Monday, April 30, 2012

On My Mind: Understanding Fun - Sometimes You Just Can't Win - The Mid-mortem Analysis

It's been roughly two weeks now since I shipped Sometimes You Just Can't Win, and I'm close to completion on my first update.  Initially, this update was meant to fix whatever bugs and issues I had, but it turns out after getting player feedback that I had to do a lot more.  The initial pass was going to be for quick usability test, some content balance, and a new mini game.  Then I stumbled upon a few feedback of:

"This isn't fun, it should be more fun"

Well then.

My knee-jerk reaction is: "Wait, are we playing the same thing?  Am I not getting the story through?"  There's a certain level of "this isn't meant to be fun" argument that I know I'd be losing, but it's there.  Yet, they're right: if you strip out the story, then it's a series of button presses, right?  But what are we left with for games? A series of user inputs; and visual/aural output.  What's the fun in that?

So, what is fun?

This may appear like some sort of philosophical bullshit question, like "what is life", but it really isn't.  In fact, there's a few established papers/talks that covers how "fun" can be defined.  The two that I think I've gravitated to is Marc LeBlanc's 8 Kinds of Fun and Jason VandenBerghe's 4 Types of... (yes, I'm aware of his talk at GDC 2012 on 5 Domains of Play, but I wasn't at GDC, and the slides feel like they need more context).  In both cases, they lay out the foundation of what people find as "fun" in games: they're not blueprints on how to make a fun game, but if you analyze a game where someone claims they find fun, you can directly correlate what they find fun onto that list.  I highly recommend reading them over if you're interested.

Why I point them out is that in both cases, it's pretty much agreed on that "fun" is not a constant: no two person will ever find the same game fun, and their definition of fun can wildly change depending on their mood, the ideals that they hold and the experience they want to obtain.  Someone who would enjoy Heavy Rain for it's storytelling (and finding that fun) may still find LA Noire's story fun, but not it's combat and exploration; Someone who enjoy Peggle's audio visual experience may find Bejeweled's number crunching to be annoying.

These themes and examples are interesting, because it points to that a certain type of "experience" that can define fun isn't necessary true for everyone, and in fact, it would be downright impossible to try to appeal to everyone's sense of fun without possibly alienating someone else.

So, back to my game...

I don't know how other people see it, but really, there's only two levels of enjoyment here: 1)The sense of challenge (in the method of completing the game, and in high score), and 2)A feeling of completion for the story.  That's about it.  The game and it's subject matter just won't lend itself to someone who wants to feel rewarded and feel good about themselves.  There is no happy ending, there is no exploration, there is no competition against someone else.  It's you versus the machine: echoing the theme of the game.

Friday, April 20, 2012

GameDevStories: The road to TOJam (and an introspective look into design)

While this is fresh on my, I might as well post about it.

The Toronto Game Jam (better known as TOJam) will be taking place in three weeks, and last night was the pre-planning/matchmaking session, an event for people to find teams and people to work with.

OK, I may have jumped two steps ahead, so let's step back for a bit:  A Game Jam is a typically an event where people put together a game in a short timeframe (and in this case, in 3 days).  People will come in with different expectations of what they want out of it, but considering a 3 day schedule, you'll want to work with people who are working on the same wavelength as you as far as planning, ideas, and work methodology if you have want any legit chance of cranking out something that resembles a usable game.

This is my first time doing something like this, and I'm really just following the lead of Nick (a 2D UI guy I used to work with who's done this before), and my objective was sort of simple: find a programmer(s) or anybody, to form a team.

Two interesting things happened:

1) Well, the whole matchmaking setup was a bust for me: all the matches didn't have the right numbers setup, so my "schedule" of organized matches were kinda for naught.  I ended up talking to randoms around, which was an interesting, and slightly different outcome.

2) Most people I've talked to weren't exactly looking for TOJam partners either.  The few that were were trying to fill holes in their gap: a programmer here, an artist there, etc.  The rest were actually looking at this as an networking area for people on their other outside projects (be it as a business, hobby, etc).  In both cases, nothing really came out of it.

So now I come out of it still without much of a team.  Possible contacts, but not much of a direction... and I find that odd because of one really consistent and oddball thing:

In talking to most people about what I do (design), the first thing they ask is "So what game idea do you have in mind?"...

...wait, what?

And in talking and listening to the other teams, most actually do have an idea in mind already.  Some have worked out mechanics and planning, and the theme will just be jammed in somehow afterwards. I'm left utterly speechless.

To me, the idea of having a game idea before the theme (no, the theme hasn't been announced) seems utterly absurd.  When I look at design, I work and shape ideas with the restrictions and limitations I have: theme, the people, the resources, the platform I'm making things on.  There's no point of me drawing up plans while I still have that many moving parts on the resources I can depend on.  I'd tell people, you let me worry about design when the time comes, obviously, that wasn't how must people were doing things.

Am I thinking too backwards in this?

In the current and worse case scenario, it'll be me hacking away on an iOS game in 3 days.  Sounds like a decent plan if I ever heard one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On My Mind: The Neogaf Experiment.

So, last week, I launched Sometimes You Just Can't Win on the iOS, a "game" that is an artistic retelling of the time I was working as a game designer. As of right now, I'm sitting at around 1500 downloads. Is it what I expected? I don't know. Did I ever plan to advertise the game? Not really. My intention for this 0.5 release is really just a way to get my story out. Think of what's out there as beta: game balance, playability, and length just aren't there yet. I think I'll do a real push when a)I have something to monetize in it, and b)when it's more feature complete.

However, this doesn't mean I didn't mention it anywhere: I made a NeoGAF post about it:

ITT: AlphaTwo00 tells all about the time he was in GameDev & you gets free iOS "game" (read at your own discretion, naughty words and insensitive comments abound!)

Part of the post was meant to be a bait and switch tactic for me to get people to check out my game; but the game was also part of that story I wanted to tell (along with the other half of the post, talking about me as a designer looking into gaming community forums).

In my mind, I was expecting angry replies because I was in a "not as well regarded" studio making less than appealing games to enthusiast, but that never came through. Most of the comments were fairly nice (along with the PMs). Partially, I think people who wouldn't give a shit wouldn't bother replying, and the ones who did are more than understanding about how game development works, which was nice.

However, I really think that for me to be transparent about everything was clearly the point: people on the internet are often more willing to attack something that is faceless, but for me to be open about who I am, what I do, then they are more accepting of what I'm offering. This is pretty contradictory to what I've seen everyone say about game development PR: don't say anything that isn't carefully massaged.

I guess going forward, I'm going to be as transparent about what I do if I start working on another game. I think that's a nice start.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Administrative Stuff: Let's kick this up a notch

Now that PAXEast is done and that I've shipped the game, it's time to start posting back here on a regular basis. So starting tomorrow, I'll try to move back into a one-post a week schedule.

However, before I really start digging into design stuff, I'm going to wrap up one or two more post about the Sometimes You Just Can't Win. So buckle up, it's gonna be a fun post!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GameDevStories: The launch of Sometimes You Just Can't Win

Aright, it's been a long road, but it's done, and it's live:

Gentlemen, what I'm about to show you is not the game you thought I was going to create. What I'm about to show you is a glimpse into my mind and soul. Please hold your questions until the end (of the game). I know you will have a lot of them, but I'll understand if you rather I just leave.

For me though, the game is only one part of the story. The other part is writing about the game, and what it means to me. Sometimes You Just Can't Win is more of an experience, and a personal journey of my four working years at Tecmo Koei Canada. There are actually two companion pages, and I'd recommend checking it out after playing the game if you're so inclined on reading them.


I'll be honest. It's not a game in the most traditional sense, but rather an experience. In a way, I feel like I can get away with a slightly less substantial game because there's a story behind it. I hope that you do stick with it to the end (my quick estimate, you can get from start to end in 20 minutes), and get a good feel for what I'm trying to get at.

I won't regurgitate what was written, but I'll explain my motivation on why make such a game.

So, why make this game?

Even though I started working on this game around the middle of July, it was something on the top of my mind. For me, this game is closure - a proper sendoff to a chapter in my life that I never really got closure with. I've always imagined that I'd either quit in a rage of fury, or I'd be downsized with at least some sort of mention in the gaming press. Ironically, on the day the we were downsized, Sony also downsized a whole chunk of people too. On the scale of footnotes, this didn't even measure.

Moreover, on a personal level, it wasn't the way I wanted to go. I had grown weary of the development process, and I had wanted out. And since I can't actually do that, I might as well create a reality where I CAN do just that.

Hey, that's what game designers do, we make stuff up!

Think of this as therapy.

So yes, give it a try, send feedback, angry e-mail, etc. I'll try to not take it personally.

Monday, April 2, 2012

GameDevStories: The Waiting Game Gut Check

Hi again.

It's been a while since I posted, and yes, I've been busy doing stuff. More specifically, wrapping up that iOS game project that's been in the works for the last 6 months.

Well, it's done now, and more interestingly, it rolled into app review and approval state today. So now we play the waiting game (more specifically, my pre-planned date).

Is there anything more gut wrenching than this moment, knowing what you've worked on is going to be released in the wild, not knowing how people will see the game? Nope. It's a scary world, putting what you've done out for people to see, to critique, and to trash. I've done enough shipping of games out there to know not to take things personally, but it's going to be difficult for me to separate critiques of this game from critiques of me here.

Am I expecting people to say that it's a bad game? Most likely. Is it a bad game? Maybe. Does it do what I set out to do? Yes. And to me, that's good enough.

All that's left for me to do now is to write a few accompanying posts (which is as far as I'm going to go for advertising this thing), set the game free, and let the chips fall where they may.

See you 4/4/2012