It’s Coming: Game Design Aspect of the Month

Here’s your chance to contribute to a new blog!

I’m seeking contributions for Game Design Aspect of the Month, a thought-child generated by the new IGDA Game Design SIG mailing list.  Each month, guest bloggers from the game industry analyze a game design issue, delve into past examples, highlight elegant solutions, or present new ways of handling or thinking about the issue.

I’ve already got a couple game designers lined up to participate, but I’m also interested in hearing from academics, programmers, artists, and writers, since it’s good for us game designers to listen to others’ perspectives.  I see Game Design Aspect of the Month as a way for the game design community to have a group-think — so it’s also okay to respond to a blog post with your own.  Plus, it’s always interesting to see the processes of other designers.

Topic suggestions are also welcome, but I want questions along with the suggestions to direct the discussion because often times, the topics are very broad.

If you’re interested in participating, e-mail me directly because the launch is imminent!

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Game Console Photo Spread

Think you know game consoles?  Then take a walk down memory lane with Sande’s presentation at the IGDA NYC’s Pecha Kucha night!

For Pecha Kucha night, each slide lasts 20 seconds.  There are 20 slides in all.  Are you ready? Here we go!

Did you manage to guess any names or dates?

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Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Are more game developers hiring contractors?

After a day full of CNBC’s documentaries on the subprime mortgage crisis and various Ponzi schemes on Monday, it’s clear the economy is on everyone’s mind. The game industry appears to be no different. CNN recently pointed out that businesses are hiring more independent contractors. Is this true for the game industry?

One of the biggest motivations for working with contractors instead of staff involves a changing business model. According to the CNN article, as businesses move to a project-based model, contractors make more sense.  While many game companies efficiently move workers from one project to the next, not all of them are quite so organized.  Contractors are a great alternative, especially when funding runs low, projects are canceled, or even when you successfully ship your game.  From CNN:

There are also big economic incentives to hire freelancers, he said. Businesses cut the costs of benefits and payroll taxes and often don’t have to buy new equipment or find work space for a freelancer.

Not to mention you don’t have to lay off a contractor.  But you still have to pay them ;)

If you are looking to hire game designers or game writers, feel free to contact Writers Cabal via our website.  Of course, if you’re looking for other kinds of game contractors, we can point you in the right direction as well.

In the meantime, which game companies do you think will weather this economic crisis the best?  Which the least?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Writing for Video Game Genres book available!

genre-cover

We are very pleased to announce that the third IGDA Writers SIG book is now available for pre-order from the publisher:

Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG

http://www.akpeters.com/product.asp?ProdCode=4179

According to the editor, “So far, everyone who has looked at it has been pretty excited about the content. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. We’ve got some really excellent writers just downloading their brains onto paper.  Love it!”

Now, for the fun part.  Can you guess which chapter we wrote?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 9:51 am  Comments (5)  

How to keep the fun by reining envy in

As we discovered last week, a little envy can make a game more fun… or at least motivate players to keeping on keeping on. But envy wouldn’t be considered one of the seven deadly sins if it really were all fun and games. The dark side of envy can definitely ruin it for everyone, and game design is just one way to rein it in.

What’s so bad about envy?  If the envy of knowledge increases wisdom, doesn’t that make more fun?  Unfortunately, not everyone who becomes envious can or actually does improve.  The best way to get a great lawn, as they say, is not to work really hard on your lawn, but to pour gasoline on everyone else’s.  The apotheosis of envy means the “envier” destroys the object of his or her envy.  Here are just a few approaches to moderating player envy so the game can continue to be fun.

Combatting NPC envy

The biggest cause of negative envy in games is impotence.  If the player cannot hope to become better than the object of envy, there’s only two choices — destroy it or stop playing.  Particularly in single-player games, avoid cut scenes and other moments where NPCs have abilities that players can never hope to attain. Unless, of course, the players can then kill them and release their envious feelings. Makes you wonder how many times you’ve killed the big bad and actually wanted him dead due to envy?

Combatting player envy

How about envy among players?  You may not like the answer, but it’s an oldy but goody: game balance.  In the instance of Cain and Abel, both Cain and Abel made a sacrifice to God, but God preferred Abel’s sacrifice.  Cain became envious and killed his brother.  Just so, in games, two players might make the same effort, but one is rewarded more than the other because of the arbitrary nature of the game design.

Some insist that if everyone has equal access to the resources of the game if they put in the time, the game is inherently balanced.  If some players are better than others, some are just better than others.  This argument doesn’t take into account that different players have different interests and talents and don’t take kindly to being marginalized.  Designing for multiple Bartle types in MMOs, for example, will help balance the game add different arenas for players to compete and succeed.  However, if you are designing a simple game intended for only one type, there are still different strategies to design for within that type.  Balancing a game allows a diversity of player types to succeed without too much envy.

Giving players their own tools against envy

Envy to some is only a sin if it encourages the one who envies to steal or take something from the other.  Flagging or unflagging players to prevent PvP prevents this aspect of envy to come out.  But the tools to combat envy don’t stop there.  In some cases, players can choose which toon titles are visible to other players.  So a player who earned a badge for being the best explorer ever could actually hide this accomplishment in favor of something more amusing and less likely to cause envy and enmity.

What more do you think can be done to prevent player envy?  What games do you think particularly let envy run wild?

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Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 3:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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This just in — zombies!

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for some important news!

Be safe out there!

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Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ain’t envy fun? The sin of envy in game design

Have you ever seen phat loot someone else had in game, then worked your butt off to get it? Then you’ve seen the power of envy in game design. Inspired by the History Channel series, today we’re continuing our exploration of the seven deadly sins of game design and writing with envy. Though a sin in the Christian tradition, envy can play a positive role in your game design and story.

Envy did not exist on the original list of deadly sins, probably because it was drafted by a monk sworn to poverty. While the list is technically not in the Bible, “thou shalt not covet” suggests this sin is older than the list itself, and one we are most uncomfortable talking about.  Envy rears its ugly head wherever there are possessions and, by extension, special abilities that ascribe status. Envy is insatiable, which is good news for game developers seeking to take advantage of this sin.

But how do you create envy?  Wishing you had something someone else has is a great motivator and arguably what makes games work. Here are just a few ways to create envy in your game, which will spur your players on.

1. Competition
Competition breeds envy. You won’t be able to avoid it. If you have a higher score than I do, I just might be envious.  Game designers take advantage of this by heaping on the competition with games within games in both single and multi-player.  MMOs take the cake with competition, adding a number of levels to compete on — level, PvP rank, badges, guild rank, etc.  Social games add game-wide score charts, while PvP and duels allows players to express their envy mano e mano.

2. Elite goods or abilities
When you create elite loot or skills that can be seen by other players, it will lead to envy and the inevitable question, “Where/how did you get that?” The cape in City of Heroes, which you can only get at level 20, is a great example of envy for lower level players.

However, don’t think single player games can write off envy altogether. Players may see an NPC with a skill or ability and be spurred by envy to continue. In Final Fantasy VII, you are teamed up early with Sephiroth, who pwns your opponent while you swing at it with a “dink.” Envy of this ability is both a motivator and foreshadowing of what you will have to become to defeat him.

3. Customization
Building games and virtual worlds, like Sims and Second Life, can be particularly prone to envy, because someone can always build a bigger, prettier house.  Envy based on customizing is one part elite good envy and another part envy of another player’s ability or talent.  Even in City of Heroes, where everyone has equal access to the costume customizer (say that five times fast), envy is created with impromptu costume competitions.

Whether against other players or against the computer, envy can improve the fun for everyone. “The envy of scholars increases wisdom” goes an old saying. Just so, the envy of players increases fun, if done right.  Next, we’ll be exploring the dark side of envy and when you might want to moderate this deadly sin in your game.

In the meantime, can you think of games where your envy of an NPC prompted you to learn more about him/her?  How about times when you envied a player in a multi-player game?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.
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Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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