Rethinking social games part 2

This is the second part of the Rethinking social games’ series, in this article we’ll focus on the two left intrinsic motivations of the player (Autonomy and Relatedness, both based on the PENS framework from Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan) and the way they can be boosted in social games for betterment, in order to create a richer experience and to extend the features that they actually hold. Can social games be re-thought and re-invented from their actual formulas to be both profitable for enterprises and users? Check it by yourself down below!

And if you’re actually feeling lost, take a look at the first entry here. 

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Rethinking Social Games part 1

Social games are usually working on standardized formulas which longevity right now seems way more questionable than what it were years before, when loads of reiterative patterns and blueprints were copied (successfully or not) using every single feature that was making competence’s stats grow in charts significantly higher.

New times may usually demand changes, and thus may be inspired by applying available techniques to create more richer, powerful, energizing, meaningful and substantially more emotionally connected than the feeling of void that some crucial social game amalgams actually have.

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Huge Rosters = Infinite Play?

Variety is the spice of life, and so is, partially, of game characters. When it comes to games with a diverse and astonishing amount of characters to choose thousands of feelings comes, with the same diversity, to player’s minds: whether it should be amazing for its unique offer or overwhelming,  so many things to do or just the same mechanic with a different skin. Let’s check it out!

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When Exploring has its rewards

Provided an Open world Design is somehow driven by certain constraints that keeps the player engaged as well as in the mood for not losing his attention on the main events prepared on the game, seems quite unfair that the rest of polished, toughly developed rest of the scenario could be so much left alone at expense of such fixed guidelines.

And there’s where some titles can afford a little effort by shaping a few things in order to tackle those players who weren’t able to resign and let his hand guided by a pre-established set of actions.Further than the simple fact of following orders powered by indirect control, the willing of the player for reaching far away from the pre-established scheme is sometimes rewarded, creating a positive outcome for those forbearing adventurers who wished for more than the average rushing ones.

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Taming an Open World: The Techniques

We’ve talked about how much the notion of Open World differs sometimes from what really is. Huge spaces filled with void assets that makes freedom  a secondary player rather than the main element in the game, with no relevant rules on where, what or why the player should be choosing from or by the contrary, to many pre-established things that dictates the player’s ambition of liberty and choices.

Games, on its background, use a set of techniques, without breaking the technical restrictions of a game, in order to generate the illusion of freedom on the player, and make the experience equally profitable for both sides.

The perfect balance between choices and engagement is the problem to solve: how to draw the playes attention, how to guide them when the environment seems to abandon them, how to maintain the hunger for adventure if nothing seems relevant and how to make a lonesome space attractive and worth playing; this features will profitably balance players to decide to spend their so important life time populating a wild world to tame. Techniques out! :

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Taming an Open World Game: What’s the current state?

Driven by the next-generation prophecies, the so called open World breed of games have been populating the gaming scene since its very early stages and from unfulfilled prototypes, up to ambitious titles with tons of things to care about. Lonesome players with thousand yards to explore and interact with, and lots of things to do on something sometimes marketed like if somebody was about to sell a place to the heaven itself. Open World is not a genre, but a conception and a double edged adjective that sweetens titles, but sideways can turn them into a complex system or a simplistic playground with nothing more but  bleakness. Games now, capable of holding humongous amounts of data, seem to whisper to developers that it’s possible and viable, to try to push the technology forward and swap the core of linearity for a whole new place where the limit is set by an incredibly large place.

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Nothing as easy as seeking the current blockbuster themes to guess that Open worlds are being added more frequently inside a wide variety of genres, from RPGs to arcade driving simulators. Not a virus, but a tendency…perhaps.

Open world stands for a virtual space commonly used in certain games. It’s referred to those scenarios where the player, from its beginning, is capable to escape from the linearity and take a trip outside the boundaries stablished on the straightforwarded titles. But the term Open World is used so many times, that seems quite unclear that everything could fit inside this description. From first to last, games claim to the users how they can rely so much in the vast immensity of their space, how they can enjoy the ecosystem that surrounds the complexity of those inmense constructions. Minds were thinking about MMORPGS as soon as the word was written in the first line, but also standard role playing games, action titles, sport and race games (perhaps every single genre!) has its titles with the banner of “No frontiers” on its back cover,trying to tell the players that his value of replayabity and engagement is masterfully managed by this component of no-frontier design. But far from that , open world stands for something more relvant that just the space notion, it calls for freedom. Whether the map has just 4 places to go or if it has 46, they’re still open world games as long as they claim to the users the freedom of choice and roam, the capability of reaching multiple objectives in different ways, to escape linearity and pre-established on-rails event and to offer an medium in which such things have a meaningful outcome.

Open world games will be as long as they claim to the users the freedom of choice and roam, the capability of reaching multiple objectives in different ways, to escape linearity and pre-established on-rails events and to offer an medium in which such things have a meaningful outcome

  Now Open World is a dish dressed with a few popular words: freedom, variety of actions, multiple activities, unlimited fun (as it sounds), exploration, tons of elements, mega (add everything you want here, starting from destruction to pony races) and some other cholesterol-entertaining ingredients. Nothing far from it, these vast extensions of meshes, bits, bytes, behaviors and events are anything but void containers where the player can do nothing but feel lost. An open world is a dangerous place, sometimes driven by ostentous desires, others by the requirements of a script, technology or fantasy that was impossible to avoid because of its incredible and immersive feeling; others because it was the genre who asked for it; and others, simply for no compelling reason at all.

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Ultima 1 is considered as the first Open World game: a mix between a free-to-roam map and multiple dungeons to explore that equalled to freedom of choice.

So the further the notion has got, the more mistaken the things surrounding have been. Engagement is the core of a game in order to make it interesting, to deliver an experience that is capable of absorbing the players mind for 5 minutes up to a whole life. If open worlds are designed just for its unstoppable marketing need of yelling everywhere that it’s an ambitious project of recreating Manhattan in its early 50s, or to reproduce the old Babylon from the door frames to the behavior of the merchants, it’s just an useless bunch of code and art with a proper intention to amaze, but not engage. The epic/fantastic claims of such void worlds end up being repetitive, dull and nonsense: there is a lack of consistency between the rules, the players, the dynamics, mechanics and lore because of the imbalance between architectural art, (as well as the testosterone-powered need of further, longer and higher) and gameplay.

To tame such a wild thing an open world is, a proper design is required to make the experience corresponding to a game that is engaging. Just as the design of a shopping mall tends to evade the consumer from staring up to 20 minutes to numbers on a parking lot, rather than exploring all the shops guided by the different posters spread along the building, a well game design uses its own tools from keeping the player on a pre-established road, even though it seems there are tons of ways to interact with the world, but with a null feedback as reward. The strategy is the use of indirect control as Jesse Schell defines in The Art of game Design: A book of lenses, a way to shape the freedom it may suppose the game, to turn it into a feeling of freedom in order to manage correctly such an important thing the player’s experience is.

There is a lack of consistency between  rules, players, dynamics, mechanics and lore because of the imbalance between need to achieve architectural-ostentious desires and engaging gameplay.

Of course nothing stops you from going outside your home starting village, quitting from killing gigantic flies in order to gather 20 wings for an unpleasant quest giver, who will give you a rotten stick for hitting dire wolves. You can decide to take a trip to the closest city or common rendezvous point, and to discover there that, as the movies, you’re nothing but a tourist who barely knows how to ask for directions: unprepared, naked, and alone. But it’s there and you can, at least, check outside how the things are evolving, to discover how open is the virtual space on which you are playing, but don’t forget that designers thought about the same, and they’ll make sure to mute your Phileas Fog ambitions by a huge increase of difficulty, enemies that recons you even you’re not seeing them, unavailable actions to take, players that speak in other ingame languages and something deeper, more abstract, but tangible inside games: void (or fog, or end of the tile set, or “everything has an end”, or “it was 20gb of content, wait for an expansion”). There are plenty of ways to make players think they’re inside a perfect world where everything fits his designs, but in the backend such games are managing the player’s road, guessing the next movements and offering the correct choices rather than leaving the player to roam freely elsewhere. This constraining set of rules are the ones that will make the world a place where the player feels comfortable with, rather than abandoned or over-protected, and will be decisive to the longevity of the title, making its core somenthing to tak about, to be experienced and most important, to be taughtBut inside this storm, many titles have found its way to fight alongside this curse, and to drive the player towards an enjoyable experience, the techniques are a few and to make it more entertaining, there is a part 2 of this theme explaining the most common and efficient ways to tame such inmensive creations Open Worlds are.

Are we dumbing down games? -The Simplifying Wars-

In the brave new gameworld of the early 90s everything seemed to run smoothly for those who, day after day, had to struggle against the same level sweating and with their eyes almost covered in red and without any external contact, until they had finished their lonely stage, in order to boast inside their friends’ circle. Everyone who played had its virtual dreamland of picket fence, dog and job until some day, though no fault of nobody, a powerful avalanche took over the world and collapsed the minds of the most experienced and dedicated players: the games were turning easy. The panic was spread across the countries, articles started to circle the hottest spots on the gamers’ social networks and magazines, people started to insult while others hit themselves (virtually, of course) and even threats to end up with the fanboysim from its roots, if nothing was made to remedy the atrocities done in the titles filled with hype: A zombie outbreak in which the word dumbing down was the banner of the hordes of the living dead gamers.

      Videogames are dumbing themselves down. It’s an apparent reality that grows in forums, portals, magazines, cafes, classrooms and networks and it’s fueled by every single title that, maybe because of the hype o just for a huge fan affiliation from the prequels of such title, turns into a huge disappointing by simplistic to the gamers who were expecting a challenge. Some of them apportion the blame onto the increasing videogame culture and the intentionality of knocking on everyone’s door with a title down their arm; others blame it on a wrong management and a lack of feedback in all the stages of the development of the game. Others directly found a dark strategy from the illuminati, in order to change the course of the history, but that’s a different story.

Inside the debate, two forces struggle for the power: the casual gamers and the hardcore ones.  It’s still unknown if with such practices there’s an intention of merge both groups in a game that reunites something partial, an essence of what the predecessors of such game were, and make it interesting for every new player at the same time; or just to completely tear them apart into two opposing forces and give to each one a portion of what they ask in different and separated titles, or even nothing at all.

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Diablo III experienced a huge shift inside his beloved character customization and the way the players were seeking for loot. For better or worse, the boundaries between a properly simplifaction and dumbed down move were thinner enough for creating a huge side of detractors and lovers.

What is clear is that this is happening, titles and more titles try to simplify, for no reason, a huge portion of the mechanics embedded in the games, which is reflected on its content and maybe because of that they decide to focus on the void of spectacular nature, the fiction film look like and the glitter, and turn a step backwards onto linearity. Some of them fed from the suppression of content which was susceptible of being changed, others just only by the decreasing of the difficulty in a radical way. So there is a huge difference between what practices do commonly use game developers in order to simplify their titles, and which of them fall into dumbing down. But not everything is a wrong move from its roots, simplification is a way itself for betterment, so the question we shall ask is: where is the lining that separates both things?

Simplification against dumbing down

I think that the focus of the debate relies around both ways to attempt the creation of a new game, and it’s worth to know when happens one way, the other or both. They’re eager to be misunderstood, provided the first shock the player receives after trying the game for the very first time turns into a share of his feelings, as soon as he can by yelling elsewhere that a game is easy, or ask what the hell just happened to the game in which he put all his hopes. But still for him is impossible to distinguish if the game is easy or looks easy.

 By simplification is understood  the diminish of the quantity of game elements to make it more accessible to newcomers, to those new players that enter in the circle of terror. The quantity of elements that suffers an impact must be high in order to make the veteran plares aware of it. Subtle changes are barely perceptible by players who already are paying attention to new or updated content.

minecraftMinecraft’s reduced mechanics are an example of simplification: they add a more valuable experience from the simple fact of just pushing a button and running from one side to another, balancing the whole system for the player’s betterment.

So simplifying is reducing the game mechanics in a way that could scare everyone who already has a notion of what an specific genre represents. In an action game, for example, such activity would be the drastic reduction of buttons about to push and the feedback they do provide, the more intense and disturbing amount of quick time events, making the player feel inside an on-rail amusement park experience or the powerful add of a sidekick that manages to solve the player’s needs even without desiring them.  In strategy dependent games, the simplification would come by an interface reduction, less skill, less customization options, etc.; giving some sort of disintegration of the main skeleton that holds the game’s base, making it child-like. But not everything is meant for crying and, for such thing, simplification has not to be taken as something catastrophic or terribly wrong, but something dangerous if balance is not taken as the main banner for such trimmed-content wars. Simplification acts for player’s betterment as well (well, that’s the intentionality from which designers start). The suppression of tedious or repetitive elements, the long sized and dull mechanics taken as the savior of a game by its revolutionary idea could be taken away, being profitable for a vast community of players who were asking for a removal.

 splinter-cell

What happened to the stealthy and risky way Splinter Cell was? It had his step back by adding an instant kill ability that erased with just a button up to 5 foes. The community blamed on it, and in its next title a notable increase of difficculty and diminish on this feature has been taken. 

Intentionally nobody has in mind the necessity of creating an incommodity for those who are his clients, nobody wants to lay a nail track, take their shoes and hit them with whips to the thousands of players who have put their hopes on forthcoming titles. “if I do erase the older combat system, who was able to hold more attack combinations hitting all the possible buttons; for a new one and redesigned that only requires a few movements or button hits, I’m going to incorporate a series of elements who will make the sense of maintain the same difficulty than his predecessor. Perhaps by adding enemies with different interactions and AI, making levels longer or adding variety mixing it with some sort of creativity”. What we cannot do is to cross our arms and reject the change directly, if a novelty is offered, is just because of the core fact of innovate and alter stuff for the good of the entire experience the player gets from playing the game. But without balance, all the system becomes obsolete and out of place, and here there’s no escape.

 But there’s always a dark side, and we’ve not came for rejecting it because it’s true that there’s titles that have been simplified and so disproportionally that have turned the experience into a head slide, a step back and an unnecessary easy way for players who had to feel, some way or another, like if they were playing with cheats in an ecosystem that seemed to have eradicated them. Repetitive combats with null charisma with highly powerful actions, constrained options for an role playing game, unlimited checkpoints, fixed difficulty, unbalanced progression and to match depending on the engagement of the first levels and losing touch after, dangerous unlockables, etc. To sum up, the list of examples is enough wide for not realizing that it is happening and that players, who are the critical base of the game’s jungle, have reason. On the next article, the other side of the moon known as dumbing down with some few characteristics will be tackled. Stay tuned and be wise.

Welcome to Games for Breakfast!

Welcome to Games for Breakfast, a site focused on delivering a nutritious meal for those who are hungry  for game design. A blogged website that puts an effort on tackling several aspects about the complexity that games, huge mishmashes of music, art and code, have while they are thought, produced, published and left alone on shelves. In a place where gamers are a community that evolves, from something allocated to a dense population inside a surrounded media world, and a little by little, they’re eager to learn how they work. Not just how they’re coded, or how the art is conceived, but how they are designed and how their features turned out to be what they really are: roads, caves and castles of knowledge filled with techniques, currents and tips; diagrams and researches that turns actions into fulfilling illusions.

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If we take a look at the top of the noch of the media industry of games, tons of things are being told each minute about them: how well they perform, how cool they can get, there will be a sequel and I love the details they’ve achieved with these pixelled pants on my character.  They’re not trivial as it may be thought; they offer a perspective from which consumers talk about the things they see and experience, and what they do extract from it for its benefit.

On the other side of the coin, there’s a few places talking about what really goes on the background, what makes games being games. Its core, the way they provide interactivity, rewards, engagement and balance. How they motivate and how they attract us for giving them such a huge part of our time. Games are meant to be played, but for a few people, they’re meant as well to be studied.

There has been(and still there are) an immense majority of titles rewarded by its innovation, by how tackled several aspects that felt weakly managed in other experiences. We can just talk about why we love them or why we stuck in front of the screen playing from several hours without taking into account that we shall be sleeping (and so we do while eating). So on, there’s a huge effort for managing such complex interactions, mechanics and diagrams; art designs, analysis and tests; studies, and researches. To sum up, theres a vast ecosystem about how do developers make dreams into something virtually tangible, which, if correctly managed, could deliver something as grateful as an enjoyable experience: something that lasts for days and months, something that makes players have the need to yell everywhere how greatly they felt while standing in front of a monitor and being inmersed, away from everything exepct the little pixels (and bits and bites on the background) moving from one side to another.

What are you going to find here? Thoughts and articles explaining WHY do we play games and WHY are they developed in follwing an established criteria, how they trigger such feelings inside people’s minds and how they tackle every single aspect of the engagement they do provide. Where they fail and where they succeed, why they were at the top of the ranked lists and why others fell suddenly. How some ones balanced playabilty while others wanted spectacularity, why games activate certain brain zones and why we feel a hard pressure on our body when we still haven’t got the latest release of that game everyone is talking about.

Don’t forget to have a balanced nutrition about games, breakfast shall not be skipped. Otherwise you would get weak, slow and your perception skills undermined, being unable to guess how mysterious, amazing and rich is the surrounding of those worlds without boundaries, filled with experiences that we call games.