Category Archives: GAM110

The Gamer Identity

GamerGate was a dark time for the games industry. It was also a issue that I have previously researched and written about it for another assignment. As such, I am going to briefly cover the issue by reusing bits of my finished assignment, which you can find here if you are interested (its very, very badly recorded and edited).

GamerGate was a multi-pronged issue that had roots in various, existing issues (such as misogyny, slut-shaming, journalistic corruption and inadequate label “video games”) and grew out of them.

New Venn - DemoHowever, GamerGate was always “more about the murk of entrenched identity politics” than about the journalism (Hamilton, 2014). Looking to theories of cultural capital by Bourdieu and similar theories of fandom, we can begin to deconstruct this event (Blunden, 2004).

Gaming and “nerd” culture was once ostracized and criticised by other larger, more powerful social/cultural groups. Now, as gaming culture becomes mainstream there is a perceived loss of culture distinction and, therefore, the identity of gamers is threatened (Blunden, 2004).

According to Wu (2014):

“The central issue of Gamergate is some people think they own videogame culture. They don’t. Humans have made games since living in caves”

Additionally, gaming culture tends to fall heavily into taste privilege, where individual subjectivity is not accepted if it falls out of the accepted norm.

lo9lq1gsrhw6u7rozzowBeing a “true” gamer demands you having played “real” games, and lots of them. It is not a culture that is easy to join as it requires much time and effort just to qualify. The “Fake Gamer Girl” will fail this test. Newcomers will fail this test. But the test is often only forced upon those who don’t fit the typical profile (Wanenchak, 2014). As Keogh (2014) states, this typical profile is “young, western men and teenage boys with a disposable income”: a “homogenous ‘gamer’ demographic of young men that games journalism and marketing themselves cultivated over the past decades”.

video-games-ads-80s-90s-15Not wanting to lose the cultural distinction and capital associated with being a gamer, the community has become territorial. According to Keogh (2014), this reaction is happening because they “need someone to blame for the status quo of videogames shifting to no longer be devoted to them and them alone”.

“It is about keeping women and minorities out of games. It is about fighting against diversity and fighting for a return to homogenisation. It is about maintaining privilege.”

They have turned from fans to fanatics, keeping everyone else out. When video games, gamer identity and gaming culture are criticised and questioned, we feel as though our actions, passions and own identity are the ones under scrutiny (Blunden, 2004). “We are seeing what was only ever a small, consumer-focused subculture kicking and screaming itself into the realisation that this is all they ever were, and that videogames as a diverse ecology of cultural forms – commercial, popular, niche, personal – is moving on without them” (Keogh, 2014).

REFERENCES

Blunden, A. (2004). Bourdieu on Status, Class and Culture. Retrieved from
http://home.mira.net/~andy/works/bourdieu-review.htm

Chu, A. (2014). Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds. Retrieved from
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html

Hamilton, K. (2014). Felicia Day and GamerGate: This is What Happens Now. Retrieved from
http://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/10/felicia-day-and-gamergate-this-is-what-happens-now/

Keogh, B. (2014). Game of Moans: The Death Throes of the Male ‘Gamer’. Retrieved from
https://overland.org.au/2014/09/game-of-moans-the-death-throes-of-the-male-gamer/

Wanenchak, S. (2014). Not a Real Gamer: Identity and Conspicuous Consumption. Retrieved from
http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/09/09/not-a-real-gamer-identity-and-conspicuous-consumption/

Wu, B. (2014). No skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry. Retrieved from
http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/22/5926193/women-gaming-harassment

Recharging the AAA industry

The bad labour conditions of the AAA game industry are something that I have known about for quite awhile, I wrote even a bit about it a couple of posts ago. So when I read Ian William’s call to action I wasn’t surprised by the facts. This, in itself, is worrying. We have known about the conditions for a long time and yet it continues.

I (and I guess many others) have long since decided that indie is the way to go. We would rather have creative control and less money than be crushed by a company that treats us as mere cogs in a machine.

mr-burns-monkeys-typewriters1When playing these titles, its hard to remember that people have shed sweat and tears, have been kept from seeing their families and literally worked themselves sick. Its something that I forget during the hype and something that probably never crosses the mind of the average consumer.

Because no one gives a fuck about the development story.

And the big companies like it that way. They don’t what to have to change their practices because they believe that these conditions allow them to produce games in the most effect way, despite what the research shows. It allows them to maximize their profits; they don’t give a fuck that their employees are burning out, they will just find new ones to replace them.

These cut-throat conditions cultivate an attitude of ‘love it or leave it’:

bogan-singlet1This is the idea that working in this industry is a blessing that should be cherished regardless of the conditions. This is a shitty attitude that prevents change and silences those trying to enact it.

These conditions also limits the industry to those able to work these crazy hours. Parents, carers and people with health conditions don’t have a chance in the current conditions. As Williams (2016) states, these conditions are “so tightly tailored for single men aged 30 or younger”.

Unfortunately, it seems that these conditions are here to stay unless these AAA companies change their attitude and policies. Even this seems unlikely without some sort of large-scale protest, strike or paradigm shift.

angry-mob-simpsons-cover-619-386This means workers standing up for their rights, the companies seeing their employees as actual human beings and the consumers understanding that their are actual people behind that creation of the games they love.

REFERENCES

Robinson, E. (2005). Why Crunch Modes Doesn’t Work: Six Lessons. Retrieved:
http://www.igda.org/?page=crunchsixlessons

Williams, K. (2016). It’s Time to Talk About Labor in the Games Industry. Retrieved:
http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/guest-column-its-time-to-talk-about-labor-in-the-g/1100-5393/

Doom Bible

“In 1993, we fully expect to be the number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world.”

The game design document (GDD) I found for this week is the ‘Doom Bible’, the original GDD for the 1993 game Doom.

Doom-cover-screenAlthough I discovered several other documents during my google search, I found that the ‘Doom Bible’ mapped more closely to a GDD than some others, namely Amensia‘s and Grim Fandango’s level layouts and puzzle documents.

The usefulness of this document is quite evident. The ‘Doom Bible’ works to keep the development team on the same page and on track. It outlines the games themes, backstory and characters. These elements help the developers to establish the feel of the game that they are creating. It also goes into detail, outlining a comprehensive asset list (with the priority level) and other code requirements. This really helps with the nitty-gritty side of development.

There are a lot of differences between the game and the GDD. Namely, the several cinematic cutscenes mentioned throughout and a variety of other smaller details. These elements may have been adjusted for scoping / time reasons or simply because they did not suit the game.

REFERENCES

Hall, T. (1992). Doom Bible. Retrieved from
http://5years.doomworld.com/doombible/doombible.pdf

My Twine Game “Walk Away”

Last week I made a Twine game, called Walk Away, which you can play on itch.io.

It is a very, very small game about old places and moving on in which you walk through an old house trying to figure out why you are there.

CaptureI choose this topic because I have always loved ‘espace the room’ games and mystery games. It was also chosen for the sake of simplicity: I structured the Twine passages and links so that each room was a new passage. This made it simple for me to visualize and create the connections between them. The ending narrative then extends out from one of the rooms.

CaptureThrough the creation of this game I learned a lot about using Twine. Having done some HTML coding before, I found that I was able to apply this knowledge to change the visuals of my game and add in additional things like text fading in.
sdfmjndkYou can do a lot more with Twine than I originally expected. After going through the documentation I found that you can do things like keep track of where the player has been. After learning this, I changed my story a bit and included this into the game.

It was a very different way of designing and creating a game. I really enjoyed using Twine, even though I am not much of a writer. So many designers have done really interesting things with Twine and I can see how the simple format can be fully utilized to create something interesting.

A Trio of Twine

WHAT IS TWINE?

Twine is an open-source engine for the creation of interactive, non-linear stories and text-based games. As no knowledge of coding or scripting is require, it has a low barrier of entry which makes it very accessible and extremely easy to use, I even gave it a go and created a game this week.

CaptureGames are created by writing passages and creating links between. You can add in more complexity by using the basic coding and variables like “if” statements. As a lot of the interactivity is created through the hyperlinks, thought should go into how these can be used. Many creators have started using them in interesting, unexpected ways.

In this blog post I will explore a whole bunch of different Twine games and examine the choices that the designers have made.

DEPRESSION QUEST

dqDepression Quest, by Zoe Quinn, was the first Twine game that I ever played (long before I even knew what Twine was). It is a game about living with depression and the impact it has on the person’s life. The game is written in second-person and discusses things like the main character’s job and hobbies very vaguely. Similarly, the main character is never gendered. Audio and images have also been used to create different spaces and settings. This elements all work together to facilitate role-playing, which in turn, allows the player to feel their decisions even more.

dq2What makes Depression Quest really interesting is that at the bottom of each page there are three bars which show the character’s current “stats”. This allows the player to see how the character is feeling and has responded to their decisions. Similarly, as the character sinks further into depression, their options on what action to take becomes limited: the unavailable option is still readable but is crossed out. This is a really interesting way of demonstrating how depression impacts and limits the lives of those dealing with it.

QUEERS IN LOVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

P70IbfQueers in Love at the End of the World is a 10 second game by Anna Anthropy about spending your last moments alive with the one you love.

endoftheworldThe game’s 10 second timer causes the player to go through the narrative several times. The race against the clock creates an anxiety and rush that mimics that within the story. As such, when you first reach an ending within time there is an overwhelming sense of calmness and relief. This, again, nicely mirrors the narrative. Additionally, the writing is succinct and heartfelt. There is so much love in this story.

WITH THOSE WE LOVE ALIVE

23With Those We Love Alive is a dark tale by Porpetine. It covers may topics like moving on, taking control and what we are willing to put up with and ignore within society. It is written in prose that is ethereal, disturbing and beautiful. The language, spaced-out music and bright colours transport you into a new and disturbing world where violence and dead people fill every available space.

CaptureThe game uses links that change when clicked. This allows the player to create and impact their own story, as these choices will be kept through the game.

WHY TWINE?

Twine offers something that passive mediums films and books cannot: interactivity. This interactivity combined with a non-linear narrative written in (typically) second-person, allows the reader to fully engage and take part within the story. They have agency within the narrative which can help them become more invested and, in turn, more affected by the story.

Because the Twine engine is open source and extremely accessible it allows anyone to create games, tell stories and improve their design skills. This opens up the industry to a whole lot of people that, previously, may not have had a platform to stand on. Not only is this really cool but it also diversifies the industry and allows a wider ranger of voices and stories to be heard.

REFERENCES

Anthropy, A. (2015). Queers in Love at the End of the World [Video Game]. Retrieved from
https://w.itch.io/end-of-the-world

Porpentine. (NA). With Those We Love Alive [Video Game]. Retrieved from
http://slimedaughter.com/games/text/wtwla/

Quinn, Z. (2012). Depression Quest [Video Game]. Retrieved from
http://www.depressionquest.com/dqfinal.html

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The Writer Will Do Something

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LIFE GOAL ACHIEVED

The Writer Will Do Something is a Twine game by Matthew S. Burns and Tom Bissell, both who have been writers for or about video games. The game places you as the lead writer on Shattergate: a AAA game that is in crisis. As such, the department heads have been called together for an emergency meeting.

The game presents the role of the writer as a rather unforgiving task. The writer is presented as the scapegoat: the one who takes a lot of the fall, seems to have little say and is expected to fix or cover issues with game play. On top of this, the team disagrees with what is good (in terms of emotional vs. expositional writing) and tends to look down on the writing: each team member believing that their department is the most important.

rtgkjdvhmThe challenges presented in this game are pretty specific to writing on a AAA video game. The writer must write for an idea that is not their own premise but rather that of an existing franchise. Additionally, their writing must be realistic and believable despite the absurdity of the premise:

58465312Where The Writer Will Do Something really shines is in its portrayal of AAA game development and emergency meetings. The game is over-scoped, the team over-worked and the premise overwrought. It is a high stress environment dictated by executive decisions that constrict the creativity of the team. The fixation on Metacritic scores and an upcoming E3 appearance really push home how this game is more about sales and views than actual creative merit.

MetacriticScarily, bad work conditions and insane hours is something that is often discussed when looking at AAA development. While things have improved since 2004 when “EA Spouse” exposed some bad working conditions, the archaic idea that you should be grateful to have a game in the industry, despite the conditions, continues to persist (Legault, M. J. & Weststar, J; 2013). AAA games tend to be the most offends of this oppressive crunch, whether this be because of release dates, deadlines by publishers or the company’s attitude. Either way, the way that these large companies deal with the individuals who work for them can sometimes be manipulative.

Last_Exit_to_Springfield_60The entire game, and especially the ending of The Writer Will Do Something, captures the never-ending pressure associated with AAA game development. It nicely demonstrates the how individuals simultaneously have a lot of pressure and liability whilst also having very little creative freedom and ability to influence decisions.

Post-Script

Maxime Beaudoin has written an article called “Why I Quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft” that deals with his own experiences with working in a AAA studio and explores many of the same issues that are addressed in The Writer Will Do Something.

REFERENCES

Beaudoi, M. (2016).  Why I Quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft. Retrieved from
http://gingearstudio.com/why-i-quit-my-dream-job-at-ubisoft

Bissell, T. & Burns, M. S. (2015). The Writer Will Do Something [Video Game]. Retrieved from
https://mrwasteland.itch.io/twwds

Legault, M. J. & Weststar, J. (2013). Are Game Developers Standing Up for Their Rights? Retrieved from
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/184504/are_game_developers_standing_up_.php

Legault, M. J. & Weststar, J. (2015). Working time among video game developers: Trends over 2004-14. Retrieved from
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/257143/Working_time_among_video_game_developers_Trends_over_200414.php


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My Screenshake Brings the Boys to the Yard

“Fill your games with love and tiny details”

(Nijman, 2013)

In his talk, Nijman (2013) discusses and demonstrates that intangible essence of a game, sometimes called game feel. In short, it is what makes the game feel excellent and what makes it sticky to the player. The creation of this essence will differ from game to game so Nijman chooses to focus on how to apply this to an action game. Vlambeer is of course excellent at this:

5Z4e5DkI think that a really important step that Nijman left out of the talk was that to add this essential essence you need to have a really solid idea of what the game actually is, the experience you want to create and what the player should feel. Of course, this is sort of assumed and juicing usually occurs later on in the design process.

Nijman’s (2014) demonstrates how the addition of several “tiny details” can make the game feel so much better. These details include things like: exaggerated animations and effects, improving the feedback system and working on the camera. I will explore these in more depth as I look into how Vlambeer put them into practice in their game Wasteland Kings.

KING OF THE WASTELAND

hqdefaultWasteland Kings is a fast-paced game in which you play as a mutant fighting to become the king of the wasteland. To do so you must defeat the enemies, collect pickups and improve your skills. The procedurally generated layouts and permadeath help to keep the stakes high.

This game incorporates almost all of the techniques that Nijman discussed in his ‘The Art of Screenshake‘ talk. As such it feels like a typical Vlambeer game: fast-paced, chaotic and juicy as hell. The camera shakes, kicks and lerps. The bullets are fast, inaccurate, big and loud. The characters strafes quickly across the map dodging the hailstorm of enemies bullets which fill the screen. Hordes of weak enemies rush the character. And, most importantly, there is a motherfucking super-machine gun:

UntitledThe gameplay aesthetic that the player experiences when playing this game is primarily challenge. The high stakes environment provides a chaotic obstacle course that the player is only too willing to try and overcome. Additionally, the game produces a secondary aesthetic of sensation as the game creates thrill, anxiety and tension.

The techniques that Nijman discussed in his talk have been used in this game to reinforce this challenge aesthetic. Some of these techniques have been used to provide feedback to the player that their action occurred:

  • Basic animations and sound
  • Muzzle flash
  • Impact effects
  • Hit animation
  • Permanence

Similarly, other techniques have been used to provide feedback while also exaggerating the power of the playable character and their gun:

  • Bigger bullets
  • Big, random explosions
  • Camera kick and lerp
  • Screenshake
  • Sleep
  • More bass
  • Player knockback
  • Permanence

Not only do these make the game more readable at a fast pace but they also make it feel “juicier”: the exaggerated feedback makes shooting the gun feel awesome and thrilling. This supports the challenge aesthetic by making the core game play feel good and by giving the player a satisfying reward for taking down an enemy. They don’t just die, they explode:nuclearthroneIn addition to this feedback, Vlambeer has included some of Nijman’s techniques that increase the pace and chaos of gameplay:

  • Faster bullets
  • Higher rate of fire
  • Less accuracy
  • More enemies
  • Faster, weaker enemies
  • Enemy knockback
  • Strafe

This again supports the challenge aesthetic through exaggeration. The game-play feels more satisfying and more of a challenge when it is fast and chaotic: twitch reflexes are needed and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Instead of just taking down a couple of enemies, you are mowing down a horde of weaker ones. This makes the game feel frantic as you dodge bullets and enemies but it also makes it feel more satisfying when you walk back through an area and see the ground littered in corpses.

Lastly, one of Nijman’s techniques was to add meaning into the game. This was simply done by adding a short message to the death screen:

rgadfbabnThis may seem inconsequential but it encourages the player to keep trying when they fail and this is a very important thing to include in a fast paced rogue-like.

BUT I’M NOT MAKING AN ACTION GAME…

The techniques the Nijman describes in his talk work to support and exaggerate the challenge aesthetic in a fast paced action game. Whilst the specific techniques make not be applicable to the game you are creating, what is applicable is the core idea behind his talk.

Having of good understanding of what you want the game to be, what you want it to feel like and what you want the player to feel is extremely important. From there, you should push in and really buckle down on how you can make these things happen. This is core concept behind “game feel”.

LOVE AND TINY DETAILS

Getting to the core of how you want the game to be and feel is the start of constructing this game feel. From there, “love and tiny details” are needed to construct this all important game essence. It is important to note that this will vary between different styles of games. For example, Brandon Keogh (2015) notes that the quiet and subtle title screen in The Last of Us works to support the feel of the game:

asdghSometimes these tiny details are visual and auditory, as it is in the example above, but they can also be mechanical. A good example of this is in the Japanese version of Ico. Within the game the characters must hold hands when running around.

089BC17D4To do this the player must constantly hold a button down. This simple little detail helps to support an idea and feeling that is core to the game.

This is a very difficult topic to right about because of how vague and varied game feel can be. It is, however, extremely important. Game feel, juice, essence, or whatever you want to call it, makes a game sticky to the player. There is no catch all guide or tutorial on how to construct it: instead it will need to be carefully considered and implemented.

REFERENCES

Keogh, B. (2015). Game Feel.
Brisbane: SAE QANTM.

Nijman, J. W. (2013). The Art of Screenshake. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdEqssNZ-U

Vlambeer. (2014). Wasterland Kings [Video Game]. Retreived from
https://vlambeer.itch.io/wasteland-kings

A Champion Balancing Act

League of Legends (LoL) is an online multiplayer game with an extremely large cast of characters, called champions, to choose from. These champions must be careful balanced in terms of power and abilities so that both the high-level and regular play feels fair and rewarding.

League-Of-LegendsColt Hallam is one of the designers tasked with balancing the champions. To him, it is important that the balancing does not preference high-level or regular play but rather works on both levels. Skill level and team coordination are the two biggest differences that Hallam (2015) sees between these types of play. As such, the champions need to feel good to play with and against at a low level while scaling up to the higher levels of play, such as competitive play.

1497417546059213967According to Hallam (2015) there a several reasons for re-balancing and reworking a champion but the main one would be that a champion is not “delivering on their core fantasy”. What Hallam means by this is whether the champion is fulfilling the role, character and play style that they promise. A quick look at the LoL champions will show that they are categorized by their roles:

01By giving each champion a specific role, and a unique style and characterisation within that role, LoL is constructing a fantasy aesthetic. Each champion gives a unique role-playing experience to the player, with full backstory and personality if the player wants to delve deeper into it.

Akali_0This fantasy aesthetic is important within the game and heavily influences how the balancing will work. Because each champion needs to feel unique and true to their character, and needs to scale with skill level, careful consideration goes into counter-play, abilities and skill. From there, buffing or nerfing can fix smaller imbalances.

On an additional note, the variety of characters, team-based tactics and range of play styles helps to prevent the “perfect build” or “objectively best”. While high-level players may have team combinations which are more effective than others, they still need a variety of roles. This prevents an issue seen in other games where a specific character or layout is the one often chosen for high level competitive play.
vlcsnap-2016-07-24-20h59m22s793This helps to keep the game fresh and interesting.

Having not played League of Legends, this is something that I have seen in other games such as Skullgirls. The characters within Skullgirls also have a variety of abilities, play style, strengths and weaknesses and each offers a unique role-play experience.

asdfghThere are a range of characters that might suit your play style or might simply appeal to you on a role-playing level. As I had not played many fighting games prior to Skullgirls (apart from SF), I picked a character who was appealed to me the most, in terms of narrative, abilities and fighting style.

PWjMPThis role-playing aspect kept me interested when I would have otherwise put the game down. It also makes trying new characters all the more interesting as they will require a different style of play.

As such, I understand and appreciate the effort that goes into balancing unique and varied characters that still feel fair to play with and against. The fantasy aesthetic helps make the game stickier to players as they feel connected to their characters and helps to keep the game fresh.

REFERENCES

Hallam, C. & Warr, P. (2015). LoL: How A Champion Designer Watches Worlds. Retrieved from
https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/10/29/colt-hallam-league-of-legends-interview/

Representation Vs Simulation

When looking at representation in comparison to simulation it is important to understand what each means.

REPRESENTATION

Representation is defined as:

the expression or indication by some term, character, symbol, or the like”.

In simpler terms, representation is the act of using symbols, characters etc to indicate or evoke a specific thing.

An example of this is Farmville: a video game that lets players tend to a farm. They drag, drop and tap objects in the game world to water plants, harvest crops and build.

unnamedIn the real world a crop cannot be harvested by simply tapping it but within Farmville it can. Therefore, the action of tapping represents harvesting a crop.

SIMULATION

Simulation is defined as

imitation or enactment of the behavior or characteristics of one system through the use of another system“.

This means that a process is being fully acted out or visualised.

An example of this is Farming Simulator: a video game that lets players tend to a farm. They operate farm equipment to plow fields, sow seeds, water and harvest the crop.

2831908-farming4Just like in the real world, the player must take the time to operate the farm equipment to painstakingly plow, sow, water, fertilize, harvest and store a crop. They do this by driving a vehicles and manually directing them along the rows. In this case, tending a field in game simulates the act of tending a field in real life.

COMPARISON

Both of these games are sent in a realistic (i.e. not fantastical) setting and let players tend to a farm. The differences, of course, are that Farmville is more representation of farming while Farming Simulator is more of a simulation.

Farmville uses shortcuts, such as tapping or swiping, to represent the complex action of harvesting a crop. These shortcuts take something complex and make it simple. In doing so, the player is able to feel as though they have taking the action without actually go through all of its complex motions. These shortcuts represent realistic actions without being so. This saves on time and helps stop the game from becoming tedious.

Farming Simulator does not use shortcuts but rather uses the system of the video game to allow the player to enact tending a farm. The video game system allows them to manually control, drive and operate farming equipment. Thus, when tending to a field, the player must go through all the actions that a real farmer would take. In this sense, the game system simulates the real experience. By doing so, the player experiences the activity in a very realistic and hands on way.

Evidently, both representation and simulation can be used in realistic settings for different outcomes.

REFERENCES

Dictionary.com. (2016). Representation. Retrieved from
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/representation

Dictionary.com. (2016). Simulation. Retrieved from
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/simulation

 

99 Problems But A Pitch Ain’t One…

According to Ismail (2014) a pitch is an effective way of communicating an idea or ‘value proposition’. A value proposition is the promise of value in any form, not necessarily monetary. This can be anything – an idea, an invention, a business proposal – but for the sake of this blog we will discussing game pitches. Pitching is useful, and important, as it allows a game designer to convey their idea in a fast, concise and interesting manner. The basic structure of a pitch allows for a cohesive presentation and is adaptable so that it can be changed whether pitching by email, in person or presentation and can also be adjusted to suit the audience, whether that be the press, players, publisher or platform.

Three simply questions – who, what and why – are the key components of the pitch according to Ismail (2014). These questions flow nicely and allow the pitcher to build their case in a logical manner. Ismail (2014) discusses how the pitch should have a pyramid shape: with each level building upon the last and containing more information, detail and depth. The general structure of a pitch is outlined in the diagram below and these sections can be shortened or expanded upon to suit the pitch and audience.

pitching-01

WHO?

In this section you should introduce yourself, state your role, exchange business cards and give a little detail about your credentials, experience and past work.

This section will differ greatly as how you convey yourself (or your company) will probably depend on your goal and your audience. For example, if you were a small company pitching to a publisher for the first time you may want to appear organized, professional and business minded. However, an established designer pitching to potential players would choose to convey themselves in a more informal manner.

2

Tim Schafer’s crowdfunding campaign video for ‘Pyschonauts 2’ shows off his own (and DoubleFine’s) sense of humor and informality.

WHAT?

This section is all about explaining the game’s concept. You should start with the hook (also called the razor or lede) and expand upon it from there. As Ismail (2014) states, this should be as simple and short as possible. Heady-Carroll (2016) has some great examples of razors in the article she wrote on Gamasutra. One example I found was the game Superhot:

An FPS where time only moves when you do.”

This is a great example as it is extremely concise and simple whilst also being intriguing enough for the listener to want to know more. Honing the razor is something that takes time but is truly essential. It is usually the first thing a person will hear or read about the game so it really needs to make sense and capture their attention.

From there you should go into more detail about the game and discuss the core features of the game. In general, giving a quick overview and average play session is a good idea before delving into even more detail. Again, this differs on the game and audience. A publisher might want to hear more about how the design allows for monetisation possiblities whilst a player might want to hear more about the engaging and fast-paced action. This is one of those things that really depends on the situation. It is up to you to feel out what you should go into more detail about by considering what is important to your game and your audience. Some of these topics could include gameplay features, narrative, genre, art, tech, monetisation, leaderboards, community and so on. It is also important to discuss what platforms and marketplaces the game will be coming to.

WHY?

The last and largest section is the one in which you will discuss why you are pitching the game. This will take careful consideration and will, of course, truly depend on the game, the audience and the goal of the pitch. Are you trying to get published? Are you trying to create a community of fans to support the crowdfunding campaign? Are you trying to raise awareness about the game? Are you trying to gain support or help from another company or designer?

Once you understand the goal of your pitch you can delve into these topics and demonstrate why (and how) your game is worth it to the audience. This might involve discussing why it is unique, fun, profitable, stream able, achievable or many other things. It is good to provide proof when doing this. You could demonstrate the uniqueness and depth of the art through concept images, mockups and screenshots.

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Indivisible was marketed as an RPG from the makers of Skullgirls. As such its crowdfunding campaign used a lot of concept art and images as the art and animation was one of the biggest selling points.

You could demonstrate that your game is going to be profitable to a publisher through monetisation strategies and predicted statistics. You may include a breakdown of budget, schedule or planning if trying to gain crowdfunding.

index

Indivisible also broke down their modular environment design process to prove their ability to create the game within time and scope.

This section should really drive home why your game is worth it to the audience and convince them that it is.

FINAL POINTS

Plan and practice the pitch! Test it on friends and family, get feedback and apply it. A pitch is something that needs to be honed – so work on it!

vlcsnap-2016-07-17-22h22m24s153The pitch should be as engaging and concise as possible. You should not drone on, bore or irritate your audience. A presentation is a presentation – present yourself well and use general presentation techniques to engage and convince your audience.

After the pitch ask the audience if they have any questions. This gives them an opportunity to clear up any confusion, concerns or inquiries and allows them to engage with you. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the depth of your knowledge, planning and consideration.

REFERENCES

Heady-Carroll, M. (2016). Pitching Games: What Has Worked for Us So Far and May Help You Too!. Retrieved
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MollyHeadyCarroll/20160401/269268/Pitching_Games_What_Has_Worked_for_Us_So_Far_and_May_Help_You_Too.php

Ismail, R. (2014). In 3 Sentences or Less: Perfecting Your Pitch [Video]. Retrieved
http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020877/In-3-Sentences-or-Less

 

Discussing Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley was a game I played obsessively last trimester: it keep me up till 4am, distracted me from assignments and ate my time. So, obviously, I extremely enjoyed this game. In spite of this, I had some major issues with it that only truly became apparent through prolonged play through and during the later stages of the game.

ss_b887651a93b0525739049eb4194f633de2df75be.600x338As such, I was interested to see what two (very different articles) would say about the game. In the blog post I will be examining and comparing an article by Australian writer Alayna Cole titled “Exchanging Marriage Plows: Gender & Sexuality in Stardew Valley” and a review written for IGN by Kallie Plagge.

Cole’s article discusses how Stardew Valley deals with representation and diversity of gender and sexuality. She acknowledges that although Stardew Valley has relatively progressively representation (by allowing the player to wear any clothes and marry any of the single NPCs regardless of gender) it is ultimately superficial. maxresdefault-36The player is able to woo any or all of the NPCs. As such, they are without preference or individuality – in terms of sexual, appearance or personality preferences. They lack their own identity and are instead ‘playersexual’. Cole (2016) notes that apart from the relationship that the player could create there are “no other romantic relationships in town that deviate from heteronormativity”. This combined with the notion that relationships are to be ‘leveled up’ leaves the whole social system feeling flat. Additionally, Cole questions why the game, which has an otherwise progressive character creator, still constrains the player to the binary genders of male and female.

stardew_valley_bug.pngConversely, Plagge’s review gives an overview and all around description of the game play and story. Plagge does not go into much detail but does explain the core aspects of the game: covering the farming, mining, social system and events. She covers what an average play session would be and also discusses her own experiences with the game. In particular, Plagge discusses how the myriad of things a player can do, and choice to pick, stop the player from becoming bored in an otherwise very ‘grindy’ game. However, like Cole, Plagge (2016) feels that the social is underdeveloped.

096Both Cole and Plagge agree that the simplification of social interaction to ‘gifts equals hearts’ is harmful as it reduces people to another collectable and is at odds with the depth displayed in the characters’ narrative and development.

In comparing these two articles it is apparent that the review covers a lot of aspects of the game with little depth while Cole’s analysis explores one aspect deeply. Both of these are useful for different reasons. The review helps readers gain a better understanding of what the game is and what it is about. It does not, however, examine or explore any aspect of the game in depth. This is were analysis is useful. Cole’s article looks critical and deeply at the gender and sexuality representation within Stardew Valley. The review did not mention this at all, as it requires a deeper reading and some explanation. As such, the analysis is able to really get into the fine detail and demonstrate how the game could have been changed, or improved. I find this particularly useful as I can see how to apply it to my own work. As Cole (2016) states:

“By thinking critically about representation, we are able to see what ‘better’ looks like and continue to strive for it.”

Personally, I found Cole’s analysis more useful in terms of game design than the IGN review. Cole brings up an issue and gives possible alternatives such as: not forcing the player to pick a gender but rather the pronouns or just using gender neutral pronouns throughout. This was particularly interesting for me as I have being toying with a game idea with a character selector (and thinking about representation) but had not considered these options before this article.

Although not as immediately obvious, Plagge’s review gives good insight into how a typical player interacts with the game and demonstrates how variety and choice help to stop the game becoming stale. However, this review is much more consumer facing. As such, it is more concerned with informing the readers about the game and encouraging them to make a purchase.

While both of the articles were vastly different, they both offered unique insights into Stardew Valley that are useful in their own ways.

REFERENCES

Cole, A. (2016). Exchanging Marriage Plows: Gender & Sexuality in Stardew Valley. Retrieved from
femhype.com/2016/05/26/exchanging-marriage-plows-gender-sexuality-in-stardew-valley/

Plagge, K. (2016). Stardew Valley Review. Retrieved from
http://au.ign.com/articles/2016/03/25/stardew-valley-review

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Wolverine Vs. Barbie

In this blog I will have a look at two different children’s toys from the 80’s, determine what play features they have and create a simple game using the toy. Afterwards, I will then compare them and try to determine why and how they are different.

WOLVERINE: ARMORED MISSILE VEHICLE

The Wolverine is part of the G.I Joe line of toys and was released in 1983.

37887It comes with a armored missile vehicle, twelve missiles, a towing cable and a figurine of the driver, ‘Cover Girl’.

1983 GIJoe Wolverine Complete with Cover Girl

The toy has limited functionality and there are no automatic actions that it can take: it cannot fire the missiles or drive itself. Therefore, all of its actions and movements have to be controlled by a player.

With this toy, a player could:

  • Roll and push the vehicle around
  • Move Cover Girl around
  • Have Cover Girl drive the vehicle
  • Rotate the missiles 360 degrees
  • Change the elevation of the missiles
  • Remove the hood to expose the engine detail
  • Use the tow cable to tow another vehicle

A simple game that a child could play using the toy is as follows: a vehicle has broken and been stranded in enemy territory. Cover Girl must prepare her tank and go rescue them. To this she must check on the engine, prepare the tow cable, load the missiles and test that they are working. Then she must drive through the dangerous terrain (e.g over the grass in a garden) using tactical maneuvering to get to the broken vehicle. When she gets there she must hook up the tow cable and help the stranded passengers take a seat. She can then tow the vehicle make to base, all the while keeping a look out for enemies. If they encounter an enemy Cover Girl can launch missiles.

BARBIE: WESTERN FUN MOTORHOME

The Barbie Western Fun Motorhome is part of the Barbie line of toys and was released in 1988.

il_570xN.342942317The toy is a motorhome style vehicle that comes with several interior props like plates, chairs and a table. The main function is that it can unfold into a living space and that the front section can detach into a car.

il_570xN.342942029Once again, the toy has no automatic functionality so it must be guided by the player.

With this toy, a player could:

  • Roll and push the vehicle around
  • Have a doll drive the vehicle
  • Unfold the motorhome
  • Setup the interior space
  • Detach the front section
  • Drive the front section around as a car

A simple game that a child could play with this toy is as follows: Barbie and her friends are having a camp party and Barbie must prepare the camp site. To do this she must drive around the camp site and find a nice, flat area to setup. When she gets there she must unfold the camper and set up for a party. She can do this by arranging the chairs, table and plates. When everything is ready, Barbie can detach the car from the motorhome and go pick up her friends. They can then drive back and have a party.

COMPARISON

The two games described above are very different but the toys are mechanically similar. They both feature a vehicle that can drive around, a female driver and additional props. The props fit in with the vehicle and can be arranged and played with. Additionally, both vehicles have special moving parts.

However, despite these similarities, the overall mood of the games are very different. Although both games have a fantasy element to them, the Wolverine game is more dramatic and tense while the Barbie game is more relaxed and focused on fellowship. This has to do with the stakes, the goal and the setting of these games. Wolverine being a high-stakes military rescue operation while Barbie being a relaxed game about setting up for a camping party with friends.

The main thing that influenced the goal and setting for these games were their visual aesthetics. Of course, I could have created a game in which Barbie must dodge enemies fire to rescue a stranded troop but it would go against and clash with visual style. This is not to say that it cannot be done or that it would be wrong to do so. Rather, I tried to create a game that matched the visuals as it would make it much simpler to grasp for a child as their immediate impression would be correct.

Certain visuals have an inherent setting, mood and feeling about them. Due to genre conventions, general media and life experience we have learned what these visuals mean. For the Wolverine toy, the military vehicle, clothing and props make it fit in with the military setting and high-stakes game. Compare this to the Barbie toy, where the bright colours and homey props make it work perfectly for a game about getting ready for a party. Working with the visuals helps the player to instantly grasp the tone of the game.

A good example of this is Dark Souls. Its dark, broody atmosphere and heavy use of dull colours instantly establishes it as punishing and serious:

dark-souls-iii-tgs-gameplay-01However, a game that is similar serious, punishing and hard is Hyper Light Drifter however, it uses a very different visual aesthetic:

1309061Playing against type might help give the piece of media a different or unique tone or atmosphere that the go-to visuals would not be able to. It can convey a message (particularly about that genre or aesthetic) or simply help emphasise certain qualities:

3024485-poster-p-2-reality-shattering-dont-hug-me-im-scared-2Visuals (and other additional features like design, audio and layout) are extremely important in game design as they can influence the narrative, setting and also the play. Identical mechanics with different artistic “skins” can create very different games, as illustrated by Hocking’s Tetris example. Therefore, it is important to understand how these elements can influence a game and what elements can be used to create the experience you want to create.

REFERENCES

DollGirlz. (2016). Barbie 1988 Rare Vintage Western Fun Motorhome [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1h7Z4DHaA0

formbx257. (2010). 1983 G.I. Joe Wolverine & Cover Girl review [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ucmqb7BLMM

GeorgeVHS. (2013). Barbie Western Fun Motorhome commercial (1990) [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnEnPJFuHrs&

YoJoe. (2016). Wolverine. Retrieved 23rd June 2016 from
http://www.yojoe.com/vehicles/83/wolverine/

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Dynamics in Game Design

In 2011, Clint Hocking gave a speech at GDC called “Dynamics: The State of the Art” in which he examines the concept of dynamics within game design. This concept is part of the MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics) framework that was originally put forth by Hunicke, LeBlanc and Zubek.
CaptureWhen Hocking discusses dynamics, he is talking about the behaviours that arise during play that can be authored or abdicated by the game’s designers through mechanics and additional elements. In this sense, he chooses to think of the MDA framework as rules, behaviours and feelings. Personally, I find this more helpful as I tend to think of art and narrative when I hear ‘aesthetics’.

mdaHowever, as we have recently been exploring how rules construct the mechanics, and since Hocking’s Tetris example demonstrated the weight narrative can play, I would rather think about it like this:MDA-01In this example, the dynamics and additional elements, like narrative and art, influence the feelings and overall aesthetic that the game produces. This combination of elements will influence the player’s behaviour during play.

Additionally, Hocking talked about how meaning is constructed through the authored (or abdicated authorship) of mechanics in order to construct dynamics that will create a particular feeling. On the authored side of the scale, the only dynamics that are allowed are those that support the intended feeling and play of the game. The author may limit the dynamics by simply not creating or allowing them to exist or by punishing players that play outside of the intended style.

This may seem a little extreme, however it is rather understandable. Lets say a game designer wants to convey a particular narrative or feeling but the mechanics and dynamics in the game allow for behaviours that go against this authored narrative. The player may experience ludo-narrative dissonance which can break the illusion and leave the authored narrative feeling flat. It is for this reason that I feel that some game designers construct heavily authored dynamics. The best example I could think of, for a game such as this that I have actually played, is South Park: Stick of Truth. 809db84c88f07d8ea4994e9a3ed766f1Everything in this game (from the limited fighting, to the simplified RPG elements) works to mock serious RPG games and construct feelings of mischief and childlike exuberance.

On the other side of the spectrum are games that allow for a wide range of dynamics and behaviours. The game designer is abdicating their authorship in order to allow the player to interpret and derive meaning for themselves. While this can lead to players experiencing the game in unexpected, unscripted ways it can also be much more rewarding. I could tote the obvious example of such a game:

Minecraft_Win10_Beta_-10But I want to use this opportunity to examine this idea more deeply in terms of my favourite game, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.

the_binding_of_isaac___rebirth__ps4__by_razielsfatek87-d89sv9yThe Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is rogue-like game in which you play as Isaac, a young boy, using his tears to fight monsters in a basement. What makes the game dynamically interesting is that the playable character is able to pick up items that buff stats or give certain abilities. These items are not exclusive, but rather stack on top of each other. For example, I might then pick up an item that, when activated, causes me to shoot a ring of tears outwards. I may then pick up an item that permanently changes my tears into knives. These separate abilities will work together to produce an incredibility interesting combination that will influence how I attack and fight monsters:

Ap0Mya4This might not seem that interesting – maybe the author really intended that combination and style of play. However, when you consider the fact that the game has 436 items with unique attributes, the ability to combine any of these items, no limit to how many items you can pick up (and also an array of different characters, challenges, goals and trinkets) you can quickly see that there are endless amounts of interesting dynamics to be found. Different combinations means unique and interesting dynamics that will influence the way you play the game.

Untitled-1As an example of this, I will compare two of the challenges. In the challenge “SPEED!”, Isaac starts with no special items, therefore his tears are normal, but has an increased speed. Additionally the challenge must be completed in 16 minutes. These conditions produce behaviours such as rushing through levels, leaving rooms unopened, ignoring pickups and hurrying to get to the boss. In this challenge, the meaning of game is speed, precision and discovery (as finding the exit as possible quickly is essential). 20160615154106_1Let’s compare this to the challenge “I RULE!”. Isaac starts off with a shield that protects he from front on attacks, a knife instead of tears and a boomerang that freezes enemies. The knife shoots outwards depending on how long the button is held down. Additionally, he has an item that allows him to cross gaps. The goal of the challenge is to defeat Mega Satan, the toughest boss in the game. These conditions (the items and the boss that is to come) produce behaviour such as darting in and out of combat, strategically freezing enemies, using a shield, exploring every room and hording items. In this challenge, the meaning of the game is precision, preparation and caution.

20160615153556_1This is just a brief example but it nicely illustrates how simply changing the mechanics can have a cascading effect on the dynamics, behaviours and interpreted meaning of the game. This can both interesting and useful to game designers. Game designers are unable to directly construct gameplay but have to use other tools, such as rules, narrative and art, to influence the play. This knowledge will be essential when constructing and designing games in the future.

REFERENCES

Hocking, C. (2011). Dynamics: The State of the Art [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014597/Dynamics-The-State-of-the

Hunicke, R. LeBlanc, M. & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. Retrieved from
https://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf

Transmedia Narrative in ‘Overwatch’

This morning a new Killscreen article popped up on my Twitter feed called “Overwatch and The Pleasure of Transmedia Narratives“. Having been intrigued by the animated shorts and character profiles, I have enjoyed learning about the characters and the overall story of Overwatch despite but not having played the game.

overwatch-heroes-background-blizzard-1080x623The article looks at Blizzard’s transmedia approach to the narrative of Overwatch and how this has been beneficial to them. By choosing not to convey the game’s narrative, lore and character backstories in the actual game itself but rather through animated shorts, comics and bios Blizzard is keeping the game focused on the gameplay. This is a wise choice for a competitive multiplayer team-based shooter that is aspiring to become a new eSport. It also allows players to opt in for narrative, rather than having it forced upon them.

In many of the projects I have worked on the game designers have felt obligated to shoehorn in a narrative. Often, this falls flat, doesn’t work and distracts from the game-play.This article can be both useful and interesting to game designers as it demonstrates a different approach to in-game narrative and story-telling. It looks at how heavy narrative and lore may be interesting but might not suit the game-play and shows an approach that compensates for this: transmedia story-telling. Similarly, this article can act as an introduction to those unfamiliar with transmedia, as McCarthy explains what it is and why it is effective.

REFERENCES

McCarthy, C. (2016). Overwatch and the pleasure of transmedia narratives. Retrieved from
https://killscreen.com/articles/overwatch-pleasure-transmedia-narratives/

A Look At the Mechanics of Dys4ia

dys4ia is a short, autobiographical game that captures the six months of Anna Anthropy’s life in which she underwent hormone replacement therapy.

YtELGoHer personal experiences are told through a series of short and varied mini-games. Each new mini-game features different rules and mechanics, although there are variations of previous games throughout. With this lack of consistency, you would expect that the game’s theme is vague or hard to follow. However, this changing of mechanics and rules works to drive home the theme and feeling that Anthropy is trying to convey.

A majority of these mini-games feature mechanics that would fall into the broad category of physics: mechanics that deal with motion and force. Some of these physics mechanics are obvious, such as walking or moving around:

aaBut shaving, writing, flying and eating would also fall in this category as they are physical actions that are dictated by motion and force.

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The rules that govern these mechanics differ between mini-games. As an example, I will quickly compare the following four mini-games that all feature a walking mechanic:

walkThese four mini-games each has an end state and only allow walking along the cardinal directions. However, their other rules differ greatly.

In the first game, walking is dictated by the following rules.

  • Player can only move right.
  • Player moves at a set velocity.
  • Moving through a tile in front of an NPC will trigger a dialogue.
  • Reaching the house will end the mini-game.

This is opposed to the second game which has these rules:

  • Player can move in any (cardinal) direction.
  • Player moves at a set velocity.
  • Player can only move on the orange tiles (cannot move on or through NPCs, objects or walls).
  • Player cannot interact with anything in the room.
  • End state is triggered by the timer running out.

The third game is visually similar to the first but differs in some ways:

  • Player can only move left.
  • Player velocity decreases exponentially the closer to the house they get.
  • Reaching the house will end the mini-game.

The last game is the most different:

  • Player only has control over movement if stationary.
  • Player can move in any (cardinal) direction.
  • Moving will cause the player to move continously in that direction until they hit a wall.
  • Player can only move on light purple tiles (cannot move on or through objects or walls).
  • Moving through a tile in front of a mirror will trigger a reflection to be displayed in the mirror.
  • Reaching the top-most mirror will end the mini-game.

For most of the mini-games, these physics mechanics are the only ones in play. However, some of the games do incorporate additional, non-physics, mechanics. For example, the mini-game pictured below requires the player to walk through a bathroom without being detected.

e7ntZKAlthough it is not as complex as something like the cover system in XCOM, the player is using cover to remain hidden and move tactically. As such, this mechanic would fall into the tactical maneuvering category. The rules that govern this hiding mechanic are as follows:

  • Move one tile at a time.
  • Player movement causes ‘enemy’ movement.
  • Purple squares are out of sight (safe).
  • Yellow squares are in line of sight (not safe).
  • Being seen will cause the player to be unsuccessful.
  • Reaching the toilet will cause the player to be successful.

Over the course of the game’s four chapters, some of the mini-games are repeated. These games are variations of the original as rules have either been added, changed or removed. As this game has a strong narrative focus and captures Anthropy’s life chronologically, she is able to use this to contrast two events or periods of time. This allows her to show how things have changed. An example of this is below:

changeThese two mini-games depict (from what I can infer) Anthropy’s experience and interaction with Feminist extremists who do not accept trans-women as women.

The first is in the first chapter, before the hormone therapy, and the second is in the last chapter, after the therapy. In both games the player is depicted as a shield. The ‘feminists’, depicted as lips, move up and down deny that the player is a woman. This is shown through speech bubbles with the male symbol that move towards the player.

The first game is dictated by these rules:

  • Player can only move up and down.
  • Player can absorb or avoid the speech bubbles.
  • Absorbing a speech bubble causes the player to flash (as if hurt).

Compare this to the rules of the second game:

  • Player can only move up and down.
  • Player can deflect or avoid a speech bubble.
  • Deflecting will cause it to bounce back towards the lips, change colour and change symbol.
  • Deflecting a speech bubble into a the lips will cause them to flash and give a ‘huh’ sound.

Unlike the first game, the second allows the player to actively affect the situation. This suggests that, although hormone therapy did not change the way Anthropy was perceived by Feminist extremists, she gained a new confidence and responded to these comments instead of just absorbing or avoiding them.

Another example of this are the wall mini-games which are scattered throughout the four chapters. The mechanics and rules for these are the same: the player can move in any direction and cannot fit through the hole in the wall.

wallThe player has no agency in these games. Compare this to last of the wall mini-games found in the last chapter.

kThe rules have entirely changed: the player is no longer attempting to fit through a hole but rather is breaking down the wall, Breakout style. The metaphor in this example is pretty evident.

In the game dys4ia, Anthropy uses mechanic and narrative elements in harmony in order to construct a particular play experience. Over the course of the four chapters of the game, the mechanics and rules are changed constantly. At first this disorients and confuses the player, but as they see repeating mini-games and become more familiar with how the overall game works they gain confidence and ability. By using variations on previous mini-games with changed rules that make it easier for the player or allow for more agency, Anthropy is able to construct a play experience that is reflective of her own.

Its-a-small-thing-but-I-feel-like-Ive-ta-ken-the-first-step-towards-something-tremendous

The point of it all

Last year, games writer Austin Walker wrote a piece on writing about video games. Walker specifically examined the role of critical analysis and the purpose of writing such analysis. To quickly summarize his piece, Walker covers how all criticism is done for a purpose and a reason and, in most cases, this is to better the medium that they love the most: video games. Unfortunately, he has found that people tend to view these writings as a decree: a statement that is trying to force the developers to change their game.  This makes a lot of people angry.

We have seen this most recently with the victory pose of Tracer from the game Overwatch. A critique was made that her original pose did not suit her playful character and the developers took it on board in order to improve. The change of the pose and how it has been improved is nicely explained in an Extra Credits video called Tracer & Pose Design 101.

3041839-overwatch1This controversy is not exclusive to Tracer’s butt. Rather it is a topic that has been brought up time and time again often regarding sticky subjects like violence, race, sexuality, gender, class and culture. As Walker (2015) says in his article: “developers are people who can make up their own minds…they can internalize the critiques they think make sense and discard the rest”. However, there are a lot of people who feel that the developers should not have to “censor” themselves or change the game in order to conform to a critique or vocal minority. While are lot of people may be outraged by this “censorship” it is important to note that it is not actual censorship.

The only people who really have the power to do that is a government, who may choose to ban or encourage particular pieces or types of art through prohibitive or incentive legislation. An example of this was the censorship of some of the scenes from Southpark: The Stick of Truth.

maxresdefaultThis was annoying for Australian gamers but these types of laws can be abused in order to silence an idea or particular person, which is a much more serious issue in its own right.

ai-weiwei

Despite everything, Ai Weiwei continues to use his art to speak out against the Chinese government.

As Walker illustrators with his ‘artisanal’ graphs, he (and most other game writers) have neither the influence nor reach to actually force change. Rather, what the analysis aims to do is provide a deeper reading or alternative reflection upon the material. It aims to really examine why X is great, why X is bad or why X is problematic. Is this case, X is one game that contains all of these elements. Just as Anita Sarkeesian (2013) states:

“it is both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects”.

I believe that this might be the hardest aspect for people to grasp and the largest point of contention. Video games are an immersive medium that require the devotion of time and that have the ability to deeply connect with the players. As such, it is very easy to become highly invested in the games that you play: these games and fandoms may provide a sense of community, competition, achievement and self-worth.

24588814580_9171a99666_b-1024x840

‘Legacy’, the current leaders in the Oceanic region for competitive League of Legends, recently opened the first eSports house in Australia. ‘Legacy’ lives, works and games together as a team.

So when these games are critically analysed it can feel like a personal attack: as though someone is attacking something that you and your friends love, put time into and bond over. It can be hard to separate yourself from something so important to you but, as Walker is trying to point out, analysis is not an attack. The writer is breaking down a game “because [they] fucking love games” and would like to see the medium improve. By putting this analysis out there, they are hoping that current and future game developers will take note. Which brings us to the main point of this post:

How and why consuming critical analysis can help in gaining a more thorough and diversified understanding of game design.

It is very easy to say this was good and that was bad. However, it is not until you understand why a game made you, or an audience, feel a particular way that you can see what elements caused this reaction. From their you can start to see what to avoid or use in your own work.

One of the most helpful types of critical analysis, from a practical standpoint, are those that examine how and why different aspects of a game work the way they do. This might refer to mechanics, tutorials, combat techniques, tactics etc. These analyses may compare aspects from similar games and point out why one was better than the other. This type of analysis looks at the quality of the game design (in the formal sense of the term) and can help you gain a better understanding of game design as a whole.

A really great example of this is a Game Maker’s Toolkit video which analyses the different monsters and attack styles from the video game Doom. By analysing the varied monster types he shows how these work together to create really interesting, dynamic and tactical game play.

UntitledCritical analysis also gives you a deeper understanding of the medium and a richer vocabulary of terms and ideas. Reading or watching critical analysis tends to give you an “aha!” moment: a moment when you think “Ok, now I get it”. For example, I had not really heard the term “ludo-narrative dissonance” until I read the book Extra Lives by Tom Bissell.

extra-lives1Having the term explained using video game examples helped me to understand what it meant. From there, I was suddenly able to use this new term to describe moments in games that had felt wrong to me. Before, these moments were just wrong for some weird reason but now I could see: why they felt wrong, what aspects caused this and what could (theoretically) be changed to fix it. From then on it was something I thought about and considered.

While this is very technical, and delves into the weird psychological aspect of video games, there are also types of critical analysis that examine a piece of media from a particular perspective (sometimes these are called readings). These are often done by someone with a particular knowledge base or set of skills who picks up and notices things that the general audience might not. Some examples of this are Austin Walker’s analysis of race in the Witcher 3 and Anita Sarkeesian’s feminist readings of sexist tropes in video games. Both of these individuals have a deep understanding of these topics and can therefore give an interesting, alternative perspective on a game.

Another example of this is the Extra Credits analysis of The Division. Being in Australia (and not really watching the news) I didn’t really understand why the hooded enemies, the “rioters”, were problematic.

originalThe games narrative and mechanics enforce the idea that a government agency using violence against its citizens is positive and heroic. When these citizens wear hoods, and are classified as dangerous, the game becomes a reflection, intentional or not, of the issues America is currently facing in regards to police brutality, racial violence and discrimination based on clothing. I would not have understood this perspective without this piece of critical analysis.

It opened my eyes to how unintentional design choices can convey a message or worldview to the audience. As designers, this is something that we have to consider when creating a game: how will this be viewed as a whole and what message it might convey. A broader understanding of different cultural, media and world perspectives can help us from falling into this pitfalls and a broader understanding can be gained through consuming critical analysis.

As such, we can use critical analysis to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of more technical aspects of game design
  • Gain a deeper understanding of terms and ideas related to video game design
  • See a game, or an aspect of a game, from an alternative perspective
  • See how certain elements of a game help to (intentional or not) convey a message or world view to the player

Learning something new through critical analysis broadens your understanding of game design. Each time you learn something new, whether it be a cultural perspective, weird theoretical concept or technical aspect of a mechanic, it is like learning a new word. Every time you learn a new word you can create more nuanced sentences as you have a greater and more diverse vocabulary.

REFERENCES

Bissell, T. (2010). Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. United States: Pantheon.

Extra Credits. (2016). The Division – Problematic Meaning in Mechanics [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jKsj345Jjw

Extra Credits. (2016). Tracer & Pose Design 101  [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmLkVtqjf1A

Game Maker’s Toolkit. (2016). What We Can Learn From Doom [Video]. Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuOObGjCA7Q

Sarkeesian, A. (2013). Damsel in Distress: Part 1. Retrieved 7th of June from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6p5AZp7r_Q

Walker, A. (2015). Why We Write. Retrieved 6th June, 2016 from
http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/editorial-why-we-write-on-game-critique-influence-/1100-5215/

Getting a sense of Doom

This week we were tasked with playing and writing about id Software’s seminal 1993 video game: DOOM. DOOM is a science-fiction first person shooter in which you play as a space marine fighting your way through a horde of demonic creatures. You may have heard about it.

doomDespite it being an extremely prolific game, I had never played it before this week which might make my observations more interesting or even more naive. To preface my investigation into the game, I must state that while I have played a couple of first person shooters, Wolfenstein: New Order being the most recent, I am not extremely familiar with the genre. Additionally, I tend to opt for stealth where I can which, again, makes me even more unprepared for a run-and-gun style of game like DOOM.

With this in mind it may come as no surprise that I was initially stumped by the game. The first level drops you into a large open room that is brightly lit and scattered with corpses and health pickups. Upon seeing this, I assumed that I was about to be attacked or that the monsters were just around the corner. This was not the case at all; to get to monsters I would have to cross the room and open the door, a fact which took me about 10 minutes to work out. This was mostly due to my unfamiliarity with the controls. 03Being used to playing modern games, and never having played video games as a kid (unless they were about math or typing), I was initially caught off guard by how unintuitive the controls felt. Having to hold ALT to strafe, as opposed to it just being automatic, felt clunky and awkward: like I was controlling a tank. Similarly, aiming by turning and shooting with CTRL felt equally as wrong (I guess you never realise how intuitive mouse look is until it is taken away from you). Additionally, the controls were hidden in the menu under the heading “Read This!” .

menuIt wasn’t until I had read through them that I realised that you could open doors in the game. Again, this demonstrates the difference between DOOM and more modern games in which controls prompts are not only common but sometimes intrusive. Switching weapons required me to move my hands away from the movement and shooting controls so I only ever did this when I was in a safe area. Again, this is an issue that has been solved by modern first person shoots. One could infer that just as any artistic medium adapts to changing technology so too did video games. As the genre of the first person shooter developed so too did control schemes that were better suited for a mouse and keyboard.

My final, and biggest, roadblock that I faced when playing the game was the vertical positioning of the gun. With no mouse look and no way to change to it, I had assumed that any enemies positioned above my gun sight were unreachable and had to be dodged. This caused me to be killed. Many times.02Once again my familiarity with modern gaming conventions was my downfall. This demonstrates how, over time, control schemes and conventions become rooted in both the games and the players. These conventions allows a player to jump into a game and already be competent and familiarised with the basics. However, when a game breaks the mould it can provide a unique and interesting experience. It may challenge the player in ways that they are not used to, which can be extremely rewarding in its own right. I was honestly proud of myself when I successfully strafed out of the way of a fireball. Something that would be simple and automatic in any other game was challenging and made me feel powerful and competent because of it. One notable game that does this is Receiver.

Despite these difficulties, I found DOOM extremely enjoyable and wonderfully atmospheric. From the get go, the visuals, level design and audio set the scene for the tense action that is to come. The pumped up soundtrack and fast paced movement really make you feel like a bad-ass space marine, although the exaggerated head bob was a little disorientating. The large open environments in combination with tight, right-angle corridors helped create a sense of anxiety and anticipation as I moved between areas in which I was completely exposed to areas in which I was trapped. This in combination with the extremely creepy monster growls kept me on my toes.

doom1badEach monster has a different attack that requires a different approach (this is called Orthogonal Unit Differentiation). To go along with this, they also have a unique visual design and audio cue. Not knowing anything about the monsters before playing the game, these cues allowed me to quickly learn each monster’s attack and helped me to anticipate and plan for each encounter.  This was definitely my favourite feature of the game as it is one of the reasons I love The Binding of Isaac so much. I feel that it adds an extra layer of strategy to the combat which helps keep the game interesting, even once you have mastered the controls.

Finally, I found the level layout really clear, with plenty of health and armour pickups. The large open rooms contained secrets and many different paths but ultimately merged back to the one main path. I liked having this level of freedom while still always knowing where to go. The hidden secrets and little extras scattered around the level also encouraged me to explore further. Additionally, I found that the use of flickering lights as a guiding mechanism was extremely helpful while also still fitting with the tone and visual style of the game.

Overall, I really enjoyed my playthrough of DOOM. It was really atmospheric and challenging in a way different from that of other games I play. While I might not play it again I can definitely appreciate it for what it is and what it has contributed to games as a whole.

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