Designing a Game without Creative Control

This past semester at Rochester Institute of Technology, I have spent a lot of time designing a “game” to play in World of Warcraft. I say “game” as it is really a set of systems that simplify the lifestyle choices a diabetic must make. Designing this has not been easy and I want to share my thoughts on how I would design a game without creative control if I were to do this again.

1. Imagine it’s a Car Game

Now I don’t mean that its a racing game or some simulation game, but a game you play in the car, much like the “License Plate Game”, “I Spy”, or “Punch Buggy”. All these games are made with the express knowledge that the players cannot change their environment (what things they will see out of the car) and uses them in the design and mechanics in their games. Thinking of your game as having set variables, for car games, the constant signs, other cars and trucks, instead of the fun or end product will make design more cohesive and simple.

2. Know the Delta

Understanding what you cannot change is only useful if you know what will change, both through the playing of your game and the changes that are outside of your control. For car games, understanding that there may be times when cars are scare and the road is filled with trucks will help you keep the car game interesting by adding in special rules for a car drought, slightly changing the game to keep the game eventful.

3. Be Technical with Rules

This does not mean to have specialized rules for certain circumstances in your game(although that may be important for your game) rather have an intimate knowledge of what you can get away for your game. Have an understanding of your Terms of Service, copyright laws, or someone’s patience. For a car game, knowing such technical things like how often mile markers will be seen by your players, or that trucks often have extra wheels will help fine tune the game.

PAX EAST 2014 Retrospective – Sun & Thoughts

Sunday was a slower day. It was also a half day, as my flight back to Rochester was in the afternoon. First thing that morning I checked out was the new Wolfenstein game, it seems like a fun first person shooter and makes me want a PS4. We spent most of our time in the tabletop area, playing some board games and admiring the dedication of the Warhammer players (that game looks super complicated!). We played the Downtown Abbey board game, which seems like to have the navigation of Clue as its only game mechanic, both my dad and I were disappointed (he was especially, he’s a huge fan of the show!). We found a booth selling handcrafted wood dice trays and deck boxes and I purchased one there. Can’t wait to get it! After our trek in the board game area, we headed over to the Magic : The Gathering booth to try out the new Magic game coming to Ipad. We both like the changes to the UI a lot, it was a lot easier to understand what was happening and to use cards at their appropriate times.

 

PAX EAST 2014 Retrospective 2014 – Sat.

Saturday again we waited in the queue room and went to check out more indie games. This year, the indie megabooth had a section that changed everyday, meaning new devs and games, so we headed there first to see what was new. I headed over to some of the AAA games, got a Elder Scrolls Online T-shirt at the Bethesda booth, played Age of Mythology Extended Edition (an HD re-release of Age of Mythology), and found my way to a game called Grey Goo.

While walking around the booth trying to find the line to play their game, I saw someone I met years ago at the first PAX DEV. At the time he was all hush-hush about his company and their projects and I thought he was crazy or making up stories for fun. But there he was, working the booth showing off the new Real Time Strategy game by Petroglyph Games, the devs behind Command & Conquer. I chatted him up, and he was amazed to see me and glad to show off his project to me finally. He invited me to their party they were having that night and hoped to see me their to chat me up about my goings-ons.

I also met with Rami Ismeal of Vlambeer, one of my game dev heroes. He remembered me from last year’s PAX EAST and I asked him about his thoughts on affirmative action and hiring for game dev (a few weeks before the convention he tweeted about not wanting to hire white guys to work with him). We had a great discussion on the topic, going back and forth about giving equal footing to minorities, how that could be seen as unfair advantage, and so on. The discussion lasted a good long while, with reporters waiting for our discussion to end to chat Rami up. At the end of our discussion, he asks my shirt size, grabs me a Vlambeer T-shirt, hands me his business card, and asks what I’m working on. I was estatic! One of my game dev heroes wanting to not only talk to me but talk to me about my work! I chatted him up about WoW Diabetes and some other side projects, and he was interested! He told me to write up about designing for WoW Diabetes and that he would love to proofread my work. By the time all this was over, I profusely thanked Rami, left him to chat with the reporters, and walked off excited and amazed by the whole thing.

That night I went to the Grey Goo party and chatted up my contact and the devs of the game. It was a great time. I also met the president of Petroglyph Games, talked to him about WoW Diabetes, and he has helped connect me with some WoW designers he knows. So by the end of the day, I had met my game dev hero, chatted with him, been encouraged by him, and found a contact to one of the designers of WoW to talk to about WoW Diabetes. What a great day!

PAX EAST 2014 Retrospective – Thurs. & Fri.

Again I was lucky enough to scrounge some money together and make the trek to Boston for PAX EAST 2014, a great exciting game convention for fans of video games, table top game and card games. It was an exciting convention for me this year, as I not only had many games I wanted to check out and panels to go to, but a game to talk to people about, WoW Diabetes.

I got to Boston on Thursday night, with much of the night ahead of me and went to a party at Microsoft’s NERD center where developers in Massachusetts were showing off their games and mingling. I talked to plenty of people, checked out their games, and pitched WoW Diabetes, to which many responded well and seemed interested. I even met one fellow that worked for a localization company that works with indies that would be interested in localizing our mod for European markets! All in all, an exciting start to my weekend, filled with networking and games.

Friday morning I arrived at the show floor bright and early (9am) and headed to the queue room to await the opening of the expo hall. Finally getting into the hall at 10:15, I went straight to Supergiant games booth, as I wanted my father to play their upcoming game, Transistor. We waited in line an hour, played the demo for a quarter of that time and I got to chatting one of the graphics programmers at Supergiant. I learned some interesting methods they are employing to handle their animations and the drastic changes they have made to monogame (an open source game engine they are using as their base for Transistor). From there, my father and I checked out a lot of other games in the indie games section. There were to many to count, but they were all interesting to check out. If PAX EAST is all about one thing, it is sensory overload. I also went to two panels, one of which was worthless, the other with Patrick Klepek of Giantbomb.com and Zoe Quinn, maker of Depression Quest, talking about jerks on the internet and how we can stop them. (I highly recommend anyone that uses social media watch this) Full panel is watchable here.  Outside of panels and indie games, I spent my time with another of my group mates working on WoW Diabetes to talk to community managers or developers of World of Warcraft. Unfortunately we did not make any headway at PAX EAST in that route, but on Saturday, I found a connection to some WoW devs.

That night, Giantbomb was having a meetup at a local bar and I decided to go. It was exciting to meet all the editors and staff in person, chat them up about video games and mention my own. I was even able to tell my story about the horrible game “Hey, You Pikachu” to Patrick Klepek. He enjoyed it a lot and this lead to a great discussion about voice control in games and its horrible implementations. I left the bar that night invigorated by a great day, excited for the next one. And boy was the next day exciting!

WoW Diabetes Update 3

I am happy to announce that our mod will now be using actually a real world mathematical model to calculate the glucose level of a character! We have heard back from the team of doctors in France and they have given us their equations and research on calculating glucose levels in the body. This math is extremely complicated and uses a lot of data from the human body, which we do not have for the WoW characters. We have been working with the doctors to use standard values for many of these data points and are very close to having a complete function for use in the add-on. While working on the math, I have been working on adding the blurry and blacking out effects to the add-on. I hope to have these in the mod by the time I (along with half of the team) go off to PAX EAST (this weekend). At PAX EAST I hope to show this add-on off to anyone interested (including press hopefully) and Blizzard. The team’s hope is to show this to Blizzard and get their interest in the add-on and when we are fully finished, sometime this summer, have them showcase the add-on.  It’s nice to see the add-on in a working state and play like a game, while still simulating Diabetes.

WoW Diabetes Update 2

The only thing I can update on this time is on actual mod. Alex and I have been working not getting the mod’s UI to function properly in game. This experience has shown me the power of pair programming. Alex had started working on the UI originally, but had developed it to a point where something was lost in the latest build and the UI would not update in game. Alex and I met a few times, including in class, and walked through a good chunk of her code, seeing where the code links to other code and how functions are called. After doing this a few times, we found a few instances where lines were out of order, in the wrong place, or missing altogether. Once we fixed all these issues, the code was working no problem and Ale and I are no schedule. The only other issue we have been having with the mod is the actual math behind diabetes. our mod has a numerical value and bar to show the player their blood glucose level and if their level is in a safe range. We also have all the food from levels 1-20 researched to have their real world glucose equivalent. But from there we are unsure. We have asked others working on the project, a group of doctors in France about how to equate this numbers together and were meet with “This proprietary”. So we are totally confused about the math behind diabetes and unfortunately this is a major component of our educational mod on diabetes. So the mod is in a working fashion, but the important math behind it is not there and we have no idea where to look for that math. Hopefully we will have this answered by the time we get back from break, which is next week.

My Time with SteamOS & an Xi3

Being at a large university such as RIT and being a members of organizations like Computer Science House (of which I am an alumni) and the FOSSBOX, many exciting opportunities are given to me. Today I had one of those opportunities. Through the connections of the FOSSBOX, I was lucky enough to try out SteamOS on what many consider to be the first SteamBox. The download took a surprising amount of time, being only a 2.5 GB download, and needing a 4GB USB stick seemed like a lot. I have a small knowledge of booting other OSes onto machines, mostly vanilla flavors of Fedora or Ubuntu and cannot remember the files for them being this large. The Xi3 itself is laughably tiny, making me wonder if this is really a computer or a souped up raspberry pi with extra RAM or something. After spending many boot attempts to get the Xi3 to launch its BIOS menu, all of which failed, I realized that the SteamOS does not use BIOS, but UEFI. Luckily the Xi3 I was given came with no paperwork about what was in the machine (I only found out it had a 64GB SSD from its startup sequence) so I had no idea about whether it used BIOS or UEFI. I only found out from the Xi3 not reading the SteamOS, which only works with UEFI, a newer form of BIOS. Searching the internet I found a BIOS version of SteamOS and burned it to a disk on another machine, and borrowed an exetrnal disk drive to launch the OS. I was then met with a error message stating that the Xi3 cannot read the data on the disc drive. This was the end of my experience with the Xi3 and SteamOS; providing paperwork about the Xi3 would have been helpful, and would have saved a lot of time trying to get the UEFI SteamOS to boot. I have no idea what was in the Xi3 or how well it runs, but it is really tiny so I hope it can run appilcations well.