Thursday, July 28, 2016

Games For Change Festival: Breaking Into the Education Market

In this video, game designer Sande Chen discusses the difficulties faced by game developers in breaking into the education market.

If you missed my presentation about the educational market at the 13th Annual Games For Change Festival, it's now on Games For Change's official YouTube channel along with other coverage from the conference.  Thank you all for the support.

As a reminder, all 5 research reports based on my research for the Cooney Center are on the Games and Learning website.  They can be found here:

Friday, July 22, 2016

What Game Designers Can Learn From Cinema

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explores the ways film directors are masters of audience manipulation and what that means for game design.

Last Monday, I had to opportunity to hear game director and writer Sam Barlow talk about the inspiration behind his award-winning game, Her Story, at the BAFTA Master Class in Lincoln Center.  Surprisingly, it began with an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's famous movie, The BirdsI'm a graduate of USC Cinematic Arts who has studied Hitchcock in cinematography class, so I was all for it; it's just that usually, when speakers talk about film and games, it's about the differences, not the similarities or what we can learn from the great film directors of the past.

Barlow didn't talk about the visual language of films, but more about Hitchcock's deft manipulation of the audience's expectations.  It's similar to what writers would call "hopes and fears."  However, these are not the characters' hopes and fears, but rather, those of the audience.  We know The Birds is a horror film about birds, so we the audience anticipate a bunch of scenes with birds attacking.  In fact, at the beginning, we may not even mind if the main character gets attacked because she comes off as smug and spoiled.

Barlow points out that the birds don't start attacking right away.  There's a build-up of anticipation.  The first attack, depicted in this scene, doesn't happen until some 30 minutes later. 

When there's a switch from mystery to suspense, the audience knows more than the characters and therefore can shout at the characters, "Don't do that!"  They become invested in the story.  What the audience knows or doesn't know is up to the director.

In contrast, traditionally, readers of mysteries marveled at the grand reveal of the killer in a whodunit.  Nowadays, more often than not, in a TV crime show, we may already know who's dead and who killed the victim.  Our viewership has become more sophisticated because we're more interested in the how and the why of the crime.  We are active viewers.

Can this work in interactive fiction?  As Barlow explains, Her Story builds upon viewer expectations about police procedurals. The player has certain expectations as to what might be happening and dives right into the investigation.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose experience spans over 10 years in the game industry.  Her credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus and the 2007 RPG of the Year, The Witcher.  She is the chapter leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Upcoming Workshops: Game Writing and Sci Fi Deep Dive

If you've been coming to my workshops at PlayCrafting NYC, then you know that we've been covering many different topics in game writing.  This month's Game Writing Portfolio Workout on Monday, July 25, will be the culmination of all we've discussed because we will be going through exercises based on writing tests given by game companies.  Hopefully, through this process, you'll come to understand your strengths and weaknesses. 

If you come this month, bring a laptop or notepad and be prepared to do a lot of writing!

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, has Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price.

The details!
Date:  Monday July 25, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM

And coming up on Saturday, September 10, for the first time, will be my half-day workshop on incorporating science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements into any type of writing.  I've been yearning to do a deep dive about genre fiction and what better place than at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in historic Philipse Manor at Sleepy Hollow, NY.  This workshop will be limited to 15 students and if you become a member of the HVWC, then you receive a discount off courses as well as other benefits, such as help in submitting your work to journals, agents, and publications.

The details!  
Date: Saturday, September 10, 2016
Time: 12:30 PM - 4:30 PM

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.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Upcoming Wearable Tech

In this article, game designer Sande Chen previews upcoming wearable technology and how it may transform the way we live our lives.

HoloLens Photo: Microsoft Sweden
While much excitement has been generated by the potential of high-end VR devices, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and the more affordable smartphone-using Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, I'd like to spotlight two more technologies coming to consumers.  Microsoft HoloLens isn't VR, but what's known as "mixed reality," whereby holographic images are projected atop real environments.  If you've ever played an augmented reality game like Niantic's Ingress, then this is similar except that there's no phone.  This is a head-mounted display.

Here's a video from Microsoft that depicts uses for the HoloLens in daily life, in education, in collaborative workspaces, and in entertainment.

Google's Project Jacquard is technology woven into everyday clothes. Yes, like this upcoming first-ever "smart garment," Levi's Commuter x Jacquard.  Basically, conductive yarns can be woven into clothing, like jeans, jackets, shirts (well, anything fabric), turning them into touchscreen devices.  With the jacket, you can answer phone calls, get directions, and turn on music.  And it's machine washable.  How's that for functional?

Is there any new technology you're excited about?  Let me know in the comments!

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, July 1, 2016

The Future of AI NPCs

In this article, game designer Sande Chen describes what happens when players have a supercomputer for a mentor and what this development means for games in the future.

Showcased in last week's session "Playing Medical Minecraft with IBM Watson" at the Games For Change Festival, Medical Minecraft is more than just a student mod of Minecraft transformed into a first-person shooter with disease enemies like malaria.  Players get a strong ally in the form of a NPC powered by IBM Watson. IBM Watson is the computer system known mostly for beating its human competitors on "Jeopardy!"

IBM Watson By Clockready via Wikimedia Commons
Using AI for NPCs has been done before, most notably in the game, Facade, whereby the player can interact with a couple on the brink of divorce. YouTube is littered with examples of players messing with Facade.  The funniest tales are when the players refuse to role-play the domestic scenario and instead type in outlandish inputs such as impending global thermal nuclear war or a grisly car accident.  The couple continues on with the conversation without acknowledging the dire circumstances.

In Medical Minecraft, players can quell their curiosity about various diseases.  IBM Watson playing the knowledgeable mentor character answers the questions not by doing a massive brute force search of the Internet, but by relying on its training in determining what is the most likely answer.  Moreover, players do not have to confine themselves to certain phrases or words as in previous computer games.  They can carry on a Q&A conversation with IBM Watson.  It isn't like the classic game ELIZA at all, where the computer played a psychotherapist and tended to repeat words back to the player. 

What does this mean for the future of games?  Instead of a limited script from a NPC or a database the player must search through for information, the player can interact with a NPC in natural language.  Although the example above is limited to medical knowledge, it very likely could be expanded for history or other sciences.  And that's truly exciting stuff.

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.