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Posts Tagged ‘interaction’

Last week I lamented the passing of a great iPhone company. No, they didn’t go under, in fact, they are probably rolling in money as I write this, but as much as I want to congratulate ngmoco I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t want to get back into this rant, but its become fairly obvious to me that they are a company that has become more interested in profits than in creating the quality, fun products they use to.

In this same vein, Ian Bogost, has been creating turbulence within the game industry by being rather outspoken on the topic of social games and why he is disturbed by them. Trying to wrap his head around these traits, Bogost has created a satirical Facebook game entitled Cow Clicker which boils down the  social game to its core components, clicking on something every few hours to gain resources. The genesis of the game and more information on what Bogost is learning can be found on his blog.

Of the four ways Bogost cites as the reasons he despises social games the two I agree with the most are his enframing and optimalism arguments. Both of these arguments focus on how these socials games treat their players and the “play” they are participating in. I have often wondered how well a game like FarmVille would do without the social backbone of Facebook to hold it up. Even iPhone copycats like WeRule/Farm use a social network component to “virally” spread about their respective markets. Play is nothing more than clicking on a timer with the goal of the designer to keep the player in the game space for as long as possible. This often results in the starting crop netting the best returns offering no strategy other than trying to guess how long will sleep so they can set their crops accordingly.

This is why I like Echo Bazaar, a a narrative heavy, web-based game by Failbetter Games that utilizes Twitter as it’s social network. The writing alone makes the game worth playing, but amidst all the narrative twists and turns there is actually game play! There are items to collect, stats to raise and numerous ways to get your friends involved instead of just using them as a resource boost.

I’ve heard rumor that companies are starting to try and make social  games like Echo Bazaar; a product with more game in it, but I want to see it before I’ll believe it.

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For the past week I have been play testing and refining a game design that I came up with over a weekend for a game I have decided to call Fuse. I want to thank my colleagues for helping me make this into something I am proud of (and plan to do more in the future with). This post will focus on what went right and wrong with the design and will briefly touch on what my future plans for Fuse.

The Good

Despite my initial concerns, Fuse played relatively well as a paper prototype. Taking cues from Entanglement, I drew separations where lines crossed to help player follow their paths easier. While this works, creating the game in a digital space would allow for the paths to be colored so they could be more easily followed. Thoughts of making this a board game have crossed my mind, but I would much rather see it in the digital space first. Plus in the digital space I make the tiles random!

The simplicity of the game also allows for several different game types which is a nice (and unexpected) outcome of the design. Currently, there are two head to head game types and another four player game type. I am in the process of testing a few others to see if they are fun (so far I’ve been enjoying them!).

Finally, this thing is actually fun to play! I’m kind of surprised at how much fun the play test sessions were. Everyone who played it said they enjoyed it and expressed interest in playing it again.

The Bad

Moving Fuse to a digital space does concern me a bit, however. I feel like some of the fun of Fuse lies in the social aspect of the game. Sitting around, shit talking with the opponents and the excitement of pulling off a big move appears to be a big part of Fuse. It has been my experience that social games do not translate well into a digital space where interaction becomes cold and electronic. I fear that the fun of Fuse will suffer in its digital form, but I honestly won’t be able to say until I see it and play it.

The Future

I’ve already talked about moving Fuse into the digital space and my next move will be to do that. I’d like to see it made in Flash or something similar and released on the net. I’m not entirely sure how I want multiplayer to work or whether or not I want the game to be synchronous or asynchronous. Either way, be sure to check back for updates on the status of digital Fuse.

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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 into games that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

The first sin I would like to look at is something that has always irked me as a mobile developer: the on-screen game controls. I’m talking about the archaic controls pads we are using to interact with our new technology. It boggles me why we are making games for touchscreen devices that use part of the screen for a control indicator that usually doesn’t even give the player feed back.

I know what some people are probably thinking, and I agree with you, the control pad is a good way to control a game, but not for a touch pad game. The reason: thumbs. Considering something like the iPhone (which has one of the larger touch screens) is roughly 3 inches by 2 inches this means my thumbs are blocking a third of the screen (bottom left and bottom right sixth) to accommodate the controls. By the time you add in all the user interface pieces that usually come with a game that needs a control pad you are lucky if you have a third of the screen left to actually play on.

More than anything it feels like developers are trying to force certain types of games where they don’t belong. In my mind, mobile gaming should not be something that you sit down for a few hours to play. It should be quick burst of ten to fifteen minutes max with a focus on casual play. Things like hack and slashes, role playing games and first person shooters just don’t feel right on a phone.

So designers, please. Do us all a favor and stop committing this sin. Use the touch screen as an opportunity to explore new ways to interact with games instead of sticking with what’s safe. Who knows, we just might learn something.

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Cracked has an article about ways games are trying to get you addicted that I find to be an interesting read. It’s scary to think about how video games can condition their players to spend hours (sometimes days) pursuing seemingly meaningless goals. Many video games, especially MMO’s are built around the concept of hooking you in and keeping you there, that’s how they make their money after all.

What if we could use that hook for something good? What if we could use these virtual Skinner Boxes to teach? How crazy would it be if World of Warcraft taught you something like calculus or American History and they still had nearly 3.8 million subscribers in the US alone?

Now, I’m not saying video games are bad. I’m not even saying games that use the ideas and concepts behind BF Skinner’s research are wrong (though some people might think otherwise). In fact, I’m fairly certain anyone reading this probably thinks the same as I do, that video games are great, but there are plenty of people who don’t. Many of those people are also going to have a hard time believing video games can be art as long as they don’t think they are great. So, one of the first steps to achieving validation is to get more people on board with the idea that video games aren’t evil.

Anime hair does not make your game more engaging Knowledge Adventure.

Educational games are nothing new to the world of video games. The biggest problem with educational games, however, is that they suck. Most of them have the repetition aspect dead on, but they fail to be engaging for more than a few minutes at a time. These games (and maybe education systems in general) need to take a few pointers from games like World of Warcraft that can keep players engaged for several days at a time.

I can only imagine the headlines if there was an educational game that engaged someone to the point World of Warcraft is able to.

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Interaction is a crucial element in any game. Without the ability to meaningfully interact with the game system, an activity ceases to be a game and takes the form of passive medias such as books, movies and art. Some people might argue that these media require interaction, you read a book by turning pages, you watch a movie by you to focus your attention on the screen before you, and many pieces of art (especially of the modern and contemporary varieties) encourage the viewer to participate in the piece.

Others might even go so far as to say that the consumer is in control of the media because they control the flow of the experience. A reader does not have to turn from page one to page two but can jump around much in the same way a movie can be rewound and fast forwarded. While this is possible, these media at their core do not allow for such an action in the way games do. Jumping about these passive media causes narrative problems and tends to break the pacing and flow of the story.

Games are one of the few forms of entertainment (with the exception of toys) that requires interaction. Even when a game is watched for entertainment (sports for example), without interaction on the part of the players there is no game to watch.

The interaction requirement of games causes many problems, especially when it comes to understanding games. I believe that unlike most of the other passive media which can simply be viewed, games need to be interacted with before they can be truly understood. Many critics of video games fall into the trap of making assumptions about video games from consuming them the way they are use to; by passively watching someone else interact with them. Watching and playing are not the same thing.

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