Sad Robot in Terms of Lecture & Sound Design

Posted by MattCooper@ on Thursday May 2, 2013 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

Though I was not involved in the programming or gameplay aspect of Sad Robot, the beginning of the project had us all collaborating together to determine the scope, play style and narrative.  Being given the stipulation of not allowing killing of anything allowed us to rule out a great deal of possibilities for the game, which eventually led us to deciding on a maze style game.  In our prototype, we drew out a maze on four pieces of paper taped together to form a larger sheet, but throughout the maze there were colored walls blocking some of the paths.  These colors represented five power-ups that allowed the player to cross through the walls if they acquired the totem of that color.  However, instead of the common game trope of gaining powers over time, we decided to employ the opposite and have the player lose powers each time they complete the maze, making it harder to get through.  The affordances, as Norman describes them, that the player has by being able to go through certain obstacles is taken away over time, thus making the constraints to get through the level more apparent.  The narrative of the story also represents a robot who is already powered up trying to become a regular human, reversing the common theme of a human or protagonist becoming more skilled over time.    While the prototype only resembled power-ups with colors, we decided to give I/O, the robot, five skills to help advance through the level; dash, double jump, laser, barrier passage, and increased strength.

These powers, while some may feel a little more useful than others, have been balanced over play testing sessions of our game to several different people, in and out of the class.  At first, some of the powers even felt as if they weren’t needed, which was adjusted by changing the maze so that all powers would be used in some way, unless in the final stage where all powers have been depleted.  Dash is a power that surpassed the others, due to its nature to allow the player to move faster, where double jump came in second in usefulness.  The other powers, while useful, were only useable in certain scenarios; the laser to shoot through a specific type of wall, the strength to move a specific block, and the barrier access to move through the electrified walls.  When testing, our solutions were set to solve both productivity and game goals which are the same kind outlined by Lazzaro and Keeker.  The entertainment and challenge value of the game became more apparent with the introduction of a more complex maze, while the narrative and power-up loss made way for improvements to make players want to keep moving through the game.  Though we did have a story integrated into the game with pop up conversation and cut scenes, our game focuses on the ‘Hard Fun’ aspect of invoking emotion through play, as the player must be very strategic as to which power-ups they lose and how they will explore through the maze.  Sad Robot is a game which you can only really go through once and is only a one-player game, but the trials to get through the maze provides entertainment and challenge enough to provoke the player into intently finishing out the full experience.  Within that experience we were able to make a game that reversed general game aspects however, by making it so that over time the player loses abilities, increasing the challenge as it goes, and providing a narrative with a main character who does not want to become better, but desires to lose all of their skills and become an inferior being.   My main contribution to this game did not involve gameplay as much, and was to create background music and sound effects that complimented the game’s aesthetic and flow.

For Sad Robot’s background music, my intention was to make a song that was easily loop-able, did not become a tired tune through a full game’s play, and was moderately upbeat due to the flow of the game while also representing the sad, longing feeling that I/O portrays.  These stipulations led me through the creation a sixteen bar loop with several instruments encompassing between twenty and thirty seconds of music, which I then duplicated and transposed to different key signatures by moving the notes up or down the scale to remove the repetitious feel that could be possible.  The drums during the first two repetitions of the pattern have a more upbeat drive, while the second two provide a half-time groove in the percussion, which is followed by a bridge or build-up type section to lead the song back into its beginning.  The song’s instruments were: a texture building longer chord patch, two fluctuating arpeggiators to give the music more movement, and a subdued lead patch soaring through the background to provide the emotional feel.  For the cutscenes and intro music, I merely took the chords and elongated the notes to twice their length, and for the tutorial level I used one of the arpeggiators alone with a new drum pattern.  The sound effects had me think in more creative terms of production.  Some of the sounds I had already obtained through previous works, such as the laser and the jump noise which took on added modulation to sound robotic.  The other sounds came from different types of sources.  The box activation or click sound was taken from a recording of the switch of the air conditioner in my room being flipped, which also doubled as a time ticker when placed with more repetition.  The jetpack sound and the moving block sound were taken from random Youtube clips, which I then modified to fit the game in a more appropriate fashion.   The sound of I/O being shocked by a barrier he couldn’t surpass even came from a well-established Atlanta producer named Must Die, who used an electrocution song in a remix he did of my own musical project’s songs.   Though my contributions to the game didn’t quite represent what we talked about in class as much, I was able to use my past expertise to help make a game bending the stereotypical game traditions that we touched on in lecture.

 

Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004. http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf

Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf

Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

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Sad Robot: Creating the Dreams of Sadness and Robothood

Posted by Sean Wheeler on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Design Reflection

The story of Sad Robot was one of great challenge and hardship. We began with a wild and crazy idea, taking the concept of reversing a games progression of character grow, and tried to apply it to a quirky and comical universe of a poor little robot who is sad and wants to become a human. Though the concept underwent multiple revisions and had some trouble becoming exactly what we imagined, at its heart our final build, which can be played HERE, our vision of glory lives on as a sad super powerful robot that tries to escape a government facility to become a human.

It has been an interesting experience working on Sad Robot. As the project’s lead designer and lead programmer simultaneously, I ended up having my work cut out for me. Balancing between my design tendencies and my dedicated programming skills was a tough task, but this project has taught me a lot about myself and how I enjoy working the most. While doing design work and programming in tandem was not too difficult, since I could literally come up with an idea and implement it with great ease, it was actually the fact that I was the only strong programmer in the entire group that made this project challenging. Not being able to delegate programming tasks, essentially being the one to code the entire game, in addition to designing gameplay, levels, aesthetics and the like, was really stressful and lead to a lot of problems down the road, but served as a valuable learning experience in the end.

In this experience of programming Sad Robot, I always had the most fun actually bringing those great ideas I had to fruition. The production cycle of Sad Robot closely followed the Iterative design pattern. I would code something up, run the project, see what happens, identify problems, and fix them. Or as Eric Zimmerman likes to put it “Test; analyze; refine. And repeat. Because the experience of a viewer/user/player/etc cannot ever be completely predicted, in an iterative process design decisions are based on the experience of the prototype in progress.” [1]. Throughout these iterations, playtesting, both in-team and in-class, was essential to refining and improving our game as a whole. A great example was our balance of abilities that the player would sacrifice over the course of the game. Players found the double jump and sprint ability too useful to get rid of, and inversely the laser shooting and barrier ability to useless to keep. The root causes, namely conveyance and level design, were identified, and we were able to improve upon these so that balance seemed more appropriate for our final build.

Another interesting issue that came up in our multiple playtests of Sad Robot was the control scheme. Due to the nature of the movement code, players were able to use both the Arrow Keys and WASD to move their character. Each player approached the game differently, some grabbing the mouse and assuming controls as if playing a first person shooter, some reached for the Arrow Keys to move their players, and others just waited for the screen prompt to tell them what to press. Our initial controls were not truly favorable to any of these playstyles, featuring keys that did not map well, unconventional buttons for jumping, and the like. Drawing from Don Norman, we eventually decided we would work with the conventions of PC games, and provide 2 alternative sets of controls for players to use, both of which corresponded with common PC game mappings [2].

We were able to apply Norman’s teachings of conventions to most of our game as well. We improved our conveyance among our in game objects, making switches, conveyor belts, and platforms similar to many other games, and hoped to teach players what to expect from our game due to the conventions established by those games. Our user interface was polished and followed a clear design pattern, allowing players to identify what was part of the interface rather than part of the game. We decided a Level Completed screen would be necessary to convey that the level was complete, rather than simply showing a power removal window, and ended up implementing both in one window.

As the player played through Sad Robot, we wanted them to experience what our robot protagonist was experiencing. AS the player loses powers and becomes more human, we had originally planned for the environment and atmosphere to change with him. Moving from a cold metallic laboratory to a lush forest, with music become more and more calm and solemn the less powerful the character became was the initial concept. We ended up cutting this scheme of things, and even though we were not able to change the music from exciting to calming as we initially planned, we still attempted to generate player attachment as the game progressed. Narrative tidbits were given to the player as they played, and the environment colors gradually shifted from nonthreatening blues to an intense red alert. With the last stage especially we attempted to give the feeling of urgency, with sirens, flashing red lights, and a dimmer lighting. We drew from Lazarro and his Keys to putting emotion in Games throughout all of this, attempting to use context and aesthetic to implant the experience of becoming weaker into them [3]. While mildly successful, if the game was unable to inspire emotion, then our ending would simply top off the experience.

Throughout this course, and especially developing Sad Robot, I always wanted to put my skills to the test. I bit off a large part of work in programming and design leads, and had a lot of control over the final product as a result. While it was rewarding, and I was able to put what I learned to practice, I definitely learned not to overextend myself. While I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying designing, I definitely would not mind taking a back seat to design in the future, and focus purely on implementation, where I enjoy myself the most. But for our first venture in game design, I don’t think my group performed poorly at all, and I am damn proud of the work that we put forth and the final product that is known as Sad Robot.

 

[1] Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

[2] Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

[3] Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf

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Design Reflection on Believers’ Bedlam

Posted by Fengbo Li on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

Our team, Fiery Rainbow Puppy Studios, created a game called Believers’ Bedlam (originally called Mesmerize) during the semester, which is a lite Real Time Strategy game designed for two players competing side by side. Since large quantities of children have lost faith in fairy tale and holiday characters, they also lost a way of having simple pleasure in their life. Therefore, in our game, players play the role of holiday or fairy characters to regain their popularity and faith among children.

Creating A Game of Pleasure

During the whole design process, we try to make the game fun, accessible and transparent. The pleasure of this game comes from several aspects.

First of all, the experience of fun results from the competition between two players. Believers’ Bedlam falls mainly into the category of agon defined by Roger Caillois [1], which are played as a combat by different players. We learned that competing with others is a human instinct and people enjoyed doing this with their friends, thus, we decided to take advantage of it and make the most of it. We determined to make a game involving two players sitting next to each other, communicating and competing. Our initial idea has been proved to be true: we saw players screaming and yelling when they tried to win the last few kids from the other player. They immersed in a feeling of drama and tension within the game [2]. Numerous visuals and dynamic animations helped to create a chaotic yet light-hearted playground, where our magic story takes place.  In general, Believers’ Bedlam satisfied the demand for social participation, which is an enduring need of human beings. For agon games, it is important that the game is based on the premise of justice. That’s why we have exert much effort trying to balance the magic powers of holiday and fairy tale side, so as to make sure that one side will not dominate all the time.

In addition, the pleasure stems from game dynamics. Either holiday or fairy tale side has six characters to choose from and each character has different skills and different strengths. Therefore, players have to do some trade-off to form a desirable team. Besides, the orders of sending characters and the duration they stay on the screen have appreciable impact on the team’s performance as well. Considering all those factors, we strived to offer players the freedom to try out various combinations of characters, skills and strategies. Believers’ Bedlam invites reply by furnishing players with unpredictability and flexibility, as well as all sorts of choices and results.

Furthermore, Believers’ Bedlam is not only a fun game for those who are playing, but also enjoyable for observers. David Sudnow described in Eyeball and Cathexis that people feel happen and fun even just gluing their eyes to the pleasure storm [2]. I think our game indeed brings pleasure to observers by demonstrating multi-characters, plentiful kids, characters’ monologues and dynamic visual effects to create a rich and vivid play field.

Iterating Based on Play testing Feedback

During our interactive design and development of Believers’ Bedlam, players have had a far-reaching influence in gaming our game. Firstly, we determined things we want to monitor and test during the play testing by creating a questionnaire as a Google form. During the two play testing rounds, we took notes of what players said when they were playing the game, and also interviewed them for specific questions. The feedback expands the visibility of problematic and confusing issues concealed in our game, and we reconstruct and tweak the game mechanics and artworks in order to live up to their expectations. In this way, players are not only involved in the delivering round of the game, but also actively participate in the design activities. They somehow positively embedded their own interpretation by making their voice heard; while we shifted from the roles of designers and implementers to facilitators who assisted players in making a game that arouses a delightful experience among players [3].

One dramatic change of game is that we grant players total control over the characters instead of just high-level command. Before the first play testing, players could only send characters out to the playfield and call them back, yet they couldn’t control the exact positions of the characters and when exactly characters cast their spells to mesmerize kids. We got tons of feedback in the first play testing that lack of control prevents players from understanding the gameplay and experiencing the sense of pleasure and agency. Afterwards, we iterated the important design questions and refactored the control in the game. Finally, players have much more direct control over the behaviors of characters such as explicitly setting the horizontal position and vertical position of characters.

Our approach fell right in line with the notion of iterative design process brought up by Eric Zimmerman. We conducted a cyclic process of prototyping, play testing, analyzing and refining [4]. Problems and suggestions emerged out of each open-ended play testing, and in response, we invented new rules to structure the game based on player input [5]. Finally, we delivered a game which is much more satisfactory than the initial version.

Cultural and Gender Representation

According to Don Norman, in Affordances and Design, it is an important practice to follow cultural conventions to avoid confusions [6]. When applying characteristics and skills to different characters, our team has done plenty of research on the cultural representation and interpretation of each character.  The pixel art and portraits are designed based on those conventions to help players quickly recognize who those characters actually are in such a chaotic playfield. The monologue box at the bottom of the screen is also a way to display the personalities of characters.

Our team committed ourselves to create a game in a fair light, which is accessible for male and female, young and old. Therefore, when I was creating the pixel art of kids, I made both girls and boys of different ethics. I strived to endue those kids with various visual representations in the real world. Every one of us has contributed in creating an equal and enjoyable playground in the game.

 

Work Cited:

[1] Salen, Katie, Eric Zimmerman, and Roger Caillois. “The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games.” The game design reader: a rules of play anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. 122-147. Print.

[2] Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Topic Essay: The Player Experience.

[3] Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Topic Essay: Gaming the Game.

[4] Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html.

[5] Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Topic Essay: The Game Design Process.

[6] Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and Design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

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Believer’s Bedlam: Project Reflection

Posted by William Green on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

This project, Believer’s Bedlam (formerly Mesmerize) has been one of the most interesting, beneficial, and enjoyable tasks I have been a part of.  Getting together with a random group of strangers for half a semester sounded horrible to me a couple months ago, but they have proved to be some of the smartest, most capable people I have had the joy to work with.  When we first  began brainstorming ideas, there was a lot of energy and excitement, as well as much anxiety; after all, it was a large task ahead of us.  There were a lot of ideas thrown around, but in the end we all liked the idea of riding the recent wave of fairytale/magical craze going around and pretty soon our base idea for the game was hammered out.  We would combine our shared joy of multiplayer games with our humorous idea of a fight for faith among magical characters.  It was clear from the start that each of us had several interests and so we avoided strict assignments and instead had people volunteer to at least keep track of a particular area so that there would be no imbalance of effort across the board.  By the end of the project I had taken part in several areas including art assets, writing, voice overs, and some user interface design.

One aspect of the game we decided early on was to make Believer’s Bedlam a two player game.  Most of our team had fond memories of multiplayer games growing up, and since we were designing a game primarily for a younger crowd we thought this would be a safe game style.  By gearing the game to pit two players (hopefully friends and family members) against one another we have fulfilled several aspects of game design according to Lazzaro.  The main obstacle becomes the player’s opponent which will be both enjoyable and fulfilling because they most players are naturally drawn into competition with their fellow gamers.  This is what drives most people (including myself) into multiplayer games in the first place.  In order to make the game entertaining, we tried to make sure that at all times the activity on screen was appealing and interesting.  Aesthetically, this meant very lively colors and fun, active character design and animations for the characters’ magic tricks.

One aspect of Believers Bedlam that evolved over time was the trend to have a more heavily focused strategy emphasis on the gameplay.  Players, wanted the game open ended enough that the users would have several options on how they would like to approach the game.  This is one aspect that was improved significantly after every playtesting session.  The most common comment we received about our game was that the players felt too disconnected from the action in the game.  I think this stems from Lazzaro’s idea that “like productivity applications, games require mastery of features to achieve an objective,” (Lazzaro 2).  Gamers have grown accustomed to heavy interactivity within the game, mastering a new set of skills.  Originally we had thought it may be a good idea to try and work against this modern expectation.  The first drafts of the game had the players simply deploying characters and a kind of artificial intelligence guided them through the field.  Personally, I thought it was a neat idea, treating the player as a kind of high level general of sorts, giving orders and seeing them play out.  However, it turns out, most players prefer to be soldiers, and so each installation involved giving the player more control over where the characters went, when they perform their magic, and when they return.  This creates a very hectic field of play for the gamer, with many aspects to try and master, but it seems that this has increased the the gaming experience all the more.

Humor was a huge part of our game from the beginning.  Lazzaro asserts that, “Satisfaction may come from accomplishing a difficult task, but enjoyment may also be derived from pure aesthetics or sidesplitting humor,” (Lazzaro 2).  Our game concept lent itself naturally to a very fun, humor driven atmosphere.  We spent a lot of time researching the characters and exploring different ways to make their stories humorous and how to bring that humor to the screen.  In the end, there were many outlets for gags and other attempts at humorous content throughout the game.  It can be seen in the animations where, for example, a turkey will roast itself to get the attention of the children on the field.  It can be see in the writing, expressed through the biographies of the different characters written in a very tongue in cheek way with more than one use of double entendre throughout.  Lastly, it can be heard constantly in the voice overs, which were my last section of the project.  We had so much fun recording the hysterical voices for the characters, saying the most absurd, pun-infested things.  All in all, humor helps to make this game what it is.  If one tries to take Believers Bedlam seriously, it becomes a bit pointless.

Design was a huge concern for me as the game progressed.  I realized quickly that there was a lot of things to explain through the game and the controls are not always self explanatory.  This is an issue because “what the designer cares about is whether the user perceives that some action is possible,” (Norman).  This would be larger problem except that the controls are minimal in the game itself and are actually confined to three buttons per player.  The problem is the function of buttons is so dynamic that it must be explained.  This was accomplished through a short circuit of tutorial screens that help to map out the available controls and very simply explains how they are used.  It is true that having to explain the function is not ideal, that it is better to have self explanatory features (Norman), but I believe that we have done the best we can with the medium we were given.  Perhaps more apt controls could be devised in a touch screen device, which is something we have discussed at length as a group.

Overall, the experience of taking a game from concept to finished form has been extremely educational for me.  Practically, I have learned and gained experience in new programming languages, I have gained experience in several new programs, and I have learned how a productive team should interact and work together.  I think the most important lesson I learned was the importance of an outside view or opinion in such a project.  When working on a game or any other program as a group, it is easy for those involved to get sucked in a lose sight of possible bugs or oversights.  It is easy to think that you have accounted for all errors and all opinions while you are in the bubble of your own group.  This is why playtesting and Zimmerman’s idea of having “as many people as possible play the game,” is so important (Zimmerman).  This way, you can record how they perceive the game with fresh eyes and it can bring light to bugs you would never have imagined (Zimmerman).  I had this realization after each playtest, thinking, “How did we not think of that?”  However, in truth, we had our own agenda, and things like playtesting are crucial to keep the team grounded in the reality of the situation.  Though all the changes and redirection, though, our team always stayed positive and took each critique as an opportunity to improve.  It was a fantastic learning experience and I cannot imagine a better group to work with or a more fun game to start with.

 

 

Works Cited:

Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004. http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf

Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

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Reflections: Developing Polaroid Planetoid

Posted by CelesteMason on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

My contributions to Polaroid Planetoid were primarily centered around plot/dialogue and playtesting, while helping with some art aspects and the overall game design (which we all worked on). Some subjects from the class lectures and readings were of clear importance, and became the basis of our design process, but I also found that others touched on my efforts in these specific areas in unexpected ways. We strove to maintain a storyline that would appeal to a broad audience, and through our experiences testing we found that among a diverse group of players, with a broad range of play styles, numerous aspects of gameplay were highlighted and honed.

Dialogue & Plot

Our work on the game’s plot and script developed in a relatively effortless manner, because the whole group readily agreed that the juxtaposition of an early 20th century era/outer space exploration setting would be comical, while providing an atmosphere that would appeal to most age groups. Some of the aspects that seemed to take the longest were simple things, like character or creature names. The decision to deliver tutorial and game advancement messages through dialogue from our ship and robot duo was also quick and effortless. We’d mentioned trying to provide some plot interest through tension in the dialogue between them early on, and that ended up being a successful effort. The only real issues may have been some of the details in how these characters referred to one another, as well as the player. In particular, when addressing the player directly, our editor/sponsor character, Cy, would refer to the player as “Sport” or “Champ” in early dialogue drafts. Ideally, anyone should be able to identify with either of these monikers, but in practice it is unlikely that female players would feel natural being addressed this way.[1]

Initially, one primary facet proposed for the game’s plot was that the player would arrive on the planet as an aspiring exobiologist/space naturalist. This fit well with the premise–that the player’s purpose was to take photos and collect data about the alien wildlife. But in the spirit of maintaining accessibility to all, we felt that someone just starting out in a career with a broader outlook of general curiosity mixed with ambition was more likely to appeal to a broader audience. More people are more likely to identify with and have their interest piqued by that sense of curiosity and exploration for its own sake, than a character with extensive existing knowledge in such an exotic field, just there to do their job. Overall, we felt that the basic mechanic–exploration and collection of photographs of all the varied wildlife and their behaviors–covered a broad range of experiences and interests. It would have been great to have more of the writing content incorporated for the play test sessions (or had a better turnout once we did) so that we could have learned whether our efforts were appreciated.

Play Testing

Through playtesting, we found that many of the design decisions we made were supported by users’ feedback. The premise, the environment and the creatures were all met with enthusiasm by most players. This may partly have been due to the fact that our game was a spin on an old favorite. Most everyone who has played Pokemon Snap tends toward fond reminiscence of the game.

I was surprised by some player’s simple enjoyment of moving through the landscape, and any actions that entailed. People would laugh and exclaim at a long jump, or the ability to zoom across the surface of an acid green sea, reveling in the freedom of movement as well as the freedom from physical contraints of the “real world.” [2, pg128] The same was true for interactions and observations of the creatures around the landscape. Very often the players reactions were of immediate endearment, from which some of the most amusing creature names sprung. There interesting naming conventions provided us with an interesting opportunity to gain better understanding how they perceived the creature models, behaviors and their role within the greater environment. [2, pg 100]  While we were pleased with the positive responses, these were generally only the first or second play experiences, so the novelty may have been likely to wear off with repeated gameplay.

One often repeated comment was that we should add more interest to the landscape, more creatures as well as plant and terrain interest. Some players voiced interest in the possibility of cataloguing plants as well as animals. The reaction to this suggestion was split, with the opposing opinion being that we should just “stick to the main game premise” and that this would entail much additional effort, but I’d disagree (at least on the first point). Even in Pokemon Snap, some of the creatures were plants. But, apart from the fact that it could be easily incorporated within the storyline, it seemed that if this game mechanic could be relatively easily implemented, we shouldn’t deny players that extra source of gameplay enrichment. In the end, we did provide the means for some elements beyond just the creatures presence to influence game progress/experience, hopefully providing the means for players to choose their own gameplay path. [3]

Even when the creatures actions seemed to be at odds with the players goals, the reactions were generally positive and engaged. The very aggressive tendency of the bull-like ‘Dabomp,’ to propel the player high and backward, away, were nearly always cause for excitement with little expressed frustration. Even the least liked creature, who would speed away from the player, would most often be met with cries of “Wait, come back!”

This brings up a major point in the process of development of Polaroid Planetoid, our continued effort to maintain the best balance of various aspects of gameplay. We did, of course, hope to provide an easy, seamless experience for our players, but through multiple play sessions we hoped to provide the necessary limitations to achieve a truly unique and interesting experience over multiple sessions. So, as part of the design process we incorporated challenges that we hoped would add to the experience, such as the day-long time limit, but eventually removed those that seemed too artificial or were eventually determined to be at odds with most peoples’ enjoyment of the game, such as the photograph taking limit. We added control reminders, but hopefully maintained as unobtrusive a presence as possible. And we developed a set of photograph scoring parameters that we hoped would entice players to revisit creatures and learn more about their interactions with the environment and each other. Through playtesting, we found that this was indeed the case–players were most willing to remain with one creature and take progressively better images. The reasons cited were not only to learn more about the creature, but also to improve their skills and their personal best scores. [4]

Overall, the playtesting sessions were a very valuable component of the iterative design process, providing rich feedback as to what we had done right (often through users’ exclamations of surprise and delight), as well as how we might better tune the game’s future development. [5]

References

[1] Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007.

[2] Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

[3] Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2005). “Sustainable Play: Towards A New Games Movement for the Digital Age.” Digital Arts & Culture Conference Proceedings, Copenhagen, December 2005. Download here:

[4] Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper.

[5] Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.”

 

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Believers Bedlam Design Reflection

Posted by Chris DeLeon on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

One of the core concepts we learned in the class that we aimed to take to heart was that there’s considerable value in designing a game with unconventional players in mind. We strived to achieve transgenerational appeal in Believers Bedlam through double-coded media, also balancing as best we could artwork that was cartoony enough to appeal to kids yet detailed enough to appeal to older adults. To our surprise, in trying to make a game for those alternative audiences, we made something that our classmates in CM and DM have responded well to playing, too, despite (or maybe partly because of) it being quite unlike any other game that they’ve played.

A big part of what made that outcome possible was figuring out what we were making as we made it, by repeatedly testing at each step of the way and listening to the feedback we received from our players. Our team leaned heavily on iterative design to shape our game’s directions and goals. As Zimmerman outlines it in Play as Research: test, analyize, refine, and repeat. “In each case, you observe [testers], ask them questions, then adjust your design and playtest again.” At each playtest and class demonstration, we received fresh feedback on the issues that currently were perceived as the most pressing, and steered our energy toward ensuring that on the subsequent feedback we could get another layer deeper by alleviating any outstanding known issues in advance. Zimmerman also notes that this development process is in stark contrast to writing a detailed design document up front, instead leaving iteration to largely guide attention more efficiently throughout the process. I appreciated that in support of this dynamic process the group’s final design document was not due until late in the semester, to document the project somewhat after the fact, rather than demanding too much detail (beyond the mininum needed to pitch the concept and plan roughly with all members on the same page) in advance.

Don Norman, in Affordances and Design, emphasized the importance of following cultural conventions to avoid confusing users. Our effort to do this led our our accepting Street Fighter 2-style character selection, complete with an illustration mapping gameplay keys onto a more conventional gamepad layout. We then, at least after a few iterations of feedback from testers frustrated by mixing mouse and keyboard input, switched the game’s menus to use a coherent conceptual model more consistent with the gameplay keys, so that players wouldn’t be continually needing to learn different principles for different screens (in our final release, the entire game is played keyboard only). To make the menus as clear as possible, we used words to describe the available actions, avoiding one word labels in favor of short phrases that are hopefully more clear.

One of Lazzaro and Keeker’s central ideas in their short paper, “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games” is that traditional HCI measures, while they may improve upon efficiency of interaction, do not adequately capture all that’s important to be measured and improved upon in the testing of games. For Believers Bedlam, we regarded as some of our most important feedback the qualitative signals like body language and facial gestures that allowed us to get a sense of the emotional responses. This was especially important with regard to younger players who tended to be more openly expressive of their feelings and also less able to be as specific as adults in their articulation of the highlights or issues in their play experience. At Demo Day we had the opportunity to watch a young son play against his father, and in the kid’s excitement he immedately knocked his dad’s hands away and commenced sending all units out to the field, orchestrating an epic show of spellcasting from both sides while confused in-game kids couldn’t decide which side to follow. He clearly didn’t understand the game at a tactical level, but in much the same way that a very young player may enjoy pinball for the spectacle of stimulating lightshows and audio cacophony it provides, it’s not clear that he needed to in order to have fun playing. In Lazzaro’s other (and perhaps better known) research on emotions in games, “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story” such simple spectacle might be characterized as Easy Fun.

Still on the note of emotional playing and feedback from kid testers though: to our team’s great fortune and benefit, one of our classmates offered to get his children to test the game – all older than the young son from Demo Day. Our classmate helped us benefit from his experience as the father of the children by not only documenting their expressions and subtle reactions, but also helping us by providing his interpretation of whether the responses seemed to signal frustration, boredom, interest, or otherwise. Since these children were squarely within ages of our intended demographic, even though this testing happened late in development (after our final class presentation) we immediately developed action items based on nearly all of their feedback and prioritized them as necessary to attend to before release.

Another category from Lazzaro’s research on emotions in games is Hard Fun, in which players will endure difficulty toward gaining a feeling of triumph. Kids that tested our game and caught on to the core gameplay concept found this type of fun through our practice mode against the computer. In practice mode, the computer uses a carefully tuned but effectively blind/random play behavior – so that learning to consistently beat it signifies new play understanding in the player in terms of picking up on specific strategies that make use of the game’s several levels of control and audiovisual feedback.

Predominantly, however, Believers Bedlam revolves around the key Lazzaro refers to as The People Factor. Our game is intended to focus on facilitating interaction between players, and putting on an exciting show for those that are just watching (initially in the form of graphical spectacle, but soon instead through the changing tides of which side is momentarily winning). One of the ways we sought to facilitate and prolong this experience is through the level of unpredictability in the game – players can’t control where children begin or wander off to, and there’s a bit of randomness in the movements of hero characters once they’re on field and have already cast their initial spell. Several characters, most significantly with the Easter Bunny, are balanced by counteracting great spell range and spell recovery time with greater unpredictability in which direction their spell will be cast. These sources of uncertainty in the game help give players that are less sophisticated in their strategies a fighting chance for victory through a surprise upset, so that even if a sibling, friend, grandparent, or grandchild playing the game has discovered an effective gameplay strategy the other player will likely still enjoy a win some of the time. This effect is further pronounced by how rapidly a match may be concluded, with a single lucky event having the potential to change who wins. In addition to keeping less adept players from becoming overly frustrated or feeling helpless about their experience with the game, the role of probability also helps improve the game’s appeal to onlookers that are spectating, adding excitement from being unable to fully predict who will win on any given round.

As Juul (47) explained in The Art of Failure, the element of chance brings with it the benefit of a losing playing having something to blame other than needing to perceive it as a personal failing (“you just got lucky that time!”). Meanwhile there’s not so much chance involved that a winning player can’t feel accountable. A strategic and experienced player will still posses a non-trivial advantage, so that practicing has its value. This is of course especially important to those players more interested in Hard Fun, whom we did not wish to leave behind or disappoint either.

In the terms of Caillois (130) rather than those from Lazzaro: our game balanced chance (alea) and tactics (agon), in an effort to balance, respectively, carefree playfulness (paidia) for younger or less adept players and effortful skill development (ludus) for older or more strategic players.

Overall, the extent to which core concepts learned in this class guided our project’s initial concept and end result would be difficult to overstate. Even the core idea of characters casting non-violent spells to mesmerize evolved and was kept as an adaptation to our constraint about making a game without any killing in it – because many of the games we found inspiration in for having tiny characters, from Age of Empires to Lemmings and Bubble Bobble, had included killing in some form, even if partly in cartoonish fashion. To DeKovan (21), children regard games as a source of fascination, and that’s certainly a quality of games that we sought to capitalize on with ours by associating it with magical, widely-recognized characters and fantastical events like creating rainbows and growing giant beanstalks. Because my background already includes a considerable amount of game development practice coming out of a variety of contexts and team sizes, I had some peers and even professors a bit puzzled as to why I was taking a class on game design. My primary reason, which I think Believers Bedlam in its completed state serves as strong supporting evidence for, is that I knew I would wind up working with a team to create a game very unlike the other projects that I have previously worked on. I’m glad I did, as I’m convinced that worked out.

Caillois, Roger. “The Definition of Play: The Classification of Games.” Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. 122-155.

DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books.

Juul, Jesper. The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games (Playful Thinking series). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004. http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf

Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf

Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

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Polaroid Planetoid Reflections

Posted by AJKolenc on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Design Reflection

When our team formed, we had a pretty good balance of each type of developer: two programmers, two artists, and two writers. Thus, we were able to do a game of pretty much any genre. As a team we compiled a huge document full of brainstorm ideas, and at a meeting we fleshed out each idea, gradually narrowing down our choices. We finally settled on this basic premise: you are a photographer on an alien planet, trying to take pictures of the aliens while avoiding being eaten by them.

The game went through many revisions as we continued to develop the concept. We decided that the creatures would largely be harmless to avoid stereotypical violence and unnecessary stress on the player. We came up with the idea that game sessions would be segmented into days, such that at the end of each day you are returned to your spaceship where you can review your pictures and track your progress. We came up with a story and setting for the game: you are a photographer for a futuristic newspaper called the “Intergalactic Geographic” (name courtesy of Dr. Pearce), where you are trying to work your way up the ladder and become head photographer.

Our game was heavily influenced by Pokémon Snap, a Nintendo 64 game that involved taking pictures of various Pokemon. In some ways, the art style of our game also adapted to the more childish visuals of Pokémon, and children were one of the stated target audiences for the game. One important distinction between our game and Snap is the full control of your motion in our game, allowing for an exploratory element not present in Snap. In fact, this freedom of movement was originally going to factor more explicitly into gameplay, with the player needing to hide behind plants or find food in order to get good pictures of the creatures. This feature was dropped because of its complexity, and we refocused on providing an interesting environment in which to discover and photograph our creatures.

I was responsible for the GUI elements of our game. Because of the demands of my capstone project (happening concurrently), I decided to produce a standard and generalized way to produce GUIs, resulting in a GUIScreen super class that provides many standard features for the GUIs. For example, any GUI can fade in and out on command, smoothly move off the screen, or expand to its size. I also added a feature that scales the GUIs based on a target resolution and the current screen size, allowing GUIs to be made with any size screen and still be legible.

Other than simply making the standardized means of creating GUIs, I also created all of the GUIs themselves, which required many additional features. A sprite animation system was used for the characters when they were speaking, text would type itself into notifications, and every transition was animated. Finally, I also created a day/night cycle for the game, which as previously discussed became a pivotal feature of the gameplay.

The design of the game departs drastically from the norms in the video game industry. There is no combat, and the only remotely violent interaction you can have with your environment is that the bull-like creature will push you out of its territory if you get too close. All gameplay takes place in one level, but is kept fresh due to the amount of content that is available and that each day creatures are in new locations. The game is non-linear, with each creature able to be discovered at any time; the experience is left entirely to the player. Finally, there is the gameplay itself: you are sent to take well-framed pictures of the creatures, a mechanic that only one game, Pokémon Snap, has truly touched.

That being said, there are many elements of our design that do resemble traditional games. The movement paradigm, for example, borrows its controls from the first-person shooter genre, along with the same camerawork. You are graded on your performance via “Reputation,” a thinly veiled experience bar that acts like classic RPG experience. You level-up your character by earning “promotions,” which then grant you power ups in game. You are introduced to the game via a cutscene, and the notifications borrow their visual style from the Star Fox games. There is even an ending after you have achieved the maximum level, presented once again as a cutscene.

Our readings and the lectures that we attended throughout the class also had an impact on our games design. As noted in Ludica’s Hegemony of Play, often the game industry has a cultural imbalance despite willing segments of the population. We designed our game such that the player is gender-neutral; additionally, we designed the world such that it could appeal equally to both genders. As Henry Jenkins discusses in Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces, game spaces for girls involve exploration in naturalistic environments, and that is the core of the gameplay for our game. However, the skill required to take the best picture and the reputation points you acquire appeal to what Jenkin’s defines as spaces for boys. The aesthetics of the game were also designed with this gender-neutral feel: although it takes place in outer space (a common boy-oriented setting), the creatures are cute and discovering how each reacts to the player is a task that has cross-gender appeal.

Overall, I was quite pleased with our final product. The various design decisions we made during the process made off, and feedback we got from testing proved invaluable for tweaking our game. Our concentration on making a gender-neutral play space that skewed towards children was an interesting exercise and allowed us to apply many of the concepts that we read about and heard about in lecture.

References:

Fron, J. F. (2007). Hegemony of Play. Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo: DiGRA.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces. In S. a. Zimmerman, Game Design Reader (pp. 330-363). MIT.

 

 

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Of course, as everyone whose completed the class knows, ‘one time’ is a blatant understatement. As Eric Zimmerman says, iterative design is the name of the game [of making games]:

“Test; analyze; refine. And repeat… In this way, the project develops through an ongoing dialogue between the designers, the design, and the testing audience .”

This mechanic is key to most creative processes, including writing and storybuilding. In reflecting on my role (as writer and narrative designer) in creating Sad Robot, I’ve been considering how the narrative and story of the game affected and was influenced by the dialogue Zimmerman mentions.

The starting point, in this case as in most, was with the designers. When we met to brainstorm about what we wanted this game to be, a number of suggestions were raised, batted about and then thrown out, until for some reason someone mentioned the name of JJ Abrams production company, Bad Robot. Somehow this became transmuted to Sad Robot, which we decided would be the theme of our game. A sad robot, possessing super powers, moving through an obstacle course. This, of course, begged the obvious question – what was he sad about?

Another element that we needed to account for was the class requirement to subvert common game tropes. Most games, generally, involve mastery of certain skills, which is often represented by the accumulation of objects that represent this prowess. We decided to turn this process on its head, making the loss of powers by the robot a requirement to progress from level to the other. Again, the question became, what was all this in aid of?

This was where the storybuilding came into play. He was sad, we concluded, because he wished to become human and was prevented from doing so. It was necessary for him to lose his powers, we reasoned, in order for him to become human. This could be done by escaping from a containment facility that would strip one power from him on every floor – which would be represented by levels.

Here again, another of Zimmerman’s observations came into play:

“Rather than asking what the game is about, ask what the player is actually doing from moment to moment as they play. Virtually all games have a core mechanic, an action or set of actions that players will repeat over and over as they move through the designed system of a game.”

It’s worth noting, though, that finding out the core mechanic was a key element in deciding what the game was about. Because the key goal or mechanic seemed to be finding the way through a maze, the story was about overcoming obstacles to achieve humanity, or something like it. Navigating the maze obviously became more and more difficult every time a power (high-jumping, laser firing, etc.) was lost, until the robot I/O was left to navigate the maze using abilities similar to those of the ‘avaerage’ human.

This was where the dialogue with the design came into play. We had already decided that the maze would be the same for every level, and the only difference would be the powers used to traverse it. However, it seemed that it might get frustrating repeating the same puzzle over and over again with only decreased agency as a motivation. This was reinforced during our second playtest, where we demoed the robot leaping and running through obstacles. A few players expressed interest in learning more about the backstory during the game.

It seemed to me that the best was to tell I/O’s story was through dialogue cutscenes. I’d already suggested the presence of a mentor figure to guide the player through the game – this character was dubbed “Geppetto” in a nod to the Pinocchio story. The best way to implement the story without interrupting the game seemed to be to integrate it in a series of short dialogues throughout the game, with each dialogue marking the beginning of a new ‘scene’ or level. As Henry Jenkins notes, in Game Design as narrative Architecture,

“Spatial stories are held together by broadly defined goals and conflicts and pushed together by the character’s movement across the map. Their resolution often hinges on the player’s reaching their final destination… The organization of the plot becomes a matter of designing the geography of imaginary worlds, so that obstacles thwart and affordances facilitate the protagonists forward movement towards resolution.”

The goal of these dialogues was to provide a narrative way of charting this progress towards the end, and reminding the player of the larger context and reason for all the effort being exerted in repeating the journey across the maze.

As I wrote the dialogue and cutscenes for different iterations of the game, it occurred to me that text seemed to occupy the same space in games that music does in film. While it may not seem absolutely essential to the plot, it does help set mood and shape the context of on-screen action, providing a useful counterpoint to the major elements of the piece.

The snippets of dialogue served an essential purpose in that they facilitiate the player’s identification with I/O, by revealing bits of story as incremental rewards and establishing the story from start to finish: I/O’s location and dilemma, Geppetto’s proposed solution, the suggestion of urgency, then the final resolution and tragedy.

During the game, gameplay took up most of the screen,with the text dialogue relegated to two blocks at the bottom. Only at the end, with the final level completed, did the resolution come in the form of three full-screen cutscenes, all in text. These were narration, not dialogue, stating the successful escape from the maze and what had happened to the characters as a result.

One thing that was interesting to learn, is that, as Jenkins implies, the dramatic ebb and flow of a game depends on the space being navigated and the relative balance of obstacles and affordances. Though, as a writer, I am used to telling stories through text, it was useful to realize that words are only useful when they can bring these implied movements into sharper focus for the player – otherwise, they can be a distraction or even a hindrance. Fortunately, that did not seem to be the case with the Sad Robot – the text stayed in balance with other elements of the game.

Sources:

Jenkins, Henry.(2004). “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.”

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.”

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Polaroid Planetoid Final Thoughts

Posted by MatthewGuzdial on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Design Reflection

Towards the beginning of the semester, I noticed a tendency in myself to draw towards the dark and the horrific. No clear emotional, mental, or spiritual change occurred that prompted this preference, but I found myself partaking and creating media that could easily be defined as “horror”. Not accounting for the indie horror film fest binge I went on, Saudade, my team’s game for the Global Game Jam rather exemplifies this dark interest. In Saudade, one plays as a mother attempting to recover her three lost children from terrifying monsters, and it has an ending as grim as any penned by the original brothers. Upon recognizing this trend, I made a conscious decision to avoid such dark themes altogether for the rest of the year, a decision which directly effected my game for this course.

 

I should specify here that the final game from my group, Polaroid Planetoid, began its life as one of my concepts brought up at our initial brainstorming session. In Polaroid Planetoid the user wanders across an alien planet, taking pictures of aliens for points. A player gains more points for pictures of new creatures, or pictures of creatures engaging in new behaviors, both of which require the player to have some understanding of the environment and the alien creatures that inhabit it. The original concept pitch was very much similar, merely specifying: “Free roaming and on an alien planet, attempting to take pictures of all the wildlife without being eaten by them (kind of in love with this one -Matthew)”.

 

From that original concept, we made a number of changes quite quickly. The reason I was “in love” with that concept was because I thought, and still do think, it’s an excellent concept for a game. It revolves heavily around discovery and exploration, or what “Hal Barwood calls simply ‘The joy of figuring it out.”” [Why We Play Games 3]. Furthermore, the game’s requirement for understanding the creatures and its focus on exploration make it more likely to appeal to girl gamers [Pearce slide 32)].

 

While the core concept for Polaroid Planetoid was a strong one, the game still required refining. In the process of refining the game, a number of additions, and one notable subtraction were made. The subtraction in question was the concept that you might be “eaten” by creatures. While I think that this type of bodily challenge have their place in games, we wanted to create a relaxed, inclusive atmosphere more in keeping with the concept of New Games, to create a game playable at any level of ability [What’s My Method 2, Why We Play Games 3, Fron 6]. Towards that purpose, it’s entirely possible to “win” the game by simply taking pictures of things the user finds interesting or intriguing, though it will take significantly longer than taking pictures of creatures.

 

In terms of additions, perhaps the most prominent addition was the introduction of a “points” system for getting pictures of creatures. While I was at first nervous about making use of this convention, finding the concept of doing anything so mundane rather boring, I later realized that conventions could allow us to better express the experienced we wished the player to have (Norman par. 13). Therefore, we made use of the same points-style system as Pokémon Snap, a game on which Polaroid Planetoid is not too subtly based.

 

All other elements of the project were added during play testing as a part of our iterative design in our ongoing quest to make the game as fun and engaging as possible (Zimmerman 1). Perhaps the most obvious addition made due to play testing was the inclusion of a radar to guide players to the nearest creature. Originally we resisted the inclusion of such a mechanic, as we wanted to preserve the air of mystery and exploration [Why We Play Games 3], however nearly every play tester mentioned this issue as their primary concern with the early game. However, simply adding in a radar system to point out where creatures were in reference to the player was the best solution. In the very next round of play testing session, we discovered we had gone too far, in that now player’s felt no need to explore at all, merely bee-lining to the closest creature. We eventually settled on the solution of an arrow system that would simply select the closest new creature, which at least allowed for some of the ambiguity to return.

 

In the end, I am proud of many aspects of our final game. I feel that the play experience is an enjoyable one, at least based off of the reactions of friends who have played the game. Furthermore, many of the interactions between the players and the creatures are fun, with the notable example of the bull creature, which throws the player into the air if he/she gets too close. However, I feel that the game does not ultimately live up to my original concept, due to the shallowness of many if the player-creature interactions. For example, the whale and butterfly-esque creatures do not even respond to the player at all. Furthermore, even in the very interesting creatures, such as the bull creature, many of the interactions seem off. For example, the player cannot rouse the bull from sleeping, even walking on the bull creature will see it remain in deep slumber. To be fair, the time period was perhaps too short for such an ambitious game.

 

 

 

 

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2005). “Sustainable Play: Towards A New Games Movement for the Digital Age.” Digital Arts & Culture Conference Proceedings, Copenhagen, December 2005. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/DACSustainablePlay.pdf

Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004. http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf

Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf

Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

Pearce, Celia. (2013). “Identity Representation and Gender”. Game Design as a Cultural Practice. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/lcc4725/Spring2013/Lectures/GenderAndGames.ppt

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.”http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

 

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Polaroid Planetoid: The Experience

Posted by MiaPoulos on Tuesday Apr 30, 2013 Under Design Reflection

In the game “Polaroid Planetoid”, many of the concepts read about and discussed in class were applied. When comparing it to the Norman, Zimmerman, and Lazzaro readings, it is clear when these techniques came into play when considering gaming elements.

The first reading by Nicole Lazzaro, “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games”, she discusses that games should be usable, challenging, and fun. In order to test for these aspects, it’s important to constantly be testing, such as using heuristic evaluations, which is what my group did. We had different people play the game in alpha and beta mode, then fill out a questionnaire asking about their experience.

Having people fill out these forms allowed us to determine any changes that had to be made, many of those changes directly related to Lazzaro’s other paper, “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story”. In this paper, she talks about these four keys: Hard Fun, Easy Fun, Altered States, and The People Factor. While the fourth one, having the game have a social aspect, doesn’t really apply to this one-player game (although it is a blast to watch!), the other three have many aspects that were incorporated into Polaroid Planetoid.

The first one, Hard Fun, states that players enjoy challenges, strategy, and problem solving. In our game, there are obstacles for players to overcome, such as finding out how to get certain pictures like the sleeping bull. There is also the pursuit of a goal since the object of the game is to be the highest ranked photographer possible. Some of the other attributes that apply to this game are requiring strategy rather than luck, having multiple objectives (or multiple creatures to capture), and playing to beat the game since there is a win state.

The next key is Easy Fun, where players enjoy intrigue and curiosity. The players become immersed in the game as it catches their complete attention or takes them on an adventure. This is the main idea implemented into Polaroid Planetoid since we wanted players to explore the world and discover all of the new creatures, each one with their own personality. There is also some exploration when discovering how to make each creature do special moves, such as sleeping, dancing, or eating. We also added a story plot to add an adventure, especially between the two robots SAL and Cy. The goal was to get the player immersed in this alien world and want them to figure out all they could about it.

The third key that Lazzaro talks about is Altered States, which is when “players treasure the enjoyment from their internal experiences in reaction to the visceral, behavior, cognitive, and social properties. In other words, they play to feel better about themselves or to avoid boredom. By giving the player encouraging feedback about photos he or she has taken, or nice constructive feedback (such as “This would have been nice, but it’s too dark” or “It would be better if the creature was facing the camera”), the player is never insulted and should always feel positive about the photographs. And while the game isn’t always fast-paced, during our game testing, users seemed to play the game for quite a bit of time without ever stating that they were bored or ended the demo early.

On the topic of game testing, the next paper, written by Don Norman, “Affordance and Design” discusses using game play affordances to allow for a seamless gameplay experience for the player. He states that game makers should always follow conventional usage, both in images and allowable interactions. This was heavily taken into consideration when designing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and key mapping. In Polaroid Planetoid, player movements were determined using the very popular and well known WASD, and any key choices after that were simply near those keys. The GUI to display the pictures that the player took looked very much like a standard image carousel, so any user who was familiar with facebook or imgur would be able to easily navigate the photograph display.

Norman also talks about using words to describe the desired action. This was also used heavily in our video game, having buttons such as “Leave Ship” and “View Photos” for any action the player would want to do. We also had SAL describe all key movements in text to the player before he or she was put on the alien planet. Although the key mapping was very generic, if the user hit the pause button, a menu would pop up explaining what each key did again, also in simple English for even non-gamers to understand.

One of the last principles Norman talks about is following a conceptual mode so that once part of the interface is learned, the same principles apply to other parts. We followed this rule as best as possible with the need for extremely different layouts. Buttons were all the same and clearly marked and the same color palette was used. When transitioning from the photograph display to the creature index, both had the same photograph layout, except the index had an additional side component to connect a creature’s image to its name.

In the reading by Eric Zimmerman, “Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process”, he talks about constantly testing, analyzing, and refining. He says the process starts off with prototyping, which is exactly what my group had done. We started off with a basic Unity world and some sketches of creatures-to-be. From there, we would create some new objects into the world, test it ourselves, fix it, and repeat until we started gameplay testing. From there, we got feedback from the players, fixed any suggestions that we thought were appropriate and doable, and continued to add more content, self test, fix, etc. There were three outsider gameplay testing days in total, as well as two presentations where we could get feedback from the other groups and Professor Celia Pearce about the visuals and story plot of our game. I can’t even begin to count the number of times we would make something, discuss it, and then either fix or remove it. It was such a vital step in creating this game that I’m not sure how well it would have turned out without it.

Overall, making this game with such a fantastic group was an amazing experience, both educationally and “entertainingly” (yes, in my last post I just made up a word).

Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004.

http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf

Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper.

http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf

Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and Design.”

http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html

Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The Iterative Design Process.” http://www.ericzimmerman.com/texts/Iterative_Design.html

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