As you may have noticed, I’ve basically been radio silence all the way through October. That was due to a combination of two things: a couple of intensively creative weeks at work and the need to prep for the sessions I committed to for Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) and PAX Australia. Both conferences are part of Melbourne International Games Week (MIGW), which also includes a bunch of other events.
I have to say that my experience at both events (and the accompanying parties) has been amazing.
GCAP is a game developers’ conference, and this year’s theme was “Loving the Craft.” What I saw throughout the two days was more than love for video games, though; that love extended to the community of developers and expressed itself through a genuine interest in helping and supporting each other. Through the various talks, there was a trend of honest and heartfelt discussions about the challenges of developing games. Both keynotes echoed that theme and, in-between, there was an opportunity to see the game design process live, hear about the emotional impact of starting your own studio, and an invitation for more voices to share their experiences because even the greatest creators have impostor syndrome and we simply shouldn’t doubt ourselves so much.
I had met a few of the local developers during the monthly drink night organised by the local chapter of IGDA, but I didn’t quite know what to expect in a more formal setting. I have experience in games, sure, but I don’t have any big games on my resume with the exception of The Sims FreePlay. I moved to Melbourne recently and haven’t had a lot of time to cultivate contacts, so a part of me was scared that people wouldn’t attend my solo sessions. The scariest one was the “fireside chat” which was added at the last minute: two people chatting on a couch and 15 to 20 attendees, not much publicity around it.
I was sure no one would come. That I would fall flat on my face. But they caught me.
All the seats were filled, and we had an amazing hour-long conversation about narrative in games. Everyone participated. Some brought up games I’d never heard about before (and have now been added to my “To Play” list.) It was okay for me to not know all the answers, and it was awesome that people volunteered topics they cared about. We were in this together.
PAX Aus is open to the public and mixes a sprawling exhibition floor with a selection of panels in surrounding rooms. Despite the added crowd, the general trend of helpfulness and support continued. Several panels tackled subjects such as diversity, representation, accessibility, mental health, etc. all of which aimed at helping people understand others’ reality and supporting the growth of our industry. It was great to see how many people attended these panels and how engaged they were. There was also an AFK Room, where people could escape from the stress of the conference to relax and/or get support in a safe space.
There was a lot of love for indie developers, who had a good chunk of the show floor labeled as PAX Rising. I spent most of my time on the floor wandering around that area and trying games. Or at least trying to try games: there was always a good crowd, playing and paying close attention to both the games and the developers present.
The trend of collaboration I had noticed in the general community showed in the games too, either in themes or in the selection of local multiplayer concepts (a couple of those marketed themselves as “out to destroy friendships,” but still…) One of the games that I really enjoyed was The Incredible Journey of You and I, a cutesy cooperative shooter.
In essence, one player controls the movement through the environment and the other controls the shooting. The trick: the controls switch between players depending on the environment. The level I played was built with constant switches and interesting situations that created a natural flow of conversation between the stranger I played with and myself. It’s intuitive, elegant, and fun.
If it intrigues you, you can learn more and show your support on Steam Greenlight.
So that’s my quick and broad overview of my experience during MIGW. I could talk about all I’ve seen for hours, but I wanted to keep this short.
I haven’t been to a lot of conferences, but GCAP and PAX Aus made it easy to network because the local community is so welcoming and supportive. I had a lot of fun, a lot of amazing conversations, and a lot of hugs.
This post is a mix of shameless self-promotion and me reaching out to plan some drinks/networking/chats with people during Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) and PAX AUS. If you’re not attending these events, this post may be of no interest to you. Hell, it may be of no interest to you even if you are attending. *laughs*
Though I don’t have all the scheduling details for the various sessions I’m involved in, I thought I would share the briefs so that you know what to look for if you want to hear me ramble live (as opposed to the edited ramble of my blog posts.)
The Anatomy of a Story: Making Meaning for Interactive Media (panel, October 27th)
How does a writer write without words? Is story important? How & why are we immersed through story?
Our panel combines the expertise of professional writers in the games industry with an academic approach to the psychology and understanding of interactive narrative in games.
We take our cues from a breadth of experienced professionals in writing, game development, marketing and psychology to bring you a comprehensive discussion of how we immerse and provoke players through story and narrative elements.
From the exploration of an intensely imagined moment to the sparsity of language in visual storytelling, we share with you the secrets, successes and challenges of delivering meaning and story through an interactive format.
Through a series of guided discussion points, our panelists will break down the craft of storytelling, from constructing narrative arcs, to exploring the psychology behind narrative persuasion.
Our talk is suitable for both games industry professionals who write or aspire to write for an interactive format, for interdisciplinary writers who are looking to learn more about writing for games or for the general public who are curious about the process and pattern of thought that goes into delivering their favourite stories.
E=mc2 – A Matrix for the Emotional Aspects of Engagement (lecture, October 28th)
Like trust, credibility and love, engagement is something that takes time to build, can crumble fast and is hard to capture with numbers. It’s an emotional relationship. How do we go about analyzing and deriving action points for such a thing?
At its core, “E=mc2” is a matrix to structure discussions about the emotional triggers behind engagement. It creates a common language and mindset we can use to troubleshoot disengagement, and it’s flexible enough to apply to game design, people management and self-assessment. By helping to break down engagement in a set of key components, it supports meaningful and actionable conversations about the relationship we develop with our players, our peers and our employers.
Attendees can expect to walk away from this talk with:
- An easy-to-remember tool to assess engagement
- An understanding of the emotional triggers that create engagement
- A mindset to facilitate discussions about engagement in a game, company and/or career
Aussie Game Design Challenge 2015 – VS: Virtual Smell (panel, October 28th)
Australia is full of talented game designers. In this session, we’ll put some head-to-head and let the audience vote on who will reign supreme!
The Aussie Design Challenge Theme has been announced – VS: Virtual Smell.
Imagine a new peripheral has been designed that can create any smell in the world or at least convince a player they are smelling something. Design a game using this new peripheral.
As you read this our panel of designers are coming up with a game idea to pitch to you, the audience. Games can be intended for any platform and can be at any stage of the development cycle: from vague concept, to design doc, to a fully implemented game, or just an entertaining description of the idea.
This will be a light-hearted panel packed full of experimental/funny/thought-provoking game ideas. Come along to get an insight into how the game design process works. Listen to the pitches from these passionate game designers and decide for yourself who to vote for based on who fitted the theme best; came up with the most implausible game; or simply made you laugh the most.
For PAX Aus
The Anatomy of a Story: Making Meaning for Interactive Media (panel)
Same general idea as the one presented for GCAP, but with different panelists and a few different discussion points. I have a pretty picture for this one!
Who Cares About Female Protagonists? (panel)
This year, Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, and Call of Duty will let gamers opt to play as women. But does it matter, and does it signal a change to rectify an archaic gender imbalance in video game protagonists? We discuss if this seemingly minor design choice matters to the future of the industry, and how it impacts the people who make games, and those of us who engage with them, both young and old.
I’m currently building my schedule of parties and general networking things, so if you want to hang out, contact me via the form on this site or one of my social media channels (see them all in the sidebar.)
As far as official events are concerned, I’m planning to attend the Women in Games luncheon on October 29th and the IGDA’s MEGADEV3 on November 1st. I’ll probably add more. We’ll see.
Sorry for skipping a week and the delay in this week’s post. Circumstances outside of my control impacted the schedule (you can find the updated plan in the sidebar.)
Moving on to today’s post!
One of the good reflexes any new game developer should cultivate is reading articles. There’s a lot of information out there that helps us keep up with the changes in the industry and questions some of the habits we develop over the years. There’s inspiration to be found and solutions to common challenges.
So on top of writing my own take on things on this blog, I also want to take some time sharing interesting articles I’ve found around the web this month. Some months there’ll be more, some months there’ll be less, and some of the articles may not have been written in the month I suggest them.
Here are my picks for this month:
This article discusses the game design approach Square Enix took to create a Lara Croft experience for mobile devices. It’s an interesting departure from the instinct to port games, which often results in experiences that are ill-suited for the smartphones.
As a result of reading this, I bought the game and had a wonderful time playing it. I’ve chosen it for the next I Play post. 😉
Emotions in games – A Bloodborne case study (by Catalin Marcu)
I mentioned before that what interests me in any art form is the emotional connection between creator and consumer, the shared emotional journey. This article explores the application of a model that analyzes how (and what type of) emotions are generated in a game. It provides an interesting set of lenses to look at how we craft our player experience.
The article also contains a link to the 5 relevant pages on the thesis paper that explains the model.
Fallout Shelter – How a Casual Game Won Over Hardcore Players – Extra Credits
The popularity of Fallout Shelter (and the revenue it generated) surprised the game industry quite a bit. It challenges the idea that hardcore gamers don’t play on mobile, and casts a new light on the type of experience they may be seeking on smartphones. This video dives into this situation to pose hypothesis and draw lessons from it.
What have you read this month? If you have any recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments!
In the I Play series, I share my thoughts on the games I play. While these opinions may touch on the general fun/quality of the games, they are meant more as learning opportunities than game reviews. I play with my game designer hat on, looking for things to learn or good examples of things I care about in my designs. This means that I’ll find stuff to critique in an enjoyable game and good lessons in less pleasant experiences as well.
Onward to my first I Play article! I picked a small game so that I can get a feel of how I want to write these (and you can quickly see what you’ll get out of these articles.)
I consider this article spoiler-free as I don’t share any specific plot point.
Lifeline is a text adventure in which the player makes binary decisions to help save Taylor, a student astronaut whose vessel just crashed on Tau Ceti. It was developed by 3 Minute Games and is available on iOS and Android for $1.29.
Three main things I’ll draw your attention to:
- The almost seamless introduction of both Taylor’s character and the player’s role;
- The smart use of pacing as a key to the emotional experience;
- The elegant capitalization on the chosen game platform.
If you’re up for it, I recommend that you play the game and get a sense of these things before reading my analysis.
Character Introduction & Player Role Induction
As a text adventure written as a conversation between Taylor and us, Lifeline has a very limited set of narrative tools to portray the stranded astronaut and let us know what role we play in the game. Yet, it only takes a few lines to establish the basics.
Some of the facts are introduced plainly as Taylor briefs us: the student scientist got picked to travel on the Varia, crashed, is seemingly the only survivor and finally managed to contact someone (us) for help. This is supplemented by elements we can deduce from the way the dialogue is written:
- Taylor is a smart ass to deal with fear (as evidenced by the increase of sarcasm in dire circumstances)
- Taylor is probably an American who joined an international crew (given the vernacular, the use of Imperial measurements and the attempts to convert them to Metric.)
That’s pretty much all we need to know, and it doesn’t include Taylor’s gender. *mind blown*
Through the interaction, we quickly understand that our role in this game is to help Taylor, be a lifeline in any way we can. And we’re cast as ourselves. There’s a bit of a cognitive disconnect here: in real life, our space technology isn’t up at a point where we send people near Tau Ceti, and if it was, Taylor should give us a way to contact NASA (or whoever has the tech) for a rescue. That being said, Taylor’s dialogue flows so naturally (most of the time) that I didn’t have any issue suspending my disbelief. In fact, I got so engaged in my interactions with Taylor, it bugged me to be limited to binary choices instead of typing actual messages.
By crafting Taylor’s voice around easy-to-grasp key facts and casting us in a role close to whoever we are, Lifeline manages to introduce interesting characters in very few lines and without visuals.
Pacing in Lifeline has one goal: simulate what an exchange of text messages would be in the setting of the game. This means that there are moments of intense communication, followed by stretches of silence as Taylor does things (which means, for example, an 8 hour delay when Taylor goes to sleep.)
This may sound simple, but this careful use of delays in communication is (along with the writing) what makes Taylor lifelike. What makes the game, really.
I had moments of stress when Taylor said something would take an hour, but didn’t get back to me even though the time had passed. Even more telling, my friend Adam and I started using language such as “Damn, I haven’t heard from Taylor in a while.” which promptly got the other one to whip out their phone, too. We referred to Taylor (aka a bunch of sentences) the same way we would an actual person.
By having a clear goal for the pacing and executing it well, Lifeline comes to life and engages us emotionally.
Based on what I’ve said about Lifeline so far, take a second to imagine playing it on another console. Any other console. It would never work the way it does on a smartphone, would it?
Lifeline relies on our use of the smartphone outside of games to strengthen its gameplay. The exchange of text messages is ingrained in our habits and makes it easy for us to slip into the world of the game. Receiving notifications from friends’ messages happens to us on a daily basis. In a way, Taylor fits right among our social circle.
3 Minute Games even uses the feature that allows simple interactions with notifications, making the game entirely playable without opening the app after the first session. And if your phone has notification enabled on the lock screen, you don’t even need to unlock your phone to play.
Beyond adapting to the controls and gameplay patterns of its target audience, Lifeline capitalizes on the specificity of the smartphone and the way people interact with it outside of games as the keystone of the game experience.
As I’ve said before, my aim is to spark discussions with this blog. Have you played Lifeline? What did you think? Do you know other games that are good examples for one or several of these points? Any questions or comments?
Since this is the first post of this series of articles, did you enjoy it? Any feedback on the format?
Lastly, I’m currently prepping for my GCAP panel on narratives, so I have a list of games I want to play through and some of them will become I Play articles. That shouldn’t keep you from suggesting games you’d like to read my thoughts on. Please note that due to my multiple relocations in the past year, my only game platforms at the moment are my Android phone and my computer.
Go on, now. Hit the comment section!
Some people may remember that, once upon a time, I had a plan to write a game industry blog. I got an awesome header done by my friend Melanie, wrote down thoughts about the two pillars of this blog (women in games and games’ underpinnings), and then…
Then, life happened.
And by “life,” I mean overtime leading to a burnout followed by 7 moves over 3 continents in 12 months.
Let’s just say I’ve learned quite a bit in the 2 years and a half since my last blog post here. Please don’t mind the dust; we’ll be rid of it in a jiffy.
Fortunately, life has stabilized now and that gives me an opportunity to return to some of the projects I had to let go of. This blog is close to the top of that list, especially since I have upcoming panels and a lecture for Game Connect Asia Pacific, and I like to think that some people may want to keep interacting with me afterwards.
I’ve cleaned up the About page and tucked a nifty schedule in the sidebar (under “Come Back” because everyone loves a call-to-action.) Check it out!
I’m also always on the lookout for guest bloggers, guest artists, and suggestions for blog posts. I don’t have the Universal Truth, and I enjoy collaborating and learning from other people. The opportunities I can think of are listed under “Participate” in the sidebar, but you can expand on that.
That’s it for now! I’ll see you in a week when I post my thoughts on Lifeline. You’re welcome to get it on your mobile so you can join the discussion!
See you in a week!
Game designers are smack in the middle of an endless maelstrom of ideas. Said ideas come from a variety of people with different skill sets and are destined for an equally complex group. Contrary to popular belief, only a small percentage of our work is to come up with new concepts. The rest is idea transit: a blend of meetings, arguments, writing, flow charting, number tweaking, coding (not in all companies but it’s a growing requirement) and whatnot.
Unfortunately, everyone involved, including the designer, loves their own ideas and hates to let go of them.
Our Own Ideas
First things first: if you want to get into the industry to develop your perfect game without anyone’s interference, you need the skills to do so single-handedly, and accept you probably won’t make a living out of it. That’s a valid choice. However, the strength of most games lies in the team behind it, and the designer’s ability to draw from and sort out other’s ideas.
The problem is that our own ideas are always our favorites, but they aren’t always the best.
Keeping an emotional distance from a project is necessary to weigh each idea against other people’s suggestions, time and budgetary constraints, and perceived value for the player. On the flip-side, being a passionate advocate of the concept gets other people motivated about it.
There’s no secret measurement for the right balance of holding on to our ideas and letting others alter our vision. It depends on the team and our experience. One thing is certain, our ideas will be tried and changed during development for a variety of reasons and we need to get comfortable with the bittersweet trade-offs.
Our Team’s1 Ideas
Everyone has ideas. Several people outside and inside the industry think they can design games. As a result, a significant part of our team feels at ease walking up to our desk to discuss their ideas. That’s alright! Given the chance, their ideas can significantly strengthen our own.
The challenge? The team also favors their ideas and hates to be turned down. We need to account for that in our interactions or they stop sharing ideas with us — not a good thing in the long run. We need to take time to analyze their ideas’ value for the big picture. We can’t say yes to everything or we’ll create a Franken-game, lifeless pieces sown together.
We need to avoid “designer ego vs team” decisions, and convey a “together for the player” message. Rejections should be based on meaningful arguments (“no time/budget” is a recurring one). Conversely, recognition and support of team’s ideas that better serve the user is important. If the team’s idea neither serves nor hurts the project, we can push aside our love for our ideas and let them use theirs: it fosters motivation and ownership.
Our Client’s2 Ideas
People who are not directly involved with the development of the game also have ideas. This is where most Franken-games (games that come out with a mix-and-match of the features that were popular six months before) are born. It’s easy for the design team to say it’s the client’s fault, but that doesn’t solve the problem.
Granted, some clients have a veto or at least a lot of weight in decision-making, and we can’t do anything about that. But there’s often more room for discussion than we think. The problem is that ideas from clients/publishers/marketing guys have a bad reputation, which pull us away from the “together for the business” solution-finding mindset.
Some market/business insights are very valuable in making our game successful. Suggestions, even the ridiculous ones, stem from a perceived issue/concern. That issue/concern is what we really need to address. By stifling the primal knee-jerk reaction and finding our way to the problem behind the client’s idea, we can design a solution that serves the client’s purpose without ruining fun factor and budget.
Our Audience’s Ideas
Last, but not least, our players have ideas. Simply put, we cannot afford to hate these ideas no matter how they come to us (metrics in on-going games, reviews from previous projects, forums, etc.) Yes, they can be harsh and yes, they can go completely against what we thought would be fun. Like for the client, we need to find our way back to the root of the issue. Like for the team, we need to show why certain ideas don’t work and support the ones that do.
The audience may not know everything about the industry, but knocking down the thoughts of the end user will rub them the wrong way (with good reasons) and rob you of sales and glory.
Game designers endlessly juggle with ideas. No shortage there! We kill our darlings for the greater game, hold our grounds against the Franken-game, and fold other peoples’ ideas into our own. It’s a constant push-and-pull, love-and-hate deal. We can’t seem too stubborn about it or too flaky, and will sometimes be accused of both in turn no matter what we do.
It would be easy to hate ideas if we didn’t love seeing them come “together for the greater game.”
1. Team: My generic term for all the people actively working on the project in an equal or subordinate relationship with the designer (as opposed to the client.)
2. Client: My generic term for all the people overseeing/not actively working on the development: producers, marketing guy, head office, external client, etc.
Yesterday, I explained the “bustles” and the first part of my tagline. Today, I want to present the other gravitational pole of this project: games.
As I’ve said before, I’ve been a Game Designer since 2007, a Game Design Director since 2012. I was 21 and fresh out of a 13 month-long intensive game design class when I started my career. I was an intern at Ubisoft Quebec, worked three years at Sarbakan, and started at Frima Studio in February 2011. I’ve designed over 30 games of various scopes on various platforms and pitched probably a hundred game ideas to various clients. Because Sarbakan and Frima are both indie developers, I’m a jane-of-all-trade when it comes to game design; I’ve done original concepts, game design, level design and balancing on most of my projects. I am specialized in storytelling, high-level concepts and pitching new projects, though.
I won’t pretend to be a veteran, but I’ve seen and done a few things.
And I want to talk about these things.
Game development is somewhat mysterious for people outside of the industry. Heck, it’s even mysterious for people inside the industry sometimes.
I don’t the absolute truth or the secret recipe to a perfect game, but I intend to offer insights into the development process, the various people involved and all that jazz. And I hope people will challenge said insights and offer their own as well! The process and roles change according to the company and the type of game, so I really can’t know everything.
I also want to give a few pointers to people who wish to pursue a career in games; what skills they should hone, what job they should apply for, etc. It’ll be a lot easier to do so if you use the Contact form to ask me questions so I can tailor my advice!
What can I say? I like to connect with people and help them out!
Especially if the side-effect is an increase of women in games!
The whole game design and level design work on a project typically amounts to 10% to 15% of the total development budget. Yet, in a way, it’s a huge crossroads between programmers, artists, project managers, marketing people and the list goes on. Game design must convey complex ideas to all these people despite their very different approach of problem-solving.
Communication is one of the biggest challenges. And a misunderstanding will cause a snowball effect on 90% of the remaining budget.
I’ll write about tricks for game designers to communicate more efficiently – all the while edging on the “how to design a game” subject.
Programmers, artists and other developers, these articles should offer you a unique take on what goes on in a game designer’s mind and facilitate your understanding of our gibberish too! 😉
These lighthearted articles will be about the industry at large: games, their development, their teams (and their drama), the production processes, etc. Food for thought and constructive criticism, really.
I like to use unexpected analogies to highlight nonsense. It makes people smile and gets the point across.
A few of these articles should spark conversation and make fellow game developers go “Well dah!” only to realize that some of the nonsense happens in their studio.
Ambitious goal, I know! (and while I’m at it, if anyone wants to draw short comic strips to go with these, drop me a line!)
That’s it! I’ve covered the core presentation of this blog. I can’t wait to dive into the subjects themselves but, given my busy life, I’m likely to post only once a week . I’ll try to keep a steady schedule (Wednesday is my day of choice) and list the upcoming articles and release dates in the sidebar.
There are lots of ways to get notified when a new article is published: follow this blog, like my Facebook page, join me on Twitter (I don’t auto-follow but @message me with a fun fact about you or random trivia, and I will follow back!), connect on LinkedIn, or mix-and-match two or more of these options.
So, what are you waiting for?