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.

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First Thoughts on World of Warcraft

I have never played World of Warcraft; lets just get that out of the way. I have played other MMO’s: Guild Wars 2, betas of Elder Scrolls Online, and Star Wars: Old Republic. I enjoyed my time in all these games, Old republic until it became free-to-play, and like the ideas of a connected world with players inhabiting it. So for a class, I will be making a mod for World of Warcraft, so it seems important to have an understanding of the game. I downloaded the game,  started a toon, a Tauren, and began my adventure. And boy was it boring! I would spend more time walking to the activities needed for a quest then doing those activities. The story-line and world seem like some super generic fantasy, full of tropes and cliches. All these story-lines also seem super racist! Seen below is my toon in the starting area, which might be a little offensive to Native Americans.

Maybe?

Maybe Slightly Offensive? Native Americans != Cows…

 Now granted I have only played 5 hours of it, a game that people have played for years, so maybe I have not gotten to the “interesting” or “fun” parts of the game. I will be playing more of the game but since I am playing a starter edition of the game (the Free version), I can only play a toon till level 20. Check back for my thoughts on the game and see the progress on the WoW Diabetes mod I am working on.

Sleepy Scientist Update 4

With Thanksgiving break almost upon us, the Sleepy Scientist team has been hard at work. We have been preparing a build of the game, with full instructions and reworked visuals, updated AI and tweaked levels, and a few changes to the timing of selecting and placing inventions in the game. This is all for our next playtest, which could possibly be our largest and most useful of the semester, mainly due to the fact that the team will be taking this build home to family and friends. The team is very excited, I myself can’t wait to get feedback from my family and friends who have not seen me work on a game in quite some time. It should be a great time! After some of the other games I have shown to family and friends I think they will be very surprised to see how complete this game is. Although we are far from done. Thanks to the professor of our Game Design & Development II class, Stephen Jacobs, the team has been given an Android tablet to further develop the game for mobile. Luckily, in working in monogame from the start, it seems to process to do this should not be especially difficult and I have tasked one of our programmers to get a build of the game running on the tablet during break. Hopefully, we will be able to see the game in its originally thought design by the beginning of December and will be able to continue making the game for that platform. It is not that the PC development has not gone well, it is just that the game was originally designed from a controls standpoint to be on a touchscreen device. The mouse clicking interface we have been using has been a good stand-in, but the development is reaching a point where tweaking for feel is taking place, which is very difficult when you are not tweaking on your preferred or originally designed for platform.  Some exciting things for Sleepy Scientist with even more to come! A potential playtesting session with our target audience (kids!) is in the works! It may even happen with the tablet! Check back for more!

Sleepy Scientist Update 3

This past week I have learned a lot about what a Scrum Master. (or even something more generic like a managerial or advisory role) should be doing on a game dev team.  This week we (the dev team of Sleepy Scientist) were not able to meet a deadline to have a playtest available for our fellow classmates. Now luckily we were not too far behind, just a solid day of work, but behind nonetheless. I came to see from talking with my team and getting advice from my professor for the class that some of the issues were due to lack of communication, that I should have been facilitating.  A simple thing such as a spec sheet, so that our programmers, level designer, and artist all know the exact size of art assets for the game, are the types of things that I need(ed) to make sure are available. With that information they can make informed decisions about how much screen space the scientist will take up and plan their level designs or algorithms or animations around those specs. I have also come to see that I need to really push the team to be communicate with each other. I am not sure how I will pull that off, but in the meantime we will be meeting more during the week. I will also be giving out very specific goals for sprints, less “Get a menu system up and running in the game!” and more “Have a main menu, pause menu, pause the game, and an instructions screen.” I will also be making sure that I have more on my plate. Before I was trying to give out what the team deemed they could do and pick up what was left for that week; always ready to be their back-up in case they needed any help. That has never happened, so I have decided that making sure  I always have a full plate (that will possibly get fuller when I help out others) is the only way to proceed forward. Some tensions in the group have arisen from this, but I hope that we can chalk it up to stress of missing a deadline and continue working on Sleepy Scientist.

Sleepy Scientist

Sleepy Scientist is a simple 2D puzzle game I am working on in my Game Design & Development 2 course. I am working with 5 other students to make the game, each specializing in a different aspect of the game, like AI programming or Art. I will be working with the team on this game till the end of the year. I am tasked with the role of Scrum Master, which simply means that I am the one to make sure that the game is moving forward and to keep everyone on task. While I am not working to keep the team moving forward on development of the game, I will “pick up the slack” or really just do the rest of the work that needs to get done for the game. You can check out the code here, but know that it is just the code, not a game to download and run. We are still working on it! Be sure to check back weekly for updates on the game’s progress and what I have been working on for it.

Gone Home Review

Gone Home has many references to life in the 1990's. Here two friends are talking about going to see Pulp Fictrion

Gone Home has many references to life in the 1990’s. Here two friends are talking about going to see Pulp Fictrion

In going to a yard sale you can learn a lot about the owner just from his possessions. Is the vintage Noid figure missing one of his ears through child’s play, or is it still in its original wrapper? Are old records for sale? Cassettes? CDs? Gone Home is much like walking through a yard sale. Everything thing is on display in Gone Home. Feel free to go to the fridge and pick up a banana, see if it is fresh, and place it in the trash. The art direction in the game really lends to the player examining as much as they would like, with high resolution handwriting and graphics abound. There is a necessity for these high resolution graphics though, as much of the experience is spent reading handwritten notes, seeing how handwriting changes throughout the page, and enjoying the drawings and doodles.

You'll be spending a good chunk of time in Gone Home doing this; looking into furniture and opening furniture.

You’ll be spending a good chunk of time in Gone Home doing this; looking into furniture and opening furniture.

Gone Home’s story in not a fantastical one. You are Kaitlin, coming home from a trip abroad to Europe and while overseas your family has moved, leaving you to arrive at a new house and no one to greet you. That is all that you are given. The rest must be found in letters between your mother and father, the personal diaries of your sister, and meaningful writings your family has kept in the house. Gone Home is all about atmosphere and place. For $20 it may seems like a lavish and expensive experience, but think of your typical cost to see a movie. Gone Home is slightly longer in its experience than a film, and gives you the agency to move the plot forward or stare at every book in every bookshelf in every bookcase in a library. Its gameplay is almost non existent, as this could be described as “not a game”, much like Dear Esther. This experience is all about immersion, and its storytelling. If you are ready and willing to be transported to 1995 to learn about a Northwest American family and see how their lives are lived through their possessions, then play Gone Home.

Why Games Will Never Have a Happy Ending ….. To Their Audience

I recently replayed Mass Effect 3 with the “Extended Cut DLC Endings”. While having me replay 2 hours of content to see a chance in the last 4 minutes was a little much, after seeing the “new” ending, I realized that people will still be angry. Sure enough, checking the plane of the Internet today, many thought that Bioware did just a bad job with these newer endings than they did with the older endings. Why? Were the ending badly written? Produced poorly? Laughable Voice Acting? No I think the actual reason is nothing to do with the developers and all to do with the audience. Whenever an audience has to experience something they have invested in ending, they want to find ways of prolonging it. This is why Star Wars and comic book conventions exist. At these conventions, the audience can gather together and ravel in their favorite moments in the entertainment, prolonging their enjoyment of the entertainment. In a game, the audience’s attachment to the entertainment is so much higher that in books or movies due to the audience playing out the main character’s life. This instantly connects the audience and the game, making their want to continue in that world higher. With a game like Mass Effect 3, where most players have invested more than 50 hours into the game’s lore, characters, and themes, players have put themselves into that world. They have become apart of that world. Ending their connection to that world is gonna be a nasty breakup. Worse than the time the love of your life walked out on you. In the middle of a restaurant. And threw her drink in your face. So its no surprise people are mad at Bioware. People want to keep experiencing the Mass Effect universe and by ending the game with a definitive a way as it was ended, many feel they will never get a chance to delve back into that universe. What can developers do? Have Closure. The original ending to Mass Effect 3 did not have closure with all the characters met in the game, leaving the player wondering what happened to their favorite characters. The newer endings add this to the game. This is all a developer can do to combat the hate that will eventually come their way. But fret not! This means the developers has succeeded in getting their players to invest not only their money and time in their game, but also their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs into their game!