Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to be Successful at Game Jams

In this video, game prototyping specialist Bernard Fran├žois explains the steps for a successful game jam experience: preparation, concept choice, production planning, and execution.
Making games in 48 hours is hard. But what can you do to increase your chances of success? How can your prepare yourself for a game programming competition, such as Global Game Jam?  What are some of the strategies you could employ to turn the odds in your favor?

This video tells you all about it.

Bernard Fran├žois is a game prototyping specialist and founder of PreviewLabs - the only company in the world entirely dedicated to rapid prototyping for projects using game dev technology.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Upcoming Workshops in Game Writing and Genre Fiction

I'm pleased to announce the fourth installment of the Game Writing Portfolio Workout on February 2nd at Microsoft NYC! I'm so amazed by the reception of these workshops.  I even got a standing ovation at the conclusion of the last Workout.  

If you'd thought about writing for video games or even if you are a practicing game writer, come join me in this fun community event.  No experience is required, though it is helpful.  Participation in the earlier workouts are not needed to understand what's going on, but you do get a broader sense of what is the craft of game writing if you have attended the earlier sessions.  I think this may be the last of the series, at least for now, because I want to get back to the genre fiction workshop I first offered back in July 2015.  It's what got the Game Writing Portfolio Workout started but there's still lots to explore in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror game writing.  Call it a specialization :)

As always, the event is held through Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development.  Early Bird tickets start selling now.

Then, on March 3rd, I'll return to Microsoft NYC for Writing for Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Game Worlds If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror and want to populate your game world with monsters, creatures, aliens, fantastical beasts, and otherworldly cultures, you can benefit from this participatory workshop. Tickets sold here.

About Me

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing.  I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT and then I specialized in Screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts.  My first published game as a writer was on the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival.  Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher, for which I was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. I currently head the WGAE Videogame Writers Caucus and am SIG leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Latest Game News Here! Press Any Key Games Podcast

Hi!  I had so much fun with the Geeks World Wide Year in Review podcast that I'll now be appearing semi-regularly on the Press Any Key Games Podcast!  If you don't have a chance to catch up on your daily or weekly game news or just want to get a perspective on what others find important, take a listen to the podcast or watch the livestream at the following places:

When we're livestreaming, it'll be on Twitch:

If you want to listen, there's GWW Radio on SoundCloud:

Or you can subscribe through iTunes:

Videos are posted on the GWW Web site:

Finally, if you want to subscribe on YouTube, there's the Geeks World Wide channel 

Show Notes (if you want to check out some of the news stories yourself)

PSA: Amazon Prime gives 20 percent discount on new/pre-release games. (
HTC says Vive preorders to start on February 29, with shipping in April. (
VR sticker shock: How Oculus failed to prepare the world for a $599 Rift. (
Will Supreme Court tackle 1st Amendment issue in Madden NFL litigation? (
Major piracy group warns games may be crack-proof in two years. (
Analyst thinks the Nintendo NX will ‘cannibalize’ 3DS and Wii U sales. (
2015 was the Japanese games industry’s worst year on record. (
Norwegian high school puts e-sports and gaming on the timetable. (
Sony tried to trademark ‘Let’s Play’. (   
“I am not a terrorist”: Muslim man barred from playing Paragon beta. (

Monday, January 11, 2016

Please Stop Sticking Things To Animals

In this article, game designer Francisco Gonzalez implores adventure game designers to avoid puzzles with sticky animals so that players can have a better gameplay experience.

Allow me to go on a bit of a rant, if I may. Adventure games have become infamous for their puzzles. I say “infamous” because when you ask most people what feelings they associate with playing games of this genre, they often respond with “frustration,” “annoyance,” or “hate.” The reason for this is mostly because many early adventure games featured puzzles with logic so obtuse, players wouldn’t be able to proceed unless they called the company-run hint lines (at roughly 75 cents per minute) to get the answers they needed. In fact, the founders of Sierra Online have admitted that at one point, revenue from hint books and hint lines far surpassed that of sales of the actual games. Once the internet became popular, this all went away, since finding solutions was just a Google search away. What didn’t go away, however, was ridiculous puzzle design. What’s worse, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in recent adventure games that have all adopted a common solution: sticking things to animals.

“What on earth are you talking about?” you may be wondering. Allow me to enlighten you, dear reader, on the
intricacies of this terrifying new trope. In what can only be described as “creative desperation,” there are several games which feature this type of puzzle. In the interest of integrity, I will refrain from naming them, but I will describe the puzzles in detail so as to warn you in case you ever encounter them in your gameplay experiences.

We’ll begin with a recent release, which features not one, but TWO instances of the stick things to animals puzzle. In the first case, our protagonist finds himself in a mountaintop cable car station. The villains have stopped the cars from running by sabotaging a fuse box. Our job, as the player, is to repair the broken fuse and get the system running again. If the player attempts to look in the fusebox, they can see that the broken fuse is located at the far end of the box, out of the player’s reach (he doesn’t want to stick his arms in for fear of being electrocuted.)

Now, there are a number of ways this could have been handled, but this is how the game designers chose to go about it in this particular case: in the player’s inventory is a matchbox containing a live cockroach which we have been carrying all game, along with a crumbled tea biscuit, a paper clip, and several other items which serve no current purpose. In the station are a pair of large gears, on top of which is a lunch box. Activating the large gears crushes the lunchbox, which causes a jar of jam inside to explode and leak around the area. The player must then use the paperclip on the jam to make it sticky, then paste it on the back of the cockroach, toss the biscuit inside the fusebox, which then lures the roach to the exact spot where the paperclip on its back makes contact with the ends of the fuse and restarts the mechanism.

Take a moment to recover from that. As long as you need. Now, let’s move on to the second instance.

The second to last puzzle in this game features an ancient temple being guarded by some armed thugs. In the vicinity is a goat. To scare the thugs away, the player must take a piece of old sausage, stick a fuse in it so it resembles dynamite, light it, then tie it around the goat’s neck and lure it over to the guard with some fruit, scaring them away.

One might think this sort of thing was specific to this one game, but another one released in the mid 2000s did something equally ridiculous. In this game, the player is required to spy on a conversation being held inside a house, to which they have no access. Hanging around outside is a cat, and through some exploration the player can notice that the cat’s water dish is inside the house. In order to spy on the people talking inside, the player must tape their cell phone to the back of the cat, then feed it some extra salty tuna so it becomes thirsty and runs inside to drink water from its dish. The player then listens in via another phone.

One more example of this is a rather famous puzzle from a well-known game where the player needs to retrieve a key from some subway tracks. The solution requires you to tie a rope and clamp to an inflatable duck flotation device. The deflating duck causes the clamp to slowly close and grab the key. While technically not a living animal, this should be included for its sheer ridiculousness.

The lesson to be learned here is that animals should not be included as viable solutions to adventure game puzzles. Forcing the player to think up these outlandish and ridiculous solutions only hurts the genre and causes nothing but frustration and anger.

 Francisco Gonzalez has been writing and designing point and click adventure games since 2001. His favorite aspect of designing narrative based games is the writing process, and being able to create worlds and make characters come to life. He currently works at Wadjet Eye Games as a designer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Gaming Year In Review Podcast

It's that time of the year for wrap-ups, top ten lists, and remembrance. What were your top gaming stories of the year? I participated in the Geeks World Wide 2015 Gaming Year in Review Podcast where we discussed upcoming trends in VR, open worlds vs. linear narrative experiences, and of course, awesome games.

Show Notes (if you want to check out some of the news stories yourself)

Confirmed: Kojima leaves Konami to work on PS4 console exclusive [Updated]. (
Survey: “Gamers” are poorer, more male, less white than “game players”. (
Nintendo touchscreen controller patent offers clues about upcoming NX. (
BioShock creator: ‘gamers want an experience that lasts more than 10-12 hours’. (

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Polar Ice is Melting!

In this article, game designer Sande Chen describes her playtest experiences with the card game, EcoChains: Arctic Crisis. 

Happy Holidays! I hope everyone is doing well.  Here, in the East Coast of the United States, it's unseasonably warm for December.  While we may be enjoying the spring-like weather, up in the Arctic, the polar ice is at its lowest point ever. This is why 2/3 of the polar bear population is expected to die off by 2050.  :(  The climate change card game, EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, which was funded through Kickstarter and a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, hopes to bring attention to this global issue.

EcoChains: Arctic Crisis
I was recently sent EcoChains for review on this blog and I thought what better place to bring it than to NYC Playtest, the monthly meeting of board game designers.  They vigorously playtest board games to get feedback from other designers.  I played a game of EcoChains with the board game designers and then I played a round with people who play board games or tabletop RPGs with kids every day.

It's a fairly quick game, estimated 30 minutes long, for up to four players.  We played it incorrectly both times, despite multiple people reading the directions repeatedly.  We also did not use the advanced cards, which probably would have made the game more interesting.

Initially, we got some polar ice cards and starter animals.  Throughout the game, we built food webs, indicating which animals consume other animals.  For example, a seal can survive on arctic cod, but in turn, a polar bear can eat the seal.  Some animals, generally the higher order ones, require polar ice in order to remain in the food web.  When the polar ice melts due to climate change, the polar bear would have to migrate or die.  In the first game, we did not realize there could be more than one node in the food webs, meaning 2 seals can build on 1 arctic cod card, so we quickly reached a stalemate, whereupon we were continually passing around cards (to simulate the migration) around the table.  The second game, where this was rectified, did run much better.  While making food webs, players try to hit goals, such as sustaining 3 whales.

In both games, we did find it hard to keep track of our cards, as the food webs can get quite large.  You almost need some kind of placemat to organize your cards.  In the second game, we didn't realize that the "good" polar ice recovery event cards weren't played out immediately like the "bad" polar ice melting event cards.  I suppose this was to simulate the situation of positive externalities in that if one party makes the effort to help recover polar ice, this helps all parties.  However, the benefactor would have to choose between taking the "good" event card or selfishly continuing on the path of accumulating points.  The player who has accomplished the most goals and has the most animals generally wins.

On the education front, the game does make it clear through the gameplay that polar ice is necessary for animal survival.  Players do learn about food webs and different arctic animals.  However, my playtesters did not feel that this was a card game that kids would pick up and enjoy on their own for fun.  Rather, the game seems like it would fit in better as a classroom activity where teachers can provide context.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Educational Games: The Big Picture Part II

In the weeks after the publication of "Is the School Market Still Just a Mirage?" on the Games and Learning website, I have seen that it has led to discussions about the state of the industry and perhaps some soul-searching as to how to improve the situation.  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen wrote on the LinkedIn discussion that while the article was U.S.-centric, the lessons hold true for Europe as well.  This issue of commercialization ranks high on the list of concerns for educational game developers globally.  Other developers, however, are not yet at that stage of worrying about profits, but more generally are concerned about:  How do I fund the development of my game?

This important question is the focus of the second article, "The Real State of Learning Game Funding."  Much like in the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, I relate advice from developers who have walked the walk and come out with thousands of dollars to fund their projects.  What are other developers doing that you can learn from?  Read and find out.

In particular, check out the audio interview, which covers material not included in the article.


I would consider this article to be the most business-oriented of the four, but maybe that's why it's the most important.  While this stuff is not as fun as working on the game design, the nitty gritty details of how to find funding and how to make money are vital to a new business.  This often can be lacking in creative endeavors.  If you're starting up an educational game company, I think you'll find this article very informative.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.