Global Game Jam: Only 3 Days to Go!

Gazimağusa is one of this years Global Game Jam locations. We got the support of our university and my faculty will host the event that will take place between 29-31 January.

Since it is our “pilot” event, we were happy to have it not too crowded: our group of participants stands at 15 right now and that is just about the right number to run it smoothly.

I’m very excited! This is a phantastic opportunity for us. An opportunity to show our enthusiasm and skills, an opportunity to show that we have the capacity to do amazing stuff on this island.

GGJ 2010, we’re coming!!

Molleindustria

There is a website that features a list of exiting games. I would label them as games that are meant to create “public enemies” such as anarchists, communists and feminists. Well, that’s exactly the exiting part of it all, isn’t it? :)

Please check out and support:

http://www.molleindustria.org/en/home

Motivating Players in an Engaging Way

My new article up at GDAM discusses the problem of mechanics that artificially lengthen gameplay.

It happens all too often that we lose our motivation exactly because of the mechanics that were supposed to achieve such motivation. I believe that one of the reasons for this is that game designers have too much faith in reward systems and do not tie them strong enough to narrative structures that foster a strong sense of game progression. In this article first I address the concept of climbing tension in order to explain the forces behind a strong sense of progression. Later on I give examples from cases in which the climbing tension principle is ignored and what impact this has on player experience.

I hope you enjoy the read!

GDAM February Poll is up!

The poll for the February topic at GDAM is up. The choices for February are:

  • Multiplayer Economies
  • Emotive Games
  • Losing the Fun Factor

You can vote here.

Favorite Blog Post of the Week at Gamasutra

Woot! My article on combining reward Structures with narrative bits has been elected as the best member blog of the week by Gamasutra. It happens just a week after I made it into top 5 with another article that dealt with categories of interaction.

And I have been awarded a lifetime subscription to Game Developer Magazine! ;)

Game Idea #43

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a game idea. So it was about time to come up with something new. Here comes…

Game Idea #43

The Hand

The Hand is an experimental game that aims to raise questions about choice and authorship in video games.

The player finds herself as an avatar in an open world setting with a third person POV. She can choose items from her inventory to wear or to carry in her hands, she can pick up objects from her environment, she can walk around and explore buildings and space, she can approach NPCs and talk to them etc etc.

However, soon it will be understood that there is another “Will” present in the game: A huge hand, intervening by entering the screen from above if it doesn’t like the decisions the player makes.

The hand would push the avatar around in order to tell her to move on or to make her move into a certain direction, it would “adjust” the avatar to the track it envisioned the player to take, it would deny certain directions completely by blocking the way or it would grab the avatar and place it onto a certain spot in the game world.

But that’s not all: the hand would take away certain items from the avatar’s hand and put them back into the inventory, it would place other items into her hand, it would put back items that the avatar picked up from the environment and shoo the avatar if she continues to pick the same item again. It would get angry if we talk to NPC’s that it doesn’t like and shut our mouth so that the NPC can’t understand what we are saying.

Finally, if the player insists on doing what the hand doesn’t want her to do, she would simply “grab the controller” and move along the avatar by herself for a while. During the period in which the player is stripped from control, she could however “promise” not to do it again and with a bit of begging get back controls. If she fails to keep her promise though, the Hand would keep the controller for longer periods the next time or simply decide that it doesn’t want to play with us any longer.

New Series of Articles on Game Narrativity

I’ve been busy writing a series of articles on game narrativity. Meanwhile they’re three and it keeps coming. They’re all on Gamasutra, so just check out the links below.

Combining Reward Structures With Narrative Bits

Rewarding Players Over Multiple Narrative Layers

Narrative Structure in Formal Games

Enjoy!

Top 5 Blog of the Week!

Cool news! My article on categories in interaction has been chosen as one of the top five member blog posts at Gamasutra for week 1 of the new year! I’m very happy. It’s the second time this has happened. Before that my article on Tense and Tension got selected into the Top 5. But that was back in July/August.

It’s very motivationg and I hope I can repeat this a couple of times! :)

Four Categories of Interaction

Interaction has often been used as a term to support the argument that games should not be studied with the concepts and tools of narratology. In this article I go the other way and approach interaction from a narratology-based perspective.

The Layers of a Narrative 

 An analyses of narrative structure reveals four narrative layers:

  1. Events (or Functions): all actions that are carried out to initiate, continue and terminate a logically connected sequence [an example from Diablo: zombie is on attack –> kill zombie –> collect gold]. [1]

  2. Story persons (or Actants): the fictional beings who carry out the actions which articulate as events. Often they’ll signify something larger than their partiular presence and connect to a “will”. [Back to the Diablo example: All monsters in the game are actants or story persons. But ultimately they articulate under a narrative “force” that we can identify as “Diablo”. This is the “will” that aims to break the “will” of the story person that we act as in the game world.]
  3. Storytelling (or Narration): the various techniques and methods through which the events and story persons to which they belong to are presented to the player. [Examples from Diablo: Exposure of information through entering dialogues with the people in town; gothic iconography and low gamma to foster mood and to communicate genre, etc]
  4. Narrative Situation: the broader rules and conventions that shape the way in which games (game narratives) are consumed. This is not really part of the narrative itself, but rather means the circumstances and cultural codes that allow the game narrative to be perceived and consumed as such.

 

The Archetype of Interaction in Video Games: Influencing the Events Layer

Historically, the video game has been a form of narrative that through input allowed players to influence how a row of Events will turn out. While players were not the creators (authors) of the game universe, they were nevertheless the Story Persons that  the design of the control and interface (and the choices they made through these) amounted to [2]. This is the archetype of video game interactivity and it remains until today fundamental to any game. Gameplay built around influencing the Events layer has been (probably because of technical constraints) the dominant mode of interaction for many decades, exemplified right from the beginning through games such as Spacewar!, Pong, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Centipede, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Zaxxon etc etc etc.

Traditionally, the author/game designer would narrow down the possibility space of the game in order to maintain a certain degree of logical continuity within the Events. Despite her freedom, the player would stay on ‘track’ because the design of the ‘system’ and its mechanics would exercise its structuring force onto her choices and behaviors. Today however, we witness games in which the possibility space in regard to the Events layer is kept broader, especially in games that want us to consider the ethical implications of our choices and present to us more than one major course of action. Games like Fable, Deus Ex and Black & White, known for their ‘non-linearity’ and multiple endings, come in mind.

Expanding Into Other Narrative Layers: Story Persons and Narration

Over time we saw game designers explore the possibilities of the other layers of narrative. MUDs and genres such as RPGs and Simulations put emphasis on a variety of interactions that had as their subjects story persons and other game world existents: Players could modify or remove existing characters, create characters from scratch, change their looks, traits and behaviors. Other games allowed us to change the environment, to add, modify or remove objects, to modify terrain etc. Civilization, Sim City, Diablo, The Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, X-Com Apocalypse, Football Manager are games that come in mind. They added onto the archetypical layer of events, the ability to modify the layer of story persons and existents.

Nowadays, most modern games have added to these two layers the modification of the layer of Narration: We can now modify the camera angle or behavior, switch between POVs, chose the music and gamma (ambience) that we want to dominate the game world while we play, alter the frequency of in-game commentary, switch on or off replays, and many many more options… Pro Evolution Soccer, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor are just a few examples that come in mind… 

New Narrative Situations and the Future of Interaction 

With Project Natal announced, we prepare ourselves to witness revolutionary changes in narrative situation (our broader defined relationship with the medium we interact with). The way in which we ‘consume’ games seems to undergo significant changes. However, we yet have to see how “the player as controller” will gain functionality and what it will bring with it in terms of interaction with the other narrative layers present in a game.

Notes

[1] The Events layer implies that characters in a story are in a constant process of decision-making. To give an example:  [phone is ringing –> Option A) answer call; Option  B) don’t answer call –> different outcomes for Option A and B]. In extreme situations chosing the ‘wrong’ option could mean “end of story”.

[2] In drama theory it is often pointed out that choice is character.