Friday, August 27, 2010

September 2010 Poll

Please vote for the September 2010 topic!  As always, feel free to suggest more topics!

You'll see the poll to the right. The choices are:
  • Cheats
  • Collecting & Completion
  • No More War Games?
Collecting & Completion
Many games attempt to hook players with short and long term goals to collect within games, whether it is a series of items or emblems, characters and captured creatures, or simply achievements. Do these elements enhance our designs, or are we cheating our designs by diverting attention from them?

No More War Games?
Videogames have a heritage in that they were constructed from display technologies developed because of the Cold War. The first games all resembled some form of war simulation (with Pong being an exception), what would it take to skirt this trend and start developing games that do not revolve around war?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Coming AR Revolution

In this article, alternate reality game designer and writer Andrea Phillips discusses the near-future of augmented reality games.

Here in 2010, the sizzle is all about mobile games, social games, location-based games. I’ll forgive you if you’re a little tired of hearing about them. But you’d better get used to it; these trends are just getting started. Just wait until you see what’s coming down the pike for 2020! I’m talking about the coming revolution in augmented reality games.

These games will allow you to interact with real and virtual environments at the same time, overlaying visual or auditory data on your real-world experiences. If you’ve seen Minority Report or Iron Man, you’ve got the right general idea – gestural interfaces and computer-generated images floating in the air. Sure, there’s some Hollywood magic in there; hologram tech, for example, isn’t quite ready for prime time. But real tech companies are working on building devices that can deliver experiences just as amazing, if not more so.

Surprisingly, these Hollywood portrayals of AR don’t show you the real possibilities that come when you take the tech and make it mobile. Just imagine the games you could make with a system like that! (To get you started, you can take a look at some of the games I’ve predicted already. Or just read Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.) I don’t know about you, but the game design possibilities make me positively giddy.

So how do we get there?

The biggest hurdle to augmented reality games are the same hurdles that mobile games have only recently overcome. The technology needs to be in the hands of a critical mass of potential players, which means it needs to be cheap, easy to use, and absolutely reliable. And it needs to be powerful enough to deliver a compelling gaming experience, of course.

We’re already on our way. Most smartphones are powerful enough to deliver great games already. The limiting factor in many mobile games is input/output -- screen real estate, not CPU. And these problems are well on their way to being solved.

Companies like Vuzix are already working on transparent AR glasses, so you can interact with the real world and the virtual at the same time. The MIT Media Lab is developing projects like SixthSense, which can turn the whole world – even your body – into input devices.

These may seem clunky and impossible right now, but in ten years’ time, the technology will become lighter, lighter, cheaper, and near-ubiquitous. Our precedent here is Bluetooth. It took about ten years for the now-common headsets to percolate into the mainstream; now, you can’t walk into a supermarket without seeing one.

The first warning shots of the AR gaming revolution have already been fired. Games like The Hidden Park, Kweekies, and Level Head all demonstrate some of the novel possibilities for games yet to come. And companies like Mirascape are building the gaming platforms of the future. As the tech gets better, the games will, too.

We’re not there yet; a lot of the AR work out there currently amounts to cunningly engineered party tricks. But the AR revolution is definitely coming, and I mean to be ready for it. Will you?

Andrea Phillips is a freelance alternate reality game designer and writer, and has worked on projects like the award-winning Perplex City, True Blood’s Blood Copy campaign, and Channel 4’s She writes about games and digital culture at Deus Ex Machinatio.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Learning Through Classic Games

In this article, writer and game designer Sande Chen urges game design students to take a look at classic video games.

A few weekends ago, I participated in a Playpower workshop to create 8-bit games for children in developing countries.  It turns out that the patents on these old systems have long gone, so Chinese manufacturers have been churning them out and selling them for the equivalent of $10 each.  Who would have known that 8-bit systems were still popular as ever in parts of India or Africa? Outside of the demoscene and video game console collectors, there's probably no one tinkering with a NES or Atari 2600 in the U.S.
Photo: © Imelda Katarahardja  Reprinted with permission

But, we all know the games from that era.  Games like Pac-Man or Asteroids.  These classic games have endured the test of time to become cultural icons.  It seems like more and more of these classic games are being re-released on Steam, XBLA, or Good Old Games.  Game design students should be rejoicing.

In the past, I have had one game design student tell me that he was glad he was born after that era so he didn't have to play games with stinky graphics.

The thing is...  the graphics shouldn't matter to a game design student. Photo-realistic graphics may enhance the game experience, but a game can be a great game even if your ship is an isosceles triangle.  Speaking at the recent Gamesauce conference, game designer Kent Hudson remarked that Jason Rohrer's game Passage, even with its low-rez graphics, had a deep emotional resonance for him.

Furthermore, great game design is about dealing with constraints.  Stripped of the glitzy graphics and orchestral soundtrack, a game stands and falls on its design.  The Playpower workshop outlined the many limitations faced by the original game designers.  Just think:  your watch or cell phone may be (and probably is) more powerful than an original NES.  Yet, people are still playing and enjoying classic games.  That's why game design students should be studying these classic games so they, in turn, can make enduring classic games for the next generation of game design students. 

But take a step further:  If you're up for a challenge, consider signing up and making a 8-bit game for Playpower.  The Playpower Foundation wants games of educational value, but hey, that's just another game design constraint :)  After all, your game may just become the monster hit of the developing world.

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.