Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 2014: Sequels

Hello and welcome to a new topic for December 2014!

Back when I was running polls for this blog, there was a topic of Sequels that apparently never got voted up.  I struggled with the name of the topic because I don't think it should be strictly about sequels and franchising.  I think it's an interesting problem to try to continue something after it's already been established and self-contained.  Or perhaps people do create the first game with cliffhanger in hand for the sequel...?

With DLC, it seems like there could be a trickling stream of additional content that further expands the story, the world, and the gameplay.  With MMOs, this is a constant endeavor.  Is there ever an ending in sight?  How do we consider the eldergame?

The Opening Hook explored the impact of beginnings.  What is the impact of an ending that may not be the ending?

As always, I take requests about new topics and even encourage people to write in with their topics and questions.  Please take a look at the submission guidelines along with submission procedure on the right hand side of the blog.  Topic suggestions and articles are welcome!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

IGDA Webinar: The Evolution of Videogame Design

In this video, creative producer Patrick Holleman describes how tenets of game design evolved during the three historical ages that he calls the arcade era, the composite era and the set piece era.

Game design Webinars from the IGDA are held on every third Wednesday of the month.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Wearable Technology Inspires Game Development

In this article, Josephine Tsay considers the gameplay possibilities when the player's own biology is used as an input and how the blending of physical and virtual can lead to a truly personalized gameplay experience.

New devices not only change the way we play, but the way we re-imagine the player experience. What is interesting about the intersection between wearable technology and health games, is that it removes the hardware controller as an input barrier, and puts the agent, or the player, truly at the center of the experience. Because of wearable device technology, player experience is no longer limited to pressing plastic buttons. The player is now directly using his or her biology as one, or many, inputs.

Consider, for example, using one’s own arm as an input controller1. Imagine the player is touching his/her arm to engage in gameplay. What analogies and metaphors can we, as game designers, extend with that interaction? The neural impulses that occur from a player pressing his/her own skin can trigger a very visceral response as compared to the player just tapping on hardware. A new player empathy map2 subsequently emerges, including the potential for new game scenarios. What types of horror games can push this analogy? How does this inform other genres? What is the potential to teach gameplay through this type of input from the start, the way even the menu screen for Megaman3 teaches the shooting mechanic from the get-go?

What wearable technology does for games is to bring this direct type of cause and effect feedback between virtual and physical environments. In gaming, “wearable technology” often evokes variations of next generation head mounted displays of the Oculus Rift/Google Glass variety. Yet, there are examples of various health related devices with the potential for unique immersive experiences and gameplay using the body as an input device, even if the primary purpose of the device was not intended for games. The LUMOback posture sensor4 is better known to be a posture improvement device. In its app, however, there is a stick figure that shifts, in real time, to your body movements. The magic moment there consists of a combination of how you’re moving your body, how the avatar on your phone is responding to it, and then a very physical sensation of the belt vibrating against your lower back depending on the settings. The angle of how one positions his or her body can now be part of the game design consideration set. Now, this particular device was not designed for games, but the potential of this type of interaction can serve as inspiration, at the very least, for innovative gameplay.

The intersection between wearable technology and health games is an interesting one, if mainly because it blends physical and virtual worlds in a way that goes beyond “just for fun.” Phobious “uses your smartphone as a Virtual Reality device to expose you to those situations that you fear, slowly and gradually.” Thync “creates wearable consumer products that use neurosignaling to shift your state of mind.” Such developments open up the gate for games using biofeedback to alter levels, as Nevermind strives to achieve with its “haunting gameplay experience” where “a biofeedback sensor will monitor how scared or stressed you become moment-to-moment.” By using biofeedback and neurosignals, the player experience can be further personalized in a way that’s specific to the individual player. Layer that with player types, and a game can really feel like it’s been especially crafted for you.

Nevermind screenshot
The next few years will be really exciting as wearable technology continues to disrupt and push the potential of games. As wearable controllers go beyond watches and gloves to jackets and arms, from the screen to the screen-less, the player becomes the center of the game experience in a way that continues to stretch the imagination and propels the industry forward.

1 “Skinput turns your arm into a touchscreen”, Lisa Zyga,

2 Empathy Mapping, Stanford Design School,


4 LUMOback Kickstarter page,

Josephine Tsay studied at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, and U.C. Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Her work spans across story, games, wearable tech, educational tech, and mobile user experience. She worked at Google for several years and is now currently exploring the intersection of psychology and games.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November 2014: Wearable Technology

Hello and welcome to a new topic for November 2014:  Wearable Technology.

Remember, I'm always taking requests about new topics and even encourage people to write in with their topics and questions.  Be sure to take a look at the submission guidelines along with submission procedure on the right hand side of the blog.  Topic suggestions and articles are welcome!

This month, I've combined a few requests together regarding Health Games, Input Devices, Mobile Beyond Phones into the topic of Wearable Technology.  While Oculus, Google Glass, and smartwatches are not necessarily about health and fitness, there is a whole host of wearable devices and apps focused on healthcare.  I've seen gamification attempts but would like to see more games in this area.

Some questions to consider:
  • How will these new devices impact game design?  How does the interface change the way we play games?
  • What new trends do you foresee?  Will these new devices be embraced by mainstream audiences?
  • How can the data harvested from wearable technology be used in gameplay and in games?
  • How intrusive would be these games, considering the data collected is about an individual and not a fictional character?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

IGDA Webinar: Kickstarter

In this video, Howard Tsao, Team Lead of Muse Games, describes how Muse Games created successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund Guns of Icarus Online, its multiplayer airship combat game.

Remember to sign up for the next Game Design Webinar November 19 on the evolution of game design. Creative Producer Patrick Holleman presents the history of game design from Dungeons & Dragons to the modern era.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Critical Combat Systems in Competitive Gaming

In this article, retired Dungeon Master Derrick B. Smith delves into the history of Critical Combat Systems and explains why such systems may not be the best choice for competitive games.

Computer game players are finding more games with Critical Combat Systems for entertainment. The inclusion of a random critical system in a non-competitive game can bring a level of excitement. The inclusion in any competitive gaming environment is a mistake. It turns a competitive game from being fair and balanced to one of random dumb luck. Imagine tossing a 6-sided die to decide how many points a touchdown was worth in an American Football game.

The starting point for Critical System being introduced to gaming dates back to the beginning of the RPG genre. Typically seen as “House Rules,” many groups adopted the concept. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and similar RPG games have simplified combat systems that lend themselves to the addition of a “Critical Strike”. Many groups would later go on to add a “Critical Fail” mechanic to their existing gameplay.
Photo taken by Davi Silva.

The D&D combat system used a 20-sided die (d20) roll for combat resolution. In its easiest form, any natural d20 roll of a 20 would allow for a “Critical Hit”. This allowed the attacker to double the damage the target suffers. There were many ways to resolve this double damage. Most groups’ double the full damage including any modifiers the player’s character was entitled to utilize. Other groups adopted a doubling of only the weapons base damage die than adding any modifiers unchanged. The main difference in the two systems was the maximum damage. The second reduced the potential significantly.

Other gaming systems added complex “Critical Strike” charts typically broken down into weapon groups and creature body type/armor. Though it allowed for more diversity in the results, they also slowed gameplay down. A talented Dungeon Master could story line the results without relying on any complex charts to add flavor to the game.

The Critical Fail system allowed for comical or tragic failures. The failure was rarely automatic and very dependent on the situation at the time of the failure. This shows why a true RPG requires a Human Game Master. Though computers are great for doing calculations and simplifying some tasks, they are not able to adapt to a changing story line based on game events and player decisions. The fumbling player would in many cases be required to make additional die rolls to reduce the negative result. An example would be to prevent breaking a weapon or hitting an ally or themselves.

As computer-based games developed, it was natural to see RPG-styled games created. A “Critical Strike” component added to non-competitive games can be more exciting than harmful. Within a Player vs Computer game, the effect of this random element does not add a noticeable negative aspect to the game. This is not true when you have games designed to be competitive or built with a Player vs Player (PVP) aspect. The random element that a “Critical Strike” adds could be compared to flipping a coin to determine who goes first in each round of a Chess Match. This random factor removes the development of tactical skills from many games. Players will still develop strategies for gameplay but there will be many who only try to score that Critical to win.

There are games designed to be competitive and the random luck “Critical Strikes” add diminishes the inherent skill component some games contain. Instead of an evolution of attacks and defenses strategies being developed, players migrate to getting lucky and falsely believe that luck is similar to true skills. Though a Critical Strike system brings uncertainty and a sense of suspense, the thrill does not last long and an enduring game fails to evolve.

Derrick B. Smith is a retired Dungeon Master. He started playing D&D and similar games before it was called 1st edition. He is still waiting for the first real RPG computer game to be developed. Also, Biker, Trucker, Gamer, Seamstress.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Critical Systems and Fairness

In this article, educator Molly Thunderbreeze gives her thoughts on critical systems and how they impact the player's view of fairness in the game.

The introduction of a critical system into the gameplay aspects of a game has both quantitative and qualitative disadvantages in both the PVP and PVE areas of any game. Fairness should be strictly monitored and maintained in order that not only the PVE but PVP remains fair for all players through quantitative analysis of any proposed changes. At first glance, a critical system is quite exhilarating (i.e., fun!) resulting in shorter boss fights, or shorter PVP matches. However, eventually everyone will be on the receiving end, and this has long term affects on a user's attitudes towards the game.

You do not want your players screaming, “THAT'S NOT FAIR!” ripping them out of their immersion experience. A primary concern for game makers should be creating a sense of fairness in their game. A game does not have to be 'fair,' but it must have the appearance of being fair most of the time.

Typically, the implementation of these critical systems could never quantitatively maintain fairness (killing a player on the first or second round in a turn based game, or within the first three minutes in a real time strategy game will never be considered fair or fun for very long), and for this reason serious consideration of these overpowering critical systems should be abandoned.

Critical systems are an interesting concept, but are often implemented without reviewing overall ramifications. Many game makers create updates on a 'release and see' basis, testing only non-crashability of the game. Prepublication beta testing is where likability is typically tested, and then further testing in this area is abandoned with later updates, a sort of "well they are hooked so why bother?" mentality. I believe that the issue regarding balance (in both PVE and PVP) outweigh all other 'advantages' to adding a critical system. Once a critical system has been introduced, the issue of player expectancy comes into play (e.g., disappointments over not getting the critical boosting in either a PVP or PVE setting, the critical system used against the user themselves, etc.), and should be considered before incorporating any critical system into a game. Most critical systems overpower the user in both the PVP and PVE settings

For a PVE environment, we have frustration over a slower game experience when it is not 'working' for the user, and/or frustration if the monsters are successful in critical hits against the user. In the PVP environment, if any part of the arena is luck-based (turn-based games are notorious for this issue), then the addition of a critical system just stretches credulity for the arena being 'fair' in most users' minds.

SIDE NOTE: If a critical was not a 'doubling' but rather a smaller percentage boosting of the hit, it might be a viable addition to a game. However, mathematical analysis for fairness would need to be done on the overall system to see if such a system was feasible. Simply increasing all players by a flat percentage with each leveling will almost ensure skewing fairness for all users of the game at some upper level, and it gets more uncontrollable with a critical system in place. Quantitative analysis must be done with each level change to ensure a 'fair game' is experienced by all.

Wizard101 Example: Wizard101 made the mistake of doing two things with their Celestia update: adding a critical system, and doubling the stats for all users from level 50 to level 60. It resulted in users being overpowered for not only PVE, but especially PVP. The arena matching system that was broken became even more of a problem (a simple level 60 = 2*level 50 would not have sufficed as a fix). To add to the problem, there was the issues of employee turnover rates (not enough employees in the command chain that knew the game), too many short term consultants, and no prior quantitative analysis on the proposed changes. While bumping stats by 50% is a good starting point for beta testing a new level, it is not something that should have gone live without testing and analysis. The leveling of users was not a gradual consistent climb and thus, any arena matching routine that considered only level would be useless.

Molly Thunderbreeze taught both mathematics and education at the university level. Her educational background is in applied mathematics and education.  She is currently attempting to create a game that is both fun and educational in the area of mathematics in an MMO game environment.