The Weight of a Game

Jesse Schell’s final lecture for this year’s Game Design class got me thinking about the power of games. We know that media can heavily influence all of us, and games can be an even more powerful tool to convey information (both consciously and subconsciously) to other people. Jesse spoke about “violence” in games, but in particular he spoke about the portrayal of physical violence. While this is a huge concern for many people and definitely warrants discussion, something that intrigues me about games is their potential for emotional violence.


 

The first visual of Loved by Alexander Ocias

I’ve written about this game several times before, but the most memorable game I’ve ever played is the flash game Loved. I played this 5 minute Flash game when I was in either middle or high school, when puberty had hit and done its worst. I recall feeling a sense of loss at what my “identity” was, and played Flash games to pass the time and avoid thinking about things like that. When I played this game, I learned about the real power of the medium, and how much it could transform a person, starting with me.

In Loved, upon choosing “man”, the following text appears.

I made the decision of playing as a “man” when I started the game. My lighthearted attitude to the game suddenly grew extremely heavy when the above screen appeared. My “lie” was exposed so easily, in a way no other game had done before. Playing deeper into the game, I found myself (and not my in-game avatar) being mercilessly toyed with by the cruel voice in the game.

Loved is only one such game where the interactions and results are meant to affect you, rather than box the experience into the game itself. That game alone somehow touched on a number of real life issues that aren’t spoken about enough, like the denial of identity a transgender person might face, or the way domestic violence is perpetuated, or simply how emotional abuse might be conducted.

Of course, none of these things are directly stated, and the creator has only stated that it’s a “confrontational short story”. But whether it’s because of the game’s confrontational nature, or how it reaches its hands into topics we don’t like to discuss, it gained the attention of the world, having over 5 million playthroughs. Regardless of the reason “why”, it’s proof that the game was conveying something to the world.


Fast forward to the present. Virtual Reality as the next big game medium is on the horizon. Unlike previous technological advancements, this is the closest we’ve come to bringing the “guest” into our “world”. This is the most “first-person” we can currently get in an experience, save for actually being in reality. And in VR, the property of immersion has become much, much more important to utilize.

Henry by Oculus Story Studio

VR offers a wide spectrum of possibilities in terms of immersion. Eye contact, like with Henry from Oculus Story Studios’ movie, is now possible, and connects viewers with characters more than before. Having these characters suddenly viewed in 3D, and interacting with the player, presents more ways for people to be involved in these worlds as well.

2644400-nvfbj9x

PT (Playable Teaser) by Kojima Productions

Horror games are already something that use the immersive property of virtual reality far too well. Whether through jumpscares or just building a spooky atmosphere, horror works great using VR, and it makes it so easy to scare someone, even without good haptic feedback. Horror, a genre that is completely centered around mankind’s masochistic desire for fear is, in a sense, self-inflicted emotional abuse.


 

If horror is so successful in VR, then other, more realistic forms of emotional abuse (like those depicted in Loved) might be utilized as well. In fact, I think that VR is the medium that will make people exponentially more empathetic for one another, since people can now see through the eyes of the emotionally abused by experiencing it for themselves. I think we see a lot of indie games that don’t make the light of day that deal with controversial topics, but VR is a platform where those topics become more personal and it becomes easier for people to take the literal point-of-view of the other side. I’d be interested to see how games similar to PeaceMaker, dys4ia, and other “controversial” games use the platform to help provoke more discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Making Memorable Moments

When I name my favorite games, I think I have a tendency to name games and explain the memorable moments in that game, or how that game emotionally affected me. Very rarely do I talk about the gameplay, unless the mechanic is something so new that it surprises me. Once in awhile, I might mention how a game has a number of easter eggs, which makes the game feel more toy-like, which might be a surprise in itself. I do wonder a lot if making these “moments” is absolutely necessary to make a good game.

I think making memorable moments in games is tied in with the element of surprise. I’m not entirely convinced that a game needs memorable moments to be a fun game, but I’m sure that having surprises built in helps. 


Non-Gameplay-Related Surprises

This happens at about 3:00 in our video of Bredd & Chum.

There was a moment in the Building Virtual Worlds class that I remember very vividly which proves this true for me. For the first round, our team made The Surly Sea Adventures of Bredd and Chum. To wrap up the tutorial part of our game, we had one of the large tentacles (which the player would be fighting later in the game) slam down onto the deck of the ship, sending the player’s crewmates flying. I think we implemented that into our story as a “nice-to-have”, but I think a lot of the feedback we got for that was that it was the most memorable part of our game, despite the fact that it wasn’t gameplay related at all.

On the thought of virtual reality, I wonder a lot about how memorable games in virtual reality actually are. I worry that a lot of the surprise we are perceiving is due to the novelty of the technology and the headset itself, and not because of the game.

Thinking about it now, I’ve long outgrown platformers and have played too many, so games like Lucky’s Tale shouldn’t be too interesting to me. But when I had a chance to play it, it felt “fun”, and I’m certain I attribute that to being in virtual reality for once. It was certainly beautiful and responsive, and felt full of life, but the game itself wasn’t all that memorable for me.

Other games, like Budget Cuts, work fantastically in VR, and feels like a completely new kind of game, despite the fact I’ve definitely played stealth games before. The game suddenly changes because the first person view is now considerably more “first person” than it has ever felt before. I surprised myself while playing this game a number of times, since there were more options seemingly available to me in VR than there had been through a flat screen in other games. I remember climbing onto some bars that overlooked the robot enemies, and feeling proud of myself for figuring out a great vantage point.


Overall, I think that adding surprises to your game is a good way to make your game memorable and something people can look back on with nostalgia, but it’s probably not the best way to design an experience that is meant for replayability. Surprises in gameplay might be a good way to overcome this, and having the player surprise themselves seems to be a good way to make a game both more memorable and more playable over a long period of time.

What are the moments in gameplay that you remember the most? Do you think those moments were necessary to making “a good game”? Did any of you end up noticing the hover text at all? Are there any games that you felt lacked memorable moments?

Feedback

I came across this game jam the other day: https://itch.io/jam/bit-jam

vhN4a1

It got me pretty excited, considering it was such a strange and almost impossible game jam idea. The game jam prompt is essentially “make a game where the only form of feedback a player gets is 1 bit of color, which is either black or white, and no audio”. Is it even possible to make a game where that’s the only visual feedback available for you?


 

It got me thinking about feedback in games in general. I feel that most of the critiques I’ve received about games I’ve worked on have been about how there was a lack of feedback. Many people have been talking about juiciness in games as well, implying the best way to make a more enjoyable game is to add more and more layers to the feedback to the point that it’s extraneous from the perspective of the core mechanics.

But does a game really need to be “juicy”? Do games really need more reaction animations when something happens to a character, or more toys scattered in the world for a player to find, or more quirky audio to indicate that another menu has popped up? If anything, this “bit jam”, if successful, is indication that games don’t need juiciness at all.

It probably does depend heavily on context though.


 

The easiest way to go about this is probably to look at games with varying levels of feedback, and see where they succeed and where they fail, and whether that level of feedback is appropriate for the medium.

Games with a Lot of Feedback

VR Games

I played Budget Cuts yesterday, and there was an incredible amount of feedback built into the game. The color scheme of the rooms (red vs. blue) made it extremely clear where the enemy robots were approximately stationed, and where would be safe and where is dangerous. Objects that you pick up tend to all have a set of sound effects attached to them for when you throw them or drop them. Tools like knifes will twirl in midair if you throw them, and land with a satisfying /thunk/ sound in the wall or floor. The robots are constantly talking, so you’ll definitely know approximately where they are at all times.

A pattern I’ve noticed is that VR games in general have an immense amount of feedback, and I would attribute this to the nature of the medium. Because a person is more immersed in a VR world than in any other digital game space, it becomes more important to provide feedback to ensure that the world still feels “interactive”. As a result, games like Job SimulatorLucky’s Tale, and a number of other games take care to add in extra layers of feedback and juiciness, which work well in this context.

MOBAs

maxresdefault

I’ve only played League of Legends (and not much of it), so I can’t be too in depth about it, but I do know that MOBAs in general tend to have a great deal of feedback, in the sense that most new players are hit with a sense of sensory overload. The shop is full of items which deal with a variety of stats. Different abilities have different functions, and an ability at times can be used for different things (ex. Dashing in to deal damage to an enemy, or dashing away to escape).

This sense of feedback is different from that of VR games, since the extra layers of feedback are meant to convey more information to the player, rather than add to immersion. Because League of Legends is such a highly competitive game, players benefit infinitely more from having a minimap and pings than from an extra animation of the grass in the brush or from having a higher resolution ground texture. It’s definitely a different kind of feedback, but MOBAs, and I assume other competitive games as well, have a need for this form of informational feedback.

Games with Little Feedback

Super Hexagon

When I think about games with very little feedback, I definitely see Super Hexagon as one of them. The only feedback you get in game is the visual feedback of your tiny triangle trying to escape death as walls come caving in. The music is trance-like and upbeat, and only serves to goad you on.

50c2343e0e5215b529e2d6835b992621.png

I’m somewhat proud of this, but I also know how sad this is.

Super Hexagon is a pretty strange game in its own right. It definitely brings out the masochistic qualities of a player, where games tend to last less than a minute, often 20 seconds at most. In that sense, the lack of feedback serves to prevent overwhelming the player. Because the games are so short, players don’t need that much feedback. In fact, more feedback would probably impede their progress more, and wouldn’t be appreciated.

 

Beginner’s Guide

2015-09-29_00020-noscale

Beginner’s Guide was a weirdly narrative experience that could barely be categorized as a game. The extent of the feedback was really just Wreden narrating the experience to you. But this lack of feedback only contributed to the point of the game. The game wasn’t meant to be “interactive” in the traditional sense, but still immersed the player fully because of the nature of the story. By leaving out a lot of superfluous feedback (audio effects, interactivity of objects, animation), the experience was much more emotionally reliant on Wreden’s voice, and the resulting emotional effect it had on the player. It’s an extremely rare case of a game functioning so well in such a vacuum-like atmosphere, but it was probably the only way Wreden’s story could be told.


So I haven’t found too many games where there’s a comparably small amount of feedback to bit jam, but the level of feedback does tend to vary with the style of the game. I didn’t mention too much about games that use feedback badly, but of the games that use it well, they suit the nature of the game. In that sense, I think that while feedback can be necessary in many cases when developing a game, it’s more important that the feedback creates a cohesive experience and adds to whatever the overall goal of the game is.

I’m curious about feedback system you’ve encountered. Have you seen any that you loved? Hated? Were there any especially bad feedback systems, and do you have a solution to fix them? How about feedback systems that you’ve made? Did they improve your game experience, or detract from it? Most importantly, do you have any ideas for bit jam? 8^)

Virtual Reality: What’s Been Done So Far

I was one of many who got to experience GDC for the first time last week, and as many people noticed, there was an overwhelming demand for virtual reality, evident throughout the talks and the expo alike. VR is clearly making some kind of impact, and as someone who wants to develop for it, I figured a list of things I’ve seen being used in VR would be useful.

Locomotion

Locomotion’s been a huge problem in VR from what I’ve seen, just because it causes so many people to get sick from it. I’m generally someone who doesn’t experience nausea at all in VR, so it’s always interesting to me when my friends tell me about which experiences made them feel sick. At GDC and in the ETC, I’ve seen a number of ways people have handled VR to combat motion sickness.

“I Expect You To Die” by Schell Games

Staying Still: The most obvious solution games have found is to simply keep the camera still. This is a fairly logical move, and makes sense for puzzle games like I Expect You To Die or Floor Plan. A few shooter games also employ this, like EVE: Gunjack. This is especially helpful for games on devices such as the GearVR, which don’t have positional head tracking, which only increases the chance of nausea.

“Job Simulator” by Owlchemy Labs

Roomscale VR: The next most obvious solution would be to use the HTC Vive for its roomscale functionality. This allows players to move around in a space and interact with objects in this space, but players are still severely limited within the room.

“Smash Hit” by Mediocre

Constant Forward Movement: Moving at a constant velocity without introducing any rotation seems to do a fair job of preventing motion sickness. Games like Smash Hit and Super Hypercube take advantage of this.

“EVE: Valkyrie” by CCP Games

Moving Through Space: Games like EVE: Valkyrie do this, and I’m still unsure why the experience didn’t make me sick at all. Thinking back to BVW, my Round 5 team made a game called BUCKiT which used a moveable cockpit and an Oculus Rift DK2 headset. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m someone who seems to be extremely good in VR and doesn’t feel motion sickness at all generally. However, the one time I played our build without the cockpit and with just a joystick, I felt really dizzy within seconds of playing it, so I assumed that it was the fact I was staying still in reality while spinning around in a virtual space that was making me feel sick. However, I didn’t have that kind of reaction at all when playing Valkyrie, and my assumption is because the playing field is much, much larger in that game, so most things in the distance are moving very slowly and acting as a point of reference for me to stay grounded.

“Budget Cuts” by Neat Corporation

Flash Teleportation: Budget Cuts is an interesting stealth game that uses flash teleportation using technology similar to that of the Portal Gun in the Portal games. People don’t seem to feel any motion sickness at all when there is a lack of motion of snapping to different locations, as opposed to accelerating and decelerating in different directions.

Virtuix Omni

Omnidirectional Treadmill: I had the opportunity to try out the Virtuix Omni at GDC, and has an overall underwhelming experience of omnidirectional treadmills. I can see them becoming more feasible in the future, but currently, they throw you around a lot and take some getting used to before they’re something I would willingly use to navigate around a field. On the bright side, I felt absolutely no hint of motion sickness in the demo that the Virtuix team provided.

“Eagle Flight” by Ubisoft

Restricting Peripheral Vision: I didn’t actually get to play the demo for Eagle Flight (Ubisoft’s new flying game which is probably the first game that takes advantage of this), but the game seems to show movement in the direction the head is facing, and allows for acceleration and deceleration. Based on previous experience and the Oculus Best Practices guide, this game should make people intensely sick. However, because it blacks out the edges of the screen to remove sight through your peripherals, it seems to ease the experience considerably.

Control Schemes

Clicking: Most games use clicking in the direction you are looking in as a control. Games with positional hand tracking will also use grabbing or other gestures with hands as well, like in Job Simulator.

“Fantastic Contraption” by Northway Games

Game Controller: Some games are allowing controller support, and have virtual controllers which are positionally tracked as well. Super Hypercube does a great job of allowing the player to see the controller and see which buttons do what. Games with VR specific controllers, like Fantastic Contraption, do this as well. There’s the limitation that mobile VR (like the GearVR) typically can’t use these controllers unless wired by bluetooth, and then there’s the further limitation of a lack of positional tracking, but judging by how GDC went and Sixense‘s GearVR compatible positionally tracked controllers, it might not be long until those controllers become commonplace as well.

“Between Lands” by Secret Portal

Alternate Controllers: Between Lands had a very interesting controller which involved a lantern which was visible both in the physical world and the virtual world. As an experience viewable to both the outside audience, the participant in reality, and the participant in the VR headset, it made for a logical choice to make a controller which could be seen in both dimensions.

Game Genres

“EVE: Gunjack” by CCP Games

Shooter: Shooters fit easily into VR games, since FPS games generally involve a straight line of trajectory from the player’s eye to directly forward to the target, which complies with how the line of sight in VR is as well. EVE: Valkyrie and EVE: Gunjack both fit into the EVE space-themed world, fulfilling a space fighter pilot fantasy better than games could have achieved before due to the advent of VR.

“Please Don’t Touch Anything” by BulkyPix

Puzzle: There’s a huge number of puzzle games appearing in VR, creating what feels like a more immersive point-and-click game. I got to experience Please Don’t Touch Anything, an originally PC game, on the GearVR, and I found the game to be much more enjoyable in VR. In the first place, the game wasn’t intended to be a long experience, and so it felt right for the GearVR in that sense. The puzzles also did interesting things when solved that felt better in VR, like flipping the entire world upside down. I think in general, puzzle games will continue to be strong in VR, especially since VR allows for creators to explore spacial puzzles more deeply.

“Adventure Time: Magic Man’s Head Games” by Turbo Button

Adventure: I think it’s interesting to note that most games I’ve played in VR fall into one of the top two above categories, while adventure games, a giant in the game industry and a staple of most large game companies, aren’t as widely found in the realm of VR. I’m curious to see if the genre will grow more, since storytelling in VR is definitely something people are pursuing due to the level of immersion people are experiencing. Current adventure game available in VR are Adventure Time: Magic Man’s Head Games and Lucky’s Tale, though as far as I know, both are primarily platformers.

“Tilt Brush” by Google

Creative: Creative games and tools are also becoming more popular, as people are experimenting with spacial manipulation in virtual reality. Fantastic Contraption and Tilt Brush both demonstrate this, and allow guests to manipulate objects in space directly rather than through a 2D portal of a monitor.

“Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” by Steel Crate Games

Social: VR seems to be bringing a lot of potential to the social game space. Social movie theaters within VR is a genuinely engaging experience to many people. Games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes also take great care in tying together cooperation between the player within the headset and the player(s) outside of it.

“Audioshield” by Dylan Fitterer

Rhythm: There hasn’t been much about the game, but Audioshield (which seems to be a VR equivalent of Audiosurf) seems like a game that might engage people for simply being a rhythm game, judging by the success of games like Audiosurf and osu!


 

I’m mostly curious about the general opinion of VR. Like Jesse Schell mentioned in class, it may as well be a fad that blows over within a matter of years, or it could be the next serious technological advance, which creates a huge paradigm shift for many game and experience creators. Right now, VR is not as suited to long experiences (such as the 45 minute+ games of League of Legends, for example) as PC games are, which will definitely influence developers to pursue shorter games. However, VR is also known for potentially increasing immersion, which might imply that someday, VR would be much better suited for longer, more narrative driven experiences.

What’s your opinion on virtual reality? Have you experienced anything interesting, sickening, or just fun in general in virtual reality? Would you ever prefer it over PC, console or mobile games? Where do you think VR is going to explore next?

NPCs and You

(Doing the same thing this week and leaving open-ended questions at the end for you to answer ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ this is mostly based off my experiences, so I think a good number of people won’t share my view for this, which is cool too)

When thinking about games I like, I often go back to the characters that were most memorable for me. For Borderlands, it was Angel. For Saints Row, it was Johnny Gat. For Dragon Age, it was Zevran. For Undertale, it was Sans. Each of my favorite games seems to have one iconic character that made me enjoy the experience a whole lot more, and gave me something to come back to and think about.

 


 

NPCs feel very similar to characters in movies or books to me, but the defining trait that sets them apart (and of course, sets games apart from movies and books) is the fact that they can be interacted with. A character in a book does not have the capability to acknowledge the player’s actions, but characters like Zevran and Sans are much more equipped to handle branching decision trees, and therefore make the experience a little bit more immersive.

 

2014-11-29_00076

I have upwards of 10,000 screenshots of DA:O and DA:A because of the characters.

Using Dragon Age as an example, each party member has a number of branching dialogue trees, and they will all act positively or negatively toward your player character depending on the actions you take (ex. sparing someone who kills elves vs. locking them away forever to rot in a jail cell) or the things you say to them (ex. flattering them vs. insulting them). At a high level, these interactions are incredibly binary, as a character will either increase or decrease in affection for you for that moment in time, and this generally doesn’t affect future conversation. However, when playing the game and projecting onto your player character, something else happens. Because you are placing a portion of yourself into the game world, and your avatar becomes an “extension” of your identity, interactions become more meaningful, and NPCs somehow mean a little more to you personally than if you were reading about them in a book or watching them act out a script on a screen.

 

Guardian_Angel_in_Borderlands_2

The “Guardian Angel” from Borderlands 1 and 2 only appeared as a blurry video clip accompanied with a female voice for the majority of the games, but she clearly played a huge role in the plot all throughout.

However, this leaves the case of stories, like that of Borderlands 1 and 2, Angel does not truly “interact” with you, since she follows a predetermined script. But what Angel does do is acknowledge the player. Although Angel lacks the dialogue trees that Dragon Age provides, Angel has timing on her side. She only appears at key points in the plot, and she acts as a sign you are progressing forward in the plot. Whenever she speaks, it is either an explanation for what is about to happen, or approval for getting that far. Regardless, she acts as a beacon of acknowledgement that you’ve completed a mission, or are on the right path, and so her words and her character weigh a little more than characters in books that exist without acknowledging your presence as a reader at all.

 


 

Overall, the only commonality between the characters I listed above that I can see is that all of them represented a goal I wanted to reach. Otherwise, their actual personalities and appearances varied widely. Angel is probably the sweetest character I’ve ever seen in a game, while Gat is probably on the other end of that spectrum, and is easily the worst mannered character I’ve seen in awhile. It really felt like it didn’t matter “who” they were exactly. Instead, the only thing that mattered was not immediately understanding their full value and backstory, but exploring deeper into their character as the story and the game progressed. Reaching these characters, whether physically (in the case of Angel and Gat) or emotionally (like Zev or Sans), was my self-made goal for their respective games. And in the end, only one thing mattered:

 

I wanted to make all of them happy.

 

Realizing something like that feels pretty strange to me. All of them are NPCs in games. They can’t even fully exist unless I’m present. But somehow, just because they’ve all shown some interest in me, even if that interest is preprogrammed and would exist with any other player, I’m still very much in love with these characters. Conversations with them suddenly become “intimate moments”, and sometimes feel comparable with conversations I have with real people. They’ve influenced how I think and how I behave, and I want to return the favor and do something for them as well.

An NPC, who doesn’t even really exist, made me rethink my life. Isn’t that cool?

 


 

A mix of questions to end this post with:

Who are your favorite characters from games, and why do you like them? How have characters from games affected you? Do you prefer games with relatable characters? Or do you prefer games without characters at all? Are there any characters that have influenced you in any way?

The Lens of Your Secret Purpose

(I’m going to make it a little easier on you, and give you an open-ended question to answer at the end of this. Mostly because I’m curious, but also because I think it would help you more than commenting on any other part of this. If you feel like commenting about anything I say though, please do! ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ)

I’ve been skimming Jesse Schell’s “A Deck of Lenses” from time to time, but recently I came across this card for the first time:

Screenshot_2016-01-18-11-39-05.png

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself nonstop since I started this game-making endeavor. Why am I doing this? I know I at least enjoy programming, and enough to spend the rest of my life doing it. I also love drawing, which was enough to get me interested in making games a few years ago, which was then enough to inspire me to apply for the Entertainment Technology Center program to make more games, except this time with other people.

But that intersection between programming and art isn’t enough to sustain my interest anymore. There’s something else in it’s place that I couldn’t put my finger on.

 


 

I’m going to shift gears here and provide a highly-recommended suggested reading: Game of the Year by Davey Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable.

Tl;dr: Davey experienced an immense amount of reception after The Stanley Parable was launched. This huge reaction of both positive and negative feelings amassed quickly, filling Davey with stress from the weight of the emotions of countless people. As a result, he went on hiatus for a bit to be alone.

An important part of this article for me is this quote:

“Every time I turned to someone else’s opinion of the game, I felt less sure of my own opinion of it. I began to forget why I liked the game. I was losing the thing I had created.”

Davey discusses a strange mental tug-o-war between his desire for The Stanley Parable to be loved, and his reluctance to let the game be consumed and interpreted at the whims of countless players. Which brings up an interesting point: if you make a game (or a piece of art, music, sculpture, anything), does it belong to you? Or does it belong to the people who consume it, who dissect and interpret everything you place in the game, who might misconstrue everything you’ve provided them, or completely miss the point of the message you want to deliver, or just blatantly hate it?

Part of a comic that Davey Wreden drew up to express his struggles with The Stanley Parable and the resulting success. I’m sure many of you have felt something similar, particularly those coming from a creative background.

There’s a strange reality to making a game, especially an independent one such as The Stanley Parable, which is that the game becomes significantly more personal. “Indie Game: The Movie” discusses this point as well. Upon success, a popular indie game will immediately be consumed by the masses, and initiates a cycle of generated content by the fanbase, such as Let’s Play videos, fanart, and pages of discussion in forums. At that point, it becomes reinterpreted for the user’s convenience. The game being played by a stranger is definitely not the game you intended on making. That game is instead whatever the stranger wants it to be, whether they are conscious of it or not.  Games are a form of communication as much as any other art form is, maybe even moreso due to their interactive nature. All the creator can hope for is that their message is conveyed clearly enough.

 


 

Gonna be honest, I’m not sure why our Round 3 BVW team made Doot Doot Cat, but it was definitely a seamless combination of the personalities and skillsets of our brilliant artist Ross Houston and prodigious musician Kristian Tchetchko.

I do understand that not all games are all that personal. Many games are just something that the creator thought would be fun to play with, and nothing more. But, based on the games I’ve seen being made at the ETC here, there’s a fair amount of thought and personality that goes into each game. It’s always hard when something you’ve made isn’t well-received, especially considering how much time and effort you pour into the thing you’ve made.

I was really proud of how the UI looked in BUCKiT! Maybe like 2 people saw it. Oh well. Thanks for the gorgeous designs anyway Carrie!!

In the class that every ETC student has taken, Building Virtual Worlds, we were told we were making not just games, but “worlds”, and we weren’t making them for players, but “guests”. The impact of using those words shifted my view on games. A game essentially becomes some sort of black box, where you put your thoughts in, and hope the one on the receiving end gets something similar. We create experiences and emotions. We don’t create a direct line of communication with the player, but instead we create a space for the player where they can draw their own conclusions. We as creators are almost entirely removed from the games we make.

My answer to why I make games nowadays is to communicate my thoughts to as many people as possible. It’s a little bit in line with my previous blog post, which talked about how games are incredibly good at listening to the player. I enjoy having the power to make something that’ll make strangers think. Normally, I have no form of connection with these people at all. But making a game builds a room with a one-way mirror, and from the other side, I can watch them and understand the thoughts of others a little more, and how they might react to someone like me.

 


 

So, my question to you is:
Why do you make games? Why do you make something that might be misconstrued? Do you put pieces of yourself in the games you make? How much of yourself exists in the games you make? How do you feel about the process of making the game, and then releasing it to the public? Do you care at all of the potential of affecting many people, or are you instead focused on making games in itself?

Listening

 

People say that the best skill a teammate can have is the skill of listening. It’s a skill that’s not well practiced, as people seem to enjoy talking more than they do listening. Our Game Design class has also been told that a designer’s most important skill is the skill of listening. Listening is obviously important, and we as humans don’t do it enough apparently.

As one of those humans, I love talking, and mostly about myself and my life experiences. But I’m also very self-conscious about talking too much and appearing arrogant and ignorant of others, so I try to hold back my thoughts in favor of listening to other people’s experiences, which is also pretty enjoyable. I do offer my take on things when my opinion is warranted by others, but I don’t feel like I’m represented well enough in those conversations with my peers.

Games are a different matter. To me, games listen to me better than any human can. I think that part of the charm of games, as opposed to any other medium, is the fact that there is a system that is reacting to you/fulfilling your fantasy/acknowledging your presence/making you right/however you want to describe it. A good game will definitely respond to your will and personality.

There’s a number of features that come to mind when I think about games that listen well.

1) Customizable Appearances

This feature is most common in MMORPGs from what I’ve seen, and with good reason. Games with as many simultaneous players as MMORPGS must support a way to distinguish your character from everyone else’s. Customizing your appearance is as much a way to express yourself without words as dressing up in real life is.

1451462_10151909062413001_660919507_n

I was enamored enough with my protagonist in SR3 that I wanted to draw her. Boss of the 3rd Street Saints.

A series that I felt did it the best for me was Saints Row, particularly 3 and 4. Those games were strangely eye-opening to me, in that they let you be whoever you wanted, and honestly didn’t care how you looked. Saints Row took care to represent multiple ethnicities in their preset models for males and females. The game also didn’t care if you wanted to suddenly change your sex, ethnicity, or get your nose redone in the middle of gameplay. It allowed you to be who you want, whenever you want. And it made you this amazingly godlike character, regardless of how you looked or what clothes you wore. In Saints Row 4, you are the President of the United States of America, regardless of how ridiculous you looked. The game made you right by not doing anything.

yN4cgsr2

Same deal, but with Dragon Age. My Grey Warden, an elf Arcane Warrior.

On the flip side, Dragon Age: Origins did the opposite. You were still allowed to customize your appearance as you wanted, but now your appearance and personality mattered to the other characters. An elf was looked down upon by humans. Dwarves found comfort with your character if you played a dwarf. Your gender would prevent your character from dating other characters based on their sexuality. Your upbringing would determine whether you can rise to the position of King or Queen. A number of variables involved in character creation locks you into a particular set of roles. But this set of constraints worked well in the Dragon Age universe for me. Because of these restrictions that I chose for myself, I built a character out of that. He had a personality, which was reinforced by the choices I made through DA’s dialogue system. And the game respected that story, as the characters around mine would react accordingly to what I said. This game made you right by letting you tell your story.

As a side note, this was the same reason I heavily disliked Dragon Age 2, the sequel to DA:O, the game I loved so much. In DA2, you can’t customize the protagonist, Hawke, to the degree that you can in DA:O, which ruined the gameplay experience for me.

 

2) Feedback and Acknowledgement

d8e0ebdf2a52da0c05b4c29c56137146.jpg

I can’t talk much about Undertale without spoiling it, so here’s a poorly rendered character slamming bodily into a stack of cubes from the trailer video.

[[MILD UNDERTALE SPOILERS START HERE]]

There are many games that handle feedback well, but few games acknowledge the player’s actions, especially as well as the game Undertale does. If you decide to kill all of the monsters you encounter, the townfolk are scared and evacuate. On the other hand, if you spare all of them, the characters recognize this as well. The battle system is also unique, in which you can perform different actions depending on the character you are fighting. If you’re fighting a dog for example, you can pet it, and the dog responds positively. Characters in the game also know the protagonist, and have mild recollections of the player in second playthroughs. They realize when the player has restarted the game, and are intrigued with the fact that the player seems so familiar. The game has numerous outlets to acknowledge the player’s intentions, and tries to communicate on a more personal level. A single charm of many that Undertale has is that the game fully acknowledges the player’s decisions, both within a single playthrough and across playthroughs.

[[UNDERTALE SPOILERS END HERE]]

 

3) Changing the Environment Based On the Player’s Decisions

always-sometimes-monsters-533ec6385e5ee

With regards to character customization and art style, I don’t think this game did a great job, but I do think the gameplay was interesting and made up for that greatly.

A particular RPGmaker game I played called Always Sometimes Monsters wove together a story that I found incredibly engaging and rewarding despite how simplistic the game was at time. Part of it was because of how much power I had as the protagonist to change the state of the world around me, in addition to my own fate. For example, you have the ability to help an old lady clean up her house for some money, or to make a drug addict deathly ill by selling her defective drugs for a better profit for yourself. The fact that you could interact with so many characters and change their stories along with your own, and see these changes, was incredibly powerful to me.

loved-browser-game-screenshot

This game changed my life, and was the single catalyst to inspiring me to work in the games industry. All I wanted was to one day make a game half as powerful as this was. (play it here, it’s worth it)

Another game which exercised the idea of altering the environment according to the actions of the player is Loved by Alexander Ocias. Loved is a very short Flash game which takes approximately 5-10 minutes to beat, and if I consider you a close friend, I’ve probably brought this game up in conversation one way or another. A reason for that is how uniquely the game behaves. Throughout the game, there are simple decision points in the form of commands: if the narrator says to jump over the statue, you can choose to either obey or disobey. Following the obey route will cause objects in the scene to become clearer and less blocky, while following the disobey route will cause the screen to become more distorted and filled with static-like blocks of color. This strange sort of manipulation of the environment was powerful. Despite the narrator continually antagonizing and clearly verbally abusing you, you as the player still had some semblance of control.

Both of these games allowed the player to see how they can affect the worlds of the games, particularly by showing the player how much power they have, and how their decisions have impacted the lives of others or the way the world appears. The strength in these games is that the player’s actions are rewarded with lasting consequences in the world, albeit not the real world.

 

4) It’s Not Real

The major reason to me why games are such good listeners is pretty simple: they aren’t real. There aren’t any repercussions to lying to a game. A game accepts you for who you are because it doesn’t have any other choice. A human can’t do you that favor: we are by nature designed to doubt others, to judge them, ignore them, and ultimately, be selfish. A game will not betray who you are, and so it’s better equipped than any human is for accepting your imperfect self.

 

And for someone like me, it’s a lot easier to be vulnerable around something that is guaranteed not to deny me my own identity than someone who might.