Category Archives: General

designofthings

Great Read: The Cult of the Peacock

A great read recently discovered about the conflict between design artistry and accessibility: The Cult of the Peacock. The author’s opening words describe it well:

It’s easy to forget that at one time all videogames had manuals. I used to like reading manuals. Manuals were cool. Now, instead of manuals, we have interactive tutorials. They take about fifty times longer to produce, three times longer to consume, and players hate them so much that their highest aspiration is to become completely transparent. Currently I spend most of my waking hours developing them. It should come as no surprise that I hate them too.

Some other choice quotes:

. . .  it includes things like airport signage, Bolshevik propaganda and of course videogames.

. . . the user exists perpetually in a state of ‘about to abandon your game in favour of watching cat videos.’

A designer is kind of like a Turing machine: Given enough iterations she can figure out how to teach any player any game mechanic without causing boredom or confusion.

And the finisher:

It’s okay to ask for trust from your users rather than just money; sometimes they even enjoy it.

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Told You So

Link.

Eerily enough, I found out about this not long after hearing a segment on NPR this morning that scientists recently completed a study that found that calling dairy cows by name, conversing with them, and treating them as pets or family members could increase their milk yield by more than 400 pints per year. The segment concluded, “Dairy farmers have known this for centuries. They needed no study to reinforce what they see every day.” Funny parallel.

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A Student No Longer

I walked out of my last class as a college student on Wednesday, November 19 at 12:30pm — art history, a final exam. I gave my thesis defense that evening: an hour-long talk on my topic, the nature and future of serious games. I’ve spent the last week home with my parents for the holiday, and tomorrow I return to Hunt Valley, Maryland, to start work as an associate producer at Firaxis Games.

This post marks a turning point in the life of this blog. I leave behing the conjecture and hypothesis that limits the student, he who can only assume and surmise about what real game development is like. From here on out, I speak as a professional game developer and a pending Master of Fine Arts in game design. I speak as one of the enfranchised, as an insider, an expert. I have broken in — let the new age begin!

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9/11 In LittleBigPlanet?

I heard a rumor that someone had created a level in LittleBigPlanet that reenacts the bombing of the Twin Towers. Is this true? If it is, it represents a fascinating step in the growth and maturation of games as an art form and a medium of mainstream communication. Before, with contoversial game issues like Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and the infamous Hot Coffee mod in GTA San Andreas, the controversy could focus on authorship and the rights of creators (and in turn, the rights of consumers to refuse to consume, which was the core of Larry Flynt’s argument when Hustler Magazine went before the Supreme Court). But now the content is user-generated, and on a mainstream console. I am curious: will this turn into a big thing? Will it be different from people making similar things in open worlds like Second Life because it’s on the Playstation 3? Or will it just go away?

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Getting it Wrong

From a recent post by Yehuda with some simple but important advice: how to recognize hack game design. Too many games, digital and non-digital alike, fall into at least one of these traps. As the designer of more than thirty quick game designs on this blog, I am well aware of the easiness of hacking a design. And, as a student, I see these flaws glaring in many of my fellow students’ work. However, I submit that this is not their fault, and nothing to be ashamed of. They are inexperienced designers, and they have to start somewhere. I certainly count myself among these — I am not a professional (yet) and by forcing a new design out of my head each week, I have no doubt that some of them are utterly worthless, awful games. I value these failures above all others, because this is how I learn. Failing and then having to fix your failure will teach you better than anything how to avoid that mistake again, and being able to recognize the hack spots in your design is critical to this process. It’s no good to have a broken game and no idea why it won’t work. So, if you’re like me and trying to grow and improve as a designer, read what Yehuda has to say and make a checklist for yourself. Study games you play and look for the hacks. Little by little, you’ll learn how to avoid getting it wrong :)

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Back in Action, One Last Time

Just returned from my sojourn in northern New Hampshire and my working vacation from all things game-related to my university, SCAD, for one last quarter. When I enrolled as a MFA candidate, I was assigned three preliminary undergraduate courses to complete before I could commence graduate study — this because my undergrad experience featured precious little digital artwork. The addition of these courses offset my program of study by one term, so rather than graduate in the spring with most of my peers, I will complete my studies at the end of this fall. I look forward to it! In the meantime, I am happy to return to the world of game design and to resume regular updates on this blog. Apologies to everyone who saw the content rate droop over the summer — it was simply impossible to devote the time to it, so removed was I in my place in the White Mountains. Three weeks behind on game design and with scarce posts on general topics, I am ashamed I let it slide so far. No more — I am back in action again.

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No Mercy

Have you ever heard of a game that involves forgiveness? I’ll explain:

The concept of total forgiveness for wrongdoing is exceedingly rare in out lives. It is human nature to want to retaliate against those who harm us, in an effort to prevent future harm whether through the inspiration of empathy or fear. To wholeheartedly forgive is to act as if the wrong never occurred — to genuinely feel, with mind and heart, that there was no wrong. This is very hard for us to do, even for the religious faithful that follow doctrines based on forgiveness. People naturally seek to punish, even it means nothing more than studiously ignoring or acting chilly towards the offender in conversation. Even the smallest retaliation is a retaliation, and indicates a lack of forgiveness.

In games, the rules are known at the outset. Indeed, a game exists only in the rules and in the strict adherence to them. The moment players divert from the rules, they are no longer playing the game but some mutated amalgam of the original and their own invention. Anything that occurs within the rules is acceptable. The opportunity for win or loss exists for all players equally, so any action taken in pursuit of victory, though it may necessarily mean harm (in game terms) to other, is not wrong and warrants no forgiveness. But rulebreaking — cheating — must be punished to ensure the integrity of the game. In other words, games fundamentally rely on the human instinct to punish wrong in order to even exist. If a game were written with no provision against cheating and played by players with no method or desire to punish cheating, the game would functionally not exist — cheating would be universally prevalent and the game would never be played according to the original rules. It is by tacit agreement not to cheat that gameplay is possible at all.

So, then, is it possible to reconcile the forgiveness or wrongdoing (cheating) and the existence of gameplay? Can a game be written that permits forgiveness? It seems like a philosophical paradox, or at least a semantic one. What do you think?

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