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]. (http://bit.ly/1Oi4HuF)
Survey: “Gamers” are poorer, more male, less white than “game players”. (http://bit.ly/1Oi4F5Z)
Nintendo touchscreen controller patent offers clues about upcoming NX. (http://bit.ly/1Oi4HuP)
BioShock creator: ‘gamers want an experience that lasts more than 10-12 hours’. (http://bit.ly/1Oi4Iip)

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.

Friday, December 4, 2015

More Than a Hero's Journey

At the last WGA East Videogame Writers Caucus meeting, Steele Filipek, lead transmedia producer at Starlight Runner Entertainment, came by to explain all things transmedia: what it is, its uses, key elements etc. One thing he noted is that in a transmedia storyworld, the hero's journey is just one story out of many stories and the hero is just one character out of many characters. Broadening the narrative fiction from a video game universe enables creators to see that there are many stories waiting to be told and not all of them have a structure well-suited to the medium of video games.  Despite advice from some corners to include the hero's journey in video games, the hero's journey may not be the best choice, particularly for multiplayer games, but it can be useful in a novelization.

The following infographic, produced by Getty Images, while mostly directed to marketers, explains why transmedia stories are pertinent and more enjoyable to users today.