Hybrid Games

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The islands of game development – videogame, boardgame, physical activities are starting to blend together in many new ways.   This often includes and physical and digital element combined in a novel way.  Cataloging the various hybrid games can be helpful to find patterns, and document new combinations that haven’t been explored.  Some examples:

  • Boardgames that use a mobile device
  • Location based gaming
  • Osmo – iPad that sees physical pieces
  • Augmented reality card games

Formalizing Boardgame Development

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Boardgames have been around much longer than videogames, but videogames already seem to have more vetted processes to design and develop them.  It would be valuable to collect learnings and best practices from several sources and synthesize some effective methods for designing, iterating, testing and publishing boardgames.  Sources and structures may include:  large boardgame publishers (inventor/developer pairs), videogame development(vertical slice, beta testing), software development(agile, etc), and processes of solo designers.

Game Design for Enduring Customer Relationships

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In this new world of ‘games as a service’ and self publishing, the responsibilities of our companies are far broader than simply designing a great core game. Our player’s experience extends beyond the digital interaction they have with our product and out into social media, customer support, live streaming, community gatherings, physical product… Each an every one of these ancillary functions are just as important to the success of our company as the code or artwork we craft for the core product.
The companies that are hugely successful these days think about all of this in a holistic fashion, forging lifelong connections with their fans that become a core part of their player’s identity. Supercell, Riot, Valve, Blizzard, all have this consistent thread of long term, umbrella brand thinking, placing their customers at the centre of everything.
How could we use best practice game design to expand the delight of our player experience beyond the software, and into every facet of interacting with our brands?

Mindfulness at Play

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Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a way to support our mental well being. These techniques are enjoying a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with considerable scientific evidence backing its benefits, especially for those suffering from anxiety or depression. We’ve even seen some meditation apps crack the top grossing charts!
Could our modern games benefit from the integration of mindful moments or techniques?
Could whole games even be centered around a mindful mechanic?
Ian Bogust did a good write up a few years back on ‘Video Game Zen’ and the potential for mindfulness games:
He even made a game of his own for the Atari Joyboard:
His critique of Cloud as still too “lean in” to be truely meditative was fair at the time, but TGC’s subsequent work (Flower and Journey) have smoothed out the interactions and made experiences that are more blissful. Still, these exemplary titles rely heavily on more traditional game mechanics that require the player to problem solve and traverse space in a way that breaks the meditative state.
A core principle in mindfulness that many people struggle with, is that it is not the practice of eliminating thought entirely, but instead allowing your internal (monkey mind) and external (physical senses) stimulus to rage around you without letting them control you. This video summaries it beautifully:
Could games somehow present a pathway to learning how to be more mindful?
Could ‘walking simulators’ like Firewatch present a way forward? Is zoning out in No Man’s Sky as effective as sitting in lotus chanting mantras? Are perfectly beautiful moments like the giraffe scene in The Last of Us enough to provide us brief windows into bliss that might help us appreciate the world around us more?
Let’s explore the concept of mindfulness as something we might be able to integrate into our design and thinking to create more fulfilling experiences for our players.

short attention span theatre – designing for meaning in short session replayable games

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

[this may be mergeable with social bonds in competitive play and/or core games on mobile]

Much of mobile gaming is designed around  short session play patterns with reuseable and replayable content.   This has led vast tranches of games down a deep pit of micro-transaction-driven designs that offer little meaning, and too often leading players by the nose through a thin layer of  fun, shmeared lightly over a very long and large loaf of bread.  These games rarely offer the life-changing emotional engagement of longer-session narrative or simulation games.  Can we design our way out of the pit?  Break open the bonds of consumer purchase pattern expectations (free to play, micro transactions) while still offering replayable content that caters to the short session play pattern, yet delivers meaningful, emotionally engaging experiences? There are after all many examples in other media of meaningful  short session experiences.

Multiplayer payoff matrices and the Domains of Play

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

This topic builds on Jason Vandenberghe’s work mapping game elements and player preferences to the Big Five motivational factors.

Looking specifically at multiplayer game scenarios, it appears that:

1) using a Prisoner’s Dilemma approach, and

2) assigning weights to various player options (as available in the game’s feature set) to create

3) a Nash equilibrium payoff matrix that attributes to each player a set of payoffs based on each player’s particular Big Five motivational model

…we might theoretically be able to predict player enjoyment and likely play styles when placed into a known game milieu with other players whose Big Five motivation maps and play choices are also known (or knowable).

How true is this theory, on a scale of bullshit to canon?

How practical/useful is this today? If the answer is “not much,” what would we need in order to really apply it? (Yes, a comprehensive motivational payoff matrix for an MMO in this model challenges even today’s definition of “Big Data.”)

Where might this be leveraged, and how? AI? Feature prioritization? Social interaction design? Marketing? Server/clan recommendations? Improved game designer navel-gazing?

What does it tell us about the opportunities for player enjoyment?

How can our games be smart about this, and help players find their particular fun in a multiplayer experience?

References:

The Five Domains Of Play:Mapping Psychology’s Five Factor Model to Game Design

The Care Bear Myth:Debunking a Game Design Urban Legend

Game Theory in Video Games: How You’re in a Prisoner’s Dilemma

Promoting Positive Psychology

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I’ll happily own that I endeavor to create games/mechanics which foster positive behaviors in games. Karma systems, advanced/complex social systems, etc., are strewn throughout my work. Recently, a new Basket of Desirables landed in my sphere: the concept of positive psychology in games. How do we foster/encourage/teach and internalize things like:

Optimism
Curiosity
Zest
Growth mindset
Mindfulness
Flow
Forgiveness
Kindness
Empathy
Gratitude
Purpose

in games? Is it doable? Desirable? I think yes to both.

Multiuser: Lessons from us All

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There are a LOT of veterans of the age of multiuser games at PH. It’d be a shame if we didn’t get together to share what we’ve learned with each other, and especially with those who want to learn from our 30+ years of so-many-mistakes. Recent entries, Pokemon Go clearly shows that there hasn’t been enough sharing, or something … 🙂

So – if your designed/created/operated/nurtured/end-of-life’d/resurrected  a multiuser game through it’s lifecycle, please bring a lesson to share. If you are making one anytime soon, come and learn to avoid our pain.

[We should probably keep notes for this one.]

 

Realtime Multi User Gaming: Using the Open Source Elko platform…

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[New this year – I’m not sure if this is an appropriate submission for a Workshop – perhaps it is a BOF (if PH has BOFs)]

What would it be like if a scalable multi-user server for your game/app (including mobile) could be written/deployed in days instead of years?

https://github.com/FUDCo/Elko

Elko is the 9th generation multiuser gaming server platform descended directly from the Lucasfilm Habitat distributed object model, and it’s open source. I’m rebuilding Habitat (the original MMO) on top of Elko, which will be announced as an open source project in early November [You’re reading it first!]

One *could* say that I’m the primary programmer of virtual objects for every generation of this server/object model – and I’d love to share it with you all in whatever level of detail you wish. This is a *serious* shortcut in deploying distributed gaming objects. We had a prototype Pokemon-Go-like application (but true multiuser who could interact with each other) in 2012. We wrote the core server objects (including wandering robots) in four days, tested with over 1m simultaneous user connections (thank you AWS!)

Docs are available at the site above.

If this is the wrong format/place for this material, please forgive the bad entry and move this message to the appropriate place. 🙂

 

Creating Games in a Post-Publisher World

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

In the (not so) Good Old Days, a publisher gave you (barely enough) money to create a game, which you created, and then you shared the profits (in the same way that the lion shares the kill with the hyena).

At this week’s Game Designers Workshop, Gordon Walton brought up an interesting topic. In today’s mobile game world and beyond, this role of the publisher (as funder and, in rare cases, as helpful mentor) is going away. Where will the funding come from to make games? And more generally, how can “the little guys” make games in this post-publisher world? VCs have no interest in funding individual game projects. Kickstarter (or, as Warren Spector calls it, “Kickfinisher”) showed promise for a while, but appears to be waning in effectiveness.

Are we facing a future dystopia in which the 1% feasts and the 99% starves? What are the current avenues for getting games funded, and what are avenues that don’t exist, but should be willed into existence? We discussed some of this during Gordon’s session at the GDW, but I think it deserves a longer discussion.

Building better social bonds in competitive games

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Playing with strangers on team-based competitive games can be a very hostile experience.  I’d like to discuss ways to build better player communities including:

  • Matching players likely to form friendships early based on personality traits we can intuit or implicitly monitor or geographic location
  • Providing ways to align incentives to mentor (or at least not condemn) fellow players
  • Segregating those with negative behavior
  • Incentivizing positive behavior on forum

Video Games as Motivational Instruments

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There is a particular aspect of learning that is deeply intrinsically motivating in general.

This was recognized by James Gee in his research, and he explains it so:

“Pleasure is the basis of learning for humans and learning is, like sex and eating, deeply pleasurable for human beings. Learning is a basic drive for humans…  These pleasures are connected to control, agency, and meaningfulness.” (Learning by Design: Good video games as learning machines)

I noticed in my experience with certain games growing up, that some games provided challenges in ways that enabled me to learn them more easily and pleasantly than others. These games, by way of me surmounting their challenges, also left me with a great sense of motivation to undertake new challenges I feared might be beyond my ability. I noticed that this by degrees translated into motivation to take action in real life, especially in areas where I might not feel like I have much agency.

I believe there is something here about the potential power of games that has not yet been fully realized. If it could be, the implications are tremendous. In short, video games made in the right way could be used as a tool to expand and motivate human spirit and agency in real life in general as a deliberate side effect, while unsuspecting players are in it for the “entertainment” cover story.

This is taking the ‘video games can provide a safe place to learn and experiment’ concept to its ultimate conclusion: That they could significantly improve people’s senses of agency, resiliency, and motivation to take action in real life by providing the right dynamic environment regardless of theme or setting.

Designing for Collaborative Play

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Games focused on collaborative play take many shapes and forms (think about the differences and similarities between LoL, WoW, DayZ, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Spaceteam, etc). Competitive play has been analyzed thoroughly over the past decades and have a well established taxonomy that shapes a lot of our modern game design thinking (yomi, counterplay, etc). Can we define the various methods of creating meaningful collaborative play, and create a taxonomy for these design patterns?

Core Games on Mobile?

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

While mobile games has been blowing up this decade the platform is dominated by shallow, simplistic or skinner box games (with some notable exceptions). Core games with deep immersion or twitchy control schemes that are common on traditional platforms have so far failed to migrate to this platform. Can we by identifying the limitations and problem areas of the platform find a set of core games on PC/Console that _would_ be suitable to transition to mobile? Alternatively, can we find new solutions to solve or diminish some of these inherent problems (control scheme, session length, form factor/screen size, etc)?

Evaluating Designers

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Compared to other game development disciplines evaluating designer proficiency can be quite tricky. Depending on the specialization there may be no portfolio to review, individual contribution to a design can be hard to determine when you’re hiring, many design decisions have no clear right/wrong and when giving a poor performance review the critique can seem subjective.

Can we create an objective and exhaustive system for evaluating and communicating your game design power level?

Moral Conflict Models: Honor vs. Dignity vs. Victimhood gameplay

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have written an interesting paper based on Black’s theories of conflict that postulates that we’re in a period where our dominant moral culture is being subsumed by a new one, after having subsumed itself a previous dominant culture.

The paper: microaggression_and_moral_cultures-pre-pub-version

The Atlantic’s Article about it which is rather shorter.

The three cultures they list are:

  • Honor Culture: Conflict may prompt people to engage in a duel or physical fight. Largely, but not completely, already subsumed by:
  • Dignity Culture: Conflict prescribe direct but non-violent actions. Currently being challenged by:
  • Victimhood Culture:  Feature conflict tactics in which the aggrieved actively seek the support of third parties as well as those that focus on oppression.

While I’m not entirely sold on the idea, I often explore models of the world by thinking about ways game mechanics can help me understand them — & I suspect many of you have similar processes.

I’d like to examine what mechanics play to which cultures so that we can come away with a concrete list of examples upon which to base new game models, should they be called for in a future where our dominant conflict culture changes substantially.

Minimizing social conflict in games

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Social conflict—our players hurting/offending other players—is a serious problem.  It hurts our players, threatens the success and reputation of our title, and the games industry in general. 

Unfortunately, most titles (outside of League of Legends) don’t seem to take this threat seriously, or try to reduce social conflict in a way that is both work-intensive (by detecting and banning trolls) not particularly effective.  Some of the major gaming platforms (Steam, Playstation, and now Xbox) are trying to do this systemically, to disappointing results.

Let’s discuss ways that social conflict can and has been reduced via social design, and how we can help the gaming industry adopt and extend those techniques and thinking, so that more (ideally all) players feel welcome in all games.

EDIT: my proposal is very similar to Danc’s ‘friendship leveling’ post, so we will hopefully merge the topics.

Avoiding n00b design mistakes

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

The difference between a junior and senior level game designer: the junior sees all kinds of “design decisions” that aren’t decisions at all to the senior, there’s a clear right answer that the senior already knows through experience; meanwhile, the senior’s decisions are things that the junior doesn’t even see as decisions because they don’t realize there are alternatives to consider at all.

Can we find ways to ramp juniors faster? I’m thinking a list of most common junior-level mistakes, questions, uncertainties and their obvious-to-a-senior-level solutions, with the ultimate goal of making a short guide for first-time designers to get them more productive more quickly, by identifying core areas that they tend to miss if left to their own devices.

Designing a Friendship Leveling System

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

How do we level up player relationships? We work hard at leveling up their skills with careful scaffolding of level difficulty combined with a slow drip of new concepts. We level up their virtual skills and sense of power with RPG style leveling schemes. But can we level up players from strangers to friends that cooperate?

In psychology, there’s numerous studies on how friendships form. They identify factors like similarity, repeated unplanned interactions (logistics) and the economics of reciprocation loops. All those are factors we can directly manipulate with our game designs. We do this already in a folk design fashion with blindly followed MMO conventions. However, we can explicitly design systems that methodically create positive human relationships. What are the exact tools? What elements should a crafted friendship leveling system contain?

This is a group that would require some research ahead of time. Collect some papers. Bring them with you. Let’s not just sit around and bullshit, but start with materials and distill out something real and useful.

Some initial reading and viewing that might be of interest

Spacial or Topological tools for game grammar

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There’s been some great work over the past years when it comes to creating practical abstract tools for game design. Internal economics (Joris Dormans) give us a language for describing and modeling feedback loops and resource sources, sinks and transformations. Interaction loops (Crawford, Koster, myself and many others) give us a diagnostic framework for identifying and fixing issues around players interactions and skills. At smaller timescales, interaction loops let us perform fine surgery on game feel (without falling back on non-transferable word salad like ‘sticky friction’) At larger times scales, scaffolding and progression concept built off internal economies and interaction loops give us tools for understand how players learn and change over time. These are shockingly useful and I find myself applying them in every game I design. Arguably you can’t help but use them because they are fundamental aspects of how games operate.  Exciting times.

Yet. I still would struggle to create a good game entirely from these theories.  I’ve tried. And the one piece that remains missing is topology. When we talk of core mechanics, we often are discussing some spacial, temporal or logistical problem space bound by interesting constraints. This is hinted at in the game grammar tools, but only remains addressed superficially. Raph has talked about this in the past in terms of the math of games, so that’s probably a critical starting point.

So what are spacial or topological tools for game grammar that fit the following constraints?:

  • Predictive models: They make a prediction about how a game system *functions*. They are not merely descriptions like MDA or lists of descriptive categories.
  • General tools: They can be used to fruitfully analyze almost any game. They are not genre specific rules of thumb.
  • Transformative legos: If you break down a game into the atomic elements using a game grammar tool, you should see ways to reconfigure the problem and come up with something new. Joris’s Machinations does this with feedback loops…once you know the tool it becomes trivial to imagine adding new loops or subtle friction to something that was before a mystical black box.
  • Impossible to unsee: Once you’ve understood the tool, you can no longer look at a game without seeing these foundational elements.

Design Centric Process

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Process in video game development is often driven by production and process trends are driven by engineers in the wider tech industry. What about designers? We know process! We have opinions! We could start methodology trends and make millions as consultants too! What would a development process for video games look like if it was design driven? What if everything centered around design (schedule, workflow, prioritization, etc?) Honestly? We’d probably never get anything shipped, but I think it could be an interesting exercise. In my studio I often see design accommodate and compromise for the other disciplines because our workflow is flexible and our goals less defined. Holistically, this is a good thing and helps us ship reliably and maintain a good collaborative environment, but it also means we sometimes put design concerns last and sacrifice risk-taking and design iteration. Since Horseshoe is a time for designers to self indulge so let’s dream up a process that is all about us!

Players Don’t Read

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Text is incredibly powerful and possibly our most sophisticated communication tool, and yet it can very difficult to get players to read. This isn’t a judgement, but a challenge. We have made incredible advancements in removing text from our interfaces but what about narrative? How do we tell great stories without text or maybe even without dialog? Video games have often looked to film for inspiration but I find film techniques leave a lot to be desired in the interaction/player autonomy realm. What story telling languages has video games developed that are all our own? And how can we push further forward in this area?

(Yes there are many wonderful games that are text based and there are cool things happening in that area in games. Text based games are great and I love them! This topic is just interested in the other side of that coin.)

Games that are BAD for you!

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2016 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Many game designers (myself included) have been thinking about how to make games that aren’t just fun, but also make people better, and/or change the world for the better.  It’s hard, ’cause while we know of games that already try, it’s always harder to evaluate game MECHANICS for “goodness”, instead of just “fun”.

So I had a thought; suppose we find the games that benefit us (as humans), by trying to find the opposite of games that hurt or poison us (as humans).  And to do that, we first have to find, study and design games that hurt or poison us (as humans).

Clearly we’ll run straight into the embedded thinking we all share; games are Art, artists can do what they want, personal responsibility, who are you to judge, blah blah blah.

And I can’t help the thought that this workgroup might be creating Ultron, or otherwise Meddling in God’s Domain.

Still, I’d like to join a few brave, foolhardy souls in an examination and analysis of games that are BAD for us (so we can eventually make games that are GOOD for us).

Jimmy and Jane

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Let’s imagine two college students, Jimmy and Jane.

Jimmy got electronics kits from his dad when he was 8.  He was soldering when he was 10.  He always had access to the family computer, and was writing simple computer games by himself when he was 13.  Everyone around him said Jimmy has such a bright future with technology.

Jane had none of those advantages, but now they are sitting next to each other in a class called “Intro To Computer Game Design 101”.

Jimmy shines brightly in this class, exceeding the scope of every assignment and letting everyone cluster around his computer to see his latest and greatest.  Jane is confused, doesn’t know where to begin, and (with Jimmy right there) is intimidated into believing she isn’t ready for the class.

So she drops out.


Let me stress that 1) Jimmy and Jane have the same POTENTIAL, and 2) Jimmy isn’t TRYING to discourage Jane or anyone else.  Even so, this situation is a real world problem.  I know, ’cause I saw it happen in a class I taught.  “Jane” DID re-enroll the next year, completed the whole 2-year degree, and even shined as the best level designer (using UnrealEd) in the class.  But this is a particular sub-set of the problems facing goals of more gender diversity in our industry.

I’d like to work with a group to detail best practices to 1) nurture and protect Jane’s entry into videogame development, while 2) not punishing Jimmy for his advanced skills.

Computers are tiny and cheap!

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I just bought a raspberry PI zero.  It’s the size of a stick of gum, it’s a complete computer (plays minecraft and browses the web), and I got mine from Microcenter for $0.99 .  This isn’t unique.  Ardunio, beaglebone, CHIP, small cheap hackable computers have entered a new age.

So far, the game-related uses of this new age appear to be hand-held MAME players.  Meanwhile, everyone’s innovating over in the AR/VR space.

I’d like to work with a group to brainstorm how to use the new age of small cheap hackable (wearable, hideable) computers to make  innovative videogames.

Computers are fast!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We have more computer horsepower at our fingertips than ever before.  But I still use a text editor to program.  And while 3D artists will use a more sophisticated editor to do their work, the point is still that we have way more cpu power than we realize (especially since our computers can run all night), and use it way too seldom for game design.  SETI@home and Folding@home are (now relatively old) examples of how to use brute parallel-ized computer horsepower to try to solve problems.

I’d like to work with a group to brainstorm how to use our computer power in innovative ways in the service of videogame development, and especially in the service of videogame design.

Generative Systems, Meaningful Cores

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Entertain this juxtaposition for a moment. On the one hand, you’ve got ideas. Big ideas —themes rolling around your head so heavy, so important that you just can’t wait to share them with your players. On the other hand, you want to embrace the full range of interactivity that the medium of games affords you, and (for you) that means using generative systems to produce unbounded, novel, exciting, and surprising content.

I’m of the mind that you can do both of these things (and that they’re both worthwhile things to do) by embedding your themes in the hand-crafted units that your algorithms affix together. The collaborative roleplaying game Fiasco—which relies on procedural generation via pen & paper—does this tremendously well; its theme of ‘powerful ambition and poor impulse control’ manifests itself in the carefully hand-crafted units that players then algorithmically combine in the Set-up and Tilt (when you choose a Relationship, you don’t choose from among the full range of human relationships; no, you choose from a few such relationships, like ‘con-man’ and ‘mark’, that are inlaid intrinsically with the theme of ‘ambition’).

By outlining the storyspace in this way, we’re able to let our players tell their stories while exploring our themes. Wonderful! But Fiasco is relatively simple. How do we build complex generative systems with meaningful cores? How do we reap all the benefits of procedural generation while constraining the system to sufficiently invoke a vision, make an argument? Even more fundamentally, how do we talk about this stuff? Can we construct a vocabulary to articulate the dimensions of content generation?

Screw game design, let’s solve the WORLD’S hardest problems

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We like to talk a good game about how design thinking or systems thinking is relevant in all kinds of areas outside of game design, and how the world is full of (hackable) systems.

Let’s prove it. Let’s get some great design minds together to figure out how to game a real-world system.

Politics is full of systems. Could we get one or more game designers into a high-ranking public office?

Human biology is all about systems. Can we cure cancer?

Economic systems drive our lives. Can we figure out a pathway to get to a post-scarcity society?

Something along those lines.

Iteration with Metrics

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I’m interested in creating a formal model for how to incorporate player behavior into an economic or systems model.

For example, when creating an initial model there are several types of variables- predictors of behavior (20% of players will wan this), aesthetic settings (score should be in 1000s not 10s), balance knobs (enemies should do 50 damage).  Then you create your model, and it has several outputs- “Gold earned per second”, “Damage dealt per player” “Average HP for a level 20 enemy”.

When we’ve balanced systems, we tend to pick inputs and outputs we want to set for aesthetic or pacing reasons, and then we want to solve for the remaining inputs and outputs through monte carlo (or other method) of simulation.  If our collected metrics fail to match the model, we figure out whether a behavior predictor was wrong or if our model was wrong and adjust accordingly.

We’ve never done this formally (although I am sure several horseshoers have), but it would be really useful to have a good way of setting up this iteration that could be applied to many game design problems.

Techniques for “Workshopping” Games in Development

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Each year, many people come to PH with games they are working on, looking for input/feedback/advice/comments/pies-in-the-face from other designers. Until now, this activity has taken place informally – “around the edges,” so to speak.

I propose a working group where up to four people exchange games-in-progress prior to the weekend, agree to play those games before arriving at PH, and spend the weekend “workshopping” the games with each other.  (I myself have one such game – hence my interest!). These may be games of any type – card games, board games, digital games, or whatever.

This proposal is unusual in that it breaks some PH “rules,” most particularly that it be set up prior to the event itself. But I think that advance exposure to the games will allow for more thoughtful critiquing.

In keeping with the PH spirit of community, we would have to create a group report, which I imagine would start to catalog effective techniques for workshopping games (in much the same way that “rules” for post-mortems and “rules” for effective brainstorming have emerged over time).

Also in keeping with the spirit of community, I imagine there may be people who would want to join the working group who don’t have games to bring along themselves. I think that’s fine – my proposed limit of four games is so that the group has sufficient time to devote to each of the games, not to limit the number of people doing the critiquing. And, of course, if we have more than 4 people who want to do this with their games, then we can always have two groups, so long as each group allows time to collaborate on developing an overall report.

If you are interested in bringing a game for this working session, please respond quickly to the reflector so that we can begin the process of exchanging games in the few weeks remaining before we arrive in San Antonio.

–Bob

 

Game Design Literacy for Modern Humans

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I propose that a certain amount of game-design literacy is required for successful adulting in modern western culture.

I posit that a certain amount of knowledge about games and how they are played is extremely useful with the prevalence of gamification in so many of our interactions with entities that have some power over us, whether they be banks, employers, or government agencies large and small.

This topic may also include interpersonal games that are played, especially (but not exclusively) as played on social media.

Know how games are played can help us play these games if we so choose, or help prevent us from being played by them.

Shared avatar games

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Twitch Plays has been moderately popular lately. Many people play a single character in games as divergent as Dark Souls and Pokemon. How far could these shared avatar games be taken?

  • Fun voting systems: Everybody Votes was dumb. What is better?
  • Differentiated roles: Games like Artemis where the ship is the shared avatar.
  • Weirdness: Someone once pitched a super human god character in an MMO played by a team of game masters simultaneously. One for combat, one for researching players from analytics, one for the voice. Able to appear in multiple places at once. Able to switch bodies.

Prototyping metagames and progression systems

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We’ve got lots of tools for iterating rapidly on high frequency loops at the heart of most games. Rapid prototyping and playtesting works great. However, lower frequency loops such as progression systems or metagames are harder to prototype and balance. Often issues only show up when the game is live and while spot changes are easier than ever due to analytics, structural issues may only get 1 or 2 passes over the lifetime of a game. So we typically reduce risk by just copying what we think another successful game is doing.

In the past, progression systems arguably didn’t matter as much. But now, when 30-day retention can make or break your company, these systems are now in the spotlight. How do we not mess them up? How do we innovate? What are the best practices? Are there new tools (like simulation approaches like Machinations) that could help?

discouraging the dick

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

One of the most requested changes to my game would let users edit the name of their spaceship. When I finally added that, they immediately named their ships “dickbutt69” or something similar. I recognize that this is part of the larger axiom, that if you give game players a creative tool (even a text entry widget) they will immediately make something obscene.

But it annoys me, and I have anecdotal evidence that it harms the game ecosphere at least a bit. So now that we’ve all acknowledged that this behavior is innate, I’d still like to explore ways to minimize and discourage it.

The “Bruce”; reexamining the job descriptions within game production

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

On the podcast “designer notes”, Bruce Shelley detailed his past work relationship with Sid Meier, which resulted in historic games. He would receive a near-daily build from Sid in the morning, play it til lunchtime, and spend the afternoon with Sid discussing his analysis.  He also built levels and game content.  As he described his job, it became clear to me that his role, while critical, didn’t FIT into any existing videogame developer “roles/jobs”.

Shelley describes a job that isn’t tester, designer, or producer, but does a lot of each. Just as importantly, his job could not be held apart from the rest of the team; it was a VERY tightly integrated support role for Sid Meier, who was doing the programming and iterative design.

I think we need more “bruces” ( I know I do). But we could also ask ourselves; how can we smash the pidgeon holes that the games industry stuffs us into, and make up our own job descriptions?

Computer horsepower and videogame logical correctness

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

PART ONE: Over the last decade, I’ve marveled at the increasing computing power we all have available, and I’ve asked many colleagues the question: How can we use this raw computing power in the service of game design? The answers have been dis-satisfying. Most seem confused by the question. Some proudly talk about nightly builds and backups. Others describe how art tools are used.

My mind immediately goes to GA, genetic algorithms, a powerful (and computationally expensive) way to find optimal solutions to specific problems. Unfortunately, GA requires a “fitness function”, and most of the “fitness functions” I can think of (in regards game design) determine something AESTHETIC, which is really the domain of the human mind.

PART TWO: Imagine you’re making an adventure game. In act 1, the player gets a flashlight. In act 2, the player finds a trashcan, which deletes anything the player drops into it. In act 3, there’s a dark room that requires the flashlight to traverse it. Thus, the player can accidentally choose to make an unwinnable situation for themselves.

This is a “bug” in the game design, and there are a thousand ways to fix it. But how do we avoid making the “bug” in the first place? Talk to game designers, they’ll tell you “that’s what testers are for!”. But testers can be expensive, especially for indie developers, and they aren’t a magic solution.
But also, since this problem is a “bug”, I could essentially be asking for a game language that has “prove-able correctness”, a computer science problem that has never been solved (for general cases). So, way too hard to solve.

FUSE THESE: With the new computer horsepower we have available, I suggest we revisit the idea of testing games “brute-force” (examining every possible input combination) for correctness. I also propose that we use text adventure games as a first step, because of the limited and discrete choices those games are known for.

So I’d like to spend time examining the innate structure of text adventure games, and building a representation of text adventure games that facilitates computer “brute force solving”.  Understand that I’m not trying to “revive” text adventures/interactive fiction; I’m thinking about all videogames, really.

emotionally safe spaces in game development

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2015 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Arguably, there’s a new level of social awareness in videogame development, led by young indie and LGBT groups. More specifically, I’ve read of groups that ask for (and sometimes demand) an emotionally safe space”, for working or creative interaction. As a boy in Texas in the 70’s and 80’s, I can’t imagine I could have asked for such a thing. I CAN imagine that those three words would have been alien nonsense to any authority figure I had contact with at the time. Throughout my career, “emotionally safe spaces” also did not compute. Every shop I worked in cared most about work output; emotional safety meant the ability to close your office door, and stress was just part of the job description.

“Emotionally safe space”. Does it matter for videogame developers? And if so, what are best practices to achieve it?

Designing for live community play

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2014 Workgroup Topic Proposals

As designers, we still tend to think of our work like sending a rover to Mars: we create an experience, and others consume it in some far-off place we can’t see, then after a delay they report back to us on their experiences. Even most MMOs are created with that mindset until (and even after) the game goes live. With the rise of social media and game streaming, along with so many games now providing a live service even if it’s just leaderboards, achievements and stats, it’s time to open doors to new types of games and ways of playing.

The first example I saw of a community game was Twitch Plays Pokemon. A game of Pokemon is streamed live on Twitch, and viewers can vote in the chat for what the AI player should do next. It’s messy to say the least (hundreds of chat messages can fly by before you can read them), but the possibilities are immense. Here are articles from Polygon and Gamespot about the potential impact of this style of play.

Choice Chamber is an upcoming game using the community voting method to determine the play experience. It’s just the tip of the iceberg though: when you consider the combination of modular game elements–including narrative–with an effective method for viewers to vote and then witness the outcome, I believe we have the opportunity to create a new kind of play experience that unfolds like a live performance!

How can we match existing game models & systems to specific kinds of learning?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2014 Workgroup Topic Proposals

It’s long been part of the broader game design conversation that “fun is learning”, and that what we do as game designers is create smooth, usable, graceful progressions through a learning and discovery process — but I’ve yet to see a discussion of what organic systems and structures (even conventions) that have grown out of games (for example tech trees, leveling systems, first time user experience, resource management) can be best leveraged toward learning whether in or outside of a game.

We are heading into a time when the fields of learning and game design are beginning to converge and interact in ways they’ve never interacted before, from a standpoint of mutual respect and idea-sharing. How can we create a feedback loop into this system where game design informs learning design, and where learning design leads to the creation of better games? It starts with a shared vocabulary, and an understanding of what systems create what kinds of emotional and cognitive experiences. These “cookbook” approaches have been discussed inside and outside of Horseshoe before (“Multiplayer Game Atoms”, “Psychology for Game Designers”, “Solving Big Problems”…), but this topic would aim to create a list of major game structures and discuss their specific cognitive relationship to learning processes possibly as defined by the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and more modern theorists and structures (systems thinking, persistence, affective impact, social norms).

The flip side of the feedback loop is that by understanding what it is that is fulfilling about learning, what the learning state looks like, what is happening on a microscopic level inside a person’s thinking when they learn, we can create more compelling introductory systems, smoother progressions, and stickier elder loops. First time user experience remains a persistent problem in most games, and some of the answers could well exist inside the heads of teachers and education scientists. It seems likely that even in thinking of the “first time user experience” as a universal thing, we might well discover that a diverse approach toward a first time user experience depending upon the kind of learning desired is what is most effective.