Story: An Introduction for Game Developers

Here are the presentation slides of the lecture I gave to the students of the game development program at the METU Informatics Institute. Enjoy!

 

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Play me a Story

Here are the presentation slides of the seminar lecture I gave at the METU Informatics Institute. I hope you’ll find them useful!

Narrative Design Seminar at METU, Ankara

On Monday, October 31, I’ll be holding a lesson as a guest lecturer at the Informatics Institute, Game Development Program, METU, Ankara.

The program looks good:

11.30-13.00 Presentation as Guest Lecturer

Classic Drama Theory and Video Game Story Structure: A Comparison

This lesson gives a brief overview of the three-act-structure in classical drama, and then compares it with various story structure types in Video Games.

14.00 – 15.00 Video Game Narrativity Seminar

Four Categories of Interaction and the Articulation of Narrative Layers Through Player Input

This seminar gives a brief overview of the analytical categories used in narratology. The four basic categories will be then further studies based on game examples to give a picture on how player interaction actively manipulates narrative layers in order to articulate narrative structure as a whole.

The seminar is public, so I hope a few of you can come by.

I’ll be sharing the presenation slides here on my blog after the lessons, so stay tuned!

Design Studio 101 (to 401, all in one!)

A friend of mine, Guita, is a teacher at the Department of Industrial Products Design at our university. It’s been quite a while now that I was looking for a chance to join her weekly design studio classes. Since “Design Studio” is a 8-hours-a-week course, I usually couldn’t join it because there were clashes with the courses that I had to teach at my own faculty. But after two semesters of waiting for the right time, finally lady luck smiled at me: There is no course clash this semester; I can join all 8 hours of her classes!

Today was the first day at the design studio and I must say that it was incredibly nice to be present there. I got up really very early with some big excitement, carefully prepared the stuff that I would need to use during conceptualisation and prototyping, and I was waiting ready in front of the studio gates at exactly 8.30. And then the big moment came: We entered the studio, took seats and the design lectures began.

We were a group of around 25 people: 3 teachers, me, and the rest were arichitecture, industrial design and interior design students. Some assignments had been given out mid-week and today we came with the ideas and concepts that we were asked to show up with. At the beginning the teachers held a brief lecture which was then followed by a brief general discussion. Then we stepped over into a brief discussion in which individual problems were addressed and help had been offered to those wo had suffered from “design block” during the week. And after that we were finally ready for the design work of the day and turned to our workdesks.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly… people would walk around freely, listen to the music they like, use their laptops etc, chat, doodle on the boards etc… it all looked very different from the classes that I am used from our faculty (were people usually sit and listen with serious faces) but actually you could see how the minds of the students where busy in the background with the design problem that was posed at them. It was nice to obverve: a student who walks around for a few minutes with her walkman, then would go and talk to someone else for two minutes, then would go an do a quick search on a lap top, and at some point this person would suddenly sit at the workdesk, quickly take some notes or start drawing a three-dimensional object. She would then go around for some feedback or for a bit more brainstorming.

While these individual processes would go on everywhere, at another corner, you would see a group holding a brief discussion round,  or talking to the teachers. People were free in both, being individuals or being members of groups. It was a wonderful atmosphere.

One of the nice things was that the studio was open to students from all years. New and old students were mixed and they knew each other from the studio works in previous years. In other words, everyone, from Design Studio 101 to 401 was there! This was actually a very nice way to keep the students connected to each other, have them discuss, exchange ideas and help each other out. The more experienced students would sometimes lend some of their know-how and give the newbies enough help to keep them on track. It also helped to maintain a relaxed informal atmosphere which had always room for some little jokes and funny conversations.

It was peaceful and creative. I liked it a lot. And I thought that we at the Faculty of Communication need to create similar environments that give students more freedom and chance for creative exchange.

I’m very happy to be part of the design studio this semester. I believe that until late January I will learn a lot from this experience (also as a teacher who is looking for new, more engaging teaching methods in his courses). Also the many assignments will keep me busy and I will stay in touch with some excellent teachers that know their branch very well. I believe that industrial design’s focus on usability and its way to approach the “product”, will contribute a lot to my individual goal to become a great game designer.

How many stomachs does an interface have?

Interaction design for a game is a difficult task, because it requires the designer to create a classification system that has a limited number of classes yet is flexible enough to represent a great number of objects in the game world in an easy-to-access way. Often this is a matter of the distribution of the semantic workload between the graphic interface and the various other input peripherals (such as mouse, keyboard, or gamepad) Since each input device has a unique character, the result of the combinations can be highly different.

Looking at the various input devices that we have at our disposal today while playing games (keyboard, mouse, guitars, steering wheels, Wii controller etc), we see that they can work on very different levels of abstraction. For example a keyboard enables spelling on the phonetic level. On the other hand, the buttons of a mouse or a gamepad are more like ideograms. Combinations of these various input devices will be a basis for various naming and calling conventions, all of them constructing worlds with different qualities, quantities and behavior.

However, often the success of interaction design will depend a lot on how the graphical interface will digest the game world and decompose it into the semantically nutricious pieces that can be than passed over for further treatment to other “stomachs”, such as the menu bars, keys and controllers. In that sense it could be said that interaction design is like establishing a digestive system with many stomachs, like for example that of a cow (hence our initial question: how many stomachs does an interface have).

To digest or not to digest, that is the question!

To digest or not to digest, that is the question!

Here, however, the digestion works on a linguistic and semantic level. Often, the graphic interface will make the first big digestion and break down the virtual world into a group of semantic and narrative cores which will be then ready for processing on the next level, that of the button arrangement on the gamepad for example. The classification that decomposes the game world into units will set the constraints for key assignments or the type of input device that will be sufficient to turn around things (For example interaction design of RTS games for concoles is known as a true challenge). Through this digestion on several levels, the game world turns into a classified system of existents and interactibles that enable the player to take a course of meaningful action in the very context that the same digestion process has constructed. Achieving the appropriate levels of categorical sensibility through this process of decomposition will be mostly depending on the finesse that lies behind the design of this system of stomachs.

Through classification of random objects, the interface creates a world with recognizable patters

Through its system of classification, the interface creates an order: The random mix of objects turns into a world with recognizable patterns.

Let’s just remember some good examples for now (Who likes to think of bad examples anyway?): Diablo had a wonderful simple point-and-click interface which had classified the game world into three categories of existents (of which all could be simply unified under one universal category, “targets”): these were killables, collectibles and destination.  The player who used the mouse had no need to further explain what action she wanted to take. To click on the interface, depending on where the mouse was resting at that moment, either meant “kill this”, “collect this” or “go there”. A further category of actions could arise from an additional decomposition provided from the mouse: left-click and right-click could mean “kill this (with this)” or “kill this (with that)”. Continuos clicking would repeat the action, which meant that the number of actions was also easy to give in. In short: The various “stomachs” had decomposed everything perfectly, therefore the game had a very fluent process of “spelling”. It got particularily well along with the very addictive reward schedule. All this created a great, zero-friction game flow.

Another example is the infamous The Sims. The Sims also had a very digestive interface, but this time one which nested almost all “verbs” into the two interactible classes, “objects” and “characters” (the difference here is one based on humanistic assumptions, technically there is no difference between “character” and “object” in the way The Sims decomposes its world). It constructed a multi-layered deep world with this method. The player wasn’t bothered with much spelling procedures to express the actions she wanted to be done, she just chose them from a palette. The dominant “sentence structure” or grammar that allowed for communication between player and game world was:

Subject  – Object  – Verb

For example:

Character A – Character B – kiss.

Or:

Character B – Fridge – Prepare Dinner

Each sentence that the player constructs was displayed within the frame of the screen via a system of “uniform” icons on top of the screen, so that the player could edit the “paragraph” of events that he had just “written” through the orders she dispatch onto the characters. If she didn’t want a sentence to be carried out, she just deleted it from this “visual list” of future events. This high level of digestive groundwork was reducing the semantic workload of the controller a lot and gave the player great time and freedom for strategic thinking.

Modern gamepads can take over a lot of the semantic workload in todays games though. In fighting games like Tekken a player may “utter” a great number of attacking and defending moves without any procedure hat involves the use of the interface. But as much as it seems like the graphic interface does not do a lot of work in this genre, it is again the way in which the world was decomposed through it, that allows the game design in general to focus on detailed gamepad use during the spelling of actions.

My latest feature…

My latest feature, an article on the design process of my game Poseidon’s Wrath is out. Please check the article out here.