[The following text is part of my upcoming master's thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children. As part of my master's thesis I am analysing already existing games that are commonly known to be addictive. A lot of those games are Facebook games.]
Pet Rescue Saga by King is probably one of the best examples of how certain game mechanics are not unique to a game, but can be adapted to other games. Pet Rescue Saga is basically a mixture between Diamond Dash and Candy Crush Saga, yet works surprisingly well.
[The following text is part of my upcoming master's thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children. This is just a rough first draft, and I gladly welcome all critique and suggestions – be it on a content level or regarding my use of language. As part of my master's thesis I am analysing already existing games that are commonly known to be addictive. A lot of those games are Facebook games.]
Most Puzzle Bobble clones play quite similarly, with their graphics being their most distinguishing feature. The outliers are Bubble Island, which adds the element of time pressure into the mix, and Woobies, which comes from another era of online games, and lacks most of the additional game mechanics the Facebook games use. This core mechanic can be expanded upon, allowing the Facebook game studios to find ways to monetize the game. The game is easy to pick up and is equally well playable with any input device, be it a mouse or a track pad, making it an obvious candidate for a casual game. It is deceptively simple to play: aim, shoot, aim, shoot, with hardly anything that takes the player out of the flow.
[The following text is part of my upcoming master's thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children. This is just a rough first draft, and I gladly welcome all critique and suggestions – be it on a content level or regarding my use of language.]
Candy Crush Saga by King.com is a classic casual game (as most Facebook games are), that caters to different player types at once: the puzzler, the explorer as well as the competitive player. Candy Crush Saga is a Bejeweled clone, a simple matching tile game. Candy Crush Saga combines various basic game mechanics and feedback methods in order to attract a diverse set of player types. The basic game allows players to recognise patterns and create order (a common theme with many casual games, which is quite rewarding in itself), the level map caters to the explorer type, while the constant feedback of how well the player's peers did eggs on competitive players. By catering to all those different player types alike, the producers of the game manage to capture an audience as large as possible, something a therapy game would likely have to achieve as well.
Over at The Astronauts, someone figured something out. Sometimes, games work even when you're not shooting things.
Listed below, there are five well known action-adventure games. Think about your favorite, most memorable moments from the single player part of each, then click on the + spoiler button and see if I have managed to guess any of these moments.
What do all these moments have in common?
They are game-free. They are gameplay-less.
That’s right. You heard me.
If we understand gameplay as something that a challenge is a crucial part of, then none of these moments features any gameplay. You just walk, or swim, or ride a horse, but that’s it. You cannot die. You don’t make choices that have any long term consequences. No skill is involved.
There is no gameplay.
In other words, certain things worth remembering from certain video games are not what these video games are all about.
What this guy now figures is that you have to remove gameplay from games to get those moments.
But I don't think so. It has nothing to do with gameplay. But a lot with pacing.
A lot of games just keep stomping on, throwing new enemies to battle at the player even before he finished the old ones off, in order to make the game "gripping". The makers fear that if there is just the slightest lull, the players will become bored and stop playing. But will they?
In most other narrative media it is well known that ceaseless screaming action is very tiring and impossible to watch.
If it weren't for developers like [Defiant Development], you'd easily believe that creativity in the games industry is nearly extinct.
But those guys actually manage to take a really old and tired concept – i.e. a first person shooter – and spin it in order to make something else entirely:
A first person shooter.
Seriously. Hear me out.
Warco is a first-person game where players shoot footage instead of a gun. A work in progress at Brisbane, Australia-based studio Defiant Development, the game is a collaboration of sorts; Defiant is working with both a journalist and a filmmaker to create a game that puts you in the role of a journalist embedded in a warzone.
The game itself — the title of which is actually short for “war correspondent” — follows the story of journalist Jesse DeMarco. Players will experience the process of filming conflicts, going into dangerous situations armed with nothing but a camera. They will then edit the footage into a compelling news story. The scenarios range from intense bursts of action to quieter moments as you discuss the events of the day with fellow journalists in a hotel. Though the main mechanic will be filming the action, Warco is also very much about choice.
Well, this is how [WIRED] puts it, anyway. The developers obviously make it [sound a bit more dramatic]:
WARCO lets players shoot and record what they see ‘through the lens’ – framing shots, panning and zooming, grabbing powerful images of combatants and civilians caught up in war. They’ve got AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades – you’ve got a flak jacket, a video camera, and a burning desire to get the story.
The praise that Bioshock has received from other critics is – after having played through the game – definitely well earned. Even though I'm usually not exactly a very good FPS player, I managed to get through the whole game. And it definitely was worth it. The world building in Bioshock is excellent, be its embedment into the historical background, or the rich story that shines through at every corner, or finally the beautifully captured art deco architecture, which simply is a joy to explore and walk through.
Gameplay itself is reasonably varied as well. While some parts leave the player wondering whether they were just added to draw out game length1, the "magic" abilities one receives over time offer enough variation and allow the player to change his tactics over time.
Later in the game, some near-failure states are added: at one point, one continually looses maximum health, forcing the player to react faster. At another, the player isn't able to choose his currently activated plasmid. Not only is the game randomly cycling between the equipped plasmids, but between others as well, allowing the player to test out previously unavailable plasmids – and requiring him to change his tactics to deal with splicers every minute or so.
With Bioshock having distinct horror elements as well, sound plays an important element as well.
Even though they might leave this impression, all parts are able to tell some part of the background story, allowing the player to dive deeper into the world. ↩
Clearly, Fable II has to tell a story. Unfortunately, the designers are so intent on telling this story that everything else becomes secondary.
Fable II is the first game I finished after my vow to actually finish games I started playing. I thought it would be a good idea to write reviews of those games as well, as a way to analyse its strengths and weaknesses, as well as strengthening my own analytical eye.
Fable II is one of the games my brother left me when he gave me his Xbox 360. Since most games by Peter Molyneux are highly praised, I decided to give it a go. And indeed, the first impressions are marvellous. The world is lush and richly coloured. The game features a day-and-night cycle, resulting in breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. You clearly get the impression of a world of wonders, made for you to explore. This first impression is not entirely wrong; in fact, it is wise to keep remembering that later on.
Sometimes, as a game designer, you tend to forget how well versed you are in your medium. You tend to think that all people are able to plunge into a virtual world and stroll around. You could not be more wrong.
This weekend, Oli, Käde and me had our parents over for a lengthy Easter brunch. And since recently Portal 2 was released, we figured that we showed them the first Portal as an example of a really well done and funny game. I am not really sure how our parents received the game. In fact, I doubt that they realised much of it, since they were mostly occupied figuring out the controls.
This was the perfect illustration for the generational gap. While modern games tend to write "Use WASD to move around" and leave it at that, assuming that the player will know what to do, because he has used that control scheme so many times before, this was clearly not enough for our parents.
At first, they tended to alternate between intently staring at the mouse and then slowly turning it and swooping over the keyboard with the index finger, trying to find the correct key to ... well, do something.
Robert Yang kindly asked me to translate the article about my level design considerations for my bachelor's thesis game. I'm slightly afraid that he is going to be disappointed, since this is not so much a theoretical approach to architecture and level design in general, but rather my thoughts and motivations for creating the specific level architecture for my own game.
When starting to design the level, I considered the following points to be the main guiding lines:
With the game being a serious game and a bachelor's project, I have neither the time (now) nor the money (in the future, when, hopefully, I'll be able to finish and publish the game) to create a large, open world.
I love watching game designers at work.
(For the uninitiated: This is World of Warcraft, Patch 4.0.3.)
I have a new-found respect for farmers (that I’m somehow failing to apply here) after attempting to complete either mission. After four lengths of the cornfield I decided to see if tractors can swim. Tractors cannot swim.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun reviews (the demo) of the Farming Simulator 2010 and is pretty snarky about it. I am the last one to defend the Farming Simulator, but somehow, I could not be happy with the malicious glee that hides behind the article either.
In the end, it is not just about being snarky. The real reason why this review is so snarky is not because the game itself is bad. The reviewer never even considered that. For him, it was enough to know that this game did not conform to his – perversely – elitist sense of what a game should be and what not. Farming Simulator does not comply, so here comes the ridicule.
In terms of sales, he could not be wronger. The original version of the Farming Simulator dominated the sales charts of amazon.de for months. Apparently, people see it as a game, and they are willing to pay for it.
Can a game reviewer just disregard that? Obviously, and he even gets cheered on by the comments left on the page.
Imagine a literary critic reviewing a children's book, and mocking its many pictures, its simplistic language and its morally charged and black-and-white story. Clearly, he would be scolded for his utter disregard of the intended audience of the book, and his arrogance for assuming that only books targeted at him are "real" books.
What seems appalling in one case is courant normal in an other. If there is not something to shoot on the screen, it is not a real game.
Savage is an interesting sounding blend of RTS with a commander that has the overview over the game, while warriors have the first person view and might follow the commander's orders.
With the creation of a new game play genre, RTSS (Real Time Strategy Shooter), Savage expertly redefines the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres by combining elements of both into one cohesive experience. As the commander in RTS mode, you will tackle resource management, develop a robust tech tree, plan your assault and lead real human players into battle. As a warrior in action mode, you will master many unique weapons, powerful units, and siege vehicles to fight a fast paced battle.
Cantr II is a text-based MMORPG intended to simulate a society, while still having some roleplaying aspects. Apparently, it is currently down, though.
Super Meat Boy – is supposed to have tight level design that continually adds new elements, just like World of Goo did.
Speedball for Amiga by the Bitmap Brothers was famous for its graphics and its violence (you could push your opponent!). It will be re-released for the iPhone (apparently? Maybe I misheard).
See what I did there? ↩
While working on an assignement for our current module on collaborative virtual worlds, I think I started to understand what bugs me in both MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and sandbox games like Second Life. There are (as for now) two points:
A Feeling of Agency
Nothing is more frustrating in World of Warcraft than successfully finishing a quest by bringing the needed herbs to an NPC, being thanked by him and reassured that his sick daughter will now get well, and as soon as you turn your back, you hear him complain to the next player that his daughter is sick and is in dire need of certain herbs ...
What is missing here is the feeling of agency – the feeling that your actions as a player have an effect on the world and change it, for the better or the worse. After all, any of these games give you the feeling that you are a hero and part of something big, and not just another name- and faceless warrior in a confusing war (even though that picture would often be more accurate).
To be fair, it has to be said that World of Warcraft has its moments there – like when the players had to gather ressources in order to open up a portal. But those moments are few.
An Agent Beyond Your Control
Second Life has quite another problem. Yes, you can change the world – a bit, by building something on a tiny speck of land, but then again, why should you? Nothing is forcing you, there is no actual need, there is nothing out of your control.
I know, I know, I have a tendency to pretty much reblog every feature story from Gamasutra, but hey, they do have a talent to pick out the really interesting questions.
Like morality in games. In an interview with Jordan Thomas and Emil Pagliarulo who worked on BioShock, Oblivion and FallOut 3, they explore what happens when players are given moral choices, how they can be elevated from a simple good/evil scheme, and how players react.
While Thomas is probably correct that few players will say they want to be all good all the time, the feedback on moral choices in games might suggest otherwise. In short, although many games offer up the option to be diabolically evil, most players want to be good. "Interestingly, when we looked at the actual stats for Fallout 3 we learned that a really staggering majority of people chose to play the game as the good guy," says Pagliarulo. "So it's really interesting to me that even though we gave players the choice to be evil, to be the jerk -- most of them chose not to."
Interesting in this article are the comments. A comment by Andrew Vanden Bossche reads:
I want a game that presents me with fun and interesting options, not one that judges me. If evil isn't interesting to players, maybe it's time for a different duality.
Another one argues that sometimes games can evoke that murky moral playground without even offering choice and cites Shadow of the Colossus as one example.
Part of a good game may always be how the AI enemies react. An article on AIGameDev goes behind the scenes of Thief and looks what makes it tick.
[A] sensory system is a pipeline for managing information about events that occur in the game. If you implement this right, it shouldn’t be limited to any of the human senses. You can easily fake any kind of sensation by pushing information into the pipeline at the right place.
Meaning: you are not limited to the human senses, you can make up any data and feed it into the system.
Sometimes though, you need to make the system dumber than it actually is:
“Most interesting is the snippet that restrains the AI’s ability to see the player until seen by the player, which is purely for coordinating the player’s entertainment.”
As a matter of fact, the game's difficulty level can be adjusted by making the NPCs more predictable in their reactions and/or stating their current state clearly.
But then again: Is this really necessary? Can't we assume grown up players that have learned to deal with missing information and ambiguity?
Unfortunately, as a second article about Halo 3's AI system shows, have gamers a tendency to
attribute the easy parts to poor AI and the hard parts to evil level designers.
The Halo 3 paper has another 40 tricks how to make the player believe that there are intelligent agents acting.