Wednesday, December 31, 2008


New Year's Eve is about anticipation. We know what's going to happen, and when it's going to happen. We watch the ball in New York, and cheer and drink when it hits the end.

We could use more moments like that in games: knowing exactly what's going to happen and when, squirming with excited anticipation.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Achievements and trophies

As I said over at Osbon's, the Achievements I enjoy most are the ones that reward lucky, odd, and crazy things. Crackdown has an Achievement for using the harpoon gun to pin three or four people to the same car. It also has an Achievement for leaping from the top of the tallest skyscraper and falling (harmlessly) into the bay below. Those aren't just accomplishments. Those are memorable moments. Trophies and Achievements can help preserve such fond memories.

Completing a level or chapter is often not a memorable moment. Every adventure game I play has Achievements for completing each level, but I don't remember many of those times. Still, having Achievements for the completion of levels is good, because it helps friends keep track of how far you are in a game and inspires friendly conversation.

There are ordinary moments like these that are worth commemorating (rewarding effort can be done in better ways). But, overall, Achievements should celebrate extraordinary moments. Those are the moments worth remembering. Those are the moments that gamers are most inclined to share, thereby promoting the game and aiding its longevity, among many other benefits.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BfME2 and more

To anyone who has played LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2 on the 360 or another console, please try the game out on PC. I got the console version for Christmas, and it doesn't hold a candle to the PC version. The console version is alright. The PC version, with much better controls and the War of the Ring mode, is a masterpiece.

I've got a big family, including close extended family, so I always get a lot of presents around Christmas. This year, I got the console version of BfME2, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Fallout 3, and Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix... and I just bought myself Bioshock on the PC for five bucks through Steam (awesome deal!). And my sister bought herself a Wii, with Wii Sports and Wii Play.

I know I'm going to be obsessed with Fallout 3 once I begin, so I'm saving that 'til after I've put in time with the other games.

GH: World Tour
rocks! I had heard that real guitarists have trouble with it. But I've been playing for over 15 years and I find that my experience helps me. That's probably because I play a lot of games as well. There's not many DLC tracks yet, but I'm sure there will be soon. I'm disappointed that so many songs aren't available in Head-to-Head multiplayer (not at start, anyway... perhaps they unlock). And as a songwriter, I'm thrilled by the possibility of publishing some compositions of my own, but the recording studio seems to be unnecessarily arduous and ineffectual. It tries too hard to make the note sequencing simple and similar to the rest of the game, rather than just using individual buttons to act like FruityLoops. Anyway, this is my first instrument game, and they're definitely on my must-have list from now on. It's a great way to enjoy music.

I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy the Harry Potter game, but I do like the idea of wandering around a 3-D Hogwarts. I'm a sucker for elaborately detailed settings that are so rich in imagination.

Yesterday was my first time to play a Wii. My initial impression: awesome, but poorly introduced. We knew enough to play and have fun, but exactly how our characters played was largely be accident. It's fine not forcing us through long tutorials at the beginning, but give us the option to learn. Anyway, we enjoyed both games, but Wii Play was especially cool. The air hockey game is awesome!

Any recommendations for Wii games? Not for me, but for a woman who hasn't played many games since the original Nintendo. My sister loved the original Mario Kart on the SNES (who didn't?), so I'm thinking she'd like Wii version. Boom Blox also seems like a possibility.

Does anyone else have Guitar Hero: World Tour? A band might be in order. Unless I'm mistaken, the controller is compatible with Rock Band, so perhaps I'll pick that up sometime. The reason I never picked up a music game before is because they cost so much more than normal games.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

a love story

That's what Christianity is, first and foremost. This is the day when we marvel in awe of God's supreme act of love, the beginning of His promise fulfilled.

This is the day our God and King became our Brother, our Father, our guiding Spirit. Love is about being together. Christmas is the day we celebrate the joining of God and humanity in Jesus the Messiah.

So that we may know Him better, and more, He became one of us. Unlike any other creature, we do not merely exist; we must choose whether or not to become who we are intended to be. Jesus shows us how to be human.

And, like all humans, our King and Savior came to us as a child.

"Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." --Mark 10:14-15.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

better matchmaking

So apparently Blogger posts a blog if I accidentally hit Enter after typing the title. Sorry about the blank RSS feed.

Anyway, some recent experiences in Left 4 Dead have convinced me that Xbox Live, and other multiplayer services, could use better matchmaking.

The first experience was trying to add someone as a friend and being told she's reached her friend limit. That made me think... it's a shame that I can't be more likely to play with someone without putting them on my friends list.

The second experience is having run into a lot of exploiters and jerks this past week. There's a Left 4 Dead exploit that involves blocking an elevator exit, so the survivors are trapped -- the game effectively comes to a halt. One of my teammates did it and told me he thought it's hilarious, even though he admits he hates it happening to him. Other strangers I've played with have abandoned their teammates to rush ahead, or constantly complained about greener players not playing up to their standards, or focused on particular strategies so exclusively that fun falls by the wayside.

Some of these behaviors really just mean a person with a particular playstyle shouldn't be matched with players who have very different values, strategies, and levels of experience. It's like the classic RTS playstyles: zerg, balanced, and turtle. Each player generally prefer play as and against one or another style.

What I'd like to see is a system that allows each player to privately rank others according to preference, affecting only the odds of those people coming up in game searches.

Such a system better takes into account that two players might not play well together yet neither of them is doing anything wrong; like an explorer and an achiever playing the same game with vastly different goals and interests. It doesn't separate players entirely, but the odds keep them apart enough to prevent frustration and boredom. This also encourages gamers to play with their friends, but not only with their friends... creating the possibility of making new friends and being challenged in new ways.

It also helps for each game to list classifications related to that game in particular. For example, RTS players would love it if they could choose when to play against zerg tactics and when to play against turtles. Every player will want play a game in different ways depending on mood, recent experiences, and other factors.

How else could game matchmaking be improved?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hulu and YouTube

You might have already read by now that Microsoft is at least considering integration of web services like Hulu and YouTube into Xbox Live. I see this as a big deal.

First, Hulu has a different business model than Netflix. Users can view content (TV and films) at no charge, the shows being paid for by advertisements. It includes a number of triple-A and top-notch TV shows (like NewsRadio), and browsing them is simpler than with Netflix. Hulu even has an integrated tool for selecting clips and emailing them to friends. I love Hulu. I much prefer its quick and easy TV-on-demand service with relatively few commercials in lieu of a traditional cable or satellite subscription.

The first complication I see is that Xbox Live currently charges users to rent content which can be viewed for free (through advertisements) on Hulu, such as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. My gut says Microsoft would screw us and not allow Hulu to show anything we're charged for now, but it's possible Microsoft would take the high road and allow us the paid-by-ads alternative.

Microsoft would almost certainly place its own ads in Hulu's content. That strikes me as the absolute best marketing tool the company would have for reaching XBL users. I bet most users are more likely to watch a good TV show or movie with game advertisements in them than to download trailers and video interviews for every game they might enjoy. Ads in Hulu via the 360 would reach more Xbox users than ads anywhere else.

And contracting with Hulu would be a major selling point. Yes, it's available online, but most people would rather watch free, on-demand shows on their television than on their computer. TVs can be hooked up to PCs, but that's not a mainstream practice (it's common among tech junkies only, who are not that big a chunk of society as a whole).

Hulu would benefit greatly by attracting more advertisers with the 360 user community. Their services would consequently expand and become more attractive to users and marketers. More film studios who currently contract with TV broadcasters might see Hulu as a viable partner. Because Hulu would finally be playing on the televisions of millions, rather than on computers, the company could finally become a direct competitor to subscription television.

Of course, if Hulu was ever big enough to compete directly with them, the Hulu business model would probably change; either they'd gradually increase ad interruptions, as TV broadcasters have over the years, or they'd start charging a subscription of their own. But we can hope their present model would stand for a while.

Videos of Halo and other games already cover YouTube. More gamers would watch those sort of videos if it could be done while already focused on games (engaged on their gaming console). YouTube integration would greatly facilitate game tutorials and walkthroughs. It might even make gaming tournaments more viable.

YouTube integration could significantly affect the design of many games. Community and Arcade games would use YouTube most frequently, but I'm talking mainly about the design of triple-AAA titles. And I don't mean like Spore either, which enables players to share their creature creations. No, I'm talking about dynamics. What makes games like Halo and MMOs so popular on YouTube is their room for fresh, personal experiences. It's the ability to still see new and exciting stories months or even years after the game is released. It's the revelation of personal preferences and personal adventures -- stories which are individually representative.

YouTube play-session stories are excellent marketing. Ads are more effective when they're recommended by friends. Videos of unique and exciting experiences encourage lengthy conversations between friends -- conversations which embed the ads to memory, inform, and stoke anticipation. YouTube integration could greatly increase impulse purchases of downloadable content.

Anyway, long story short, I hope Microsoft can work out satisfactory contracts with both YouTube and Hulu. Those deals could be as sweet for gamers as for Microsoft and advertisers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

short stories

They can be finished in one sitting. Their brevity encourages authors to be more precise. And the best ones are so layered and deliberately worded that readers can enjoy them repeatedly, always discovering some new detail.

Games like Left 4 Dead, Medal of Honor: Airborne, and Star Wars: Battlefront remind me of short story collections.

The heart of each is individual levels/areas, rather than some story created by the combination of those levels. Each level is self-contained, resolved without need of the others. This emphasis has lead to top-notch level design.

And because each level's conclusion offers independent resolution, games like Airborne and SW:B can be enjoyed briefly, periodically, and leisurely.

What other aspects of literary short stories might be applied to games?

I'd like to say a game could be much more diverse within itself (each level with a different aesthetic style, vastly different setting, different weapons, etc -- like a short story anthology). But graphical assets, programming, and play-balancing are unfortunately much more expensive than words.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

quick time events

I might have written about this before. I can't remember. But after two years of articles, I guess repeating myself occasionally is inevitable.

Quick-time events (QTE) should not appear in world-focused and character-focused games, as they often do.

The moment the buttons appear on the screen ("Press B! Press X! Press B!"), those commands completely dominate the player's attention. Everything else on screen, as well as any immersion in the world established by previous experiences, is shoved to the periphery and probably forgotten entirely. Climbing a giant monster by QTE, for example, is essentially a series of small cutscenes perforated by button-mashing mini-games.

QTE are arcade gameplay. They have no place in an RPG.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dante's Inferno: tread carefully

So the guys at EA Redwood Shores have announced their next project, and it's Dante's Inferno.

And that's great, but I hope they realize the importance of getting this one right.

Dead Space is a stellar game. I finally finished it a couple days ago -- great sci-fi, great horror, great gameplay. We can probably expect similar quality in the team's next project. And their recent experience with creating horror will undoubtedly aid them in recreating Hell.

But, still, I worry. At this point, you can't base a mainstream game on such a pivotal work of classic literature as Dante Alighieri's and not expect that to grab the attention of non-gamers. Mainstream news worldwide will take notice. How respectfully or carelessly the original work is adapted into gameplay will be widely reported on.

Those reviews, previews, and interviews could have a profound effect on how games and the industry is perceived for many years. If EA Redwood Shores impresses the greater public, it would be a big step forward. Otherwise, reasonable doubters and willful naysayers alike will have more fuel for their arguments.

I also worry because Dante's Divine Comedy is a faithful religious work, and game designers are not known for being pious or reverent. The only religion in Dead Space is wild and deadly fanaticism. Such fanaticism does exist and is scary, so I can only hopefully assume the lead designers don't perceive all religion to be so irrational.

The Judeo-Christian concept of good and evil is difficult to translate into gameplay. Evil is merely an absence or twisting of good, as darkness is an absence of light. Evil spirits, including Satan, are utterly powerless except as God allows (for the sake of our maturation and free will). Humans rarely battle demons directly, and even then (usually exorcisms) our power is prayer... appealing to and trusting in God's love for intervention. Angels and demons are far, far more powerful than humans. It is God and His love for us that protects and saves us. Prophecy, spontaneous healing, bilocution, stigmatas -- such powers come from God, not from us.

Dante's tale is more about viewing, hearing, and conversing than about interaction. So seeing Dante hacking and slashing his way through Hell raises concerns about sincere representation, though such gameplay could certainly be fun. Dialogue and prayer are difficult to translate into good gameplay.

Redwood Shores should also consider the meaning of Hell, the beliefs which shaped Dante's work. Hell is chosen by the damned. It is a willful separation from God's grace. We're all familiar with knowing what the right, loving action is and choosing to do differently. Many know God's love and reject it. Pain, sadness and anger occur when things aren't as they should be. When creatures made for love reject love, they embrace darkness and torment. Hell is punishment, but it is also self-punishment.

Part of the purpose of understanding Hell is fear. All parents know that toddlers can't be expected to always obey (to act justly, learn and grow) out of love and understanding. Fear is necessary. When children grow to be teenagers, they are more capable of love and understanding, but fear remains necessary as a fallback. Emotion and will often overpower reason, and in those moments we need fear. Even adults need fear of consequences, a fact which much of our legal system is founded on. God has revealed Hell to humanity because we need that fear to fall back on in those moments when we want to reject -- or merely postpone -- love.

Knowing Hell also illuminates God's grace and goodness. Hell is evil without a mask. In our world, evil usually take the form of corruption -- something good distorted into poison; slow death. If one can understand evil in its essence (Hell), and pure good as well (Heaven), then recognizing good and evil as they are entangled on our world is a more manageable task.

EA Redwood Shores is tackling one of the world's most respected works of literature, as well as a setting which is taken very seriously and believed to be real by billions of people worldwide. I'm very happy they're doing so. I hope they give the subjects adequate study and reflection, as well as respect in the finished product.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

sensible characters

Human beings don't make sense.

We like to think we do. In fact, a common criticism movie-goers make after a film is that some character's action isn't believable because it isn't sensible. Ironically, the criticized action, while not rational, is very realistic. Panic, for example, isn't sensible, but it's real. Each of us does things every day which are not completely logical.

Should story characters make sense?

At first, the answer might seem to be "yes". Afterall, I just got finished saying that movie audiences regularly criticize the illogical actions of story characters, despite being well aware that such actions might be realistic.

But complaints don't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes people prefer a thing even when they don't appreciate it, because they're not truly aware of the alternatives. In other words, they'll gripe and moan about something, but they'd gripe even more if that something was different or absent.

Honestly, I don't know what the answer is here. What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008


I finished a game yesterday which ends where it begins. I've written before about reflection in game stories. Coming full circle is a great way to encourage it.

People don't reflect automatically when they finish a game. Reflection needs to be encouraged. One method is juxtaposition of the before and after. Ending a game where it began is an easy and effective way to draw attention to things that have changed.

Fable 2 does this with Bowerstone, but in a crudely overt way. It's more engaging when you don't bluntly tell the player things have changed. Show, don't tell.

For example, suppose the main character in your game arrives with friends but leaves alone. You can have the character perform a particular activity with the help or input of those friends, then perform that activity again alone. Setting alone is not always enough to recall memories, but actions usually are.

What are some experiences from games you've played which encouraged reflection?

Friday, December 12, 2008


I don't know about you, but this is how I'm going to kick off the new year! LOTR: Conquest!

The first Star Wars: Battlefront is one of my all-time favorite games. Quick, fluid, dynamic action with lots of variation and using a classic setting. Conquest seeks to apply the same basic model to LOTR, and it looks like Pandemic has done a pretty good job. In fact, the game seems to have even more replayability than its predecessor. Considering I can still enjoy Star Wars: Battlefront after years, that's pretty impressive.

I'll probably pick it up on the 360 -- my primary gaming platform these days (PC being my other favorite). All modes are available single-player and multiplayer, offline and on. That includes split-screen and online co-op. The game includes both a good and an evil campaign.

I can't wait to play as a troll, ride an oliphant or warg, fire arrows down from Helm's Deep, launch a catapult, and wreak havoc with the Balrog!

Keep an eye on this one. It could be another classic. Pandemic's one of the more consistently good development studios.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

executive rationing

I grew up in an area with millionaire homes just a short walk from trailer parks. So I quickly learned that rich and poor people, excepting the furthest extremes, tend to worry about the same things: grocery bills, energy and water bills, medical bills, tuition, gas, etc. This occurs because most people, regardless of social class, live up to their means. If they have money, they spend money... much of it on fruitless activities and items.

This basic psychological pattern applies to all aspects of life, including production of both artistic and (for lack of a better term) pragmatic works. Whatever resources you offer, expect them to be spent. I was reminded of this as I put Christmas ornaments on a tree. The tree would look good with half the ornaments I had available, but I felt compelled to use every ornament.

It's good executive practice to intentionally limit resources. Doing so not only helps to bring costs down, but also forces craftsmen to be more careful and innovative.

For example, provide artists with less memory storage and RAM usage than they would like. You can also place aesthetic limits on them, such as forbidding particular methods or styles. Challenge them by saying their new work should not look like anything they've created before (forbidding styles and imposing styles are very different in effect, particularly regarding the artist's enthusiasm).

Demand miracles. All the great leaders throughout history accomplished what they did because they demanded the impossible of those who served them. All people are capable of more than what they usually commit to. Inspiring leadership goes a long way in helping them achieve greater things. Their greatest reward will probably be the moment the job is finished and they can appreciate the extraordinary work they've done, but some positive encouragement helps, of course.

Writers, especially, need limits. Generally speaking, words cost nothing... and writers love to spend (use more words, more characters, etc). And a bad story can ruin a game. So be sure to place plenty of limits on your writers.

Allow workers to help choose their own limits. This doesn't mean accepting exactly the limits they offer, but their input will help keep the limits reasonable and also make workers more willing to accept the hardships.

People tend to rise to expectations. Even unreachable ideals can be useful when expectations are reasonable.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

data and perception

Figures don't lie, but liars figure.

I've always liked that expression, and it's a vital bit of wisdom. Raw data is rarely impervious to misinterpretation. Such misinterpretation is often willful, but innocent illusions are just as common.

Nowhere is misinterpretation easier and more common than in demographics. Demographic information is often talked about as if it contains undeniable truths. The reality is that nearly every demographic study raises more questions than it answers... which is why there's no substitute for intuitive wisdom. The decision-making process that any entertainment consumer goes through is usually too complex to be summarized in clearly-defined calculations and diagrams.

I point this out because there's a cultural attitude in the modern world that facts and figures are more insightful than human reasoning and intuition. This cultural pressure can sometimes lead to poor judgments. Great works come from human beings, nor from systems and processes.

Just for fun, take a look at these charts and try to discern a lesson or two from each. What can we learn from looking at the all-time US box office sales? Or what might be made of the discrepancies between the US box office and the UK box office.

I've argued before that film sales demonstrate that Americans favor entertainment which is open to all ages ("family" entertainment) and offers inspirational messages.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

best of 2008?

I'm reminded how utterly meaningless Readers' Choice awards like this are.

First, every participant votes on every category... as if the average gamer plays sports, fighting games, RPGs, RTS and FPS games all at once. Even if many gamers were so eclectic, who has the money? Who has the time?

And even within a single category, how many voters have played every game? IGN's "Best Platform Game" includes just three games: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Mirror's Edge, and Prince of Persia. How many people do you think have played all three? And who in his right mind would consider those similar enough to be in the same category?!

"Best of..." awards like this are almost always popularity contests. And this one doesn't even hint at a game's popularity, because every single game's votes will be skewed by people voting for games they never played, voting in categories they're completely unfamiliar with.

And how did Left 4 Dead get left out of the "Best Use of Sound" category? I haven't played a game in years in which sound is so vital.

Monday, December 08, 2008


What happened here I don't claim to know for certain, but the Animal Crossing goof seems to highlight the need for care with dialects. Nobody will care if that word shows up in 50 Cent's game (at least, the people who play the game won't care). But if you take a cultural word or expression out of context, it can be confusing or misunderstood.

Used poorly, a dialect can accidentally depict characters as stick figures. If you dress a villain all in black, the audience is unlikely to perceive that character as having multiple dimensions. Likewise, if a Texan character says "I reckon", all sorts of stereotypes will be assumed.

Don't mistake my meaning - I'm not a fan of political correctness, and stereotypes usually contain some truth (sometimes a lot of truth). Case in point, as a Texan and Southerner, I often say things like "I figure". But I'd be careful when using such colloquialisms in a character's dialogue, because - regardless of truth - they are attached to many assumptions in common perception.

Write about what you know. That's one of the first and most important lessons of fiction. If you're not truly familiar with a dialect, then you probably shouldn't be using it. That seems to be how the Animal Crossing writer got in trouble.

Friday, December 05, 2008

DRM: the bottom line

The bottom line is this. Most DRM methods are ineffective because they only make theft difficult for a tiny minority. Only one person has to break a sophisticated security system. The rest can simply capitalize on that pirate's ingenuity.

It's like one person jacking a box of sunglasses and leaving the box open on a street corner. The people taking from that open box are wrong as well, but you're not going to scare many people from doing something so effortless. It's sad. Get over it.

There will always be someone smart enough, knowledgeable enough, and selfish enough to crack your code. So paying someone to invent a better code is fruitless.

It's the folks grabbing from the open box that should be the focus of developers and publishers. Be it through punishments or incentives, you'll have more success reducing second-hand theft than curtailing the savvy computer nerds who make theft possible.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

effort and punishment

I once read about a psychological study that compared the effect on children of praising intelligence versus praising effort. If a child is usually rewarded for accomplishment with phrases like "You're so smart!", then the child is likely to value intelligence over effort. Consequently, when the child fails at something, he or she usually attributes the failure to a fault in intelligence and is not very motivated to try again. If a child is usually rewarded for accomplishment with phrases praising effort, then he or she is likely to try again, believing any obstacles are probably surmountable through persistence and adaptation.

That's what I thought of when I read Shwayder's excellent post on rewards and punishments. Ryan talks about how lows and highs are relative to one another. Accomplishment feels greater when something is risked in the struggle (pride is always risked, but its power varies greatly from one personality to another). In the end, Shwayder emphasizes rewards for effort.

I'd bet that adequately rewarding effort makes it easier for players to stomach tough punishments. Perhaps, the more effort is rewarded, the harsher punishment can be without diminishing fun.

Think of sports. If your team loses a game, there's no replaying that game. You can have a rematch later, but that loss is still on your record, a significant memory (especially for rivals). If you have a good coach, he's going to point out both your mistakes and your progress. Losing is never a fun feeling, but it's more bearable when you receive recognition for admirable actions or improved performance.

In college football, players accrue individual stats independent of team performance. A good player on a losing team is often recognized for individual achievement. Replay highlights help to remind losers of their better moments, not just the bad. In Goldeneye64, a player might lose and yet smile at receiving the "Most Dishonorable" award. In LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2, the pain of losing a battle is sometimes offset by enjoying an epic event, like a Balrog setting dozens of soldiers aflame.

One thing that's rarely seen in games, because it's hard to program, is pointing out mistakes. The usual scenario is that a player can try a challenge over and over and over, yet always have to figure out mistakes on his own. Coaching mechanics still have a long way to go in games. Even in multiplayer games, you can't rely on players to seek out advice from other players, though highlighting good instructors in community resources can be good.

I'm certain that rewarding effort and coaching can help keep a game fun through loss and punishment. What I'm not certain about is how exact and predictable the relationship is. I'd play it by ear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

mods for console games

I'm more of a console gamer these days, but I still enjoy games on both my 360 and my PC. Because my computer is old now and I like being able to lounge as I play games, I tend to buy the console version of multi-platform games. But one factor I always consider before making that choice is mods. When a game is popular with modders, then their creations can add many hours of fresh gameplay and even refinement of old gameplay.

User-generated content is increasingly common in console games (Little Big Planet, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Halo 3, etc). But console players are still limited to in-game toolsets, few of which are near as extensive as the Aurora toolset provided in Neverwinter Nights. Consoles have yet to see anything like this -- hundreds of mods, including graphical touch-ups, UI changes, new areas/levels, new skills, new items, and complete revamps. Total conversion mods, such as the Iron Grip mod for Half-Life 2, are unheard of in console games.

Now, I'm not denying that the inherent differences between current consoles and PCs matter in regard to modding potential. But if we can create console games from the PC, why can't we mod them from the PC?

Developers, do you worry about the resale market? While I generally agree with Gamestop CEO Dan DeMatteo, consider how much longer players would hold onto your game if a mod community could constantly refresh your game content at no charge to you. Modding can even improve game sales in general. I'm more likely to buy a game if I know modders will expand its replay value.

Mods for console games seems like a no-brainer. Shouldn't this be a goal?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

observation gameplay

When I was little, my parents gave me a book of observation, or hidden object, games. Looking at a detailed, black-and-white pencil sketch, I'd have to find dozens of objects hidden within the scene. It was much like this game, except the list of objects was printed small in the back of the book (meaning I was supposed to attempt to find every object without the list, then use the list to test myself). Where's Waldo? is probably the most popular hidden object game.

Observation is often a component of larger gameplay. In football, most of a quarterback's job is observation. He must try to read the defense's strategy. He must know how his line is holding up against the defensive linemen, know if the linebackers are rushing. The QB must be aware of how well or poorly his receivers are beating coverage, where the holes are, where the best players are on the field. Quarterbacking is the most difficult position in football because the quarterback must observe a dozen things at once and respond immediately.

Observation in detective games focuses on relevance and patterns. Why is a door ajar or a window unlocked? Does a tear or injury suggest a conflict? Not all visual elements and lines of dialogue are relevant in a good detective game, so the player must pay attention to everything and be able to remember details when something relative emerges. Most clues aren't clues until a related object or event gives them significance.

Timing is an observation skill. The player must recognize a pattern to adjust to that pattern. Firing mortars on a moving target has always been a lot of fun for me. It involves judging the speed of the missile, distance, speed of the target, obstructions, and likely adjustments the target will make to its current path. It's much like quarterbacking... knowing when and where the receiver will turn, where the defenders will be at release and where they can get to while the ball is in the air, as well as terrain slickness, wind, and other factors.

How else is observation included in games? Surely, it hasn't all be done before. What's some new play on observation a game might use?

Monday, December 01, 2008

last minute pitch

A techno composer once told me how his album had been postponed for over a year because the record label didn't want to release it into heavy competition, and competition kept surprising them (events, album release dates, etc). The publisher was delaying a finished product so long it hurt the designer, and was making no apparent progress in its attempts to time the product's release optimally.

I was reading today about how Amazon is already selling Spore for just $20 and about LittleBigPlanet's lackluster sales. And I had to wonder how timing has played into the sales of both. This has been a phenomenal season with exceptionally heavy competition for all games.

If a product must face unexpectedly heavy competition, what can either the publisher or developer do in less than a month's time to improve their odds?