Access final turn-in

Posted by rsmith on Sunday May 8, 2011 Under Final Game Prototype

play it at:

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Final Submission Link:

Final Design Doc:

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Access: Design Reflection (Controls)

Posted by Robert Solomon on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

When we conceived of the game Access, it flowed from the very title of this course itself; We wanted to engage in everyday culture. Walking on Georgia Tech campus this semester, the restriction of our everyday movements permeated our everyday lives as construction raged among us. For our group, it was merely inconvenient, but how inconvenient was it for someone who had to use a wheelchair to navigate the campus?

From this came our idea: to create a game in which the player navigates everyday spaces using a different means of transport. To mirror the difference between walking and rolling, we implemented a control scheme that was inspired by the game QWOP, having the movement of each wheel working independently, rather than using traditional arrow controls.

This was conceived because we wanted to place a barrier between the actions of the player and their actions on-screen. It has become customary for games to pride themselves on the transparency between the actions of the player with the actions of their on-screen avatar. Having even the slightest difficulty usually results in a swift dismissal by a casual player. This made implementing such a scheme an even greater challenge, as our game would eventually be hosted on a casual games portal.

Could we hook a player with the simplest action? QWOP certainly works, largely through its provided feedback. The simplicity of its interface also works in its favor, as it creates an alternate world in which only the actions of QWOP himself(?) matter.

Our game had no such luxury. We wanted the player to be able to navigate the space, but we also wanted there to be a period of time where even basic movement was difficult. Making that fumbling around fun also had to be handled with care, as we had no intentions of this game being an overt mockery of the disabled. This is one reason the idea of falling out of the chair was vetoed very early on, as our own experiences with the Internet at large knew that a lot of people would find a perverse pleasure in torturing our eponymous player character.

In the end, if we were unable to make the player feel empathy for their avatar, our scheme was doomed before it even began.

After two playtest iterations and a lot of helpful feedback from a wide variety of players of all skill levels and development experience, we ultimately decided to go with a three button scheme, with the top row of buttons on each side controlling the top of the left and right wheel, while the bottom row of buttons would control the left and right wheel. The middle row would be the “grip” that would allow for greater pushing ability if the player rolled from this key forwards or backwards.

The most ideal of all interfaces would have been a touchscreen, and this may be one of our destinations, with two strips dedicated to each wheel. Doing this with keyboard buttons limited the number we could use for a single motion due to a variety of factors in code. Translating player intentions was difficult when three keys were used as the system was largely “dumb”, being unable to know when an intended movement vector had been aborted. If a movement was stopped in the middle, starting from the opposite side would create strange behaviors.

After implementation and subsequent unleashing of the game on Kongregate, many immediately complained about the complexity of the controls. This was mirrored by feedback I received on Facebook as well, with many more “gamey” elements being suggested to make the game more fun to play.

In this initial stage, it appeared that our goal had failed, as the early adopters were quick to denounce the nit-picking details of what we missed with this iteration.

Upon reflection, it seems that to make decisions like these when building your game, you are drawing a firm line that some people simply will not cross without much prodding. These can be control elements that obfuscate movement, or they can be visual elements or plot elements that are less than easily enjoyed. In the fast food game world of Kongregate, it is hard to track those initial players unless they are seeking profile points to level up.

With this mind, it seems prudent to bare in mind that games like this must be considered to have a long tail. There has to be a fundamental faith that the perspective that one is designing is the right one, especially when one is designing interactions or gameplay types that are outside established norms. Such an approach can lead to frequent disappointment if does not come along with some flexibility.

By this, even sacred cow aspects of the game need to be thrown up for examination in revision and further development. The “set controls” I may have in mind should never be fixed and forgotten. There may always be a better idea waiting in the wings, and if one does not allow for that process to happen, the process of creating independent games that truly stand outside of mainstream game trends (while simultaneously expanding the bounds of what is possible) will be at risk.

In the end, I am very happy with not only the game idea our team produced, but also the open and collaborative environment fostered by this class. I will retain many of the lessons in future development, not only in game creation but also in the historical context of how games have developed. I have really taken the idea of practicing game design as a cultural practice, and I hope that the game we produced helps to expand those boundaries.

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Programming Sync

Posted by nbailey on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

Throughout Game Design as a Cultural Practice I have been confronted by new ideas and ways of thinking about games that have subsequently manifested themselves in my semester project: Sync. As a programmer I found that many initial design decisions fell on me while building the first prototypes and, later, while adding features and tools. In the following paragraphs I will discuss how programming and design intertwined during my hours working on Sync throughout the class’s iterative design process.

Early game prototyping is extremely fun. During the Sync team’s first meeting Ben introduced us to a game concept centered on a mimicry mechanic. It met the requirements for the class project, we were all excited about it, and Joe and I immediately set to work building prototypes to demonstrate potential movement paradigms. These first prototypes were set before our team members and, based on their feedback, I jumped into Flixel (our engine of choice) and continued constructing the prototype. At this stage I made several design decisions (fully expecting them to be overwritten later) encompassing colors, screen layout, level design, and player controls. The aesthetic qualities that resulted can appropriately be called “programmer art.” Fortunately, as Eric Zimmerman notes, “initial prototypes are usually quite ugly… they emphasize the game rules.” (Zimmerman) Indeed, early Sync prototypes opened right up to the game screen and presented the tester with a set of yellow squares moving in a circle: that is all that it took to model our core mechanic and springboard the game through an iterative design process.

“Aesthetics,” as I have perhaps improperly referred to them, do play a significant role in the design of a game. It was very obvious that there were no perceived affordances in these first prototypes: interacting with the game relied first on cultural conventions (the correspondence of arrow keys with two-dimensional movement in a flash game, their conventional but not inherent usage) and my instruction. (Norman) Furthermore, the unit art did not lend itself to the primary game mechanics of mimicry and discernment: the impostor was unable to take particular control over one of the units (“Which one am I?”) and the judge was unable to follow through on perceived irregularities in unit movement. The need for distinguishable units was established in these early prototypes and followed several iterations as development continued: yellow squares became colored, colored squares were re-colored to be more easily distinguishable, and finally the squares were replaced with Cameron’s art assets. The result is a much better solution to a requirement established very early on in the process but which also lent itself to other developments along the way. As in Zimmerman’s LOOP, the early implementation of our core mechanic inspired many questions that led to later developments. (Zimmerman)

To this point I have said little about programming except that my placeholder art was very poor. To switch gears I would like to return to Norman’s perceived affordances and cultural conventions. Although the game has always been about a player mimicking a trivial artificial intelligence, the cultural norms behind the standard controls for a two dimensional Flash game are strongly reflected in Sync’s architecture. The units’ motion is based on four Boolean (true / false) parameters that, for the player, are controlled by the arrow keys. For the AI, these parameters are controlled by rules that, originally, were hard-coded into the game. The iterative design process introduced different ideas for behaviors that we wanted to implement and the notion of a “level” (yet another cultural convention) persisted. The game’s architecture was modified to allow levels to be built with rules in an XML file that ultimately describe which button presses the AI units are simulating. The game’s description implies to the player that he or she should be able to reproduce the movement of the AI units on screen: the actual movement of the units in two dimensional space suggests to the player the button presses required to mimic their behavior. In this sense, the programming behind the artificially controlled units creates a perceived affordance of interactivity to the player.

One of the most significant additions to the game as a result of our play testing was a space for the impostor player to practice moving a unit in the pattern presented and with the appropriate physics. Our basic mechanic was technically sound but the game play was broken: impostors would give themselves away almost immediately, almost every time. In this case, in addition to the need for a practice arena, we did not provide enough affordances to indicate to the impostor that they were taking control of a unit at a certain point in time. As Norman points out, a computer mouse “affords pointing, touching, looking, and clicking on every pixel of the display screen.” Similarly, we chose to utilize the arrow keys’ inherent affordance of being pressed in both responsive and unresponsive ways: making the player aware of when the keys became responsive was critical. Our design allows for the player to “get into sync” with their chosen unit by pressing the buttons as if they are controlling the unit when they are not. This enables a rhythm of sorts to be established before the first player is exposed to the judgment of the second.

I really enjoyed programming Sync and I learned a lot from Celia’s lectures, the readings, and especially the chance to design, build, play test, and release this game. I believe our final design and architecture are conceptually solid and I look forward to refining the details of Sync to create an experience that brings people together and leads to even more new ideas of what a video game can be.

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

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

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GTL – Design Reflection

Posted by bblackburn on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Design Reflection

“Values are everywhere, embedded in every aspect of our culture and lurking in the very natures of our Medias and technologies. Culture workers know the question isn’t whether they are there but who is taking responsibility for them, how they are being shaped, and how they are shaping us and our future” (Laurel 62). As the writer and general lore-master of our game, GTL- The Shores of Jersey, I had to consider what messages people would take away from the content of our game. On one hand, we wanted to stay true to the show with our target audience being people that watch the MTV television show, Jersey Shore. On the other hand, we made some assumptions about the audience of the show and why people are attracted to such behavior, thinking that people only watch the show because of how ridiculous the characters are; thus, we wanted to poke fun at the culture at the same time. The three main aspects of the television show are: fights, hookups, and drama. To make sure that we still hit these three facets of the show even if we didn’t blatantly show them, I included dialog about comical and memorable events from the show as well as embedded many popular quotes from throughout the 3 seasons of the show to make sure that it would strike a chord with the audience. Some of this content was ridiculous enough that even those who have not watched the show could find humor in the antics.

As we decided to focus on the primarily the male aspects of the show, Gym, Tanning, and Laundry (since all the females contribute to the show is drama), I found difficulty in keeping the game entirely gender neutral; however, we took steps as far as the gameplay mechanics and game progression to ensure that females could derive pleasure from the experience as well. “Another common trait of male-gendered game spaces is their organizational structures. The majority of digital games are presented in a series of “levels” which escalate in difficulty, barring those who cannot master the skills and secrets of the game are barred from advancing” (Fullerton et al. 2.3). Our game doesn’t have “levels” that escalate in difficulty, instead we have a series of mini-games that remain quick, but stay at the same difficulty level; the better a player’s performance, the more skill stats he or she acquires, but this only serves to unlock abilities faster and increases the rate of “attractive” girls that you encounter in the club. A player can succeed in the club mini-game (the primary award system) with the starting abilities and pick-up lines they are provided, but success at the other mini-games makes the success easier and more interesting (new abilities).

To facilitate this gender neutral approach, I wanted to put a heavy emphasis on player socialization. The primary method of tying our mini-games to the culture and theme of Jersey Shore was primarily through the use of Non-Player Characters and the numerous dialogs they are equipped with. Any given NPC has from 6-20 different things to say including hints about the game, the culture of Jersey Shore, and allusions to content from the show. Play spaces for girls adopt a slower pace, are less filled with dangers, invite gradual investigation and discovery, foster an awareness of social relations and a search for secrets, and center around emotional relations between characters (Jenkins 356). Thus, players can progress our game as quickly or slowly as they like, they can explore the miniature world we afforded them, they can talk to the people of the Shore to learn more about the game and culture, and they can also learn new pick-up lines from talking to different people (and some of them only from certain directions). In this way, I hoped to give players the thrill of socializing and unlocking abilities at the same time. They can talk to all of the NPCs and obtain all of the pick-up lines from the start, or they can take their time.

On top of writing the dialog for the NPCs, I was also in charge of where they were placed in the world. One of the ways I wanted to highlight the possible actions in the game and the methods for succeeding were by giving NPCs, in specific locations, dialog that gave them hints or straight up told them what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to succeed in the game. There are several ways of getting a new user to understand what actions are possible. One way is to use words to describe the desired action (e.g., “click here” or use labels in front of perceived objects). However, words alone cannot solve the problem, for there still must be some way of knowing what action and where it is to be done. This requires a convention of highlighting, or outlining, or depiction of an actionable object (Norman). Thus, I tried to the speech of the characters to the actions a player could perform at the mirror, or in each of the world locations (Gym, Tan, Laundry, Club, House). This dialog was simply meant to complement the UI of the different areas and the mirror interface (the stat screen and place to attach abilities). They were simply meant to reinforce the user’s understanding. The people at the club give hints about battle, the people at the house gave hints about the mirror and the game in general, the people in the over-world tell you to do the mini-games, etc.

One of the most influential design choices for the narrative events and NPC scripting came from early player feedback. One player was quoted as saying “The NPCs seem to be just cardboard cutouts making fun of each other”. In reaction to this statement, I generated nearly 20 more NPCs and gave them dialog appropriate to their station and title (Gym Attendant, Bartender, DJ, Bouncer, Concerned Citizen, etc.) as well as the hints about the game and cultural references listed above. These changes, as well as a few edits to the original cast of 8 NPCs that were meant to represent the main cast of the Jersey Shore show, made the NPCs much more dynamic and interesting to talk to; we also added the learn a pick-up line from them functionality as an additional feature to make them more important and vibrant. “Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a work in progress. In iterative design, interaction with the designed system is used as a form of research for informing and evolving a project, as successive versions, or iterations of a design are implemented” (Zimmerman). We have and will continue editing the game in reaction to player feedback on the Internet. Our player base is no longer restricted to our colleagues and classmates, so we expect to receive even more helpful responses to our game that will help us refine this game and keep things in mind for future projects.

In addition to the flow of the game and the NPC interactions, gameplay requires goals that are difficult rather than easy to achieve. Making something as simple as possible removes the very things that characterize a game experience. In short a 100% success rate eliminates most of the aspects that make a game fun (Lazzaro). In order to make sure that the meta-game remained somewhat challenging, we decided to tell the players when Pick-up lines would work, on girls at the club, inside the Mirror interface, but left it up to the player to remember when these lines were appropriate to use. From a cultural standpoint, I also thought this was fitting because part of the fun of going out and socializing, trying to pick up girls, is trying to know when certain actions are appropriate on certain girls. All girls are different (just as all people are different), however, there are stereotypes that people fall into and they react in certain ways. We wanted to play on this and force people to stereotype (since that is what they do in the show and it is pretty ridiculous) and remember when a particular line would work on a girl based on how far you had lowered her guard. The other mini-games are challenging at first, but there is a learning curve; so we were relying on the difficulty of the club and actually picking up girls as the central mode of difficulty and subsequent satisfaction when you succeed.

Works Cited

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001.

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.

Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

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

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

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. “Complete Freedom of Movement” (1998)/Henry Jenkins 330.

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

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Design Reflection: Roads of Rage

Posted by rsaraceni on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

Although I enjoy the occasional rampage through Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto or shoving a guy in a trash can, impaling his head with a stop sign, picking him up, slamming him into a spike wall, then throwing him into a jet engine in Madworld, I have always had a special place in my heart for games that explore non-violent subjects or employ violence in a minimal tasteful manner. As such, I was quite excited by the restraints placed upon our final projects; being required to work around violence and stale, yet popular, themes such as fantasy and the post-apocalypse gave my team an opportunity to flex our game design muscles and try to come up with a unique game concept. The game that we created was Roads of Rage.

The primary influence that led to our decision to create Roads of Rage was the in-class board game modification activity.  During this activity, my team played a board game in which the goal was for girls to gain certain skill that allowed them to enter such professions as a teacher, model, or ballerina. After playing the game, we altered the game so that the goal of the game was for men to gather traits that they thought certain types of women found desirable in order to attempt to pick them up. Roads of Rage is similar in that we took a common game subject, racing/running, and we reversed the conventions so that the player has to progress very slowly and carefully through traffic to get to work without being arrested instead of driving quickly in order to beat your opponents.

The in-class gender lecture, “Identity, Representation, and Gender” and Pearce’s article “The Hegemony of Play” also influenced our game design decisions. We felt that making a game about being stuck in traffic would be a good idea because it is a novel concept that avoids the “chasing, shooting, fighting, and exploding present in the hyper-male world of games” and because this is an experience to which men, women, different cultures, casual and hardcore players, and different aged players can all relate (Pearce). Aesthetically, we also chose to stick with vehicles, billboards, and music that do not lend themselves to heavily to either gender.

Roads of Rage came to exist in its current form through playtesting, or as Zimmerman describes it in the article “Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process”, iterative design. We began the game development process by creating a paper prototype of our game and then attempted to use it to simulate the behavior of traffic in our game. At this point in the design process Roads of Rage was a top-down game, similar to the first three Grand Theft Auto games (I, II, and London 1969).  This style proved to be both visually dull and cluttered by the user interface, so we decided to change the game to a pseudo-3D side view, similar to most side-scrolling beat-em ups (the beat-em up Streets of Rage inspired the name of our game). On several occasions we asked people who were not a part of the development team to play the game and offer advice for improvement. After listening to their suggestions, we changed the game’s sound effects, added a horn, refined the way that rage affects the player, the speed at which rage builds, traffic patterns, car controls, and added progress markers.

Two concepts presented in Don Norman’s “Affordances and Design” that we considered during the development of Roads of Rage were perceived affordances and cultural constraints. We wanted to ensure that the player is aware that he is capable of turning the radio on and off and changing songs, so we created a radio as part of the UI and gave it knobs that turn and channel buttons, suggesting that the radio is interactive and there are multiple different songs/stations on it that the player can cycle through. We also wanted to make sure that the player was aware that different songs affect the rate at which you gain and lose rage, so we made the radio screen glow green or red depending upon whether the song had a beneficial or detrimental effect upon your rage, and we also added vocal responses to each song in order to differentiate between songs that the driver likes and dislikes. Because nearly every platformer or side-scrolling game in general requires the player to move left to right, we decided to make traffic move to the right. We also made the needle on the speedometer move clockwise in order to simulate the speedometers on all American cars and mapped the horn to the space bar, the largest button on the keyboard, in order to simulate a standard car’s steering wheel, on which pressing the large area in the middle generally activates the car’s horn.

Lazzaro discusses four different types of fun in the article “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion without Story”: hard fun, soft fun, altered states, and the people factor. Of these four types of fun, Roads of Rage employs two to a noteworthy degree: hard fun and the people factor. “Hard Fun creates emotion by structuring experience towards the pursuit of a goal. The challenge focuses attention and rewards progress to create emotions such as Frustration and Fiero “ and the fun of the people factor “centers on the enjoyment from playing with others inside or outside the game” (Lazzaro). Roads of Rage exhibits hard fun by frustrating the player with inconsistent traffic flow, producing a sense of triumph when the player deftly navigates between lanes without crashing and uses the HOV lane without being stopped by the police, and encourages the player to carefully manage their speed, music, and the traffic flow in order to reach work as quickly as possible. The people factor is exhibited by friends that watch the player acting as backseat drivers and humor created by the billboard’s references to real life and 8-bit versions of many songs such as “Never Gonna Give You Up”, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, and “Guile’s Theme”.


Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games    Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007.

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

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

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

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Design Reflection, Team Us

Posted by Huei-Hsu Tsai on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

I think a lot of times for it is difficult to completely incorporate project ideas and the readings that we’ve done in class. Though in a sense, this is what this class is about. We started learning about games culturally, through the table top games that people played like chess, cards games, and other ones from other time periods. It was interesting to me how the design of the games and the societal values often goes hand in hand.

For this project, I wanted to explore the idea of play. It was interesting to me that how Bernie DeKoven described the idea of play in his book. For the most part I liked the idea that players should be in charge of the game. And I thought that a simplistic game could be made focusing on the exploration of the game mechanic.

I thought that a game that has a underlying complex interaction between simple objects would be best suited to make the type of games I would want the players to experience. Hence, I chose a game that is based on real world physics. The complexity of physics is well-suited to make a game that is easy to play but hard to master.

Recalling the reading that talked about the different use of space and gender representation, I found it helpful to know that there needs to be things that can appeal to both genders. So the game was created with object strewn in space that the players can collect and respond to.

I found the criteria for the 4 keys in Lazarro’s Why We Play Games to echo our sentiments when we were testing and brain storming the game.

1. What players like most about playing?

For our game it was simple that players digged the idea of a simplistic control scheme. Which is what we were going for. A lot of times a game has too much going on at once, yet none of them would be explored too much. For this game, we really focused on one thing or just very few things. And tried to make it so that in the short testing session when the user was playing the game they know exactly what they were going for.

2. Creates unique emotion without story.

I thought that stories in a simplistic game often posed as a distraction to the players. For a game as simple as ours, it sometimes is best to just throw them into the fray without the overhead of a story or a background. As long as the game made some sense we wouldn’t have to go out of our way to explain to the players exactly what and why they are doing what they do.

And it was interesting observing the emotions of the players when they test-played. Most players immediately realize the challenge upon setting their hands on the control scheme. It is certainly not conventional for a game to have so few keys in terms of its control. That surprise is quickly compounded with curiosity in which the players are confronted with the task to move the ships around the space. And of course frustration follows quickly as the players found out about the finicky nature of the underlying physics and the limitations of the control scheme. However i think that most players when met with this challenge quickly accepted it and were genuinely interested in being more proficient with the game.

3. Already Present in Ultra-Popular games

Our game has several elements that are present in many of the popular games today. For example, fl0w and Osmos both have this idea of growing and collecting. The player is already familiar with the mechanic and thus have some grounds to draw experience from when first played our game. I think that making a game completely unfamiliar to players can cause several unwanted effects. Such as needing an extensive tutorial and the player’s willingness to jump over the hurdle of being exposed to all the unfamiliarity for the first time.

In play-testing, the players did struggle with the control scheme of the game, but the age old collection mechanic wasn’t an issue at all, and players accepted it without question.

4. Supported by Psychology Theory and Other Larger Studies

This is the weakest part in terms of correspondence to the criteria of the 4 keys. We didn’t really base our game on theories and studies, but from our own personal experience as players ourselves. So in the end we don’t know if theories supports our game. But we did tweak it as we see fit.

It was interesting in comparing the productivity software development to game development. (What’s My Method, 2004)Since software development has a well-established and rigorous methodology that it uses to tests the products. Of course some aspects can be reused to test the games like user interface and overall functionality. But the “fun” in the games is a very fleeting thing that we found out. As Zimmerman had said in the conclusion in Play as Research, Game design is a second-order design problem. Us game developers can make the game work, but to ensure that we made the game fun as well is where the real challenge lies.


DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books. (1st or 2nd Edition)
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.

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

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

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

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Gravity Tangent, Team Us, Final Game Prototype

Posted by Huei-Hsu Tsai on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Final Game Prototype, Game Design

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Gravity Tangent – Design Reflection and Postmortem

Posted by Rachel Keslensky on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

An elegant game designed as a co-operative multi-player game (but could just as easily be controlled by a single player), Gravity Tangent held a simple promise: Control a ship! Explore the Galaxy! Using your understanding of gravity, spin and slingshot across the universe! With a focus on cooperative play and a forgiving, even rewarding approach to failure, the game was meant to be as fun to “lose” as it would have been to win, given that even in losing the players would discover new areas of the map, detailing a rich and beautiful galaxy worth exploring for its own sake, and, after going completely off the rails, be gently deposited right where they started, able to try again.

The art of Gravity Tangent, featuring the Gemini twins, their ships, and some of the cosmic environs.

The various forms of fun, as defined by Lazarro, did not appear in the game all at once; the “Easy Fun” of exploring the galaxy would have made the learning curve of controlling the ships much more tolerable, especially combined with the “People Fun” of trying to coordinate actions between the two players sitting together at the keyboard. As players became better coordinated, these goals would be supplemented by “Hard Fun” and “Serious Fun” as goals, both game-set and user-set, came to the fore of gameplay.

Much of the game’s focus in its current form focuses solely on the “People Fun” and “Hard Fun”, assuming that learning the controls (and how to work together with a partner” was the point of the game, as opposed to something that needed to be made easier. In addition, no attempt to randomize the game was included; the game in its current form only contains the ships trying to reach a point on the field, with no set series of checkpoints or other objectives, and randomizing the game’s elements would have gone a long way towards keeping the game interesting for repeated play, something that was a necessary evil (due to the learning curve of the game making recovery difficult).

Norman’s described affordances were also an issue; while most games involve moving across a board with simple motions (using the arrow keys, clicking in a given direction, etc.), our game made movement itself a tricky proposition, and one that had to be explained to the player. It would have been much better if the game made this easier to illustrate, giving the player a better way to orient themselves while traversing the field, or even giving the player hints in timing — suggestions which were rejected on the grounds of making the game “too easy”, in spite of the fact that the point was not to make the game easier, it was to give the player a reinforced sense of where they were going.

In my own attempts to play, I had a very difficult time moving across the board — and was told to pay attention to how the ships were moving, despite the fact the only way to detect this was to observe the “dots” that were currently standing in place of the ships, as opposed to seeing where the current trajectory of the ship was pointing or even seeing the orientation of the ship. In this sense, the game violated Norman’s concept of a coherent conceptual model — given that the game hinged on being able to orient the ship in a chosen direction, the game HAD to be designed to reinforce the user’s ability to do just that — through adding a trajectory, a timing mechanism, the ship’s orientation, and possibly even a map pointing out where the goal the players needed to be heading towards was in comparison to where they currently were.

In the end, many of the more lofty goals of the game were never realized; while the core mechanic had always been considered elegant and fun, this also had to be balanced with a game that was pleasant and easy to pick up. Indeed, much of the game’s early praise was based on a bare-bones implementation of the mechanic; as a result, future iterations were more interested in refining that than in developing further functionality, more complex level design, additional affordances for the players (such as ships that pointed in a given direction, or any method for predicting the future trajectory of the ships). Much of what was put into the game after this point felt like an afterthought. Lazarro makes it clear that games should be useable, challenging, and fun, and the game, in its current form, is not useable enough to be considered fun, although it certainly is challenging.

So, what happened?

While we employed an iterative design process in developing the game (ala Zimmerman’s approach), much of what we wanted to do was disjointed and poorly coordinated; the game existed in a limbo for several weeks, often being worked on in fits and starts as opposed to with a keen sense of when things were due and what an appropriate estimate of time was for each element of the project. Too much, it seemed, depended on another component that didn’t exist yet — Art could not be designed without a sense of what the levels needed to contain; the levels couldn’t be designed without the game mechanic and physics nailed down; the physics somehow depended on the vision provided by the art to get a better understanding of how the pieces went together.

Instead of an iterative approach, it would have been better to recognize that the game needed certain elements taken care of first, or at least in such a way that didn’t require other members of the team to be left waiting to work on their portions. There was no clear, coherent sense of what the team wanted, and without this, spurring the rest of the team into action became futile. It is hard to look at what the game was intended to be, and what it turned into; providing additional time to work on the game would not have changed this, but having a better sense of what needed to be done at each stage of the process would have helped.


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

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

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

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

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Reflections of Rage

Posted by vsunga on Tuesday May 3, 2011 Under Blogpost Assignments, Design Reflection

Even though I had taken CS 4455 Video Game Design course last semester, this course, rather than focusing on the technical implementation of game properties,  focused a lot on what design aspects make games fun. Throughout the semester we have had many readings and presentation about the culture of games. We then used this knowledge to create  a much different game than any of us had previously,  Roads of Rage, which focused on as closely emulating the frustrating experience of being stuck in traffic as closely as possible.

One presentation/classroom activity that I felt influenced the thought process and design behind our game was the board game modification lecture. In our group we took a game aimed at girls choosing their future profession (Stewardess, Actress, College, etc), and modified it so that it turned into a dating game where the player is now male and is trying to pick up as many girls as possible through properly answering the card questions that originally came with the game. Even though our game does not dealing with dating, we discovered that we could make interesting game play by completely flipping the games intention and making it  “bad” in terms of that the game was originally.

This classroom activity provided the original inspiration for Roads of Rage when we sat down as a group to brainstorm game ideas.  Through totally switching the game conventions of a driving game (get to your destination as fast as possible, don’t obey laws, crash into other cars), we were able to make our game the exact opposite— a driving game based realistically on being stuck in traffic.

In  the reading Why We Play Games the author Lazzaro talks about the four types of fun that make up the “fun” experience felt in most games: Hard, Easy, Serious, and People fun. Since the goal of our game was to put the player in the experience of being frustrated in traffic, it is hard to denote the qualities of fun in our game as it has barely any of them. Roads of Rage does include an aspect of Hard Fun as properly balancing the road rage meter through switching radio stations, changing lanes, and using the HOV lane when needed, can be challenging at times. However, because of the time game play consists of just moving a few feet and stopping it takes the challenge away from the player most of the time.  There is no Easy or Serious fun as the player is limited to “explore” the highway that is mostly straight and because the player is constantly trying to balance his rage, a sense of relaxation is absent.

Despite these facts, our game does include an aspect of People Fun.  Lazzaro also notes in his reading What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games that enjoyment does not necessarily come from completing tasks but can also be found in the aesthetics or humor.  Elements such as the use of cheesy 8bit covers of popular songs,  artwork found in the billboards and menus, as well as the use of voiceovers to illustrate the inner  monologue going on inside the drivers head can be documented as elements of People Fun.

The inclusion of People Fun elements in our game was based on the iterative process used in our game development, as once we completed the basic mechanics the simulated frustrating traffic; we needed more elements in our game to make it more enjoyable.  Zimmerman describes the subject by stating “In iterative design, interaction with the designed system is used as a form of research for informing and evolving a project, as successive versions, or iterations of a design are implemented”.  The numerous play testing we did throughout the last part of class definitely helped in identifying key features that needed improvement. I personally feel that if more time and playtesting were allowed, we would have come up with other ways in which could make our game legitimately fun, while still keeping the games focus as a traffic jam game.

Another aspect that iterative process helped with was the mapping of the controls. Because our game does not have an introduction or a how to play screen, placement of elements in our GUI was crucial. Norman talks about this issue in Affordances and Design by stating the need of  “conventional usage, both in the choice of images and the allowable interaction”.  The change from a top down perspective t o a more side like profile view allowed the player to better understand the way our keyboard control presses worked. Because of its side view, players can intuitively think that left and right key presses correspond to moving the car backwards and forwards, while the up and down keys allow the car to change lanes.  The inclusion of a radio image does a good job of notifying the player that the radio is in a interactive feature the player can use.

Overall I can say the experience of making a uniquely different game based on the cultural and design factors known to make games fun taught me a lot. The principles in this class can definitely be applied towards making more mainstream games better as well.

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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