Ian Bogost reviews Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture. So Excited.
You know you’re in deep when you start to enjoy reading powerpoint presentations about video game design.
Reblogged from discovergames
On Difficulty: Challenge vs. Frustration
I’ve been thinking a lot about difficulty in games lately, sparked by the reaction to my recent review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. My experience with the game was incredibly frustrating because of the three-day cycle and punitive save system that went along with it, but many people said they liked those elements because of the “challenge” it provided to the game.
I liked how Braid, and Super Meat Boy handled failure and reiteration as you mentioned. Part of why I think it worked well in those games was because that style of puzzle platformer has such a modular design that you can break down each challenge and place checkpoints between them (Braid’s time reversal mechanic broke down the chellenges so much that basically every moment was a checkpoint).
When it comes to LIMBO specifically, I’m actually really ambivalent about this way of handling challenge. It killed a lot of the emotional impact the game was supposed to have because the flow from one challenge to the next would always be broken up by a few tries figuring out what to do and a few tries to get the right timing. Most of the moments that were meant to be emotionally satisfying would come several deaths after I solved the puzzle but still couldn’t get the timing down, especially that final puzzle. As opposed to Braid, where the rhythm I got into for solving the puzzles was used to propel my emotional investment (with a nice pay-off at the end), LIMBO provided a challenging set of puzzles whose pay-off wasn’t the emotional experience I was (apparently) supposed to have.
It sounds like something similar happened in Majora’s Mask for you, where a mechanic that was designed to provide one kind of experience (a playful look at video game time and exploration) ended up providing another unsatisfactory experience. There’s no need to disparage you for having the “wrong” experience and reviewing the game based on that experience. One thing I find very satisfying about the video game medium is the wide range of experiences possible, good and bad, with any given game. You might have been using a poor strategy or you might not be very good, but these are valid parts of playing games worth considering in their designs.
Reblogged from discovergames
I would love to discuss this issue with the other side, and more than happy to entertain arguments counter to my own, but if your main argument is “stop whining; it’s going to happen anyway,” we don’t have much to talk about. This piece was so shoddily written that, even as an editorial, it’s disappointing that Game Informer chose to publish it.
I guess I should straight-up respond to the editorial, since I am discovering I have a lot more to say about it than a comment or two off-hand. First, I want to say that the staff that works on Day-One DLC aren’t being pulled off of development of the core game: they are the staff that aren’t necessary during post-production who would be laid-off, moved to a different project, or rehired later to work on DLC. Juba may or may not know about this.
One significant problem with the article is the premise that DLC = continued support to the exclusions of all other forms. This is categorically untrue and a strange position to take. There are many different ways for companies to continue to support their properties after release, and it doesn’t have to come in the form of added content. Updates to fix glitches or create game balance can do wonders for a game (and the fan communities around those games respond to these; I remember the hubbub around Diablo II ver. 1.1 that came to the community as a sign that Blizzard actually cared about the property instead of just WoW). DLC is often a bad model for game support because in order to be worth it it needs to have a meaningful effect on the game but can’t be too large without blowing the company’s price point. Put a different way, DLC has to be such that: You can play the core game sans DLC without missing crucial content; the content of the DLC has a meaningful place within the core game to make it worth the investment; and that the development costs of that content are low enough to keep the cost to the consumer low while selling a small number of units. That’s a lot to juggle for a few extra hours of gameplay.
His argument about Kasumi from Mass Effect 2 might be a valid point about adding content late, but for a game like Mass Effect, it seems to be a self-defeating argument. A game like TF2 or Skyrim might weather content added in piecemeal because these games are played as simulations where play is either repeatedly reiterated (played many times in succession) or continuous (without end or tightly regulated progression). This isn’t how games like Mass Effect are played, necessarily. This added content can feel tacked on because there is a progression in the game that makes the deviations necessary in the design of DLC fit poorly (Here would be a conversation starter for the modular design of Mass Effect 2 and other Bioware properties). The article claiming that the Kasumi DLC was not as compelling or effective as the Zaeed DLC should hit home the fact that DLC as a form of continued support isn’t as useful as it seems.
Reblogged from toffeemilkshake
Parameters by Nekogames is like every computer RPG ever, boiled down from 60-120 hrs of cutscenes and random battles to about 30mins of intense clicking. In my view it loses almost nothing.
The brevity allows you to play the thing through more than once and still reasonably pursue other interests, such as going out and bathing, on replay new gameplay possibilities and insights to emerge. eg. if you only played it once you might assume that grinding is necessary for successful completion; it’s not, it’s possible to finish the game in less than 15 mins (my first play took about 40-50 the guy who wrote it has finished it in around 5).
Parameters shows how in traditional computer RPGs the choices you make in terms of how you develop character stats can help you move through the game more efficiently. You can only appreciate the difference these choices make if you can play through the game couple of times or more though so in the 120hr examples of the genre players won’t be able to make these decisions in an informed way.
Whatever. It’s brilliant.
Played it, thought it was cool. An interesting take on RPG battle mechanics stripped of much of its representative content. That said, this proves in my mind the crucial importance of representation in games. Even a text adventure like Aardwolf is more engaging without graphics because the representational text gives me content and context to work within. If you’ve got 30-45 minutes, it’s worth giving a go.
Reblogged from mirrorful
David Sirlin explicates Blizzard’s move away from stat points and skill points:
You don’t have to take my word for it either, let’s see what Jay Wilson has to say. He was an avid Diablo 2 player, and the Game Director of Diablo 3 for the last 5 or 6 years:
“You usually take as much strength as you need to get the armor that you’re targeting, and that’s usually around 120 or 220, depending on what type of armor. You take 75 dexterity because that’s the amount you generally need for good block percentages. You take NO energy at all unless…there’s like one type of build you can make on a sorceress that uses energy shield. And then you put everything else in vitality. That’s a shitty customization system. That’s just not a good system.”
I start from a core belief that a well-designed game is beautiful. A well-structured experience, an elegantly architected interaction, is a form of art. So any game that I am working on, regardless of the purpose, falls into art practice. Likewise, I do believe that there is a real social good that comes out of encouraging people to play cooperatively, and giving people an opportunity to be powerful and superheroes in everyday public spaces. That means for me there is something political in all of these games, as well. Now, whether is it educational, or a marketing experience, or just something I am doing as design research, I will stand behind every game I work on as art and as a political intervention.
— Jane McGonigal in an interview for the Iowa Review
I totally mangled this post trying to respond to Squibs for Squids. Basically, I don’t care much for this fellow’s argument, I don’t care much for his attitude, and I don’t care much for his gloss on Western Literature and human nature (BTW it’s discovery).
Thanks hyrulechozo for the link.
Reblogged from williampall
A d12 RPG
The d12 is so unloved and under used in the gaming world (at least as far as I’m aware). I was thinking of my desire to generate a game system that uses d12’s exclusively.
I was skimming through BESM and L5R the past couple of days, along with the remnants of Marvel Heroic from a few weeks ago … it got me to thinking.
Core mechanic, rolling Xd12, keeping Y dice. I could just take the mechanic from L5R4 whole cloth and just adjust the d10’s to d12’s. But if I did that, at the very least I would need to change a few things.
In L5R4 TN tiers are based of fives, half the die type for the game. I could see the d12 game have the same thing based on sixes. In L5R4 the Ring and Skill Traits are based on 1-10. I say why not pull a Spinal Tap and turn it up to 12.
Hmmm … more noodling required.
The Babylonians are so psyched for this.
Reblogged from sarche-draws
One of my current quests, besides graduating school, is to learn more about basic game design principles and interactive storytelling (along with programs like ZBrush, but that one I can manage on my own). If anyone has any books on the subject they’d love to recommend to me, I would be so grateful for book titles/authors. Many thanks in advance!
Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is a good intro to design. Most of the books I like are pretty strictly game studies (not design), so that’s all I can recommend.
Reblogged from fuckyeahmeelz
I’m going to pick on Final Fantasy X just as an example, but that doesn’t excuse other games similar to it.
My main problem with this game is its genre: RPG. What the fuck, guys. Do you even know what an RPG is? It’s not a point system, or a bag of sidequests, or an inventory system, it’s all about character building, choice & consequence, and defining the role of your character. What games like Final Fantasy X are doing are putting you in a linear pre-written story, gives you static characters that don’t change apart from the stats for combat(so it’s all a question of how long you grind), and it plays the exact same way for everyone every time.
The only reason I can imagine it’s passed off as a good game is because of its touchy-feely anime story, and that’s just outright sad. First off, you’re building the game around the story. Is this a game, or a movie? If you want a good story, go out and watch a damn movie, don’t settle for less. But you may be saying “but the movies don’t have FFX’s story!”. Well, are you that desperate for a shit story?
It’s a cliche, touchy-feely trope that’s been done a million times better in cinema, and the same could be said with just about any game’s story out there. When I play a game, I play it for good game design, not to awkwardly hold the controller and look at shit animations with mediocre voice acting and a very fucking awkward script.
So really, the game design suffers because people seem to enjoy mediocrity in story telling, and it’s because of this that modern games seem to be influenced like that, so we’re fed shit like Mass Effect and Deus Ex Human Revolution. Even games like Skyrim are trying way too hard to be cinemerssive, sacrificing the presence of any decent game design for this cinematic immersion. You’re not playing games anymore, you’re experiencing them.
I figure you’re being mad for the fun of it, which is cool. I’m all for that. But I don’t know why you are so dismissive of the combat choices in FFX, or how you can look at grinding and not see a game being played. Or why you are ragging on story when it’s been a crucial aspect of games since well-before FFX. Point and Click adventures much?
If you don’t like games with stories, there’s always Tetris or Puzzle Bobble. For every big name RPG like FFX or Skyrim, there are teeming throngs of puzzle games or hack-and-slashes you can enjoy without even a glance at “cinamerssion.” There are so many ways to be engaged and involved in games that you don’t need to cut out one section of that interest just because it isn’t to your taste.
EDIT: Mass Effect has some cutscenes, but the way it gives the player choice (both narratively and ludonarratively) doesn’t make it the sort of “cinamerssive” “shit” you’re claiming. So I don’t get what you’re trying to say, is all.
EDIT: I looked at your blog and now I kind of see where you’re coming from better. In that, it seems like you have some super-prescriptive assumptions about game design that, while I find interesting on their own, don’t hold up very well among the wider possibilities that games have, both in engaging what interests you (I don’t know what to call it exactly, pure agonist controller manipulation?) and what engages other people.
Continuing my look at Extra Credits: WRPG vs. JRPG and issues of genre, I was linked to this article about a formal approach to game design and research which one of the creators of the video series claims inspired their genre classifications. I wrote this response:
The objection jfreedan and I have raised about the affective response being outside the designer’s purview remains a critical stumbling block for MDA. First, the list of engagements you can expect from Final Fantasy almost spans the entire list, so it doesn’t seem like a very powerful way to examine and consider games since a game might hit on all these engagements without mechanics or dynamics that specifically point to that. Additionally, as we can learn from James Newman’s Playing with Videogames, aspects of Fellowship and Sensation might not be designed into the game, but players (through communities or subversive play) might find them particular engaging. I think Final Fantasy VII makes a great case for this: while the game is designed as strictly single-player, and was made at a time when you would expect little in the way of developer-backed social networking like you have today, communities sprung out of this game, connecting players through FAQs, fan-fiction &c. Final Fantasy, then, engages players through Fellowship despite the designer’s work in the MDA.
Next, while I think this is an interesting framework to being working from, there is a leap from MDA as a generative way of examining game design and player experience to MDA as a methodology of genre classification that of which I don’t think you’ve made a full account. The problem arises especially when you consider that their “taxonomy” is more of a list of potential aesthetics, providing a loose collection of vocabulary rather than “shedding light on how and why different games appeal to different players, or to the same players at different times.” These engagements are so open and mutable, and already represent categories that shift over the course of play and vary significantly between players of the same game, that it doesn’t make for solid ground when it comes to genre classification.
Mechanics and dynamics are stable and native to games, while aesthetics are mutable, the result of designer’s conceptions and player’s experiences which do not necessarily match-up and change considerably over time and across individuals.
This is a personal objection, but the way this article orders designer’s and player’s perspective between these aspects (as going from M to D to A or A to D to M, respectively) represents a very limited way of understanding how players play and designers design. Why must aesthetics come first for a player and last for a designer? This doesn’t account for a variety of practices within either of these categories, like a pre-production process that includes a significant amount of concept art or when designers take on the role of players primarily to examine a game’s mechanics.
Finally, this article about MDA points out a serious problem with how these episodes describe mechanics. These past two episodes repeatedly claim that mechanics are “surface elements” to player affective response as “core elements.” MDA would rather have us look at each aspect (Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics) as their own “lens,” making each aspect equivalent to the other rather than establishing a hierarchy. This is especially true of the fact that MDA links all three aspects, claiming that a change in one aspect will result in a change in another.
I would recommend Gordon Calleja’s In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation for further reading on the subject of player engagement. His “Player Involvement Model” could be helpful in expanding the Aesthetics area of this article and adding much-needed nuance to this fluid aspect of games.
tl:dr genre’s a pain and I like it
First part of three part series about the JRPG and genre classification in videogames. They propose a system of genre classification based on “the underlying reasons we play a genre.” They don’t show how this system would be implemented yet, but I’m extremely skeptical that it would be useful except from the point of view of a highfalutin Philosopher King of game design (for which James Portnow certainly qualifies).
Because players are looking for different things when they play a game, and that a player’s interests and desires surrounding a game can often change, there is no way this genre classification system can actually represent player desires. Is TF2 about teamwork? Is it about “running-and-gunning”? Is it a hat simulator? A griefing puzzle game? A pissing contest? (I like to play the Scout because I like running fast through the digital landscape. That is the core element of why I play TF2. Does that make it a running simulator?) It can be all of those things and more, depending on who plays it when and how. What it can’t be is a game that operates under a different set of rules or mechanics: once it starts using other mechanics, it becomes a different game.
What James points out as an industry fault of conflating the techniques for building games with “the much more important question of why the player plays the game” is repeated in James conflating the “core elements” designers use to create unity in the elements of their games with “the much more important question of why the player plays the game.” They are not the same thing. This issue of conflating designer choices with player choices runs rampant: it’s apparent in the literature about design (Jesse Schell), in the literature about game studies (Bogost) and in the discourse about media effects and male privilege (Harris O’Malley). Games and why we play them certainly go beyond their mechanics the same way we like paintings for reasons other than the material of paint, but mechanics gives players and designers a middle-ground, a central aspect to games that they both share and interact with, the same way painting techniques provide a shared discourse between painters and patrons. Why we love art is such a complicated and nuanced area of inquiry that I won’t be disappointed when James fails to deliver on his groundbreaking methodology.
Also, why are they (I mean James) so adverse to the “Japanese” part of JRPG? Genres can contain history, culture, and ideology. Petrarch isn’t the only person who wrote Petrarchan sonnets, but it is useful to use that terminology because of Petrarch’s historical significance to the form. The same could be said about the JRPG, how it remains a popular genre in Japan, how Japanese developers have made and continue to make the landmark examples, and how it might reflect a history of Japanese game development (their roots in “eroge” &c.). The fact that E.C. has such an aversion to “eroge” demonstrates how genre is not a neutral or objective set of classification: they have per-determined ideas about eroge, the people who develop them, and the people who play them that go beyond simple objective examination.
Interesting critique comparing Skyrim’s opening to COD:Modern Warfare’s. They make some Schell-level assumptions about spacing, ease, and affect, and totally ignore the way genre shapes these prospective intros, but it’s still an insightful look at wheelbarrowing the player through the first 5 minutes.