Stockholm syndrome :
I recently added a page to my portfolio site (http://dannygamedesign.com/) called DESIGN THEORIES: here it is in post form.
(NOTE: The updates i’ve added to the site through the past weeks have been added to this post)
ENGAGEMENT – FILLING THE GLASS: I had a revelation just recently that every simulated achievement or struggle within a game is a push and pull sequence. At it’s very foundation it’s the act of filling a glass or emptying a glass; then attaining more glasses to empty and fill once more. But the resistance and opposition to our attempts to fill the glass is what makes the act itself engaging. This becomes almost obvious when you think of all the meters and gauges involved in measuring your achievement within a game: health bars, experience bars, mana levels, power levels, attack modifiers, defense modifiers. But things get more interesting when you begin to see the relationship between the state of the glass and your attempt to fill or empty it. Let’s say you have too much water for the glass, so your new goal is to earn a bigger glass. Or the power you just gained allows you to poke a hole in your opponents glass causing it to empty faster. And now a power you have temporarily causes your water to turn to ice so the opponents hole poking attempt is futile. Better yet, you have the ability to destroy your opponents glass causing them to need back-ups if they are to continue the battle. All of these different thought processes begin to outline the thousands of interesting ways to turn the act of emptying and filling a glass (pushing and pulling) into something engaging and memorable. This is the simple beauty of Game Design.
REACHING FOR THE STICK: How often as designer’s do we look to punishments and death penalties to coax the player into making the “right” decisions? Like good little digital parents we teach and poke and prod until the player gets the picture. But very often the most effective way to teach a player right from wrong in relation to the game world is to reward them in subtle and powerful ways that they are on the right path. To remind them without saying a word, or entice them without showing any signs of the obvious thought and development. This is when the world itself truly feels alive and the player’s path feels rewarding and natural. Like the digital world around them is bestowing countless and subtle blessings on them for being awesome. Instead of countless punishments for being inadequate.
THE FACE-LESS HERO: Having a main character or protagonist in a game is of course very important (in most cases), but how far should you take his identity? Some characters have their own reams of dialogue and back-story, an acquired wardrobe, and great hair (hah). But the more pre-made identity your main character has the more it requires the player to decide whether or not they relate to that character’s many strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a story truly calls for a strong protagonist identity, and the player is able to live out a new identity in this strong character. But on the other hand, a main character with more of a blank slate allows the player to project more of himself into the character. Projecting his own traits.
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: Resources and gathered assets in a game (digital or traditional) need to be used at some point, otherwise they’re useless. The whole point of farming a resource is to spend it or expel it in some way that’s useful or strategic, either defensive or offensive. But what if you want your player to use up a resource to build up the play/possibility space more frequently? Then as a designer you add a mechanic that encourages (or even forces, but be careful with that) a player to use that resource at a given time. A great example is the renowned SETTLERS OF CATAN table-top game; in the game’s basic rule-set if a player rolls the thief number, you have to discard resource cards if you have more than a certain number in your hand. This is meant to encourage building and cashing-in your resources, which actually populates the board faster and makes the matter of building more urgent than it would be otherwise.
THE SINGLE/CO-OP DILLEMA: This one is pretty simple. What makes a great single player game? What makes a great multi-player game? And what happens when you try to turn a single player game into a multi-player game? If gameplay is designed for a single-player experience, than very careful and special consideration needs to be taken on how to add another party to that experience in such a way that plays to the strengths of 2+ people at the same time, without breaking the experience and fighting the core mechanics. Some great games have handled this beautifully such as Valve’s PORTAL-2; The co-op experience is a totally different but related story-line that has all of its own charm and entice. And you ABSOLUTELY need the other person, there is no other way to complete the puzzles without that help of your fellow droid.
LUCK VS. STRATEGY: You’ve probably heard that “luck is the enemy of strategy”. The less luck is involved, the more you can predict and therefore strategize. But there’s a fine line, because if you can strategize too completely the outcome of the game is no longer interesting. This is where things get a little fuzzy; if you’re playing with other people, their choices provide organic (semi-random) effects on the game world, keeping things mixed up and interesting. If you’re playing solo the game is required to generate its own form of organic instances which can border on random chance. It’s necessary a lot of times because without that element things start to get stale and extremely predictable. The reason that so many board/table-top games utilize dice is for this very reason; adding the coaxed enemy of strategy to compel you into further strategizing against the results that followed. Tricky business, but I the sweet spot comes when the random occurrences no longer feel so random. At that point the player begins to relate to the pattern in a way that allows him/her to engage their own forces and strategies. According to Raph Koster fun only happens with succesful pattern achievement and recognition. If you haven’t read his book “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” you should.
SHOW AND TELL: You may have also heard, ‘It’s always better to allow the player to act out the story instead of showing them a cut-scene’. Again for the most part I agree. Instead I would say, ‘only use a cut-scene when you absolutely need that cinematic experience woven in.’ And don’t have the catalyst in an awkward part of gameplay, it needs to flow and be natural so the player can feel it coming up. Enhancing the experience, not taking away from it. Being able to express a scene with chosen camera angles and focus (while allowing the player to enjoy the moment, and take a short break from trying not to die), can be very powerful if done sparsely and with good artistic faculties. But in the end it will always be more rewarding and engaging to really allow the player to accomplish these story points through gameplay.
I recently started re-watching an old pop-favorite known as Angel. You remember right? The anti-hero vampire whose character was spawned out of the popular (albeit quirky show) Buffy: the vampire slayer. Which was spawned out of the very 90′s flick by the same name.
I’ll be the first to say that Angel is kinda goofy, and doesn’t have the best production value. BUT what does it for me is the interesting stories and character angles the show takes. You can tell most of the time that the writers thought the plot through ahead of time, which is a sign of a better story. Many shows that they don’t expect to run a long course can suffer quickly from inept and short-sided chunk writing that leads to spastic and un-inspired stories. But Angel doesn’t take itself too seriousley which makes it a heck of a lot funnier to watch, and takes away the sting of bad costumes and cheap imitation weapons that some prop-director saved a few bucks on.
As I was pondering the un-dead/re-dead legends and folklore of the vampire I came to a very cool realization; the few weaknesses that vampires have can be studied in their own right, as full-fledged Game Mechanics! A way to give us non-ghoully breeders a fighting chance when faced with these chomp-tastic thirsty friends. After all, everyone loves a good under-dog story right? So lets take a look at their traditional weaknesses and how they act as mechanics of a human vs. vampire showdown.
1. Sunlight: As a creature that can only linger is false light or very real darkness, this gives us humans a use-able time frame in which to prepare or recover from a vampy attack. Although the movie DAYBREAKERS shows us what technically savvy vamps can do with a few cameras and some ultra-tinted glass =P
2. Garlic: Historically known as a food that will actually ‘cleanse’ the blood, our undead counter-parts can have nothing to do with it since their blood is ‘borrowed’ and UN-CLEAN. Garlic is a resource that we can grow or find in abundance in some cultures such as Italian and South American. This makes it a renew-able and natural weapon.
3. Crosses or Holy Relics: Traditionally vamps are not only undead, but evil. They are only in existance because of some kind of demon combination whether it be spiritual or physical. So the relics and symbols of God that are holy and powerful are said to repel them,or even harm them on contact. This added a very religious and spiritual side to the folklore that in my opinion gives it a much more interesting foundation. Here’s the benefit: higher power/spiritual backing, water as a resource (holy water), churches as sanctuaries or strong-holds, decadent jewelry that not only looks classy but also serves a function (:P)
4. Invitation Only (you shall not pass!): Vamps cannot enter a home unless invited, but it may only take one invitation to give them perpetual access, so chill out and don’t be charmed too quickly by passing strangers. This gives us some protection in our own homes, but also gives the vamp a chance to charm their way in before you know what they are.
5. Stake Through the Heart: Wood is everywhere dammit! That’s great, but good luck getting him to let you do that before he chomps you to savory bitts! But seriously, there’s wood everywhere…
This age-old tale of triumph and defeat is a mix of black clouds and limit-less sunshine… (insert continued dramatic banter here, and maybe here too). This subject is something that is near and dear to my heart; how does a ‘Game Designer’ put together a legitimate and impressive portfolio? Well the straight answer is, “there is no straight answer”. But that DOESN’T mean that there’s no answer at all. Let’s first distinguish the difference between a Game DESIGNER and a Game ARTIST.
To express these concepts we’ll start with this; Game ARTISTS focus almost entirely on aesthetics, visual beauty, and continuity of environments and characters. Game DESIGNERS focus on what makes your choices and actions in a game meaningful and fun to play. Every intense moment and experience during game-play. The choices you’ve made and how you affect the world around you. Your abilities, resources, story and experiences; that’s what a Designer’s mind thrives on. “What can I do to create a memorable intriguing, and exciting experience for the players?”.
When you look at a level in a game and think to yourself, “man.. this city i’m running around in looks amazing”, thank the ARTISTS. And when you finish a boss fight or a quest in a game and think to yourself, “That was intense, but I finally did it!!”. Relish in that experience good sir, soak it in and tell your friends, warm it up and spread it on some toast; because you have just thanked the DESIGNER.
Back to the question: What makes an effective ‘Game Design’ portfolio? After a few years of exhausting lots of sources with drastically differing opinions, I believe I’ve come to a conclusion. Here’s the almighty seven-list.
1. Play-able proto-types trump all. Have some PLAYABLE digital games that you can test and tweak, even if assets are simple. But be clear about your role if it’s a team project. Get them up online and have them ready on disks if possible, to hand out at a moments notice.
2. Documentation is very important, so be sure to have well-organized GDD’s (Game Design Documents) that are easy to follow but in-depth in the same breath (not super easy to do, but practice makes perfect right?). Include charts, graphs, profiles, summaries, flow-charts, technology, and iterations (what was changed and why: indicated by versions). Everyone has a different way of producing these, so do some research and find your ideal style.
3. LDD’s (Level Design Documents) these are much like GDD’s, and in many cases LDD’s are included WITHIN the Game Design Documents. But for an LDD you want to be sure to break down the different areas and important flow/action/story-points in the level with almighty visual and written detail.
4. Board games: wait what? YES SIR; board games are basically video games without the technology involved. And almost always have a REQUIRED component of social interaction. Have you ever heard of a 1-player board-game? And solitaire doesn’t count. Creating board games of your own using anything you can (cannibalizing older board-games for parts can be really useful), and testing it with lots of different people can greatly increase your powers of Design. The mechanics of a board game are so boiled down that if one is bad it will practically ruin your game. So make it a crazy cool habit to create these often, and as always DOCUMENT.
5. Card Games: Almost the same exact thought process as board games; proto, test, tweak, document, repeat. But card games have a very distinct flavor to them. Usually there is no form of travel or territory attainment (as in Settlers of Catan or Risk). And a very strong focus on collected resources (Dominion, Magic the Gathering, Bohnanza, etc). Your actions much of the time are based on the luck of the draw, and sometimes that makes for a wonderful game if done correctly, BUT remember that chance is an enemy to strategy. The more chance is involved the less opportunity you have to form a functional and consistent strategy. Keep these things in mind and start some card proto-types.
6. WEBSITE: It’s almost impossible to have an easy access no hassle portfolio if you don’t have a website. If you don’t know how to build your own look into some WordPress (or similar service) templates to help you get started. Check out other professional developer sites and portfolios to get some ides on how to present your site. And for the love of all the is holy..SPLURGE SOME MONEY ON A DOMAIN NAME (yourname.com/namedesigns.com, something like that). It’s hard for game studios to take you seriously if you’re “SuchAndSuch.blogger.g2g.com”. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but any bit of professionalism helps.
7. LOVE what you do, and don’t be afraid to be different. I’ll couple this with a simple truth: be yourself and be humble. No one wants to work with a pre-madonna or a douche-bag with a planet sized ego. Chill and treat people right. It goes a very long way. In other words, HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE TOWARDS YOUR WORK, AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU.
IN CLOSING: I hope this article helps you out, and it took me a very long time to come to these points of importance so I’m happy to pass it on. Until next time, go make stuff.
We’ve all been really sick before, but how many times did it take getting sick to make you wonder how our body deals with the battle? I frequently battle a familiar nemesis of mine; BRONCHITIS. IT sucks… But it wasn’t until I got a little older that I had a personal revelation; dealing with an illness is exactly like playing a Tower Defense game.
Is it such a surprise that the struggles in digital games bear such a likeness and resemblance to real life? After all we are the authors of these struggles and our own struggles are inherently HUMAN. Art imitates life and so forth. Now am I saying that the original minds behind tower defense were dealing with a cold? Not likely, but never the less those analogies make sense. Our systems are being INVADED by a horde of something-or-others and our body is trying desperately to protect our internal functions and return to homeostasis, balance. Our internal functions are vastly more complex than we know even now. They’re practically perfect; a well-oiled, well-timed, cause and reaction machine. With systems and functions much like we program into a game, of course what we can program into a game is still no match for the natural complexity that’s all around us.
So does this all tie in together, it’s simple. One of my favorite Tower Defense games is SAVAGE MOON which I originally found on the Playstation Network. Classic set-up of course: alien insects are trying to ruin your other-worldly mining operation, so they must be squished into chunky bitts by your high-tech weapons. In my game-studies notebook I wrote an entire breakdown of the optimal strategy in the game, but that’s something for a future post. The fact that I’m already excited to write about those strategies further proves to me the value of the game. But I digress..
Once I realised that fighting my sickness was a lot like playing Savage Moon, I started to approach illness-recovery with a different mindset. All of a sudden it’s me vs. the horde of insects. The way I’ve gone about that is subject to a lot of amusement, but how effective it’s been even surprised me. I’m a big fan of holistic and herbal medicines, since that stuff was already here before companies with investors and commercialized medicine. I’ll start by comparing the Sickness-Fighting components to Tower-Defense components:
INVADERS - Free radicals or a Virus in the body
TOWER/MINE - The Body
STORED RESOURCES - Sleep Energy, Food Energy, and Attitude/Hormonal functions
UNITS - Your body’s natural defenses (white blood-cells) and any added defense that you can put in your body to fight the illness (vitamins, supplements, medicine, etc)
- For your UNITS to optimally run your RESOURCES must be kept in production. Sleep and eat A LOT, drink tons of water, and keep a positive attitude (it really does affect your body’s systems: blood pressure , hormones, nerves etc.) Of course if what your eating is gonna hinder your body’s systems then it won’t help. A Big-Mac probably won’t fuel your UNITS very well (although they are DELICIOUS), so eat well and eat often. Think of it as gaining more money or credits in a game to further upgrade your UNITS, or build them in the first place.
- Now the units themselves can have vastly different purposes: attack the enemy, slow the enemy down, speed up other units, protect or heal other units, or even cover the play ground in ka-ploweys to eliminate the enemy as he passes through. But most importantly some units will actually create MORE UNITS! Bots building bots so to speak.
Latin for “The fire within”
I very recently graduated from a very long and difficult program at the Art Institute of Phoenix. This explains my recent blogging absence, trying to do grad finals was one of the most epic and rewarding boss fights I’ve ever taken part in: guns blazing, swords thrashing, teeth grinding, caffeine maximum and sleep minimum. But I now have my Bachelor of Arts degree in “Game Art and Design”. Which is a fact I am extremely proud of, and extremely honored. I could go on about the journey it took to accomplish this feat but instead I’ll give you the most concise and edible bite size chunky pieces of what I’ve learned on this 4 year journey =D (emoticons are cool)
“As a disclaimer; some of these points are from my own experience, and many of these points were taught directly to me by mentors, teachers, and friends. They will be credited and their sites linked up to their names. Check them out because these people have changed my life and I love and respect them all.”
AND I DECLARE TO YOU:
1. Young teachers will make you do a lot, and old teachers will make you think a lot about what you’re doing. - Stephen Missal
2. Diet soda and sugar-free gum will kill you faster than regular sugar-filled stuff (because of aspartame) -Coast to Coast AM
3. If you spend all your time defending your mistakes you will never master your trade.
4. Excuses are poison to progress. -Thomas diCosola
5. Every form of art is relational to Game Development. - James Haldy (Acedemic Director)
6. Game Design is the most amazing and rewarding art form in the world (my opinion, but still true)
7. Being a good Game Designer is about: CREATIVITY, BALANCE, INTRIGUE, and INVOLVEMENT.
8. Having a critical and objective eye is the most important skill in art. -RC Torres
9. Triads are great color combinations.
10. If it looks like poo, it is poo. Fix It. (poo is not a filler word, he really said poo) - Thomas diCosola
11. The mental and emotional range you want to keep a player in is somewhere between high-anxiety and relaxed achievement. - Steve Swink “Swinkopotamus”
12. There’s nothing magical about the greatest Game Artists (and Designers) in the world, they’re just people who worked really hard to get great at what they do, and they love what they do. You can all do that. I know you can. -RC Torres.
13. When a school says you can get a bachelor degree in three years they really mean four years, unless you have no other life responsibilities whatsoever. I’m not complaining though.
14. Your dreams (actual sleeping dreams) are a window to a world where your deepest creativity gives you inspiration. – Thomas Estrada (Life-time Artist) (I was un-able to find his site to link up but this guy is a genius)
15. One of the most important things about being a Game Designer is being able to explain yourself clearly in written and visual forms. - James Haldy (Acedemic Director)
16. Stop thinking so much: make awesome, then test it, then make it more awesome. - Steve Swink
17. A very simple movement requires a ton of subtlety. Especially when it’s a monster with twelve legs. - Jim Tavernetti (3d Animator)
18. When you’re learning a new game engine the best trial by fire is to re-create an old classic like asteroids or pac-man. Once you complete one of those you’ll be able to do a whole lot in the engine. - Steve Swink
19. Always bring a baseball bat when you’re taking an impulsive late night trip to Flagstaff to play in the snow. Because you’ll soon realise that playing snow-ball baseball in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel is a lot more fun than sledding in the dark.
20. If you’re a perfectionist that’s great, but if you’re a perfectionist that is never happy or satisfied with your hard work because it’s not “perfect” yet, that can be very bad. I learned this one the hard way.
21. If you have a child-hood dream to be a Game Developer, FOLLOW IT. Find people who will encourage you, and take your trade seriously even if no one else does. But don’t ever take yourself too seriousley, because the heart and soul of game design is FUN and PASSION, you should have fun doing your work, and be passionate about what you’re working on. Whether you’re going the school route or the self-taught solo route, embrace it full force and start networking with other developers. And I encourage you to NEVER give up the dream no matter how many bumps in the road you encounter. It’s worth it..
Below are some great resources for developers, or aspiring developers. Bookmark them, have fun, and get to work.
Not done yet but work in progress, thanks to my keen eyed fiance and some prolonged monitor staring I realized his snout is very pointy in relation to his eyes and mouth, unlike a true rat which has a very conal shaped head all together, and the lips and and nose on a rat are very integrated into each other. Fixes are being made to better reflect RAT anatomy (especially hands and feet, which are always hardest to nail) before I begin his texture.