October 21, 2012

Outside the Usual

While I like to say I dedicate almost every waking moment to furthering my personal goals of making my next game and related I do occasionally do other things. Considering this blog is equally about me and what I do I thought today would be a good time to ignore the 10 other posts I have in draft and let you know what I've been up to on a personal level for the last few days.

There's an interesting instrument, only 2 of its kind in the world, one is in a museum and the other one is in a band not horrifically far from me. This instrument works by emitting an electromagnetic field that produces a solid sound which can then be modified based on what's in the EMF. So essentially you wave your hands in the air and it makes music. I thought it was very clever despite how old it is, predating even the earliest synths it's from back in the 20's or something like that. It took some effort but I managed to find out exactly how it was made and how it works because, you guessed it, I was arrogant enough to think I could make a better one. So I made some modifications and updates to the idea then built a brand new one with a much larger field then put it on its side. I then borrowed a friends copy of dance central and went crazy. The music of dance is something uniquely interesting, and the best part is some of the best music wasn't choreographed at all but rather the stuff most people do at a rave. I did some jumping and some hand waving some head bobbing you know the drill. Now I have to find a way to attach some real speakers, a slight redesign oversight, and an output to computer.

Which got me thinking. Why not implement it through computer? Imagine what I could do and how the field could be modified or interpreted so many mods and plugins for a uniquely new kind of program. Perhaps even removing the instrument and implementing a camera interface with some kind of depth perception? Imagine making dubstep by dancing, it would be so perfect? For clarification right now it kind of sounds like a half way between classical and early synth. I put in a delay knob and a BPM and an optional repeat, which can kinda make things a little trippy if you slow it down or absolutely hyper if you turn it up. It's not a terribly complex device, and the real time consuming part was just those 3 features. Essentially it's designed to recognize changes in EM field which means because no two people have the same EM field which we do all output then no two people can play the same song either and have it sound the same. Added to this is that it is also designed then to output a constant stream and or tone so BPM doesn't exist, and it's hard to create a delay for something designed to react immediately. The repeat was also a serious pain. In the end though just these three things completely change how you can use the device. BPM though for the record while it comes in heavily for repeat does also alter regular play which is to say if your bpm is set low swiping your hand through the air might sound like a harp or cello if it's set high it'll be more of a quick violin. If it were altered to something more like drums it'd be more obvious. There are some default alterations for tone and pitch shift but I haven't really figured a way to make that part dynamic yet.

The plus side to all this is I might revolutionize a field I'm not even really interested in because I got bored on a weekend. Imagine if that's how some of the greatest things ever invented happened that way...  Can't think of anything specific but seriously consider it anyway.

October 19, 2012

The Final Frontier of Gaming

There are ARG's in the world today. An alternate reality game is one designed in which real players take on adventures in reality while adhering to set rules and fiction. Though clearly it's limited to what people are actually capable of. The limitations are fairly serious right out and show heavily when you're dealing with what would otherwise be considered NPC's, the real people you end up talking to that are meant to be fictional characters. For example if you're taking on a role that requires you to interact with a leader of a resistance assuming he isn't already flooded by other players and is a decent enough actor to be somewhat believable he's still probably all by himself, you don't have the kind of support team you'd expect from a rebel leader.

What I'm getting as is we're already trying to fake ourselves into what we hope gaming will be one day. When video games finally start to shape and alter our reality. It might bleed through at first as useful devices that alter our reality for actually beneficial things. There are some such devices already being tested, such as finding the price of an item in store or identifying a building or structure, doing research on an object automatically through the net just by looking at it. Then it'll shift as we find ways to use it for entertainment. Eventually it'll come to a point in which the lines between fantasy and reality don't actually exist anymore as they'll be one and the same. This is a good thing for the most part I think assuming it doesn't end up killing us as we inevitably die in the fantasy.

Just imagine what games will look like in a century, going from virtual reality to altered reality and beyond. What kind of game could you make and play if you were completely unrestricted?
also, perfect timing for a joke

October 15, 2012

How I Review

Everyone has their own set of rating systems. Some people like the 5 scale or the 10 scale and some rank beauty separate from sexy/hotness. I for one rank everything on a 100 scale. I pick 10 facets of the subject and put each on a ten scale then rank away on each then combine the cumulative score. Five primary and five secondary attributes are responsible for the ten facets so when need be I can put it on a five scale for someone looking for that score. When I'm shortening it I generally will just divide by ten and round to the nearest half down. The importance of the primary attributes shouldn't be overlooked. The reason I separate them is so that when working on a five scale the important parts get across because the secondary attributes don't matter much under or in comparison to the primaries.

For example one primary attribute I commonly use is replayability in a game while a secondary that's related to it is how long the game lasts. It doesn't matter so much if the game only takes four hours or a whopping one hundred hours if the game is only good for one playthrough. That's something that comes across a lot in games like call of duty in which the campaign is usually a good score but the replay is next to zero. Thankfully I give out separate scores for single and multiplayer because I found it's just wrong to compare the two or have them share a score. This is also becoming a little more relevant as different teams are sometimes and increasingly more often responsible for the two separately. Other common attributes are things like difficulty, not only overall but also in transition, is there a specific area where the difficulty is substantially different either easier or harder, so consistency is also an attribute. Though not all of these are always translatable between all games so sometimes I have to re-work them though I have a base set for each of the 7 primary genre's.

The one thing I'm known for with my reviews is brutality. I never go easy on anything, including myself, because we deserve not only honesty but we deserve the best and if we give away these good scores the developers aren't under any pressure to do better they think "oh we did good guess that was enough". The highest rating I've ever given a game was an 83, and it's also the only one over 80, as of yet I have never come across a game to rate or warrant in the 90's. If there's one thing I have experience in it's games, which in itself should be enough to be a fairly trustworthy review to begin with. I've played in the thousands if not tens of thousands of games over the years and beat them all. Going as far back as commodore and early atari's that still had keyboards through modern day, the only consoles I haven't owned since the 90's aside from arcade machines are the DS, Wii, and Vita and even so I've still played them. I might as well be a gaming machine myself. Add to that the fact I have professional experience in analysis and related fields I'd say I'm prime to dish out a review.

How do you review? What is your preference on rating scales? Can you stick a piece of gum in your mouth and not chew it?


I've talked about inspiration before, it can come from anywhere and everywhere in all manner of contexts. At one point I even saw the face of a turian in my shower curtain which lead me to believe it's possible that's where the guys from mass effect came up with the idea. The important thing is being able to recognize inspiration when it comes to you and being able to use it accordingly. For now I'm discussing a popular form of inspiration in which we look for it in places we know it exists, such as similar forms of media that we're aiming for. A painter may look at other paintings from other artists to try and find their inspiration or to find a new one based on theirs or somehow connected. Directors may watch movies, just as writers will read books. Thus game developers will likely play other video games and see what they like in the game and try to understand what idea the concept stems from, what the source of it was and the steps taken to get to it. In effect it's a slight step below reverse engineering.

I recently talked about the core emotion of a game. The emotion however is not usually what the game is centered around, however it's in the first circle of primary things that all subsequent arms of the game are developed on. The very central core idea is a very specific concept a genesis point if you will. While the story of dante and thus likely the game are based on love it's usually not so straight forward. For example while I sit here drinking some root beer and thinking how long it'd been since I hat a float I find myself designing a random game that's seemingly unrelated and yet somehow it fits perfectly. It's an epic adventure of a hero in search of treasure. He'd seen it once before as a child and has been consumed by it ever since. He is determined to find it yet his desire has made him lost in a foreign land. He must make allies and fight the defenders of the treasure. You can see how the idea could then spiral off into specific abilities or skills, it would likely be an RPG, and in the end you'd probably get the treasure, and since it's me who's making it I'd probably make it some kind of golden milkshake or something. I'd probably have that in there somewhere at least even if it wasn't the final treasure. The core emotion of the game would probably be lust, which would be an interesting idea to play on as other side quests and NPC's try to steal your desire and make you quit your quest for the treasure. Of course it could always be re-written so that you're defending the treasure or avenging your family who was killed over it, any number of ways, but you'd see that in all of them my root beer float has become this treasure and the whole game is about getting it in some manner. I'd likely get you to empathize with the character though a sad story of how much he's sacrificed for what he wants and what he's lost as a byproduct, inflecting that all he really wants is to be happy and that the only way that can happen is to get the treasure. Cue violins. Then the sequel would be a perversion of the concept likely he'd have to sacrifice the treasure to save the world or something and it would suck and that's why it would fail.

What happens most often with games that fail is that they lose sight of what the game was really about to begin with, this includes sequels. Though in fairness complex sources of inspiration are easy to lose sight of, making it all the more important to clearly convey thoughts and ideas early on so the source can never be lost. This is because the core ideas are so clearly tied to the source and it lives on in every facet of the game from that point that even if it were cut out you could tell from the pieces around it what it should be. I'll remind you that everything can be an inspiration if you look for it, this even includes the search for inspiration being an inspiration in itself.

October 13, 2012

Engineering Emotion

A sign of a good game is often recognized in a players emotional attachment. Many of the "Top X" lists of games all have those highly emotional intense moments that stick out as the most memorable. Look at a random "best of" or similar list and see how many you know and what comes to mind first. Regardless of your personal view on a given list or game within it certain games pop up on a regular basis. FF7 for example, and a great many people remember when Aeris dies as a key moment in the game and one of the first things they think of when it comes up. That's because the game up until that point had the player building a relationship with the character so her death becomes significant and that emotional bond then gets played on to make the player personally fueled to get revenge or justice what have you.

For me MGS3 was one of the only games that ever brought me to tears, one of the few things in my adult life for that matter, and it can still do it years later. Today I'm looking at how developers exploit human emotion. I'll use MGS3 as my analysis point so if you haven't played it, I suggest you do so then come back and read this, as it will likely contain spoilers.

Before I get in to it I'll take a moment to acknowledge Quantic Dream. If you're unfamiliar with their work I suggest playing heavy rain or viewing their Kara demo on youtube. Their emphasis on emotion in games is unparalleled. Whether this is a good or bad thing is irrelevant compared to the achievements in and of themselves. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future, including two souls and beyond.

Now that you've had a chance to get away and back it's on to the lesson. There's a multitude of ways developers find ways to connect the players with their characters. They often try to get you to empathize with your character laying a foundation to build on so that you think of the character as an extension of yourself. The Mass Effect games do it by allowing you to build the character, the choices are actually yours. While MGS does it through dialog and ICO does it through raw player interaction, and Dante's Inferno does it on story. Granted Dante's Inferno was based on an existing story, but it's for the same reason that the original was such a great story. For those of you unfamiliar Inferno was the first of a 3 part story. Dante takes a journey through hell on a mission to save the soul of his wife which was condemned for his sins. That kind of emotional tie leads you to empathize with Dante and hope he succeeds, and in the game the only way he can do that is through the player. In MGS you can rush right through and get the game done but that's not really the full experience. If you really take your time you find yourself relying on a team who believes in your abilities to save the world from nuclear war during cold war as an American special agent infiltrating Russia. You learn to rely on them for help and advice because they know things you don't, about the enemies you'll be facing, the weapons they'll be using, the environment, how to survive in the wild. In the process you learn a lot about them on a personal level, what they like and dislike, their personalities. You come to understand that they're not just hoping or relying on you, they honestly care that you survive they have real feelings for you.

These emotional bonds develop not only between the characters but with the player as the player is playing both the support and the main character allowing them to empathize in different ways. Which makes even early on the betrayal of a colleague a strike to the heart. You realize there's a complex emotional bond and can't understand why this is happening, making you want answers more than anything. But you have a responsibility to fulfill your duty, and you understand that the betrayal can't go unpunished. Your journey leads down a path of personal development, strength and determination to succeed. With your team firmly behind you every step of the way as you face tougher opponents standing in your way not only to your mission but your personal goals. The little support you get in person instead of over the radio is critical and right when you need it the most. This relief in an extremely stressful situation leads you to almost completely trusting in this additional support. Just when you think it's all over though it's violently ripped away from you as you realize you're all alone in the world under the burden of a secret no one can ever know. It turns out the greatest betrayal against you is the one you didn't see coming, your own. When it's all said and done amidst all the lies and half truths you learn that not only were you not truly betrayed to begin with, but you were in fact betrayed by the ones you've learned to love and the ones you blindly followed but in the end you were tricked into betraying yourself. The fact you're mourning the loss of someone you care about so much is compounded multiple times by the fact that it's your fault, that it was under false pretense, that they knew it was coming and went along with it anyway, and more. You saved the world at the cost of your soul and humanity, how could you ever recover. This highly complex story and set of emotions under the right circumstance can have an extreme effect on the player.

There's a wide variety of emotions though and you can't just explore one. Dead Space for example plays on fear. The developers immediately set off to put the player in a state of fear and keep them there, in the dark, alone, and with little to no resources. It's a struggle for survival in an inhospitable environment against an unknown enemy. One of the main ways they keep the player on edge is with sound. The music of the game is designed to have the player paranoid not only about every corner but out of anything and everything as an enemy could come from anywhere at any time. Regardless of the shadows you see moving in the background or not all it takes is that one note from a violin I believe it is and you're on edge, sometimes for no reason. As you examine the ship and relive the last moments of the people aboard you only sink deeper into this feeling that there's no way out, that you're doomed, how could an entire ship succumb to this and more importantly how could you hope to survive against such a force. You know your death will be violent and your only hope is to press on, and that's all you have is the slight glimmer of hope that just maybe you might survive. That hope in itself also leads to a slight hope that if you could survive maybe your wife could to, maybe she's still hiding somewhere waiting for you.

Look at all your favorite games and see if you can identify the primary emotion of the game. Portal is likely hatred, directed at Glados for making you kill the companion cube and for trying to kill you. Silent Hill 2 is love for a child and doing whatever it takes to save them. Mass Effect is a case of extraordinary circumstance and the ability for the player to imprint themselves on the character. Still it works from a complex emotion in which there's a bit of hatred and desire for revenge and yet it's not the focus. It tries hard to fall into a vague or gray (grey? what's the actual difference?) area and yet I'd have to say it's primary focus is trust. Regardless of your choices you're constantly building trust between you and your crew. That's fairly true of most bioware games which seem to emphasize the importance of the grey area in choice.

This is already a very winded post, so I'll cut it short. Hopefully you managed to gleam that games and emotion go hand in hand and that it can make or break a game.

October 09, 2012

The Importance of Redundancy

Redundancy is a key idea in all games, and more importantly in game development. In the games it's important to have familiar objects, you can't constantly introduce new material to the player for a myriad of reasons simply put only a few select people will continue to play such a game. So whether it's health pickups or weapons you need something the player can recognize and understand quickly to have a framework for the game.

In development redundancy takes on a new form, starting with backups and copies of everything you do, and not just one file here or there but many copies of each version of each thing you do. Sometimes it's necessary to backtrack or gain inspiration from an older iteration which might end up being used in a different game. Then there's always hardware failure to consider, something which I've been struggling with the last few days though thankfully I had the forethought to have copies floating around so I didn't lose any valuable data.

You'd be surprised at how much gets reused in games some times. Sadly you might though in same cases in which a game overuses the same things too much. Case in point might be dragon age 2 in which there were only a handful of areas you could travel to, all different versions of the exact same map. Yet you wouldn't notice the constant re-using of trees for example or think about the many instances of the same weapon in other games. It's unlikely you memorized the face of every zombie in dead rising or left 4 dead and I can assure you they're not all unique snowflakes they're just copies of the same file being re-used in a way you don't tend to think about to enhance the game.

Often the answer in a game on how to do something is a carbon copy of something introduced earlier in the game or a combination of things introduced earlier, sometimes introducing something new in the process. For example in portal you learn cube+button=exit then you learn how to get the cube to the button using a hole over a doorway a small subliminal message that leads you to putting the cube through the portals once you get them. From there on the puzzles become more complex introducing new ideas on how to get the cube to the button, such as momentum and portal placement. These elements of game design also fall under the category of redundancy. Using the same bag of tricks in new ways to engage the players in what is perceived as meaningful play. This principal also applies to movies as well, next time you have the chance think about how much of something you're playing or watching is being reused from earlier in the game or movie or clearly copied over from a similar game or movie.