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...