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…

Weekly rant

Blizzard VP says that players would feel cheated if they introduced micropayments in World of Warcraft. This is about as dumb a report as I’ve ever seen… NO? Really? Why would they feel cheated just because they spent $300+ grinding to earn their epic gear and along comes a spoiled kid n00b and buys a complete set his first day.Why would they feel cheated? Just the fact that Blizzards VP actually had to say this says a lot about the normal level of awareness about game design.
I know that many companies are only just waking up to the fact that more designers are needed to spot these problems early on. But I am still astounded each time someone excretes one of these ideas.

Yahtzee stole the show at GDC with another brilliant Zero Punctuation. Yes it’s crass, yes it’s cheap, but he’s also right on the money and one should never underestimate the power of really short entertainment.

Another line of work

So, after encouragement from Ole Herbjørnsen at Funcom, I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again. This time with the aim to max level a character and analyze the various systems I find on the way.

Now I’ve played WoW at least four times before. And the start of this character was no different, it was boring. Really boring. But then at around level 15 something previously unknownst to me happened.
I was enjoying myself!
Not the actual gameplay though, the fighting and grinding was still boring. But I started enjoying traveling through the world. The world itself in WoW is quite beautiful with it’s five year old graphical style and the vastness and continuity of it really got to me. But instances and fighting… Let me give you an example:

Last night I had planned with a few of my friends to play Wailing Caverns, a horde instance in the barrens. It is the second instance for players playing the more colorful horde side of WoW.

But after dinner I found myself procrastinating, a lot. Even doing dishes!
Eventually my girlfriend Caroline prodded me:
“Weren’t you supposed to play an instance with the guys?”
“…yes…” *sigh* “do I have to?”
“erh… I’m not sure you should pay for this game.”

I did play WC, I did enjoy doing something with the guys. But I’m glad I have a few hours yet before I have to do it again. The basic gameplay in MMO’s has got to change. Not many people can actually enjoy the one-click combat.

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.

Media being educated, about media?

When I saw the Fox broadcast starring Geoff Keighley, a utter quack and a very biased reporter I was outraged. Media condemning media based on complete ignorance? I foresaw a new age of darkness ahead of us.

But then a light appeared at the sky, gamers and Internet freaks mobilized and did this:
They spammed the quacks book with poor ratings and included reviews that where clever satire of her own blatantly dumb remarks on the Fox broadcast. While I doubt that this will have any effect on any of the involved parties (perhaps Geoff will receive more love from the community for some time) it will almost certainly be visible in some media. Some, maybe not mainstream but it’s a step in the right direction.

I can’t endorse destroying the sales of a persons livelihood because of stupid remarks that person made but I feel proud to be part of the community that actually does something about what they see in the world. Voices for the people are heard on the Internet, we might not be entering dark ages just yet.

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.

New blog format

A new blog format and away we go…This is my fourth attempt to find a blog or content management system that I can actually use on my own site. So far not even my own code has worked up to speed. Let’s see if google can meet my demands through blogger.

Soon to be updated.