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Posts Tagged ‘balance’

So I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m mindie. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve decided to start dressing in drag or that I’m a girl trapped in a mans body or anything like that. I’m referring to being somewhere in between mainstream and indie (mindie).

The made up title comes from an article written by Alister Doulin that sums up some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the differences between mainstream and indie development. Doulin breaks down what being mindie is by addressing how mainstream and indie view profits, competition, publishers/investors, project size and art and then presents the middle ground where mindie fall in between.

Having been developing games for nearly two years now and co-running a studio for a little more than half a year I think the mindie label fits our philosophy on both business and game design well. Since we work the company as a hobby project and are lucky enough to have received our capital from an angel investor we don’t have to worry about creating a successful game (although that isn’t stopping us from trying). Our current market focus, iPhone and iPad, are markets that move fairly fast so there isn’t time to worry about competition. We simply look at what others are doing and try to incorporate what is successful into our own game designs. We keep costs low by working in our free time and spending money only when we need to and we make games that we hope are more than just “fun” but also appeal to a large audience of people.

I think we are very mindie minded.

What I find more interesting than this article, however, are the critics of the article. Many of their comments bring up good points, even Doulin admits he stereotypes mainstream (and even indie!) a bit, but I feel like they’re ultimately misguided on what the article is saying. Many of the comments bring up how continuing the mainstream versus indie discussion isn’t helping the industry (which I think they are wrong about). Even Johnathan Blow chimed in (rather pretentiously I feel) on the Gamasutra posting of the article to comment on how he believes talking and thinking about “petty things” such as this wastes a designers energy that should be spent making their games.

I want to come to Doulin’s defense on this because I feel that this article is very helpful for someone like me who felt a bit lost in where exactly they fit in this industry. Yes, I will agree that it probably doesn’t matter much to the industry what I label myself as, be it mainstream or indie or anything in between. I also agree that arguing about who is what and what it means to be this, that or the other isn’t going to get us anywhere. I do think that a conversation like this is important for those looking in from the outside who want to understand the differences between design and business philosophies. Talking about things like this also helps designers like me put things into perspective and realize there are others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. That may expose some of my own insecurities about my position in the industry at the moment, and I’ll admit I have them, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit more comfortable knowing there are others out there who share the same ideas and principles.

I also don’t think Doulin’s article meant to paint the industry as black and white and gray. I see it more as a gradient where the extremes of mainstream (all money) and indie (all art) sit on the ends. There’s plenty of room in between to organize this company and that studio into the spectrum. Doulin uses extremes on both ends (although he is a little kinder to indies) to illustrate his point so don’t expect them to work with everything (although some recent rumblings over comments made by Mark Rein of Epic might help prove Doulin’s point).

As for Jonathan Blow’s comment, I think that anyone who spends 100% of their time making nothing but games is going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. The quote from Jordan Mechner that I like to use as my mantra speaks to this point in a sense. If someone wants to devote themselves solely to their craft and ignore the discussions going on around them they are going to miss out on chances to  impact the community in meaningful ways. If Blow wants to focus on letting his products do his talking that’s great, but he’s only going to get so far before his product fails to make the impact that his participation might have created.

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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put in or removed that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concern with transferring Fuse to the digital space because it might possibly neuter the social aspects of the game. As an artist and a game designer, I feel that games (especially games with multiple players) are often much more than systems players are interacting with. There is something very special about gathering in a place, real or digital, and interacting with other humans.

As an iPhone developer I’ve seen and heard a number of ideas from colleagues for ports of games onto the device that  shouldn’t be. This often comes from a lack of understanding about how the device cannot support the social aspects that make the game they want to port a well designed game.

I encountered this about a week or so ago when I was approached by a fellow student who want some information about iPhone development. The game he wants to make is an iPhone version of Egyptian Ratscrew (ERS) which is a card game with an interesting system of mechanics. It also has a large amount of social interaction encouraged by the “slapping” mechanic. Regardless of the coding challenges involved in porting ERS to the iPhone, what concerns me most about the idea is how the social aspects of the game will suffer. Even if a player can network to play live with other players the feeling just isn’t the same. The excitement of slapping the pile and taking someone’s jack or misjudging and slapping the pile at the wrong time causing the player to draw cards isn’t the same. There’s no smack talk or interesting alliances/betrayals to be had.

It’s all cold, sterile game mechanics and where’s the fun in that?

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Ian Schreiber’s online course on game balancing started yesterday, July 5th. It is a 10 week special topics course focusing on a class he covered in one week (yikes!) during a similar online game design class he taught last summer. The course is 100% free with the option to pay $55 to get extra material and attention from Schreiber himself.

The course looks interesting from the intro video posted and I’m intrigued to see how it turns out. I haven’t had the time to go back through the blog from the old class, but judging from his work with Brenda Brathwaite on the book Challenges for Game Designers it should prove to be a top notch course and something any game designer should look into.

I am a huge fan of outside learning so courses like this really excite me. You can’t argue with the price either and if I wasn’t so broke myself I might drop the 55 bucks to get in on this.

Does anyone know if there are any other courses like this out there on game design or game creation in general?

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I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t either love or hate Heavy Rain.

Disregarding the discussion about whether or not it’s a game (it’s not) people seem divided on whether it’s actually a compelling experience. While I believe Heavy Rain was a very compelling experience, I can see where others might disagree because of the thin line the “interactive drama” walks. In order to succeed, Heavy Rain must balance both mechanics and narrative even more so than most because it lacks the force games have that propel the player towards the end state. Should the mechanics or the narrative fail, the experience is lost.

Games can get away with failing at either mechanics or narrative because it can rely on fun to keep the player coming back. Players can ignore bad stories if they get wade through waves of bad guys flailing swords on chains or overlook terrible mechanics if they are invested in getting a cop out of a zombie infested town. Heavy Rain doesn’t have that option because,well, it’s not a game. The creator, David Cage, calls Heavy Rain an interactive drama and as pretentious as that might sound, I think the moniker fits well. I was engaged with the experience, but I think that just like watching a drama on television, I did not really have what I would call fun during the experience.

This means that the viewer is relying on the narrative and mechanics to keep them engaged. Should either of them fail, the player no longer has an impetus to continue further. I encountered just such, where the controls of the game failed to react how I expected them to which in turn kept me from complete the action I wanted to. The failure occurred during the first trial where Ethan needs to drive against oncoming traffic. At the end of the sequence, the car Ethan is driving flips over and catches on fire. I now find myself playing Ethan who is hanging upside down trying to grab a GPS unit off his dashboard. I was prompted like normal to use the right control stick, but no matter how hard a tried Ethan simply would not reach out to grab the unit. As the flames rose higher I became increasingly agitated at my inability to perform a task as simple as reaching out and grabbing an object (which I had done a number of times before with the same motion command).

It turns out, that the game wanted me to flip the controller upside down (or perform the action backwards) to simulate the state Ethan was in. This was not a wise design choice because there was nothing indicating this was a special case. The icon appeared right side up and nothing (at least that I noticed) told me to act differently otherwise. I also never experienced this again during the rest of my Heavy Rain experience. Had this been a majority of my experience I think I would feel differently about Heavy Rain.

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