Coop wrong for its purpose?

Coop play is used to let players play multiplayer without the stress of competition. But does coop serve this purpose?Most coop games simply duplicate the singleplayer gameplay mechanics to create coop play, this technique inherits the problem of competition because the players are now competing for the same objectives or, worse, taking seperate paths as in Gears of War which makes play singleplay but with extra penalties of death. A more interesting use of coop are the paralell objectives for squads in Resistance 2 online multiplayer or the paralell objectives on battlefield in the upcoming RTS Battle Forge. Perhaps paralell multiplayer is a better goal for cooperative play. What do you think?

Will Home give the PS3 an edge?

Home has launched. It's in beta but still released for all PSN users. The launch is covered in bugs but Sony has already come on record with a release plan of fixes. But will Home lift the Playstation 3 to new heights? Well Home in itself is not much more then a glorified chat client. So it's kind of surprising to find that Sony has released home without any real content... There's great avatar customization and a few games. But not much to look at, no game rooms, not even any real content to purchase... It's more or less an empty store/club. Which is more then mildly depressing.

Sony has once again released a platform and forgotten to give the developers a heads up.

When can we expect to see some cool game rooms released then? There is no word... Sony is shooting itself in the foot. Content is king, it's because of compelling content we're supposed to buy a PS3 from the start.

This is like the Nintendo Wii all over again, I loved my Wii before I sold it, used to boot it up and play with the menu for a few seconds several times a week. But I never did anything else.

Today I'm booting up my PS3 each Thursday to download some more clothes to LBP (which I still play whenever I have a friends nearby) but other then that.. I checked the weather last week?..

Sony, get smart really quick. This isn't hard. You create platforms, for them to sell you need talented developers to fill them with content. If you really can't think this far ahead maybe you should just hand over the Playstation brand to Microsoft. I would hate that, but at least developers would have a go at the platform.

Accessability 2

A lot of core gamers and core game developers are, more or less, opposing accessibility design for the reasons that making a game accessible "dumbs down" the game or "makes the game shallow".  Players and developers pushing for accessible games claim that this is not the case. Well let's just set the record straight with some quick analysis: Accessability does dumb down gameplay and does make games more shallow.  But, this is only true for a very small part of the target demographic. This is only true for the power- or core-gamers that fully learn the micro strategies of playing a game and then use that knowledge to play on a macro strategic level. For these players games will become to simple or shallow and certainly dumbed down if we make the games more accessible.

But how many are the core gamers? We have absolutely no idea. But paying core gamers we do know. Very few games, ever, have sold more then 10 million units. But games aimed at the hardcore crowds do tend to sell close to ten million (close in the millions that is, Halo 3 sold 7 million I believe). That means that there are about 10 million core players that really don't need more accessible games. Doesn't that make accessability pointless? No. Certainly not.

How many paying players are there? We don't have a clue. What we do know is that the previous generation of home consoles (dominated by the PS2) sold over 200million units. Even if every single gamer bought two consoles that still 100million home consoles... On the handheld side the GBA sold about that many units alone. So for every core gamer there are about 10 less then core gamers actively paying for consoles and games, maybe just not as much.

This is the crowd that developers are aiming for when they're focusing on accessibility. This does not mean that all games should be accessible. After all, selling 10 million units of a game is plenty. But selling hardcore multiplayer shooters alone as the industry is doing today is simply incredibly stupid from an economical perspective. No wonder the Wii is selling so well, what else are these gamers playing? Online games some of them for sure (like the 11 million current subscribers to World of Warcraft).

So have no illusions, games are a low entry entertainment. Most gamers don't want to learn how to play a game. They don't want to compete or be the best. They simply want to play. Sound odd? Think about why PvE is more popular then PvP in MMO's or why Multiplayer didn't explode before the instant respawn became standard or why coop shooters are doing better then deathmatch shooters.

Next time I write about accessibility I'll adress what low entry entertainment really is and how to focus on it.

The state of PC gaming

"PC gaming is dead" has been the mantra of hundreds of developers for the last 3 years now, and as more and more titles move on to consoles it seems like open platforms have been abandoned due to rampant piracy and non-existing demand... Wait! What am I saying? Rampant piracy AND non existing demand? Impossible. Rampant piracy can only exist with rampant demand, why else would anyone do it?

This week a couple of publishers/developers have gone on the record to say that, in fact, PC gaming isn't dead... It's actually at an all time high. With more then 20 million westerners playing MMO's each week and a hell of a lot more then that playing online games in general PC gaming still far outnumbers all console platforms excepting the PS2.

So what the hell are developers whining about? The answer: non existent sales. Believed by many to be due to rampant piracy. But this is about as intelligent as a doctor that your hair falling out is due to lack of calcium (or whatever) while he's blasting you with radiation.

Let's analyse what the hell is happening with piracy and see if we can find any advantages that may sway the public away from buying games:

Non pirate game:

  • It will cost you $50.
  • it will (with a massive margin compared to DLs) cost you a trip to a store or a few days while you wait for the game to arrive.
  • It will take time and irritation to install (install, serial, download patches)
  • You'll need the damn CD/DVD to play it (does everyone even have an optical drive nowadays?)

Pirated game:

  • It will cost you very little (Internet bandwidth mostly)
  • It will take less time then a trip to the store
  • It will install easily
  • You'll never wait in line or be left without it on launch day
  • It'll be easy to install
  • Once installed you can play it whenever you feel like it by just clicking the icon.

I don't even know what to say to this. This is the dumbest way to market something, ever. It's like selling coke is 1CC bottles that require tools to open them. And what do publishers do to stop piracy? They either hunt down the END USERS of the products and slap them with subpoenas or they install ever worse DRM software making games even harder to use.

Now, I'm not a genius in any way. But anyone can see where this is heading. Piracy will never end while publishers continue this crazy blitzkrieg against their customers.

Hey publishers, need ideas about how to make money from games again? These are just some short idea, I bet a lot of smart people can think of even more ways:

Tips for publishers:

  • Only sell high value content in stores (boxed content with extras, more content or just a really nice box)
  • Sell ALL games online. There are already services for this, all you need to do is give them a master copy of the game.
  • Let gamers register their games for something worthwhile (all multiplayer require an account, don't be asses though, let customers be able to use their google accounts, open ID accounts and so on. Oh, and make games available for re-download to those accounts)
  • Don't go after end user pirates, that just sows seeds of distrust. When a pirated version of a game is logged online, email the customer informing them that their issue is illegal and give them a credible reason, and easy way, for buying the real thing. How about they cash in but don't need anything else, they'll just get an automatically updated serial and the optional box in the mail.
  • Learn from other entertainment industries. There are hundreds of possible tie-in products available from toy makers, novelists, children book writers, painters, t-shirt producers and so on. Sign on with a few, it doesn't matter if you don't make enormous amounts on the first deal, get the ball rolling and the cash will start flowing.
  • Open API for your games information. Most of the successful web apps available today use open API's so that other services can exchange information with them. Why not in games? Should I, as a player, really need to find my online friends AGAIN for every single online game I play? They all use the same mail addresses anyway. And I can't even search through my Gmail contacts damn it.

These are just a few suggestions, feel free to pitch in with even more and send this to a publisher near you. Maybe someone will have an epiphany and realise "ooh, keeping customers happy is a good thing!".

Anticipating the quality of Starcraft 2

May the Blizzard fan-boy storm commence. Starcraft 2 is coming our way. We don't know when but the holiday season 2009 seems a good guess. It's almost 2 years after the first showing, characteristic of Blizzard, it's the right time of year and the game seems quite polished today. Letting Blizzard add the final twinkle in the year to come. South Korea and fans around the globe collectively shot their load as the first footage was revealed. Starcraft 2 looked great from the start and seems to hold true to the original. But is this really that odd? The game has been in production for what? 6 years? Anything less then a game of the year would be incompetent on Blizzards part.

So how do Blizzard ensure such quality in their products? Actually the secret isn't very secret. It's just not customary in the industry today. They take longer to make the games. That's it. They don't add more because they have time, oh no. They just take longer making the same features, and therefore make them a hell of a lot better.

Games aren't movies, we don't have a near perfect theoretical model for how to make them, neither in production nor result. And we certainly don't have expensive rental of equipment and locations. What we do have is expensive personnel costs. But this is quite strange, games cost a lot of money to buy. They don't cost a lot to make compared to movies. Why aren't more publishers making games the slow and steady Blizzard way? Because we're still not making any money of of merchandise. Which is odd since the merch that does exist is selling, and fast.

Basically, the industry has a lot to learn from Blizzard. And most of it isn't about creating games, it's about how to run a company and an interest. Games take time, therefore we must position them as long term developments and sales. Merchandising and expansions are a must. Just as longer development time with less features, we know it pays off. Just look at Blizzard.

Adding the fun 3 - cognitive models

Cognitive models are the basic blocks of understanding we use the deal with the world around us. Don't worry, I'm about to explain just what that means. When we look at something or hear something we try to understand what it is by summing up it's parts. Using the smallest parts we already understand we match what we're looking at to the part we understand, do they overlap? If not we use other parts until we find one that does. If we don't have one then we think of a category of parts to put the new thing in and call that a part we understand.

Example: If we see a bicycle tire for the first time to try to understand what it is by matching it to things we already understand. If we know what a wheel is we'll call the bicycle tire a wheel. If we don't know that a tire is we might not be able to match it to anything and will therefore sum it up as well as we can: "a round metal and rubber thing".

When we have a lot of there parts we'll start to see that some things are made up from parts. For example a tree is made up from wood and leaves. And a car from metal, wheels and an engine. But to perceive these more complex things we can't keep using the parts that they are made up.

This would demand to much of our perception, our minds would be overheated immediately. Human beings can keep 7 +- 2 (ranging from 5 to 9 depending on a range of factors) things in our awareness at any one time. This means that it's possible to understand 7+-2 things at the same time. If you see a car and can only understand the parts, you'll freeze up due to overloading before you get past the car door.

Cognitive models are a way for human beings to abstract things, give them a name and remove the unnecessary information that isn't required to understand it. So I can add my wheel and engine and metal compartment parts together to form the model Car. I then place all the cars I see into that model and now I understand what cars are. At least until I see a completely different car.

Everything can be, and is, understood in this way. Try looking at something and looking at higher or lower layers of complexity.

Keyboard - buttons - plastic - rectangle shape.

Keyboard + computer part + writing interface + hand extension.

Pretty easy to understand huh? It gets a bit harder to think of things such as army maneuvers or Darwinian evolution as simple cognitive models but this is what makes humans work. Without cognitive models we would be very limited indeed. And we still are in some respects, to understand new things we compare them to already complex models. When they fully, or partly, overlap we categorize them together. But this means a lot of parts that don't belong get added to the model. This is called prejudice and is a huge problem for humans, no matter how open minded they are.

Next up, I'll explain how Raph Koster's theory of fun explains what fun is by using cognitive models.

The Now Habit

I'm reading a book about how to overcome procrastination, the Now Habit, and it is leading me to profound and intriguing insights into myself. Why I procrastinate and how I work as a person. It's an odd sensation but not an unpleasant one. So to any procrastinators out there I definitely recommend this book, it's thin and a fast read. Don't think It'll change your life though, it will just change your understanding of life. If you really want to be more productive instead read Getting Things Done and get a Remember The Milk account right away.

Adding the fun part 2

Our limited awareness Everything around us is competing for our attention at all times. Things that are large, have bright colors and move quickly usually take up most of our attention. This is because we, as humans, can only perceive a set amount of things at a time. Basically, we only have a bit of attention and we fill it up really fast.

We know a lot more about attention then most people think, read up on cognitive psychology if your interested in more details. In short, attention is limited and has a set of rules for what is more important to be aware of. Most of these rules we learn as we grow (speeding cars will hurt you if they hit you) some are based on instincts (sharp or slithering animals are not to be trifled with).

Thankfully we have cognitive models to help use make the most of our attention.

What are cognitive models? I'll get into that next.

Adding Fun part 1

Preface, first draft How does one write a book anyhow? I have no idea, I've tried it before but I've never gotten past the first 20 or so pages and my narrative arcs are just crap. But this is different, I hope, this is a book without dramatic narrative. In fact, this is a book about design. And I can't be more passionate about a subject (after all, sex is an activity).

Design was for a long time the process to get things to work, engineering design, or the process to make something aesthetically beautiful, artistic design. But today these fields are merging and are joined by the less respected but at least as important field of human interaction design, the process of designing things so that they work with humans attached at some point or end. Basically making sure someone can use the damned thing.

This is where I come in. Engineering design I leave to the engineers, aesthetic design I leave to the people that can draw. But designing for humans has become my calling and I will in these series of articles or possibly book-to-be define and teach you about my theory for adding fun to any product.

I will use a lot of practical examples from a variety of products but will center mostly around games. As they are the most obvious products that need to add fun.

Next up: a short brief on Raph Koster's Excellent: A Theory of Fun which explains the beginning of what fun is.

Important read for designers

Tim Shaefer has just released his complete first design document for his 98 super hit adventure game Grim Fandango. If your an aspiring designer or a full designer this is something you should read. It might be great, or might be crap, that's for you to decide. But it is the very successful work of an acomplished designer and we can all learn from it.

Mirrors edge is fantastic

I just tried the Mirrors Edge demo and before I say anything else: if you can play the demo and haven't: PLAY IT NOW. Believe me, it's worth it. And yes, it is that good. Mirrors edge uses a first person camera with innovative gameplay and an extremely stylized environment to bring us the feeling of being a runner. A sort of lawless messenger service that hiden on the rooftops of a sparkling white totally oppressed city.

At first the game is disconcerting but in less then a minute of gameplay I was flying over the rooftops in a state of flow. The game is challenging, fun and beautiful. The controls are fantastic and the sense of immersion is quite beyond anything else I've experienced.

I have one problem that I intend to discuss with a friend of mine who happens to be a producer at Dice. The tutorial is pretty hard and therefore setup with restart points conveniently spaced in between maneuvers. But apparently Dice has either not played this part at all themselves, or their designers are so god awful bad that they didn't see that if a player fails at doing something the player has to watch an NPC doing it. Each time. And the NPC takes about 3 times as long to do it as you do, and there is no way to skip it. In short: I fell of a pipe several times during the tutorial, which led to me sitting for 5 minutes watching an NPC walk across the same pipe with close to 1 minute of gameplay spaced in between. That's just unforgivable. Well, at least I never have to play the tutorial again.

If I were you, I'd buy this game. Personally, I can't afford it because I bought the PS3 to play it on... Catch 22 anyone?

Ratchet and Clank: Quest for booty micro review

Waiting for the Mirrors Edge demo to finish downloading I decided to try out the latest Ratchet and Clank adventure, quest for booty. QoB is supposed to be a short and sweet downloadable game that will be a fun expansion to play for previous fans of the series and a simple introduction for players who've yet to experience Ratchet and Clank.

I'm probably neither of these groups since I have played some Ratchet and Clank tools of destruction but never actually bought a Ratchet and Clank game. I am however a big fan of platformers and Tools of Destruction really gave me a taste for the gameplay.

QoB starts the player off with a great intro sequence and superb voiceacting with some geeky humor. It looks stunning and the level of graphical and sound polish is just amazing. QoB is a very sleek product... Which makes the bad side so much more dissapointing. You see, those were the good points. The Control doesn't feel sleek at all, there is no introduction and it certainly isn't pick up and play. In some platform elements (climbing comes to mind) the controls are just wonky. Jumping is jerky and collision isn't obvious because of the cinematic camera, I find myself hitting air in front of enemies or walking into fire because the damn camera is trying to be Gears of War.

Level design is also pretty bad. At least for the first few levels. The pirate cruisers at the start of the game are just copied and not very interesting. When I land on an island I have no idea where to go because the ultra-realistic scenary doesn't give any hints and I still can't see much because of the camera. Maybe there is a map or a way to look around but I still haven't figured out all the control yet. This is a downloadable short and fast game, I didn't intend to do anything but just pick up the controller and play for an hour.

To summerize this game is actually quite good. It's funny and plays really well. It just dissapoints to no end when you've played Tools of Destruction, why does a game with more time for polish play worse?! If the control is exactly the same, games have moved on, why hasn't the controls been improved?

Little Big Planet will sell PS3s

The Playstation 3 is far behind in this console generations sales figures. In the next two months we'll see if the PS3 will start to catch up or if it's doomed to end up third. Why this year? Because if the release of games such as LBP and resistance 2, motorstorm 2 can't shift the PS3 nothing ever will. It's up against hard competition with the Xbox360's new interface experience and video streaming functionality.

Personally I think this holiday season will see the climax of the playstation 3's sales, I don't think Sony will be able to beat Microsoft this generation but they might pull even.

How can I be so sure Little Big Planet will sell consoles? Well, besides analysts predictions and the millions of people who've still not upgraded from PS2 I just bought my own PS3, because no games until LBP were incentive enough for me to buy such an expensive machine.

How about you?

The iPod experiment 1

I'm a game designer and that means all other media are secondary interest at best. But music is ever present and a great help during the workday and daily commute. Now I've never been an iPod owner but I have owned a few mp3 players and a truck load of Sony Ericsson walkman phones, but none of them have ever been good enough to continue using. So with my new paycheck in hand I thought I'd hit two birds with one stone and buy an iPod touch, hopefully it will solve my music issues and allow me to play iPhone games as well!

Of I went to the local store and purchased the 8GB version (I'm cheap, let's say no more about it). Immediatly I was blown away by the packaging and ease of use. The interface is brilliant and the interaction with my PC at work was simples then most USB drives. Itunes is a terrible program to work with but the iTunes store worked well and I has my first music, video podcasts and games up and running in a few minutes.

The sound was excellent and the video fantastic, wifi surfing was awesome and applications were plentiful even though I find myself lacking offline support for things like rememberthemilk and google calendar... Why should I need to use apples software when there are better products available? From partners in other software genres nonetheless.

I was enjoying myself on the way home, interaction with my iPod was fun and simple and the video and music kept me going strong. The simple 3d racer I'd downloaded worked great and was actually kinda fun. Probably mostly from control novalty but hey, Wii right?

It's when I got I was annoyed. I could sync with iTunes at home because I already had synced at work... That means all my music that I've collected over the past 10 years is forfeit... Or I could delete everything on my iPod and start again... Why apple, would you build such stupid limitation into your device? I'm using the same damn iTunes account on both machines so security or licensing issues don't come into it at all. This is just plain dumb.

Well, I've no deleted my iPod and started over.

The experiment continues...

World of Goo review

I've just played World of Goo, the indie title by developer 2D boy that does everything right! The mechanics of World of Goo have more in common with building sand castles then any other computer game and as such is more of a toy then a game. But this is not a bad thing. To be accurate I have to say that I've only just finished the first chapter of the "story campaign" but so far this game does everything right as far as game design is concerned.

It's accessible, simply and easy yet engaging and engrossing. You can jump in to play for a few minutes or play levels of increasing complexity for hours. It's also a feast for the eyes and ears and has a lot of humor.

My only issue with the game is that it's fullscreen, it wants to take up all of my attention while playing. And though this might be most effective and certainly the first choice of most players it's quite odd to play such a light title without the ability to keep IMing on the side. I do that in WoW, why not in WoG?

Watch a video of the gameplay, if you find it even mildly interesting or seemingly fun you'll really enjoy the title. And please, BUY this game. It's cheap, it's indie and it doesn't use DRM. Support a just cause by getting your money's worth.


The strangeness of a mans mind

In the particular case: my own. I was on my way home Saturday night when I started chatting to a young lady next to me on the bus. it turned out she lived near me and was giving me her number when I stopped her and insisted on getting her address instead. 

I have absolutely no idea why I thought this was such a grand idea at the time, but somewhat reluctantly and surprised she gave me her address, we hugged and went our separate ways. Now of course, there is no way for me to find this girls number, I could simply spam her front door but that's not really something you want to do in this age of communication.

Why did I think this was a good idea? I have no idea. It was certainly a strange thing to do judging from her confused expression when she gave me her address.

This leads me to believe that trying to find new ways to look at the world have somehow gone to my head and I am now to far gone to return to earth. Or even more probably: I'm just ranting and will post something serious later on.

Objectivity versus subjectivity

A colleague of mine presented me with a philosophical question at lunch yesterday. She said that since humans can never experience each others emotions because our experiences are subjective, created by our brains, based on out previous experiences. But this is only partly true. Her example has using as an example that we can never be sure that one persons red is the same as another persons perception of red. Your red might well be the color I perceive as blue, but I might still call it red.

Well here's my take on the problem:

The question is a bit stupid from the start. Colors as we know them are constructed by our minds from the wavelengths of light that is bounced of different surfaces. This means that the same wavelengths hit all of us. This doesn't prove that we experience the same thing though.

In certain fields colors are used to give people a certain emotion, in art, design, marketing, this is a very powerful tool. And it works for all people, with different values given to different colors depending on cultural status.

Now here's the twist:

Color has an evolutionary function. We use color to distinguish what is good and what is bad (green is attractive to all people, as is red, while yellow and black stripes usually mean bad things). This means that our emotional response to color is not random and far from incidental. It is a part of the natural selection that created humankind.

So in my opinion color is really the judgement of our emotional response to a certain wavelength. We don't need to perceive the same red, because we do perceive the same emotion. Color could therefore be added by the mind afterwords. Or in other words: After you see a color the mind gives you feeling to each color, that feeling is your perceived color, and that feeling is measurable to some extent, and known to be alike for most people.

Hard to follow? Am I wrong? Then shoot me down in the comments, I'll respond to all serious comments.