned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ludic Artefacts

In the culture of video games there are things called ludic artefacts. These are player created content, but not in the game, outside of it. Cuddly toys, costumes, films and fan art, they're all ludic artefacts. The internet is awash with them - just type 'cosplay' into Google and you'll see just a glimpse.

I was thinking that I should try to inspire some ludic artefactification of Alien Avian Attack. Maybe something around the alien avian designs, some of which look like this:

But then I realised that we've already been honoured, at the very highest level, no less:

Well, sort of.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

UX11 and the Great Invitation Mystery

In the morrow I shall be enjoying talks of wisdom at UX11, a kind of boutique conference on all things relating to user experiences.

Attendance is invitation only, which makes me feel rather special, in a good way. But it's also the source of mystery, because I don't know who referred me. I thank them, whoever they are; it's nice to be thought of.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pixel Jam

As far as I'm aware, Wellington has never had a game jam. This is ludicrous, but thankfully it will soon be resolved...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

One Day...

Have you ever been in the situation where a friend has an idea for a game that's so simple, so obvious, so brilliant, you actually make them some graphics to help push them along the path of making the thing?

Exactly, we've all been there at some time, right?

Then, of course, they don't use your graphics and they go off and do other bits of software, but you keep nagging them and nagging them. 

I know dear reader, its like I know your life.

And years pass, and you think "this game's never gonna happen." Well, I am here to give you good news: It does happen. After about four and a half years, you'll be sat there, maybe typing up a design for a touch application, maybe pretending not to watch Project Runway. And suddenly, wham, all systems are go! It's in progress. The game is on!

All I can tell you right now is that it's destined for iPhone, and, like an octopus crossed with a meercat, you'll wonder why you've not seen it before.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Other Peoples' Beta

This morning I'm off to Victoria University Wellington, to see how the student games are coming along. This is their beta presentation, which means their games should be feature complete, although I doubt they will be on such short development times. It also means they have to present and defend their work, which will probably be heart-breaking, for at least one group.

Game development - like Lovecraftian insanity, but less permanent...

For me, it will be a mixture of envy and relief. Hitting beta on a project is a wonderful thing (assuming you actually hit it on time), where you can really start to refine the game. It's like you know the chords, you know the music, from this point on you just have to nail the phrasing. 

Of course, that's an ideal world. Most of the time, even for the most professional of teams, beta is a heart-breaking occasion where you realise that you still have far too much content and features left to go into the build and balancing it all is going to drive you to the brink of insanity. But that's part of the reason those of us that make games enjoy it. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stop It Jon!

When you've got a game out you want everyone in the world to download it, it really is that simple. When you've got a free version available, like Alien Avian Attack does, then you EXPECT everyone in the world (at least everyone with an Android device) to download it.

What this amounts to is me looking at the Android Market more times a day than I'd like to admit, just to see if the thing has tipped into the next bracket of download volume. This must stop, I am frittering away my life on this - does anyone have a remedy?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Even More AAA Goodness!

If you go to the Android Market and look at the work of insane visceral gaming joy and excessively named Alien Avian Attack, you will notice that there is now extra goodness and nourishment to be had.

Firstly there is a promo video, which is excellent, and I can say that withought feeling like some self-agrandising (redacted) because I had nothing to do with it.

AAA - Ram Em Up!

Also, and this seems to be very important to the Android Market, there's a free version. So what are you waiting for, go install it!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Meanwhile, In Other Blogs...

It's been a while since I last posted upon my Gamasutra blog, in fact it was about six months ago. This is tardy and I need to rectify the problem immediately with some wise advice on naming levels.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alien Avian Attack! - Buy It!

Want some dazzling super fast twitch action? Want to play a game that will push your senses to the limit? Then play Alien Avian Attack, available now, on the Android Market!

A 'triple A' title if ever there was one...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hot Damn - It Lives!

One of the many things that keeps me busy (too busy to write posts for this blog half as often as I should, in fact) is an entity called Chili Burn Adventures Corporation. 

This company brings together veterans from the video game industry and Weta (they've done the odd special effect or two for small art house films like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Avatar). 

Go on, have a gander at the website...

And now the CBAC website is live upon the information superhighway (wow, it feels retro using that phrase) for your delectation and delight!

For those who have been patiently following my posts the answer is: Yes, Alien Avian Attack is the official name of the project that I've been calling The Shooter With No Name.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rocket Jump

At the moment it's cheaper than it has ever been to get a game to market. There was a time when it was just as cheap to make a game - one guy could thrash out a game in a few months on the good old Spectrum - but to get the thing in the mitts of the mighty public you had to get tapes or discs duplicated, and you had to send them out, plus all kinds of other cost and faff.

Nowadays the download infrastructures of the iPhone and Android platforms take a huge amount of risk out of the venture. Even if no one likes your latest masterverk, at least you're not sat on 500 copies of Horrace Sells Badly. Even better, you can patch it and hopefully save it from the indignity of forever residing in the long tail.

It's this effortless distribution that means so many of us can be independent developers at the moment. It's a great time to be making games, in fact, it might actually be the golden age of making games. I've certainly never had it so good.

I feel sorry for the larger studios, for they might be independent but they still have a lot of hoops to jump through when working with publishers. And these hoops often amount to about as much fun as emphysema for the developers shouldering the burden. There was a time when these talented folk had little choice but to continue with their impressions of Atlas (I think I might be overcooking this a little) and stay within the fold. 

But now the power lies with the person with the talent.

The latest of my former colleagues to enter the sea of independence is Antony Blackett (you may know him from such great games as Shatter and Flick Kick), with his newly incorporated company Rocket Jump.

I have no idea what he's planning to make. In fact, it would appear from his website that neither does he. But it will be awesome, I can assure you. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sorry, I've Been Busy

This blog (and all my others in fact) have been suffering a decided paucity of posts over the past few weeks. The reason is simple - it's crunch time at Tiger Towers. Yes, I've been slaving away over levels, although the results of all my effort is only just starting to make it into the Shooter With No Name, which scared the willies out of the rest of the team. Perhaps I would have been better off just wading in and thrashing out levels in the editor, but I wanted to plan and plot them a lot on paper first, which amounted to a fairly opaque design approach. I sincerely apologise to my cohorts for the potential cardiac trauma I have caused them.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the Shooter With No Name isn't really a shooter? Thought I'd tease you with that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Presentation Zen

After my last post, about speaking at GDC Europe, I realised that I never found out what my audience feedback scores were. So I emailed the supremely efficient Evelyn Donis over at GDCE headquarters (I presume there is no such physical location in this day and age) and she set her assistant, Linda Ho, on the case of getting them to me. 

I was pleased with the results, especially considering I didn't expect what I was saying to be popular. I ranked well over the average for my ability to communicate, which is always nice, although, perhaps if I'd communicated less effectively I'd have gotten higher ratings in some of the other areas... maybe it's not so good to communicate well if folk probably won't like what you're saying.

However, it was my slides that really got the gold star. The average for the whole conference was 2.61 (out of 5) and mine rated at 3.8. But I can't take all the credit, some of it must got to Garr Reynolds

Mr Reynolds is, amongst other things, a master of presentations. I was lucky enough to attend one of his half day workshops when he visited Wellington a couple of years ago. He inspired me to loosen up in my presentation style and put even more work into my slides. 

I wouldn't say his impact was immediately beneficial, I had to stumble through a few presentations that were, quite frankly, a bit cock. But after the initial teething troubles it all came together quite nicely and, apparently, my slides are way better than most. 

If you ever have to give presentations then you should be reading Presentation Zen, and you should make your boss send you to a PZ workshop, if ever Garr is in your neck of the woods.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


That's a great word isn't, so much better than "attention".

I also use it with total justification as I have just realised that the deadline is looming for session submissions for GDC Europe, which takes place in Cologne. I spoke there last year on the subject of keeping control schemes simple and intuitive, which is a topic close to my heart, because I'm terrible at remembering button mappings, and I don't think I'm alone.

Now, what will get the folks on the panel desperate to hear me speak again. Should I go controversial with something like "Why Nobody That Makes Games Has A Clue"; or futuristic with "3D Will Change Everything". Perhaps do both controversial and futuristic - "Unless You Like Social Games Then Your Favourite Genre Will Be Dead In 10 Years Time".

I'd just like to point out that I don't necessarily believe any of those statements, but I do need to come up with something sharp if I'm going to get selected. Thinking cap on...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Never before have I...

Right at the moment I am plotting out a set of level designs for the Shooter With No Name. As part of this process I am writing notes on the mood that I want each level to have - important even in an attack wave based shooter.

This is both good fun and highly practical, and for the first time ever I have used Medusa's snaking hair as the inspiration for an attack pattern. 

It'll be interesting to see how much of this comes across to the player.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Play Cardboard Box Assembler

Video game players, you've never had it so good. Honestly, you haven't, the amount of good games you can play extremely cheaply, or for free is more astonishing than finding out you're Harry Potter and you're a wizard. And I'm not talking about my own work here, I'm talking about the latest offering on Adult Swim - Cardboard Box Assembler.

It's so simple, so straightforward, so easy to control and has just the right level of trickiness in its puzzles, by which I mean it's not too hard.

Play it now, even if you're at work, for that is the beauty of browser based games. But don't blame me if you get caught.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Yesterday I was down at Victoria University Wellington (when I say down, I mean it literally, I could roll all the way there from my house, under the force of gravity) to give a talk which I am now calling The Heart Of The Game. It was an updated and refined version of the talk I gave at the uni last year, and is essentially advice on conceiving a game idea that can be made in a very compressed time frame.

Afterwards I had the privilege of sitting in on each of the students pitching a game idea to the rest of the class. Top marks to them all, not just for the quality of their ideas, but for the quality of their 2 minute pitches. Pitching a game idea is hard, and these students only had one slide each to support their idea.

If you don't believe how hard pitching is then think of your favourite game of all time, then figure out what you'd say to sell it to an investor.

One thing's for sure - the folk on Dragon's Den (dragons reside in Lairs you fools!) would never invest in it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's Great!

Today I finally got to play the Shooter With No Name on a handset, and it's great fun. At first the game owned me in no time at all. Then the game owned me again. But then, on the third go it ow... actually, I started to get on the game's case. Which was a relief - I'm always being told by colleagues, passers by and toddlers that I suck at games. 

Given the progress of the game while I was out of the country (if you're making a joke about games not needing designers then stop it) it's quite apparent that an open beta won't be necessary. Changes to the game have removed the value of the process. Now we just have to spend a month fine tuning the game play and, in my case, designing a whole new bunch of levels, and then we can let you play it til your fingers bleed. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Get On With It Man!

A quick update on the coming of the fantastic new game, The Shooter With No Name. It's not going to be called that, by the way, but I'm just not going to tell you the name yet.

Jon Brown - Hunting fun since 1975...

About a million years ago last month I told you the open beta would be out very soon. And this still hasn't happened. This is because we changed the game a bit, actually, we decided to change it quite a bit. And it's for the better - while cheating at playing the game it was discovered that more fun could be found in a slightly different direction, so we went that way. This has required some further work but it's for the better.

And I can say it's for the better with my hand on my heart, because the change of direction thoroughly torpedoes the interesting game mechanic that I was trying out. So if I think it's a better direction, with my ego lying bruised and battered on the floor like that time I asked [REDACTED] out at school and was shot down faster than you can say 'cripes', then I'm pretty confident you will think so too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vote for Shatter! (AKA Shameless Begging)

Of all the games I have worked on, of which there have been quite a lot, the one that has had by far the most attention and praise is Shatter. And deservedly so - we poured a huge amount of time, effort and love into it; it was not an easy game to make and you wouldn't believe the amount of paper design that we tossed away. 

Now it might get exhibited at the Smithsonian! But it needs your help, it needs your vote, and I implore you, I beg of you, please, please, please, please vote for it. Please!

Shatter's there on the left, under Modern Windows...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inspiration Everywhere!

When Gameful was announced last year I jumped at the chance to sign up to fund it. Admittedly, I'm not one of the big spenders but it was just the kind of website that I wanted; over the years I've tried a few times to get into serious gaming (as a contributor, not as a player) and have never quite managed it. 

Of course, things don't always go according to plan, and I haven't been anywhere near as active in the Gameful community as I expected, but I do try to keep an eye on what is going on, so I knew there was a challenge on there to pick something that could be measured and build a game around it.

And I thought and thought about what problem I could tackle and I failed and failed to think of anything new... until I was visiting the hospital every day last week. There I discovered a challenge - remembering to sanitize my hands whenever I entered or exited the ward, which is an important step in preventing incidents of MRSA infections. 

I cobbled together a notional game in my head, to help motivate me to rise to this challenge, which you can read about here. I posted on Gameful more in the spirit of community than anything else - I know it's the barest bones of a game at this stage.

To my surprise I actually got a mention by another Gameful member, which I am pretty pleased about - pleased enough to do a print screen and put it below in fact.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Know I Said...

It's a couple of weeks since I last posted and said "there's an open beta of my most recent work coming out soon", and that still hasn't happened. This is because a couple of things got in the way. Firstly, there was a delay in acquiring test equipment. 

However, this actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it was only in this delay time that it occurred to us that there was a way to make the whole open beta plan about twice as good, both for the players, in terms of fun, and for us, in terms of data.

So, fingers crossed, the game will be out on Android for zero pounds, pence or sheckles this weekend. Let the excitement begin!

When I typed "excitement" into Google I got this picture, so I thought I'd share it...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

That's The Box Art?

At the moment I'm working on the design for the title screen of The Shooter With No Name (that still isn't it's name, by the way) and to help me along with this task I used the power of Google to have a look at some classic video game box art.

Anyone who has made games for a while will know of the pain that can be caused by box art. You can slave for years on a game, crafting something of genuine worth, only for the publisher to slap something that is, quite frankly, amateurish on the box. I once worked on a game that took three years and millions of dollars to make, only for its public face to be rendered with pencil crayons - at least that's what it looked like. A pirate version that one of the studio's staff picked up in Thailand had a better cover. 

However, bad though some efforts are, none I have encountered are as strange as this Pac-Man box art I came across:

Surely that's a joke. How can it not be?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back Once Again...

My career has been marked by a series of games of a specific genre and then a rapid roll onto something completely different. Not once have I really had the chance to make a sequel, or at least not a sequel of something I worked on.

Me pretending to be a train in Vic Uni's awesome tripple screen design lecture room thing...

This process has kept me on my toes for donkeys' years (if anyone can tell me exactly how long a donkey's year is then I'd be very appreciative), which is good for one's alacrity. But, as anyone who makes games will tell you, it's the sequel where you get to learn from all your mistakes on the first time around and really nail your vision.

Sequels have nearly happened... but then not. Last year I even got excited about being able to do my GDC Europe talk a second time around... but that fell through too. 

Anyway, Victoria University, here in Wellington, contacted me today, asking if I could reprise the talk I gave to them last year. I jumped at the chance! 

Even more importantly, they remembered the term I used - The Hinterland Of Fail - I'll get that into common parlance yet!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lunch Is For Game Developers

This lunchtime I had a meeting with my cohorts behind the "shooter with no name" project. Actually, it does have a name, but it's a working title only and although it's dull and unappealing it does describe what makes the game special quite well. For this reason I won't be telling you what that name is. Although I could have some fun with a little misinformation... yeah, the working title is, er, "Doodle-Jump But Where You Go Down", or "Monkey's On Volcanoes".

Although, you'll only have to wait a few days because the conclusion of the meeting was that we plan to release an open beta (Android only) of the game this weekend. Although we need to work out what the name is before we can do that... I wonder if I can sell the others on "The Shooter With No Name!"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Christmas Card Game

As the weeks draws to a close in the fair city of Wellington I can report that it's been a good un here at Tiger Towers. Amongst all the progress that has been made the single most relieving piece of feedback came from Peter D. Adkison. 

For those that don't know, Mr Adkison founded Wizards Of The Coast and, as such, was pivotal in bringing Magic: The Gathering to the world. I regard him as a man of immense vision.

Shortly before Christmas I resolved to get a game system I'd been mulling over, for far too long, into his hands. The system, as it existed in my head was fairly large, and certainly not entirely figured out, partly because of its size. That's when it bumped into another idea - greetings cards with games built into them. 

So I set about condensing the system so that it would fit onto/into a Christmas card. Admittedly, a very big Christmas card - A4 in fact. 

Design and construction took a long time and I wasn't done until just 10 days before Christmas. I didn't think it would get to its destination in time for the 25th but I couldn't wait until December 2011 to send it, so I popped it in the post and hoped it would arrive on the other side of the Pacific at least somewhere in the proximity of the yuletide. 

Then I waited... and checked my email... and waited... and checked my email...

And then I got a message: Mr Adkison had received the Christmas card! I hope he likes the game, but frankly I'm just chuffed to bits that it got into his hands.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

If You Want Some Traffic...

Just mention gamification. Honestly, it works a treat. Although I may have used the magic powers of Twitter to spread my opinion... and then I might have re-tweeted (I love Twitter, but I hate the term "tweet") the fact that my incredibly brief post was mentioned on The #gamification Daily.

You don't have to be a user experience expert to guess that these traffic signals might cause the odd accident or two...

So I may have played a small part in all the traffic. 

I am also pleased to announce that it incited a fellow game designer to threaten comedic violence towards me - Q.E.D.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Too Much Motivation?

Why does "gamification" generate so much hate from some people? I've heard game designers say they'd like to punch Jesse Schell in the face, just because they've watched a video of his talk at DICE 2010. Nothing like taking a well balanced view of something - no, it's not.

Gamification is simply a term for describing the process of adding game-like incentives to something that you might do anyway. What's wrong with adding game elements to a mundane task? It could be argued that modern (lawn) tennis was simply the gamification of the rubber ball, which had no purpose except as a toy until that time. Adding enemies that can kill you and lives so you can evade total reset turns a free roaming platform environment into a game, it certainly doesn't start out as a game.

If you're happy to turn any scenario into a game in the context of a screen and controller then surely there's nothing wrong with it in real life?

Or am I looking at this all wrong? Perhaps it's not the idea that's the problem, perhaps it's the consequences of its implementation that strikes fear into the hearts of game designers. Anyone who has grown up believing themselves to be the wily Generation X or Y is comfortable in the notion, however mistaken, that they are impervious to the ad man's powers of persuasion. The girl draped over car/razor/cellphone/watch/sandy beach/monkey/sandwich - get the object, get the girl? Too obvious Mr Adman, you're busted. Collect a hundred shiny things from retailers A, B and C to get the arbitrary trophy in reward for my grind... must... use... all... my... powers... to... resist...

Clearly game designers are a fairly self-aware bunch: If you have a penchant for drink, you might like the idea of being handed a shot of vodka on every street corner, but you'd still know it could screw up your life.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Speed... Got To Have It!

Making games run as quickly as possible is normally a desirable thing, unless you want folk to laugh at you for all the wrong reasons. On the PS3 and 360 you know exactly how quickly the game is going to run for your customer, because you've got exactly the same hardware as they do, and you get to spend most of the game's development time fretting like a top class shredder about it. 

Speed - Get it wrong and you're in trouble!

On Android you don't have the same luxury; there's a broad range of phones out there now, going from slow to awesome. Right now I'm working on a game where speed of response and slick performance is going to matter, you're going to be shooting and blasting and destroying - it's a good old fashioned shoot-em-up... almost. The game has to be as quick as possible on as many handsets as possible, but where's the line? Where do you say, "sorry son, you've got to upgrade." 

There is a term I once heard which went something like "no one will ever say it's the best game that can run on a 486". Wise words, because I doubt reviewers use two year old phones.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend App #1

Today I have been working on the first in a series of apps which are only meant to take me a weekend to make. After some initial head scratching with Game Salad this morning I finally nailed all the functionality, and the only thing left to do was the graphics.

This isn't my cat, but it's got the same attitude...

This app features my cat, or at least an illustration of her, so I needed to video her for reference. But would she play ball? No, she wouldn't, she wouldn't do something she's done a ton of times before, a ton of times per day! I would explain this action, but that might spoil the fun of the app, it certainly wouldn't sound as funny as it is. So until I can get the cat to perform I'll have to keep you in the dark and I'll have to stay impeded on this project.

This is like being at school and the dog eating my homework...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Types of Challenge - 1: Real Risk

If there's one thing the rise of Facebook games like Mafia Wars and FrontierVille have demonstrated, it's that not all people who want to play games are looking for the same kind of challenge. It's incorrect to suggest that these games carry no challenge, it's just not the type of challenge that some gamers recognise as challenge. So what are the types of challenge that do exist?

My first entry into the list of 'Types of Challenge' (ToC) is Real Risk...

Real Risk is the type of challenge that only comes when you lay something on the line, other than time. It could mean your well being if you're a fighter of some kind, although most real world fighters don't mind the hits too much, just so long as they don't lose. It could mean your heart, in the ancient and shiftingly beruled game of luuurve. It could mean your life, if you're unlucky enough to find yourself being Christopher Walken's character in The Deer Hunter.

When it comes to video games this normally means cold hard cash, mostly because it would be morally wrong to tap into other realms of loss, simply for entertainment. You aren't allowed to market games that can electrocute a losing player to death, like the one seen in the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again. And I can't see you putting your love handles on the line anytime soon in a crazy Chris Crawford retelling of the Merchant of Venice, as a Facebook game with a new type of micro-payment.

When you lose in a game with Real Risk you lose something of value to you. Gambling is the most common form of this type of challenge in both the digital and non-digital world. There is no challenge, as gamers understand it, in a game of chance but to the gambler there is a wealth of game-play, whether it be in their head or not. It's not hard to find someone who plays slot machines and firmly believes that the trick is knowing when the machine is ready to pay out. Their challenge is to outsmart the system, to divine the future and if they don't, they lose their shirt.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dragons GDD

Further to yesterday's post about my old dragon based game design, I thought I should add a link to the game design document for it, just in case you're interested. Click here for exercise based gaming joy...

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Fighting is very much a part of video games. There are a number of reasons for this, for one we are creatures of conflict, well, the male of the species certainly is. There's nothing that men won't compete over - who can drink most, who can eat most, who can run fastest. Get men talking about drinking and volume will come into play; once everyone has told each other about the time they drank a barrel of beer and washed it down with a lab full of raw ethanol they'll start on duration "I once drank for 4 years straight..." or the maddest thing they ever did when drunk "There was this one time when we all thought it would be a great idea to chop our own legs off and practice micro-surgery on each other. Getting the nerves attached right was the hardest part, whenever I try to flex my middle finger I clench my left cheek instead."

But the fairer sex is not adverse to competition. I recently played Pandemic, a cooperative board game where all the players are attempting to beat the game, something they can't possibly do if they don't work as a very tight team. In fact, even playing as a team it's hard to win. However, this game didn't go down too well with a woman in the group, because there simply wasn't any opportunity to get one over on the other players.

Yes, females are happy to compete and engage in conflict as well as men (heresy, I know, next I'll be saying they enjoy sex as much as men), just not necessarily when it's presented as a simple smack-bang-wallop scenario. Incredibly, not all males are totally sold on it either, although a great many certainly are. Fighting is popular in games because it's an easy concept to grasp - fight this guy and win or you'll be hurt (not many of us like that option) or worse, be rendered dead (an even less popular choice than hurt in the great multiple choice quiz of life).

I had all this in mind when, many years ago, I designed a game based around collecting a rearing dragons. In this design, once you have a dragon and have nurtured it to maturity, you can set it against another dragon, either in a Dragon Battle or a Dragon Show. Fights for the boys, shows for the girls. This seemed like a whole lot of cross gender appeal win to me at the time.

However, it's just occurred to me that the shows, which are like aerial displays, only with fire breathing dragons instead of planes, should be the only type of competition in the game. Really, there's simply no need to have two forms of conflict because the shows are adventurous and dynamic enough (as a concept) in themselves.

This is good news, because even though I seriously enjoy designing combat systems, there are times when I think "surely I should be looking for a different form of direct competition other than this-hits-that game-play?"

I'm now wondering (with Pandemic in mind) if there should be a cooperative mode, where players can link up and fly their dragons together, in dragon displays against the AI. Again, there's still be plenty of conflict, "why didn't you get the barrel roll with smoke rings right!"

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2011! Being in New Zealand, and a time zone leader, I feel I can usher nearly the entire world into the new year, so welcome! Of course, the new year also brings the tradition of New Year's Resolutions! If you're having trouble coming up with any then check out my Resolution-A-Tron, it's a greeting and a handy application all in one. 

The amazing New Year's Resolution-A-Tron - takes all the thinking out of heartfelt, life changing, important things...