All posts by Nick Demarco

User Interfaces in Games

User interfaces, although they may not be the main selling points for a game that ropes everybody in, they can still make or break a game.  A good user interface connects the user with the game’s world.  User interfaces are the mediators that can connect a user with the experiences of the game.  If a game has a bad interfaces, it can disconnect the user from the experience and it can be a good way to detract them away.  It’s quite often that a player’s complaint about a game will have something to do with the game’s user interface.  User interfaces are an integral part of a game and they are important to consider during the game design process.

There are a ton of games that get user interfaces right, one of them being the recent Fallout games.  The thing that I like about the interface is that it is integrated into the story.  The Pip-Boy is the famed console that player use to access a ton of information about their characters.  In the story, everybody in the game’s world gets a Pip-Boy when they reach a certain age.  It’s a genius way to bring players into the game’s world and lore.  pip boy 2

The Pip-Boy, to start off, looks really nice and stylized.  It’s a mix of old world technology with new world elements.  It’s probably safe to say that the Fallout games predicted the recent fascination with smart-watch technology.  The Pip-Boy is essentially a smart-watch that relays a bunch of information to the user.

Players can change their equipment, access their items, examine their health, look at current mission objectives, and access other game data. Everything is organized into nice lists that are sortable and easy to read and to accompany these lists, pictures of the different items, abilities, and equipment are shown on the side of the screen.  The user interface looks nice and clean and it is extremely fun to use.

fallout shenanigansEverything else about the game looks nice as well.  The menu’s for the dialog options are intuitive and easy to use and there are also button prompts that pop up all over the world explaining different actions you can perform on objects and people.  These prompts change color, depending on what type of karma these actions will give you.  Although these elements of the game may seem small, they do a good job of immersing you in the world and not disconnecting you.

But, not all games get user interfaces right like Fallout.

When I think about games that don’t have good user interfaces, I instantly turn to MMO’s.  I myself have not played World of Warcraft, but I have played Guild Wars 2.  MMO’s are commonly plagued with cluttered text overlays and menus that are displayed all over the screen, which can be overwhelming a good majority of the of warcraft user interface

In Guild Wars 2, there is just so much stuff happening on screen, making it hard to know what’s going on at a given moment.  MMO’s usually have a lot of information to relay to the player due to the scale of the game.  There are different currencies, spells, attacks, and other stuff is all displayed on the screen at once.  This is actually what detracted me away from the game.  It became too much and I decided to go to something that was much simpler to grasp.

guild wars 2It’s hard to fault MMO’s for this because they haven’t gotten to the point where their user interfaces are acceptable.  For MMO’s, this is probably the hardest part to design.  Like I said before, there is a lot of information that needs to be relayed to the user.  It’s hard to figure out a way to present this information to the play in real-time without confusing them or overwhelming them with menu’s, overlays, and sub-menu’s.

A lot of times, games just need to be play tested in order to develop a good interface.  It’s important to know what kind of output a user wants from a game.  If some information is not important, you can put it in a sub menu or a menu screen.  However, important information that a user always want to refer to can be displayed on screen in a nice manner that isn’t cluttered and confusing.  Although all of this is easier said than done, it is vital to a game’s success.

Going Back to My Gaming Roots

What keeps you playing a game for long periods of time?  It’s a question that a lot of game developers tend to keep in mind when developing their games.  There also happens to be no right answer when considering this question.  However, we can come close to a right answer, and that answer is flow.  More specifically, games that induce a flow state and a sense of immersion tend to be the games that keep players hooked for a long time.super smash bros melee 2

There are a couple of games that come to my mind that have personally induced a flow state for me.  The first one goes back to the time when I was just starting to get really into gaming.  Super Smash Bros Melee for the Gamecube was a game that really kept me hooked for a long time, and it still manages to immerse me in the experience.

First off, the game requires a lot of twitch skills, and the ability to react quickly to different attacks, because it is a fighting game of course.  It also requires a sense of concentration and patience that was un-paralleled at the time, in my opinion.  Most of the times I played with my younger brother because the game was more fun when played with friends.  It was a game that was easy at first.  When we first got the game, my brother and I where on the same skill level.  We weren’t too good at the game and we were still learning the super smash bros meleedifferent moves and abilities that each of the characters had.

But, the game became more challenging as my brother and I started to become more skilled at the game.  Matches tended to be longer and they also became more frustrating.  That is where the concentration and patience came in.  We were both really good at the game by this point so the matches were more even and they tended to test our patience a lot.  There would be momentum swings in both directions throughout the matches and the final outcomes were varied.  The game, even though it really didn’t change anything, was never boring.  The fun came in the form of the increasing challenge that it provided.  I was never that immersed in a game till Super Smash Bros came by.

Another game that really immersed me was Gran Turismo 4 for the PS2.  This was another game that really immersed me in it’s world via challenge and the skills it required you to master.  It started off easy with cheap cars and simple tracks.  It eased you into the experience and got you used to the feeling of the game.  The challenge then ramped up as you took your first license test in the game.  It was these tests that unlocked more tracks and race tournaments that you could participate in.gran turismo

The game kept me hooked for a long time as I tried to master the different tracks and races.  The game was definitely challenging as you reached the endgame content, but they prepared you enough so that it was never too frustrating.  It was just the right amount of challenge that kept me there, but never detracted me away from the experience.

These two games were some of the first that I ever played and they were also definitely some of the best that I have ever played.  They were the games that really kept me immersed in their experiences for hours on end.  They both had their differences.  Super Smash Bros required a lot of twitch and concentration skills while Gran Turismo basically required driving skills.  Both were great examples of games gran turismo 2with flow.

Ideas for a New Modern-War Game

Table-top war games have always been my go-to games whenever I want to have a game night with family or friends. Why?  Because they offer a unique form of fun that makes them stand out from other board games.  Games like Stratego, Axis & Allies, and Risk all offer great experiences. They are not only a lot of fun, but they also require you to think.  If you were to go into one of those games without any plan, you will most likely lose.  Every move seems to have a weight to it and they all seem important.  There are momentum changes and tense stand-offs that make this type of game really appealing.axis and allies

That is why the type of game I want to make is a table-top war game.  It will be one that brings in other concepts as well, which will make it different than a lot of war games out there.  I want it to not only contain the strategy of a war game, and chess, but to also have some random elements in there as well in the form of cards.  The game will not totally be a chance-based game though because there will be plenty of strategy for players to grasp and use to accomplish a win.

The game will be a board/card game hybrid.  It will be a two player strategy game that will pit the two players against each other in an all-terrain game of war.  Each player will have a base, with a strong defense, that the other player will have to destroy.  The bases will be on opposite sides of the board, which means players will have to form strategies to bring this base down.  The board will also contain different terrain zones in different areas.  Some examples of terrain we want to include are urban areas, flat valley areas, and mountain areas to name a few.  We will also probably want to include water as terrainwell.

Players will be able to move around the board in the form of units that they can produce.  However, they will not start with all of their units on the board at the start of the game.  This is where some of the chance-based mechanics will come in.  Each player will have a deck of cards that will have different units on them as well as different resource cards.  They will almost be like trading cards, with each card having a strength stat, defense stat, and other things like special abilities and range of motion.  At the start of the game, players will draw 7 cards from their respective decks.  Their hands will contain a variety of resource and unit cards.  Each unit will have a description of how much resources are required to place the unit on the board.  Once a player gets enough resource cards for a certain unit, they will be able to spawn it on the board near their base.unit card

Their will be a variety of units in the game, each with their own strategies and abilities.  We will have vehicles like hum-v’s, tanks, and other armored vehicles.  We will also have units like infantry and spies (scouts).  Some of these units will have ranged attacks, while others will require you to go up next to an enemy unit in order to attack.  Each unit will also have a range of movement that they can have each turn.  Where you move on the board is also important, because we envision that some terrains on the board will offer different units special abilities on top of the abilities they already have.

tankThe object of the game, as I mentioned before, will be to destroy the other players base.  Players will have to constantly make the decision of defense vs offense. While it will be important to go on the offensive, they also can’t forget about defending their base back home.  It’s these types of strategies that players will have to develop as they go.

As with most strategy games of this nature, there are some challenges and difficulties that we will have to overcome.  First of all, balancing will be a prime issue that we will have to take care of.  Will some units feel more powerful than others?  This will have to be overcome and tested through numerous play-throughs.  We also talked about the possibility of having air vehicles in the game, but this also might add to the balancing issue of the game.  These planes will seem pretty powerful and invincible if no other unit can touch them.

Another problem we will face is the aesthetics of the overall game. war game board pieces Basically, we will want the game to look pretty and fun to look at.  Nobody wants to play a game with a board that has scribbles all over it and post it notes as their units.  We have to make a professional looking game in the short amount of time that we have.  This problem can be solved by tackling the game early and getting the mechanics worked out.  We just need to be vigilant and smart about what we are doing.

Lastly, we will need to make the game have a lot of complexity, but not at the expense of the player’s understanding.  Even though we want the game to have a lot of features and strategy, we need to make sure that the game is not overly complex and hard to learn.  This is a major detractor and it will drive away players if they can’t grasp the game’s concepts and rules.  We will need to make sure that we clearly explain the rules of our game, as well as make the mechanics simple, yet complex at the same time.  It’s this balance that we will need to maintain as we work on the project.

The game has a lot of potential to be fun, with its challenges aside.  If we can overcome these challenges and make a fun and strategic game, we will have a fun game on our hands that differs itself from other games of its kind.


Final Fantasy and Civilization: Why They Are Great Storytellers

When it comes to stories in games, they break down into two types of experiences.  Some games, which tend to be more common, offer embedded narratives that involves a story that is already given to the player.  On the other side, there are emergent narratives, where the player decides where the story goes and it evolves as the game goes on.

When it comes to embedded narratives, there are a lot of games that come to mind.  They are common, and there are a lot of good examples out there. (i.e. Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us)  However, one game truly captures the essence of a brilliant embedded narrative, and that is Final Fantasy IV.kain final fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV, which was released all the way back in 1991, did a lot of good things that really stuck with me.  Sure, it had good rpg elements and the game played pretty well, but that was not what I remembered from the game.  I remembered the well-made story that went along with those elements.  It was the aspect of the game that makes it a stand out from the rest.  The narratives in the succeeding Final Fantasy‘s get more complex and deeper, but this was the first game in the series that really contained a narrative that was significant.

The story throws you right in the middle of a heated conflict between the Red Wings, the regions elite air force unit, and the city of Mysidia. The Red Wings are after the Water Crystal, which happens to be located in the city.  You’re then introduced to one of the primary characters in the game, Cecil Harvey, the captain of the Red Wings.  After the attack, he begins to question the kings motives behind the attack, but is then stripped of his rank and is forced to deliver a package to a nearby town with Kain, commander of the Dragoons.  It is from here that the story starts to get deeper.

Final Fantasy IV red baronDuring the course of the game, you run into twelve playable characters in total.  The coolest part about this game was that I actually cared about all of these characters too, which tends to be uncommon in games these days.  Characters like Rydia, Rosa, Yang, Palom, Porom, and Fusoya all meant a lot to me during the course of the story.  Another one of my favorite characters was Cid, who tends to be the comic relief throughout the story.  He is a big jolly fella who is the mechanic of the team.  He always has something to say about the situations that the group found themselves in.

But, as the story went on, not everything was a happy walk in the park.  There were story twists, which involved characters switching from being the good guys to the bad guys.  There were also some sacrifices that characters made in order to save the team.  The situation was rather unexpected, and I felt pretty awful after I witnessed the cut scene that showed the two characters sacrifice their lives to save the others.   On top of all of this, there was also the narrative of Cecil, and his progression from a Dark Night to a White Knight.  I was constantly rooting for him to change his ways, and finally (during a pretty powerful cut scene) Cecil transitioned from dark to white.  final fantasy IV

When I finished the game, I remember thinking a lot about what happened.  I met a lot of characters through the journey, and not all of them made it to the end.  It was a moving story that up to that point, I never really experienced before in a game.  Final Fantasy IV truly demonstrates the power that games can have in the realm of storytelling.

Sitting at the other side of the storytelling table is the case of emergent narratives.  The game that sticks out to me the most in my experiences was Civilization.  The Civilization games don’t give you a story to start out with, but they give you a region of the world to rule and progress.  The task at first seems daunting.  How can one person keep a great civilization on its feet for so long?  This is where the emergence of the game starts to poke it’s head.

civilization 5In Civilization, the story is in the players hand.  Everything that happens in the game is a result of your doings.  The thing that makes this game great is the possibilities that can arise from giving players such power.  To illustrate this, let me give you the example of Feudal Japan.

As you most likely know, Feudalism in Japan didn’t last forever.  The system of rule had it’s glory days, but it didn’t last the test of time.  However, I took the civilization of Japan far into the future, and I managed to take over large parts of the US and Great Britain along the way.  I was soon the primary superpower of the world, and many of the other, now puny, civilizations crumbled under the weight of my regime.  I was aggressive, but I didn’t forget about the people at home.  My citizens were well taken care of and they prospered.  They gained a good education and they maintained a good way of life, free from any stress.

It’s stories like these that show the true complexity of Civilization.  Sure, you can start as America and try to reenact how the course of history actually played out, but where’s the fun in that?  In fact, it would be almost impossible to accomplish that.  The game encourages you to step out and change the course of history.  It’s always fascinating to see the alternate histories that arise out of the dust as players progress in the game.  Not one player has the same experience.civilization 5 sweden

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably a ton more games that I overlooked, but these were the games that really stuck out to me the most, considering the two aspects of storytelling.  Games offer a unique advantage when it comes to storytelling.  Movies and TV force you to sit through a narrative from start to finish, without any input or interaction.  Games, however, are more hands-on and flexible when it comes to narratives.  That’s what makes them great.

A Gaming Self-Analysis

I have been playing games for a long portion of my, still-young, life.  Ever since my little brother introduced me to the Gameboy, I have been playing a wide range of games.  However, when I look back at the games that I have really enjoyed, or spent the most time playing, I tend to notice some similarities in the types of games they are.

fallout 3I tend to go towards games that give me a lot of discovery; a what seems like an endless world to explore and roam around in.  When I find myself playing games, I sometimes get disappointed whenever a game doesn’t give me a big, full-realized world.  The most recent games in the Fallout series offered me experiences that I will never forget in gaming.  Just the chance to walk around the post-apocalyptic worlds left me in awe and the fact that every nook and cranny in the game’s world had something to find really amazed me.

The Fallout series also leads me to another thing that I like to find in windwakergames, and that is the narrative.  I never really found games like Call of Duty, a game that generally lacks a strong plot, that fun.  I always found myself going for the games that had a narrative that was the backbone for the games themselves.  Games like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda are some of the favorites that come to my mind when it comes to a good story.  The Final Fantasy games in particular offer a ton of story, enough to possibly drive some people way, but that never kept me away, it just brought me closer.  These games kept me playing for a long time, not just for their content, but for the amount of story that they contained.  Most of the Final Fantasy games featured massive story lines with lots of characters and a ton of surprises and conflicts along the way.  They always kept me playing till the end to see how the story ended fantasy x

Lastly, I found that I tend to like games that encourage the sense of fellowship, and by this I mean the act of sitting down with your family and friends and playing a game for hours on end.  It was that social experience that drove a lot of my gaming when I was younger.  Games like the Smash Bros franchise offered me a chance to play with my friends after school for a long time.  The different modes in the game, like the Tournament Mode, made it hard for us to stop playing, and we often lost track of time.  The point is, those games offered me a social experience that I never experienced before that, and from then super smash broson I started to gravitate towards those games.

After this self-analysis of my gaming habits, and the aspects that I like in games, I really didn’t find anything that was unexpected.  There were no surprises.  For me, the aspects of discovery, narrative, and fellowship have always been my favorite parts of games and to this day I still tend to play games that feature these things.  Like I said before, I play a variety of different games, but discovery, narrative, and fellowship form my ideal game that I like to play.

Emergent Complexity in Games

Game developers try extremely hard every time they make a game to make the “holy grail” of video games.  This is a rather hard task, but some say there is a way.  Emergent complexity, when complex systems arise out of relatively simple interactions, is sometimes considered the key to making the “holy grail.”  However, there are different types of emergent complexity, intentional and unintentional, that exist.

Some developers give player a set of tools and systems that they can work with to create amazingly complex situations.  This is called intentional emergence.  Scribblenauts, a game that came out in 2009 is a brilliant example of intentional emergence.

scribblenauts screenPlayers, who control the character of Maxwell, are given one thing and one thing only, a notepad.  The game then allows you to write any words that fit within the game’s massive dictionary into the notepad, which in turn will create those objects and place them in the game’s world.  The players can then use these objects to interact with other characters and complete tasks.  Although this may seem simple at first glance, it can get as complex as the player wants it to get.

An example of a task would be to get a cat down from a tree.  Now, there is a simple solution to the problem and a billion non-simple solutions.  The simple solution would be to create a simple ladder that would be put up against the tree, allowing Maxwell to climb up and grab the cat.  But what fun is that?

When the developers were making this game, they knew that players wouldn’t be able to resist their imaginations when completing these tasks.  Instead, you could create a building next to the tree.  After that you could put a fisherman on top of the building.  Then give him a fishing pole with a fish on the end of it.  To make sure you don’t hurt the cat, you have to put a trampoline below the branch to catch the cat’s fall.  Then use the fisherman to lure the cat from the tree so that he falls down to the trampoline below, all safe and sound.  Much better than a simple ladder right?372662018-super-scribblenauts-8

It got to the point where players would create these really complex scenarios that would somehow trigger the success state of the different tasks.  It was an incredible concept that wasn’t really seen in games before that.  Later versions of Scribblenauts have been made that have improved on this mechanic, making it even more emergent than before.  5th Cell, the developers behind the game, really had a light bulb of an idea.

However, not all developers create a game with these emergent situations in mind, which is where unintentional emergence comes into play.  Players can either find glitches in the game that alter the core gameplay mechanics or they can mess with the games economy in a certain way, or basically anything that changes the direction that that developers first intended.

Glitch_Pokemon_Episode_2_4A specific example of this would be Pokemon Crystal Version for the Gameboy Color.  It was discovered that there was a way to clone pokemon and items by taking them to a pokemon center.  From there,  if you went to the PC in the corner, you could clone pokemon and other items by doing a series of actions, including turning your system off entirely.

This allowed people to clone master balls (for all you people who haven’t played pokemon, they are items that allow you to catch any pokemon without a question) which in turn led to people catching a ton of really powerful pokemon like legendaries and rares.  People would then turn this into a business, taking advantage of the people who haven’t found this glitch yet.

This would also make way for people going into online matches with six of the same pokemon that were at an extreme level, which basically would make it impossible for the other player to even win the match.  This hidden glitch of cloning really did a lot to break the game’s “economy” in a sense and it really started to change how people played the game.84-capture_27052010_192821

In future iterations of Pokemon, this glitch was obviously taken out and fixed, but it is still amazing how a simple glitch went through the debugging process without being found, causing the game to be changed in a significant way.

Emergent complexity, whether it is intentional or unintentional, is the sign of a great game.  Sometimes this emergence can enhance a game and make it way better than it was originally or it can break a game to a point where the fundamental concept is changed.  Either way, it is something that most developers should strive for on their quest to make good games.


Grief in the Minecraft Social Sphere

Minecraft has been the source of a lot of wasted time for a lot of gamer’s ever since the game was first released.  This is because the game does a lot of good things, obviously.  It gives players basically an endless sandbox where they can build and construct anything they want, from unique cavers, castles, airships, and everything in between.  The inclusion of both survival and creative modes also give players different ways to play to fit each gamer’s respective play style.

However, Minecraft doesn’t get everything right.  Multiplayer, a chance to interact with other players in the game, falls short of being an acceptable form of social interaction.  In fact, it has probably been my worse social experience in games.  Why?  When you give someone a lot of creative power in the game world, sometimes they don’t use that power the right way.minecraft characters

For example, a term that is often brought up when talking about Minecraft multiplayer is  “griefing.”  Griefing is the act of destroying someone else’s creations in the game world.  This happens a lot, an annoying amount of times.  The game puts people on different servers, where they can collaborate with other players, or go solo, in creating whatever creations they want to make.  It’s almost like single player, except there are other people besides creepers that roam the world.

This leads to people coming on to a server with the sole mission to grief everything in sight.  I would often get into a multiplayer server and get my creations destroyed by some idiot who has decided that my mansion that I built would be better burned to the ground.  Sometimes this would be a couple of hours of work, being burned to the ground.  The player usually gets booted from the server, but by this point it doesn’t matter.  The damage has, quite literally, been done.

good minecraftYou also get the issue of skill level.  When players join a server, it usually doesn’t matter what skill level they are.  This is because Minecraft doesn’t really have a way of measuring a players skill.  This leads to someone, who doesn’t really have to much experience with the game going into a crowded server of skilled craftsmen, building exquisite masterpieces.  A lot of the times they would have a nasty attitude towards these players, usually resulting in that player being forced to leave the server.

A lot of the times that inexperienced player was me.  I am not going to say that I am bad at Minecraft, I just don’t have the skill, and patience, that some of the other people on the servers have.  I often found myself on a server filled with a bunch of jerks who basically tell me to get off the server because I can’t contribute anything to their work.stop griefing

There is a lot of shortcomings in the multiplayer that often lead to a frustrating experience.  I usually don’t play to much multiplayer, unless I am playing with friends, because of how bad and flawed it is.  However, most broken things can be fixed, and there are definitely places where the multiplayer aspects of Minecraft can be improved.

First off, I am sure that the people at Mojang, the creators of Minecraft, have a way of keeping track how many times someone gets kicked off a server.  I am also sure that they could figure out a way to figure out a reason why they get kicked off.  It might be beneficial to them, and lots of other people if they restrict these people who go on to these servers to grief to certain servers that contain other people who grief.  That way, they could have their fun on their own servers, destroying each others creations endlessly, without bothering the people who actually want to play the game the way it was intended.

This might be hard to implement, but it is definitely doable.  If someone were to be kicked off a server for griefing x amount of times, then they would be thrown into these “griefing servers”, a place away from everybody else.  It might be harsh, but it is something they deserve if they want to destroy someone’s hard work.

serversThe other fix to the problem, the problem of skill level however, may be a little harder to fix.  The game, right now, has no scoring system or prestige level for the players.  However, there might be a way to implement a rating system.  By that, I mean that people could upload screenshots of their creations to a website, or even on the multiplayer interface itself, and then ask other players to rate those creations.  If someone continually were to get a lot of good ratings, then they would have a higher “skill level”.

There are wrinkles that would have to be ironed out however.  Not every player will upload their creations.  If this were the case, that player would only be allowed to join servers with other people that have not uploaded their creations.  These servers would basically be considered “neutral ground”.  There would then be servers for the different skill levels of players.  Players with high ratings on their creations would get into prestigious servers while players with lower ratings can go into their servers to harness their skills and get better.  This is just one way to fix the problem, even though it may be a little tough to work it out.

Minecraft multiplayer is flawed in a lot of respects, but there is definitely improvements that can be made, and they are not to hard to implement.  If Mojang can take further steps into creating a better social experience for their game, it could bring a lot of people back to multiplayer.

The Mystery of the Sabotaged Led Zeppelin Concert

clue boxOne mechanic that is used in a lot of games, old and new,  is the concept of imperfect information, that is, information that is concealed from the player either at the beginning of the game or any other time throughout gameplay.  Taking away information from a player is an extremely good way to change how a player plays a game.

The game of Clue probably uses the concept of imperfect information perfectly.  For those unfamiliar, the game is a classic “who-dunnit” game which pits players against each other in order to find out who murdered Mr. Boddy, the games murder victim.  The players roam from room to room of a big mansion in order to scope out clues as to who committed the murder, where the murder took place, and with what weapon.

At the start of the game, all of that info is put in a classified file that is only revealed at the end of the game, after everybody has made their connections.  The remaining cards that contain the different players, rooms, and weapons are distributed to players evenly.  The players play the roles of the suspects, who will deduce and take notes on the different clues that they find.  They can only make accusations in the rooms, not in the corridors, and the weapon in question is moved to their room.  The other players can disprove the accusations because they may have a card that contains some of the information that the player poses.  The point of all this madness, is that it pits the players against each other, to accuse each other of information in which they have no knowledge of.  clue characters

A murder mystery like this one would be no fun if the player knew all of the information before the game even started.  It would probably just end up with the other players cornering Mrs. Peacock in the Dining Room and killing her for killing Mr. Boddy.  It would be a horrible mess of a game.  Keeping the important murder information from the players keeps the game grounded and it in general makes it more fun and meaningful.

With that being said, lets relate this example of Clue with a Led Zeppelin concert.  Now, your probably wondering how the heck these two things are even remotely related.  However, when you really start to think about the possibilities that can arise from a mix of the two, you can see why this may be a good idea.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHLets go back in time to January 1975, back to a time where Led Zeppelin was performing at Chicago Stadium.  It is a big night for them and the concert is going to be huge.  Lots of people have bought their tickets and it looks like it is going to be a sold out concert.  The atmosphere is going to be amazing.  But, the big news surrounding the event is the sabotage that has taken place the day before the concert.  It turns out that someone on the crew has destroyed all of the sound equipment for the show.  This could end up being a disaster considering there is no point to a concert if there is no sound.

Can you see where I am getting at?  This situation could be the background behind a new video game.  The game will put the player in the position of a private detective that has been hired by Led Zeppelin to investigate the situation and quickly solve the mystery before the big night.  The answer to the mystery will be withheld from the player as they go around talking to people backstage and around the stadium about the mystery.

You can interview people, asking them questions about where they were during the time of the destruction, or a plethora of other questions.  The player can also snoop around for objects or specimens that could somehow be related to the mystery.  This would continue up until the point of the concert.

By this time, the player would be asked for their accusation.  They will have to give their insight as to who destroyed the equipment, where it was destroyed, and how.  If the player gives the correct information,  the sound equipment can be fixed and the concert will go on just as planned.  But, if the player accuses the wrong person, the concert will be successfully sabotaged.  And most likely the blame for the disaster would be put on the master detective, you.  You don’t want a stadium’s worth of angry fans after you, that’s for sure.Chicagostadiumnight150

Additionally, to improve the replay value of the game, the information can be changed up every time.  Not only would this game provide the players a chance to go back in time to the golden age of Led Zeppelin, it would allow you to learn the history behind them and what went into making the Chicago Stadium concert a reality.

When you think about a game about going back in time to a Led Zeppelin concert, a game based of Clue is probably not what you expect.  But the mechanics that make Clue work so well would make for an interesting game about Led Zeppelin, one that is totally unique from anything else out there.

Fallout and My Trip Into the Wasteland

When I think about a game that has really gripped me recently, I immediately start to think about the game Fallout 3.  Although the game originally was released six years ago in 2008, I found myself joining the bandwagon a little late, about a year ago to be exact.fallout 3 boy

Fallout 3 takes place in the post-nuclear wasteland of Washington D.C.  This was actually one of the main reasons why I really wanted to play the game.  I lived a big chunk of my life in the D.C./Maryland area, and I was interested to see what the area looked like when it was all destroyed.  In the game, the “Capitol Wasteland” is full of monsters, raiders, ruins, and even some attempts at civilization.  The game was massive, and there was so much to do over every hill that I crossed.  The minute I started the game, I never wanted to stop.  There was always something waiting for me…

The most important reason my Fallout really got it’s grasp on me was the massive amounts of endogenous value that it fed into the game in literally every single moment.  Whether it was the rich story lines that ran through the game or the different items that were scattered throughout the land, endogenous value was every where.  Let’s dig a little deeper and look at the different forms of endogenous value that the game contained.

First off, the game gave me a rich story right off the bat.  In a sense, the game takes place during a large portion of your character’s life.  The game puts you in the shoes of a small baby who wakes up in Vault 101, a nuclear bomb shelter.  As you grow up in the vault, you start to learn different things and before you know it, there is a bigger arching story that is waiting for you.  Your father ends up leaving the vault and it is up to you to go out there and find him, as well as the answers to some questions about your character’s life.  The main story line alone is chock full of value that kept me playing till the end.  There are story twists and surprises that all reveal themselves by the end of the game.  It was simply amazing.

I felt really invested in the story.  The makers of the game really did a great job of making me care about what happened.  In the beginning it is implied that your character is curious about what information is being withheld from him, and I found myself extremely curious too.  This in turn, made me anxious to get out there into the world and figure out the mystery for myself, just like my character.

fallout 3 screenshotWhen I finally stepped outside the vault into the harsh world that was above, I was immediately drowned in a wealth of locations that I could explore.  I took a look at the map and saw my little blip on the map in comparison to the huge wasteland.  This piqued my interest in finding every single location out there.  It seemed like every location that I ended up finding contained it’s own story.  Even the smallest shack on the map seemed like it had a connection to the main story.

I also found myself instantly starting a bunch of side quests as well.  I would talk to the different NPC’s on the map and they would have their own stories to tell, and they wanted you to help them as well.  For some reason, I found myself on a mission to complete every side quest I found because they all meant something to me.  I can’t remember a bland side mission that I found myself doing.  They all had value to the story, and I was rewarded pretty well too.

One of the most interesting parts of the game was the karma system that they instituted into the game.  This concept was new to me, I’ve never played a game that had this sort of system in it.  I found that everything that I did in the wasteland had some sort of positive or negative value attached to it.  It really made me think as I was exploring the wasteland.

For example, you would get negative karma for killing someone, obviously.  But, stealing a dish from a table in a house could give you negative karma as well.  To get positive karma, you had to help other people with their troubles, if their problems didn’t involve killing another person or stealing something.  In other games, there isn’t really too much consequences for helping someone, or killing someone.  In Fallout, every possible thing that you did had some consequences that went with it.fallout 3 items

Lastly, their was a wealth of items that could be found throughout the wasteland.  Some items in the game are junk like tin cans or silverware but you can find other items of higher value like weapons, armor, chems, and bottle caps, which is the game’s currency.  Every time I walked by a trash bin or a container, I had to check to make sure I wasn’t missing an item.  You could either keep these items or sell them to the different vendors throughout the wasteland.  Some people even wanted junk like tin cans, and were willing to pay me a pretty penny for them.  It seemed like every item in the world had a value somewhere.

In conclusion, the endogenous value that was present in Fallout 3 was unprecedented for me.  Up to that point, I never played a game that absorbed me into it’s world as much as Fallout.  It was one of my favorite gaming experiences I had in a while. fallout 3 bottom image



Donkey Kong: A Truly Harmonious Game


When Donkey Kong first came out in arcades back in the early 80’s, it made a huge impact on players everywhere for many reasons.  Some could say that the game had great mechanics that kept gamers playing, even after the Game Over screen.  Others may say that the technology at the time was great, or that the aesthetics of the game were unmatched for the time.  Even some people could make an argument for the story.  However, to truly appreciate the game, it’s important to recognize that it used all four of these aspects in perfect harmony with each other.

First we should start with the story that drives the game.  Donkey Kong is about a familiar plumber named Jumpman.  Jumpman, as some people may know, later turned into the familiar plumber named Mario, one of the most iconic video game characters of all time.  But for our sake, we will stick with Jumpman, because that is what his name was in the game.  Jumpman’s girlfriend Pauline (who some may identify as Princess Peach) is snatched by the evil gorilla Donkey Kong.  Jumpman is then set on a quest to retrieve his girlfriend from the grasps of Donkey Kong, who has a peculiar love for barrels.  Donkey Kong will throw everything (literally) in Jumpman’s path in order to stop him from getting to his prized possession, Pauline.

This may not be the most elaborate story that has ever graced the video game medium, but it does it’s job so wonderfully.  Even though the story may be simple and primitive in nature, it gives the player a motivation to play the game, and to beat Donkey Kong.  The player obviously sides with the interests of Jumpman and the player, just like Jumpman, wants to see Pauline back in the arms of her lover.  The story works well in giving the players a reason to keep on coming back and never giving up, even if they get a Game Over screen.  They will push in another quarter to have another go at saving Pauline and defeating Donkey Kong.

Now let’s look at the mechanics of the game.  The whole idea of the game is to get to the top of the system of ladders and platforms in order to reach Pauline and Donkey Kong.  In the players way is a bunch of obstacles like barrels and fireballs that Jumpman has to jump over and dodge.  The concept is simple enough, but it’s challenging.  Especially as the game progresses, when the obstacles get tougher and the enemies more frequent.  Whenever you get up to the top of a level, Donkey Kong will snatch up Pauline and take her to the next level.  This continues until the final level, where if completed successfully, will save Pauline and destroy Donkey Kong.

The rising difficulty as the game goes on tends to make players experience a sense of urgency.  The obstacles that the player must face seems challenging but the prospect of saving Pauline from the grasp of Donkey Kong continues to motivate the player to go on.  When the game gets harder, it signals to the player that the end is near and that the final scenario, the final encounter with Donkey Kong, is looming on the horizon.  The simple mechanics of the game end up playing a huge part in making the game as great, and meaningful, as it is.

When the game came out in arcades, it was housed in a simple arcade machine that had two buttons and a joystick that was for moving Jumpman around the levels.  This technology was simple for players to understand and it also augmented the feeling of tension that players would experience as the game progressed.  If a player was making it far in a game, their hands would start to get sweaty and it would get more challenging to maneuver the joystick and use the buttons effectively.  Interestingly enough, this helped the player feel the rising tension of the scenario.  The final level, if players made it that far would be extremely challenging due to their sweaty hands.  The stress of saving Pauline was humongous and it was satisfying whenever you rescued Pauline after all of the hardships that you had to overcome, including sweaty hands.

Lastly, the aesthetics of Donkey Kong tend to be overlooked by some people.  Even though this may be the case, the aesthetics of the game still hold equal importance as to why this game is so harmonious.  The levels featured red platforms and blue ladders.  The background featured nothing but plain black, which created a bleak and depressing atmosphere in the game.  The final level contains blue platforms and yellow ladders, signaling that it was the final challenge that the player would have to overcome.  If a player were skilled enough to get though the final level, the player would be met with a image of Pauline being saved and Donkey Kong falling through a break in the platform towards his inevitable doom. This victory state stuck with a lot of players because it was so iconic and meaningful to them.  The player successfully got through all of the challenges and obstacles and their goal was achieved; seeing Donkey Kong be destroyed and finally saving Pauline.  This image, for a lot of players, was the last thing they saw from the game and it was a good lasting image.  It cemented the victory that the player achieved.

When you go back and examine all of the different aspects of Donkey Kong and how they all worked in unison with each other, it is easy to see why this game was such a brilliant piece of game design.  The four major aspects of any game (Story, Mechanics, Technology, and Aesthetics) where all used in Donkey Kong and they all helped put the player in the dire situation of Pauline’s kidnapping.

Back in the day of the arcade, when Donkey Kong thrived, players may not have had this outlook on the game, probably because all they wanted to do was get the highest score so they could brag to their friends about how well they do.  In order to truly appreciate how harmonious this game actually was, you have to take a step back and examine all of the parts of the game.  When you do this, it is extremely hard to miss.