Casual Clans

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Guilds, clans, and similar communities have been a big part of the success of a lot of midcore games, like Clash of Clans and Game of War. But attempts to unleash the power of these structures in more casual games has been lacking. Is it possible to do this right? Can you simplify the clan experience to make it work in casual genres … resource management, level-based progression, social casino, hidden object, and so on … without losing the power of what makes them so effective in midcore games? Or is there zero overlap between what casual players are willing to learn and do, and what is required to support such in-game communities?

Better Than Dialogue Trees: The Interface of Human Interaction

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

For nearly as long as we have had video games, those games have tried to emulate the experience of talking to (and developing a relationship with) a human being.

100% of those efforts (including the ones that I have built) have produced experiences that do not at all resemble actual human interaction.

But this problem runs deep. Dialogue trees are so much the default design for human interaction in games that when I have proposed to many designers that we need a better interface, the largest hurdle has been overcoming the assumption that there simply cannot be a better design for this; that nothing else is possible.

I believe there are other possibilities, unexplored. I believe that we will find them. We must! If we imagine a future, 100 years from now, where we are still playing video games, do we believe that those character interactions will still use Mass Effect-style dialogue trees?

I do not believe that, in part because the modern design of dialogue trees is so fundamentally inhuman:

  1. Dialogue trees assert that NPCs should say one thing in response to the player’s choices. That design puts the power of choice for the NPC’s response on the shoulders of the players. In effect, the player is the one who chooses the NPC’s reaction. Modern NPCs are verbal vending machines.
  2. In modern games, there are generally only a very few (usually one) relationship spectrum being measured (often, how close are we to having sex with the character). Yet, real human beings track a wide variety of statuses in their relationships: trust, admiration, desire, intimacy, rapport… it is the multiplicity of values that make human relationships rich. We do not reflect this richness in our game designs.
  3. Context matters. It is strange for a person to unpack their heart to someone they just met–yet, this is so common in video game design as to be a trope.

The list goes on. Current NPC interaction systems do not produce interactions that feel like interacting with a person.

So: how might we do that? What is a better interface and a better design for interacting with an artificial human? How could we turn the player’s attention in an NPC interaction towards the same types of things they think about in a real-life conversation with a real person?

What kind of interface might better capture something closer to the true emotional & experiential nature of human relationships?

This group will not discuss the promise of neural networks, or of big data analysis, or of other magic-wand black-box approaches to this problem. We will deliberately keep the conversation out of the “technology will save us” domain. That is not to say that such advances are not coming; they clearly are. But there are lots of groups out there focusing on those approaches to this problem.

Instead, this group will focus on interface, on character data model, and on how we might generate meaningful gameplay, all around the subject of interactions with artificial humans, using today’s technology.

Let’s build a better relationship interface.

Hard Hitting Combos

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

How do you create a system of game mechanics that best creates the opportunity for interesting, emergent behavior in combination with each other?

Many games have interesting combo systems, and some are better than others.  Magic: The Gathering and Terraforming Mars.  Skill trees in Diablo III or World of Warcraft.

What are techniques for designing a set of mechanics that have interesting combos? What types of combos are there?  How can a set of mechanics be evaluated for how interesting their ‘combo’s are?  Is it a systemizable problem? How can it be made fun and comprehensible?  What is the best I could do procedurally?

Ethical Monetization

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We now have at least a decade of design experience building free-to-play game. Mobile F2P is maturing rapidly and Mobile Premium is shrinking. Both PC and console have adopted IAP within their top selling games. It isn’t hyperbole to say the majority of financially successful games would not be so if it weren’t for their IAP monetization designs.

Sometimes these systems do bad things to players. Gambling is a popular topic in the press. At the very least many of the practices can be deeply dehumanizing to players.

For me, I spend about 80% of my time designing and balancing the F2P systems outside (and inside) the core game loop. This is independent of The Man breathing down my neck. It is simply the world we live in.

Given this reality, how do we:
1. Make games that are profitable. Especially given maturing markets and intense competition.
2. AND Make games that are a positive addition to the lives of our players.
3. AND Find the joy in monetization design. It seems like there are some wonderful system design and multiplayer design challenges.

Cozy Online Games

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There’s a growing sub-genre of ‘cozy’ games that focus heavily on tend and befriend-style gameplay. They try to make the player feel comfortable and safe vs stressed and competitive. Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, Hidden Folk, Neko Atsume and others fit this mold. However few have any focus on multiplayer. I just released one experiment, Beartopia, multiplayer Animal Crossing style game for VR, but it is a topic I’d love to explore more.

– What are cozy multiplayer interactions?
– What does cozy play with strangers look like?
– What sort of business models would work for such a game?

Power to Persuade

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Many art forms have succeeded in changing hearts and minds on various public issues. In literature, a few clear examples are Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (slavery) and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (immigrant exploitation and food sanitation). Among non-fiction books, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring awakened people to the dangers of pesticides, but more broadly birthed the modern environmental movement.

Examples of films which changed society include “Philadelphia” (humanizing the AIDS epidemic), “An Inconvenient Truth” (increasing awareness of climate change), “The Cove” (dolphin killing), and “Super-Size Me” (the health dangers of fast food). On the darker side, “Triumph of the Will” formed the cinematic basis of the Nazi’s propaganda effort, and “Reefer Madness” ushered in three-quarters of a century of misguided drug policy.

Some games have attempted to follow the same path, with arguably less successful results. Examples include “Balance of Power” and “Trinity” (nuclear weapons); “Hidden Agenda” (US policy in Central America); “Darfur is Dying” (the humanitarian crisis in Sudan); and my own “A Mind Forever Voyaging” (the Reagan Revolution set in a dystopian future).

Can games succeed in changing minds, as other art forms have succeeding in doing in the past? Or are they fundamentally unsuited for that? Can we develop a “tool box” of techniques for doing this? If games can persuade, what is our best course?

This topic has been the discussed at Horseshoe in the past (https://www.projecthorseshoe.com/reports/ph10/ph10r3.htm), and I’d like to see this workgroup build on that earlier work.

Can we crack the echo chamber?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

The rise of social networks promised to connect us, but a little over a decade since Facebook opened to the public, these networks are dividing us more sharply along political lines, amplifying the spread of fake news, and possibly allowing foreign interests to intensify these problems to our detriment.  Does analyzing this problem through lenses of game system design, gamification, and/or behavior incentivization suggest any realistic methods for softening the walls of the online age’s echo chambers?

Flow Reconsidered

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Ever since Rules of Play, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow has been a semi-obligatory topic for game design books and courses.

Games sometimes provide Flow, but is creating that Flow a core game design consideration? Is the Flow experience central to why people play games?

Is it worth making a distinction between Flow and an immersive experience?

The Habits of Highly Successful Companies

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

There are companies that always seem to create a hit every time out, and consistently innovate and excel creatively. What are those companies, and what do they do differently? Are there commonalities that can be distilled and copied? Or is it a case of a few extraordinarily good individuals, such that their success cannot be duplicated? We know that there are some principles that everyone agrees on, like small teams with autonomy and failing fast. But can we dig deeper than that?

I just ran a workgroup on this topic at a company offsite, and would love to keep exploring it at Horseshoe…

Game systems that display themselves

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Much of my game development can be described as “rapid prototyping”. But what’s not rapid is GUI. It’s a basic rule of thumb, that when I add a mechanic or value to my game prototype, I must then budget more time to create the GUI that exposes that feature to the player. And, despite my raft of helper functions that make GUIs a bit easier for me, it’s a hand-creation process that always takes time, especially if I want it to look pretty.

What if the basic variables that were members of a game object were smart enough to display themselves? What if you could have a member function called
::DrawMyData(RECT screenRect), and it would just magically draw all the important data of the object? And it drew the data in an intelligent way, giving more space and color to the most important data? And it did so no matter what size or shape of bounding rectangle you gave it?

Is it possible? Sure, but there’s lots of little details that would have to be worked out and coded.

Is it useful? Perhaps for lone-wolf rapid-prototypers like me, but for everyone else? I don’t know.

Assuming the idea would be useful, I’d like to explore the concept, from both coding and aesthetic perspectives, with an interested group.

Definition of “game”

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Inspired by this thread: https://www.facebook.com/thebrenda/posts/10155664616687387?pnref=story

Creating a definition for the word “game” that doesn’t exclude things that are obviously games, or include things that are obviously not, is hard. It may be entirely impossible. Many individuals have tried and failed. No one has yet succeeded.

That would certainly qualify this as one of game design’s hardest problems. Perhaps if we bash enough of our brains together, we can find a better answer than any that has come before. Or at least move the needle slightly in the right direction.

What is the place of good design in games?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I believe that there are core, fundamental design values that transcend any particular medium and can be used to evaluate the quality of design in any context. We may quibble about exactly how to express them, but I find that designers, even across diverse mediums, generally agree on what makes good design. I have my own preferred way of codifying them and I often try to drill them into the heads of designers I work with thinking that if our work follows these principles it will be well designed and therefor it will be good. But lately I have been struck by how unrelated the quality of a game’s design can be from the quality of a game as a whole. An extreme example are the games spontaneously created by children as they play; these are almost universally poorly designed and yet they are greatly enjoyable for the participants. Anecdotally there are many video games that I love dearly that are not well designed or that have massive design flaws, there are also very well designed games that I find very unsatisfying. Good design is not a prerequisite for a good game so what is it? Can we quantify the value of good design in games? Can we identify the instances where good design is a priority and where it isn’t? Are there specific elements that it is appropriate for good design to take a backseat to? Is there a model or guidelines we can use to prioritize good design that is applicable for any game?

Just to be clear, I am not asking what makes a game good. I think we can all agree that there are many factors that make up the holistic experience of a game and that different elements will contribute to the overall quality of a game in different context. I am specifically interested in the value of design in games and whether we can create a model for thinking about design that goes beyond simply “your design should be good.”

Overcoming Grief

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I recently got posed an interesting design challenge: how would you design a game specifically to help players heal after the loss of a loved one?

There is plenty of literature in psychology about stages of grief, normal vs. pathological grief, and how the commonalities and differences in how loss affects people, and there are some games that deal with the topic in various ways, but to my knowledge there’s no easily-digestible set of best practices for dealing with themes of death and loss. So, let’s make one.

Writing for the Ludonarrative

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

We all know the basic tension between Narrative (the story the game developer tells the player) and Ludo-narrative (the story the player creates while using our game).  Everyone talks about ludo-narrative dissonance, but this is not about that.

We all assume that Narrative in games is supported by lots of writing, while Ludo-narrative is supported by gameplay and emergent events. Recent experience shows me that’s not really accurate. In fact, I’ve seen lots of Ludo-narrative that’s cleverly supported by pre-written text.

Over 20 years ago, the Jagged Alliance games had lots of small chunks of writing that focused on the relationships between your hirelings.
The Fallout series has writing that supports major and minor game decisions.
Motorsport Manager has lots of small chunks of writing that support game events, and help the player contextualize them, especially regarding the drivers and mechanics you’ve hired for your racing team.
Out There and FTL have lots of text event trees that help define the game.

 

These examples show us that ludonarrative can be and is supported by writing. But while there’s lots of writing about writing for videogames, I haven’t found any resources that address this sort of short-form writing. Tree-structure-dialog writing IS well documented, and there is some overlap, but not enough.

 

Let’s discuss short-form writing designed to support the ludo-narrative, and assemble some best-practices.

 

Let’s Build a Game Designer!

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in 2017 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2017 Workgroup Topic Proposals

I mean, it’s obvious, right? Eventually we will all have to become game designer designers.

Procedural content creation is all well and good, but what would it take to build a non-human designer that can design an entire game?

What atoms, rules, models, systems, and methods will we need?

What can be done today? Prototyped this weekend?

What do we see as the road ahead in machine-assisted game design?

Join me in embracing our future of automated creativity!

Hybrid Games

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

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

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

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

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals
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

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals
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…

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

[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

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in 2016 Workgroup Topic Proposals

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).