WiiFit

I just spent an evening with WiiFit and I have to admit that my hype level was way higher then my real life impression.

The WiiFit board is a large chunk of plastic, it feels cheap, it looks cheap and it in all probability is cheap. The games that come with it feel cheap, look cheap and play cheap.
The problem is not the board itself, which I think is a great idea, but the level of quality of the board and it's games. It's just pitiful...
The quality is not in the same room as the Wii and Wii sports, they don't even seem to be related. If the Wii is an ipod then WiiFit is a Soviet world war 2 tank covered in rust. Nintendo just looks like a greedy bully when I look at WiiFit. I hope for Wii's sake that the coming snowboard and skateboard games make a lot better use of the board.
Because even though my impression is not even remotely good, the balance board is a good idea. Especially for games lite SSX and its like.

Poor critique on objectivism

I must admit that I haven't played all the way through Bioshock. But I have read all the way through Ayn Rands books about objectivism, a socioeconomic ideology that centers around the rights of the individual.

There has been a lot of talk on the net about the depth of the story in Bioshock and that it is so impressive that it offers critisism on something as complex as an ideology. But does it really?

This is the story of one man, a hard individual that is defining his right to live by shooting people that are trying to kill him. Now this story is set in a world that is supposed to show a ruined world created by the insane hunger for power and profit that is for some reason apparently absent when these same people work for a goverment.

But here comes the first catch, Bioshocks underwater world, rapture, is owned by one man. It is more or less a monopoly or dictatorship. Two states of affairs that Rand or objectivism has never defended or, according to some scholars, made possible.
The thorny rose of criticism is frail...

Here is the second catch, Bioshock does have a character that acts in almost every way like an objectivist. The main character.
The rose of criticism shrivels up and dies...

So not only does Bioshock actually not at all critisize objectivism, they only slapped on a similar art style and some 60's socialist propagande, it also promotes the values of individuals very much like the objectivists do through the players own actions!

I don't see a problem with this. I do however see a problem with the gaming press hailing Bioshock for delivering criticism - which it does not - against an ideology that apparently neither the developers nor the press actually read up on.
My problem with this is that these are the very faults that are keeping our industry continuously frowned upon by the rest of the media.

If FOX news had made this error a lot of books would be rating killed on amazon...

The future of Co-op

Last week Tycho over at Penny Arcade had a write up about co-op and the amount of games out there that just have partially or completely broken co-op or none at all. Later Microsoft employee Ozymandias, working on foreseeing the future trends of gaming, responded to that with a Co-op Game Bill of Rights, the bill is now already in its second edition and features some core issues that games must implement to not appear broken or bad.
It also features a set of features that are harder to implement and less frequently used in current games but are highly requested by the community.

None of this strikes me as new ideas or even surprising. Let's get a few things straight:

Games are supposed to be fun. Fun is a hard concept to achieve, Raph Kosters excellent book A Theory of Fun can teach you more about what fun is but basically it is about using analogue systems of rewards that are somewhat challenging and that you have not grokked (fully mastered) yet.
Achieving this kind of fun in not hard in itself, children do it spontaneously every day. But braking that fun is really easy, that's why we need designers in the first place.
One of the simplest, if not the simplest, ways to increase fun without breaking gameplay is by making it social. Social games are games that encourages gamers to interact or at least communicate about the gameplay. Social grouping is a fundamentally fun feature in human evolution and a large reason to why we choose to group and evolve societies.

So FUN + SOCIAL = A LOT MORE FUN.

What Tycho and Ozymandias have stumbled upon is the lack of game design. This is what gameplay features used to look like in the 80's and early 90's. Yes it's a good idea to spotlight co-op because it is the most popular form of play in gaming today and developers unaware should become aware of this. But when people from within the industry don't realize they're kicking the dead design horse it scares me.
Is even our own industry unaware of what thought through design actually means for a game? Are we slowly receding into the dark ages of gaming again?

I like to hope not. In the meantime, check out the Bill of Rights and support a valiant effort!

Wii problem? meh...

A lot of reviewers and gamers are starting to complain about a problem that was obvous over a year ago. There are no games for the Wii.

I don't understand this, I love my Wii. I love it as much as I love my Ipod. I look forward to turning it on, listening to the gloing-gloing theme, and messing around in the menu and settings. I use it for at least 5 minutes a month and it was totally worth the never, even once, cut price.

Well, I'll be off now. I'm busy playing games and watching Blu-Ray movies on my PS3...

Duke Nukem or Prostitution games?

According to Kotakuit seems like Duke Nukem Forever will actually launch. This year. Seriously.
Wouldn't it be awesome if this game launched, sold 10 million copies and was the best shooter ever? Every publisher would have to rethink their strategies and developers worldwide would be stunned.

A friend of mine was very recently made Junior Game Designer at Avalanche, I was talking to him today when he mentioned a discussion he was having on games about difficult subjects. Really difficult. He was playing with the idea of creating a game about prostitution or pedophilia. He was struggling with the problem that he's learned that games are supposed to be fun. And making prostitution or pedophilia fun might not be everyones cup of tea.

I've been having thoughts about this for some time and I think that Raph Koster seems to be on the same track as me. Games don't need to be fun. Most games on the market aren't fun, think about gears of war or Mass Effect. They aren't fun, they are entertaining for sure, but not fun exactly.
Maybe it's because we still use the name games that we've narrowed our scope to just fun, maybe we should call it interactive entertainment instead. The term sums up our industry a lot better, Brain training is not fun, but it is entertaining.
Games, or interactive entertainment, should be engaging.

And nothing is stopping the most heinous acts from becoming engaging, give a player a perfect control and the order to perform a gruesome act they will quite possibly do it. But they will quite possibly also experience completely different feelings than fun. Hopefully at least.
But to let this happen we need to let go of all the bells and whistles we are using to create fun today. Maybe rape should not be awarded with points. Maybe it shouldn't be awarded at all. But should we shy away from letting the player do it? Certainly not. We are after all, trying to engage peoples feelings and thoughts through our art, and they must perform the actions.

This is interactive entertainment after all!

Media disinformation

After the recent Fox/EA debacle I have been thinking just how far from the mainstream media the games industry really is. This is certainly not the first time a mainstream media gets it wrong. Sure we are still a form of underground culture but as a media form we should be a lot more prominent then we really are. Lets look at some numbers, in a recent lecture by Raph Koster he claimed that Youtube had a 190 million users each week. By contrast the second mostly sold console ever, the ps2, sold just above 100million (around 130 I think).

Now this are just two numbers and I don't claim they paint an accurate picture about the state of the games industry as a media form. But I think most gamers meet this attitude of "what? games? you mean children's toys?" pretty often.
We might be using a lot of money for our hobby, but I think we have to face that games just aren't mainstream yet by a long shot. Sure, World of Warcraft broke down a lot of barriers. But that was just a first step for games into the world of media, or what do you think? Am I just rambling here?

I think everyone can enjoy games, what we lack is accessibility to the gameplay (less fiddly controls to perform functions) and a wider and perhaps more mature content set (no? a shooter with burly men and only you can save the world? how original...).

Let's push more games into mainstream. Go Buzz! Go Singstar! Go Brain Training! Go.. Peggle? (It really is awesome)

EA defending developers and games

Yes it's true, EA has stepped up and defended Bioware's Mass Effect (a quality game like few others) and requested that Fox corrects their slanderous lies about their product.

Not only is this an action I can endorse and be happy about, media should never try to censure other media, but it is also a sharp kick in the teeth to all those hardcore gamers out there that haven't quite understood that companies like EA do a lot of good for the industry. Regardless of what you think of them. Don't believe me? Who else could say this to Fox? http://kotaku.com/348187/ea-calls-fox-out-on-insulting-mass-effect-inaccuracies
And for that matter, who else (yes I know activision-blizzard can, but they're hardly a month old company) could manufacture a product like spore?

Lets applaud EA and hope they win against the ignorant media censureship of Fox, then we can discuss originality and innovation. Let's win recognition first.

Feedback and rewards in games

I’ve had a few comments asking about game design jargon. Namely what feedback and rewards are, in a recent blog I used Assassins Creed to prove a point about how important feedback is (what would Altair be without the accurate climbing animations?).
I only want to have to write this post once so I’m writing it in English.

Feedback is the single most important factor for creating FUN in a game. Really, it is. Don’t believe me? Let me explain:

When a player interacts with the game that interaction much be shown, if the player does not see or hear what they did they wont understand that they did anything at all and stop trying to do it. Simple eh? It means that anything you do must have an effect, and it must be a relevant effect. This applies to everything in a game, from jumping and shooting to solving the puzzles and completing the game. The word feedback is usually applied to mechanical events (rock hits ground, pistol fired, foot placed on floor etc). But this is a form of reward, actually the type of reward that matters most; When you defeat a boss or finish a level you expect there to be some kind of reward, if there is none you might feel cheated and not want to play another one. But if you lack feedback from your actions nothing in the game will feel worthwhile. If you press jump and the avatar does nothing, or something less then what you expect, you’ll most likely think the controller or the game is broken.

There are as many opinions about good design as there are designers, but so far I’ve yet to hear anyone propose that feedback is in any way less then essential. That’s why its called feedback and not reward, though it actually is the same thing.

Rewards do not have to be tangible (gold coins or a wolf pelt), in the real world most rewards are soft values. A smile or a handshake is often more rewarding then winning a few bucks. This applies to games as well, some designers just seem to forget or are unaware (read: incompetent). These soft values are how we create the feeling of the game. Making sure that jumping in Mario games or climbing in Assassins Creed feels right usually means making sure that the feedbacks, or rewards, are logical and in scale with the action (leap of faith must feel more rewarding and therefore give more feedback/reward then jumping).

Now you know how feedback and rewards are linked together I thought I’d end this short text with a real problem for modern games today:

Jumping in a cartonish game, for example Mario or Jak & Daxter, feels exhilarating because the reward, or feedback, is much more then humans anticipate. This is why its fun.
But in a realistic game, such as Assassins Creed or Gear of War, the feedback must be precisely what humans expect or the illusion of realistic human characters is broken.
So how do we make that as fun?… :)

Geek culture

This is a repost of a earlier blog from a previous system.

Ever get the feeling that game developers are geeks? “Duh!” right? Well, I’m a game developer, I’m not a geek, and I am seriously starting to wonder how much the geek culture is holding back gaming.

Woke up this morning and thought about every single console game I have ever finished, they aren’t many, and you know what? I used a walk through every time… Every time?!?!

Yep, I haven’t completed a single console game on my own. I have finished a lot of PC games though.

But this got me thinking, now I am not really a hardcore gamer. But in the eyes of my very casual gamer friends I am super hardcore. I’ve played video games since I was six, as an adult I even work with video games, doesn’t get much more hardcore. So why haven’t I even finished a console game? The answer took eluded me for some time, but after a bowl of cellulose “stay-fit flakes” I asked my non-gamer girlfriend and to her the answer was obvious; they’re too hard.

But I’m a game developer! And I’ve played video games for fifteen years! Her answer was a little too shocking for me to bear. But after a few minutes the idea didn’t sound that absurd at all.

So what if games are too hard for me? What does this have to do with geek culture? Well think about whom the geeks are; almost by definition the players who adhere to geek culture are the hardcore gamers. These people don’t mess around, they break games faster then I heat a microwave pizza. These are the people who want games that offer them challenges that they have a hard time overcoming.

This means that because games are catering to the geek culture games are hard as hell. But guess why I play games with a walkthrough? I find most games challenging enough anyway, I want to experience a game. I don’t want to grind it to death to finish it (the story in FF12 seems to be good, it’s just too bad I will NEVER have enough time to grind for 100+ hours…) I just want to play.

Wake up developers! If we continue to cater to the geek culture, we will get amazingly hard games with incestuous internal logic guaranteed to turn off all casual and non gamers.

Look at the market right now, income for every major publishing house is up. But so are the prices, only Nintendo seems to be able to increase the amount of actual players, and they are really doing a poor job at supplying games for them.

Our market will crash if we don’t embrace games as a sport and as an art. Developers should know better.

The first step in doing this; don’t force players to assume geek culture just to play your game! Keep them simple, allow gamers to choose how hard the challenge is, and for gods sake don’t make the controls harder then they need to be.