Often posts from a personal perspective are a contrite, self-promotion exercise of polishing the trumpets. They can also be an honest expression sometimes lost in the NDA red tape culture.
It is important to know why you do things, what drives and motivates you, bringing happiness and a sense of satisfaction. Though most importantly to admit when you made a gigantic cock-up and own up to being an idiot.
In my last post I requested contribution to a survey on why we create. The results were watered down when, by casual. non-formal inquiry of two large studios, I realised the results are not representative. In the inquiry I reminded myself that most people do not read industry press or actively participate in what I will term the "creators community". Instead the bulk of our co-workers are content in their enjoyable job, which they still see as a job. They are happy, good on them, and many are talented and motivated individuals. Individuals I enjoy working with and who make awesome games. Though for completeness the results of the online survey are presented below.
The reason for the lateness of this post and the original self examination which triggered this exploration was an honest peeling away of my own fate and career. Since leaving Mere-Mortals I have not published work of which I am proud, that is not to say I haven't worked on amazing things but they just will not see the light of day for a range of reasons, or when they finally do surface I shall not be credited.
Prompted by this situation a good friend whose creative ability and integrity I trust offered me an chance at a large publisher studio which sounded exciting. Much more exciting to me was a chance to turn my currently long distance relationship of almost 3 years into a no-distance relationship. So I packed my bags and moved to Europe with a healthy relocation package in the offering.
When I arrived the situation on the ground was very different. On day one I found out the project had changed from a traditional boxed console product to a free-to-play title. No-one's fault, things change.
Now the "sensible" thing to do would have been hold out in Europe in a well paid job, cash in the relocation package and enjoy my relationship. This while creating a style of game I have morale issue with and not being able to express myself in the hopes of a relocation or change of circumstance. This is what I like to call "existing while waiting to live", I have made a similar mistake in the past and refused to repeat it and possible watch my relationship and happiness fall to pieces over it.
So I swallowed what looks to be over £2000 in loss, cancelled my contract 3 days in on moral grounds and returned to the UK. There my previous employer welcomed me back in the most awesome way, way to go Climax. The only part of which I regret being the fact that my relationship is once again long distance.
On my first weekend back in the UK I found myself in my old flat living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the floor next to my heater cuddled in a blanket making a game in 48 hours on my chromebook with my phone providing internet. I was happy. It really doesn't take much to create and make games and that's what I enjoy doing.
My experience in Europe has taught me many things. Firstly that free-to-play, while a nuanced topic, will not resolve nicely if we stand on the sidelines. As opponents to it we need to actively offer alternatives to help shape it and lobby for a future without exploitation. Non-participation will not work when companies make the kinds of profits they are currently making.
The industry is secondary to the products it creates. It is a process and machine which aids the creation of games, but games can be created without it. To serve the industry as an end rather than a means to an end is raising the process above the product. Do not glorify the industry for its own sake.
Finally on a personal note I am an entertainer and a creator. I will make games, plays, art, things, watchmacallits and thingymajigs because I enjoy it. I want to enhance the world in some small way through entertainment or education. Yes I have bills to pay, making money is not bad, free-to-play is not evil but the games come first and should be a positive force, not a commercial parasite to maximise profit. To this end I’ve committed to the One Game a Month project for 2013 and to advance the conversation around Free-to-Play with my personal voice I will be launching a project in the new year.
My name is Claire, I make things to feel better about the world and improve it. This is my goal and purpose.
Happy New Years
Originally written for AltDevBlog
My friends know I’ve been struggling to write this article for months, struggling with the tone and the question: so I ask you, Why? It’s the most important question you can ask yourself, though asking it is never easy.
A recent Edge piece asked some creative directors and leads the question. Some give honestly insightful answer and are worth a read. Though this question extends to every member of a studio or aspiring developer, not just the creative directors of the world.
Please bear with me for two paragraphs of personal anecdote to help me discuss this issue.
From a young age I was making games, programming BASIC on C64 before the age of ten. At the same time my brother introduced me to roleplaying games. From those early days until adulthood I was passionately creating games, roleplaying systems, writing/directing plays to stage and drawing a web-comic in the early internet days all while earning money doing freelance photography, websites and just so much stuff.
An important personal question was raised in my late teens: If I wasn’t doing what I was passionate about and being my true self what was the point? This lead to separation from my family over disagreements, hard life choices, being broke for 8 years while working full time and putting myself through university, twice in two countries. Always struggling to break into the industry without compromise. Always broke, often living rough and using my holidays to sit exams or go to interviews. I was in debt when I broke into the industry and quickly got a Lead Programmer credit and since then a Lead Designer credit. I now work as a Designer / Programer. Though my time in the industry has been far from ideal with the last three years in three companies in three cities.
Now the amount I’ve created in the last few years as a full time employed developer is less than in the years where I was not. I use this personal story because my hunger to be in the industry diverted me away from why I wanted to be part of it. In my struggle to become part of the industry and do well, most of my energy is focused towards the industry and not my creations within it, and my situation is not unique. The realities of business can often pull us away from games, while they are required they are a means to an end not ends in themselves.
Too often in the grind of the daily job, the crunch of a project or just an eye on the next thing in the industry we lose sight of why we are pushing bits. Though field leaders one after another will espouse the virtue of direction, putting the why before the how. Just sample a few TED talks# or look at creatives you admire, they have purpose and drive beyond the daily grind.
Now why you make games could be to pay the bills, have difficult challenges, work with fun people, self expression, the desire to create or a million other motivations. The most important thing is that you know what you want to do and why.
Please take a moment to answer these anonymous questions, click here, about why you make games. I have a two follow-ups I want to write, one dealing with unlocking the power of your team and other people’s motivations but also about the responses I hope to get.
It’s not an easy question and for me it’s all about what sort of games do I want to spend my life making. Personally it all comes back to the stage for me, I want my audience to share an experience with me, be it political satire, dark comedy or whimsy. To make things that friends talk about over cocktails and coffee. To make things that matter.
# Look at a few of the top talks and publications across the field and the theme of motivation or why is core.
Originally written for #AltDevBlogADay
In a world of frameworks, simple to use engines and added layers of abstraction we are in danger of leaky abstraction, both in design and programming. While the concept is familiar to me a friend introduced me to the phrase at the pub recently as well as directing me to this brilliant article by Joel Spolsky. I wanted to publicise and explore this in the context of gaming using a graphics programming and motion design problem.
Do you understand Dot product? No, I mean really have you sat down with the math and do you remember it? I thought I had but recently while using Unity on a home project I naively called two functions in separate loops. One to find which side of a plane a point is, the other was how far from the plane the point was. Filtering the points by side and then calculating the distance in a follow-up step.
Moments later while debugging an unrelated but nearby piece of code I looked at the two functions and a brick of memory flew from a lecture of the past and knocked over my stupid forgetful self. Those familiar with the math have already facepalmed and laughed at my mistake, the math to figure out which side of a plane you are on is the same as that used to calculate the distance. The “side function” merely throws away the distance and returns the sign, leading to a leaky abstraction.
It should be noted that in the documentation of these functions, names or a surface level inspection you are not able to discover this fact. In a world where more and more layers of complexity are being shielded from us we are in great danger of not only throwing away useful information but repeating work already done. Increased battery drain, cloud server costs or wasted cycles being the symptoms of this ailment.
Designing for motion or futuristic inputs suffers a similar problem. Too often we see people using keyboard or keypad events with little understanding of the device delivers that from electrical signal to interrupt into a OS message pump or state then exposing that to our program. Often poor understanding introduces additional latency but this issue is magnified when we start using more complex input systems which we see as magic boxes.
The Sony Move controller uses gyroscope, accelerometer and camera feed to derive the position of the controller. The camera using the visible size of a known object, the ball, to do a distance calculation. Accelerometers are inherently noisy. What many people who use the system naively forget is that the data is pre-filtered and sampled over an interval. The default value reallying quite heavily on the visibility of the ball.
This filter step does introduce latency to the user control and in the cases where the ball is obscured the data can spike or drift in certain ways. Certain settings, or approaches can cause an undocumented increase in latency. What should a motion designer be concerning themselves with here you ask? Well when designing gestures where the ball tracking is lost or even partially obscured for a frame is harder than say the Wii or Six-Axis controller. One previous title I worked on around the launch window of the Move, the primary control worked better swinging about the six-axis controller than the Move.
Following this trend at Dare to be Digital last year we saw and impressive use of Kinect but every team was almost entirely relying on skeleton based systems. This is the "3rd stage" of Kinect processing and the system with the highest latency. Many of the control systems they were using could have worked off raw depth data feed, which could have been evaluated faster. Though in Microsoft’s defence they do a brilliant job of exposing the raw feed and stages of processing to developers for optimisation or use where you only care about simpler, faster motions.
So to come full circle from point/plane math to futuristic input systems we will be increasingly surrounded by layers of abstractions from both a coding and a design view. It is important we continue to "de-mystify" these systems, in order to better use them. Though in a call to developers of frameworks, middleware and similar products I have an old and familiar request.
Document your leaky abstractions, publish your process and enable your developers.
All they will do with that information is make you look good.
Games Horizon is an annual conference in Newcastle aimed at big ideas and business of games. This year brought a reasonable speaker line-up, a brilliant foam ball microphone Q&A system, well organised parties and a good attendance. The only cloud over the event being a poorly thought out stunt by Ubisoft.
Starting with the terrible; Ubisoft in a misguided recruitment effort positioned scantily clad dancing girls playing their Just Dance title advertising it and Watch Dogs as enticement to potential talent. Without repeating the multitude of well-written articles on the topics of booth babes I just want to take a moment to express my extreme distaste of this stunt. Once again emphasizing that boy-child image of the young game industry professional that popular culture enshrines.
Balls, balls and more balls
One talk which felt like a waste of time was the self-indulgent fireside chat with Ian Livingstone quizzing Miles Jacobson from Sports Interactive. The success behind the Football Manager series, lessons and interesting tidbits were buried in a dull talk focused mostly around the current events of the football world. As pointed out on Twitter many women enjoy football and some men don’t. The talk did however drive home a “Boy’s Club” mentality which was exclusive and unwelcoming, which in many ways highlights the low points of our industry.
This coupled with the face the only woman talking at the event was Katie Bell from Stardoll discussing a product aimed at young girls. Personally I’m more than okay with Stardoll as they do have plans to use some of their audience share for education and issue awareness. Though the caucasian-focused skinny-centric emphasis on fashion is a predictable draw for many people’s ire.
Though to step away from the negative the conference overall was a very welcoming atmosphere and well-organised by the lovely Nina Cliff. The conference started with a relatively open drinks night, where many mingled and I caught up with students now attending my old university. The CCP party was well run, with good attendance and atmosphere.
One of my favourite things was the advent of a foam ball encasing the audience microphone, which was then thrown into the crowd for questions. No awkward shuffles, embarrassing queues or mic snatching and it immediately lightened up the atmosphere. More talks should look at this for inspiration, it’s a brilliant format to encourage audience engagement.
Wearable Computing and Zombies - Adrian Hon
Perhaps one of the most interesting talks from a design perspective. Adrian dove into the realities of wearable computing. The dirty little secret that most developers ignore the capabilities of our devices, including the multifunctional computer which is always on and only a few feet away from us. Smartphones offer everything wearable computing promises today except a heads up display, yet our usage of this technology is still so limited. Adrian had some interesting thoughts on its application but mostly invited us to re-examine existing devices for new design opportunities. An energising talk, which was highly enjoyable.
Return to the Core - David Reid, CCP
A brilliant talk from David about the importance of gaming’s core audience, from a psychometric view rather than a demographic. It was possibly the most refreshing talk among the many slathering money-focused zombies repeating the same old freemium lines. The focus on empowering the player and asking as a company, “Why this game?” are both important messages. More than ever in this increasingly money grabbing atmosphere we need to be broadcast our intent loud and clear as creatives.
- Chris Hatala gave a great talk with real passion
- Best of luck to Massive Black on their original IP ^_^
- Mark Rein is still one of the best people to get on stage
- Marketing teams, please stop with the models
- Intel moving into the mobile chip market should be interesting
- Watch out for headless DLNA dongles and gaming impact they will have
- David Helgason from Unity: Great format, focused on questions with good answers
- Great to see Special Effect promoting accessible gaming!
- “Brain Scans” and “Perfect Design” get more nods than they should
- Never underestimate the power of Boredom
- Blackberry is the walking dead, as if we didn’t already know that
- Freemium still soulless - has gone stale with no new ideas in two years
Without a doubt it’s always an interesting conference with a great venue and atmosphere. The real value lies in drawing together enough interesting people to talk around topics over drinks and finger food. Roll on next year
Several weeks ago, triggered partly by work events and partly Diablo III release I started really thinking about why I play. What is Play to me and how can I make games that speaks to my soul and are worth my time in crafting? Sounds grandiose, so let's simplify it.
Which games do I enjoy playing and feel good for having played?
A video recently cycled through my friends’ social circles which I wanted to share. John Cleese talks about Creativity and Open and Closed thinking modes.
The TL;DR of John Cleese’s talk
- Closed Mode
- Purposeful Highly Productive, but not creative. Good for getting things done. Default Mode at Work.
- Open Mode
- Playful, Curious, Fun, Humorous, Relaxed, Contemplative without goals.
Take a moment, think back, past the nostalgia and sepia dreams so we can consider old, forgotten mechanics. The thing we love about games is that they are complex and detailed but primarily, they are games. Systems of interaction and exploration within a created framework. All creative works evolve, compete, succeed and in some cases die out.
Though within these sepia dreams and old memories live viable mechanics which when re-examined and explored anew provide exciting areas of creativity.
Among the games of my youth three digital games stand tall, in order played: Hero’s Quest: So You Want to be a Hero, X-Com: Terror from the Deep and Shadowrun on Sega Megadrive. Now some of these games have seen reboots or attempts at reboots which quite frankly angered fans and often missed the point. Thankfully through Kickstarter for Shadowrun and Firaxis for X-Com these two titles are getting a modern, caring treatment and re-examination.
X-Com Squad Turns
Many people passed over the unique quality of team-based turns. There have been many other games in the tactical genre but few have explored this idea of "I move all my units, then you move all your units". This concept of moving multiple units simultaneously thus requiring a session of planning which manifests as a massive investment.
As control is taken away from the player, breaking a golden rule to strengthen this mechanic, a high point of tension is created as the plan unfolds.
Of interest to modern designers is that this investment, planning and then tension as you take away control from the player. For a modern interpretation with a different angle I suggest looking at Frozen Synapse. The turns are simultaneous and you plan 5 seconds increments but once again, control is taken away from the player as they watch the consequences of their plans.
Golden Rule Broken: Taking Control Away from the Player
Almost a fully fledged game within the game but with deep seated roots in the core gameplay. So often “hacking” or another core ability is thrown in as a tangential mini-game. With limited or no interaction with the core-gameplay other than a binary outcome of success or failure. This follows the premise of not creating a game mode shift for the player and avoiding a development investment in what is essentially a “second game”.
Older games were much bolder in this. In Shadowrun hacking you hunted down better hacking decks with a whole subset of stats which could be upgraded. The camera shifted from isometric to third person over the shoulder with new UI and controls. You built contacts and went on missions to acquire that “better piece of software” or that “underground deck”. Your decker’s point of access, which related to hacking difficulty, is determined by their physical entry point into the system. Individual nodes on the hacking map relate to camera systems or subsystems of the physical security system. Triggering the alert system or disabling it, affect the real world alarm systems.
That massive investment in an alternate game mode layered on top of the primary mode added massive levels of depth to the world and further fleshed out the game. Looking for modern alternatives I was unable to find a good modern execution of this concept.
Golden Rule Broken: Avoid Gameplay Mode Shifts
Alternate Expression: Focus on a consistent experience.
Time Based Gameplay
In Quest for Glory many moments of interaction were determined by time of day or the day of the week. This occasionally meant as a player you were running around waiting for an event to happen or cleaning out the stables to earn some coins and some time. While some modern games have integrated NPCs timetables much more complex than their predecessors, they have been made insignificant by removing their game altering potential and turning them into minor points of flavour.
The depth of gameplay this added to the world was significant. You had to work around a real world. As a side note the fact the game required you to grind some monsters or chores like stable sweeping to earn your coin allowed you to effectively use your downtime. In Skyrim I can wake up a town blacksmith and purchase armour, removing all gameplay impact of the town schedule. This mechanic lives on in many modern games but in our fear of inconveniencing the player it has been neutered. I encourage designers to look at the gameplay affecting elements this play style offers.
Golden Rule Broken: Never Inconvenience the Player
Alternate Expression: Never waste the players time
Mixing it Up
Quest for Glory additionally mixed combat, role playing, adventure elements while providing multiple solution paths gto many problems. Environmental storytelling, usage based levelling and many other elements which have survived into modern design lexicons.
X-Com famously mixed the tactical and geoscape layer in a very complex interwoven gameplay. Though as Brendon Chung's GDC talk into his trouble with Atom Zombie Smashers highlighted this is not a simple task. I’ve also already talked about the Shadowrun hacking element as another example. For modern designers still bravely exploring mixing of genre and mechanics you do have to look outside mainstream metric focused development. Though I worry that their lack of polish and budget in many cases restricts their ability to smooth out the seams and truly integrate genres.
Golden Rule Broken: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)
As many of these older mechanics show, breaking what we consider a golden rule today can sometimes be key to development of an interesting mechanic. These are just a few picked examples from these games. Many other elements exist in these older games which have been gathering dust.
Many of these older mechanics first came about due to technical limitation and were discarded with the limitation. Our Golden Rules were not forged by the gaming gods but discovered through trial,error and exploration. Some of them may lead to an evolutionary dead end in design, an appendix when no longer needed. I encourage you to mine old games. Not for the IP, nostalgia, or history but for the game. Uncovering the hidden machinery of the past, broken paths and discarded branches of game evolution for old and interesting ideas that can be made new again.
 Later renamed to Quest for Glory: So you want to be a Hero to avoid confusion with another game, Hero Quest.
Originally Written for #AltDev
A year ago ago I signed up to this service, TimeHop, which emails me my tweets and status updates from a year ago, and it has been strangely motivating. To see my growth, challenges and remind me of my goals, my dreams, my successes and my failures.
So this week a year ago I was...
- Listening to this classic song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzMhh8zhTiY ) while improving my Starcraft 2 Laddering position of course.
- Working Hard: Quote “Stress + Overtime = Weight gain -> More Stress -> Stress + Overtime... (T_T)”
- Learning to use Blender: http://yfrog.com/h413067151p
- Bitching about it’s lack of ngons, which it now has in dev branch (^_^) Great job guys!
- Which led to this game asset: http://yfrog.com/h0oiyp, http://yfrog.com/h2zxzvfzj, http://yfrog.com/h2og8sbj
I was going to write another designer skill-up post regards art tools but then I wanted to follow up the brilliant, “You Should be Drawing” post by Mike Jungbluth, with a piece on the Flour Sack doodle. How everyone should doodle old school animation at least once to get a feel for motion and weight in animation... which led to me just wanting to shout from the roof tops.
If you're reading AltDev, or better yet contributing, you have at least made the first steps. I encourage you to draw up a bucket list or a dream list of stuff you want to do! Try Schemer!
Start your list with some traditional gamedev skills.
- Make “Hello World”
- Make Pong
- Make Particle Fountain
- Draw Flour Sack Animation
- Draw Human Hand
- Model Something on Your Desk
- Invent a Card Game using a normal playing deck
- Make a Boardgame
- Write a Roleplaying Module
Nothing is stopping you extending that list to include:
- Cook a Quiche
- Crochet a Scarf
- Model something out of clay
- Learn to Cat Yodel
Everyone I’ve ever met worth anything wanted to me worth more.
P.S. Sorry about the fluffy post but I got super fired up and needed to shout!
P.P.S Also there are similiar services to TimeHop & Schemer. They just happen to be the ones I’m using.
P.P.P.S Should I think things through more and be less impulsive... maybe
P.P.P.P.S I really will do a more technical, solid post next time I promise.
P.P.P.P.P.S: Can you make a recursive Post Script? I wonder...
Written for #AltDevBlog
In some cases the most destructive action one can perform on the creative psyche is to give it absolute freedom. The blank page, blue sky, and empty word document are among the most terrifying monsters in the creative world.
- Apply artificial Constraint
- Design within Constraint
- Remove Contraint
That sums up a little bit of advice I’m going impart as to how I defeat these monsters. I’ve used this model in various ways and below I’ll give some examples of this simple piece of advice.
The modern gamepad (or keyboard/mouse) provides a massive subset of control options. Too many in most cases. As a programmer I often just find myself going “bind” crazy because its easy to bind to a key. This leads to terrible interfaces; original Blender UI anyone
As a designer I often force myself to only have one button and one stick on a gamepad, or maybe just mouse interaction. I force myself to use less buttons than I think I need. Then I will often find ways to contextualize or simplify a mechanic or control. Leading to a more elegant control solution.
This also means I can often later in a project arbitrarily say something like, “Okay we will map that Global button to Shoulder button, they aren’t used anywhere”. Which is great when in crunch or a great feature occurs late in development.
Often when doodling an idea I will just draw a box on the page. Then draw only inside that box. This only really works for visual designs but I find it works really well to focus once I have a set boundary.
Have two options?
Do a blind coin toss, and then before revealing the coin if you find yourself wishing for heads or tails you know your answer.
Three Point System
When constructing a narrative it’s easy to lose sight of the overall structure or lose detail. One trick I use is what I call the Bullet Point System. The system that forces groups of three means your always forced to find that third thing but also that you often self prune. Some of my best ideas come while reaching for that third point to fit. I also find that often something sounds great but then I can’t flesh it out to three points so I discard it.
- Write 3 lines
- No line can go onto the next line
- Always write 3 lines
- You can expand a point with exactly 3 sub lines
Story of Lost Boy
- Boy Gets Lost
- Follows Butterfly
- Goes into Cave
- Can’t See Butterfly
- Boy Wanders
- Boy Finds Way Home
- Mother Asks where he has been
- Boy Gives Silly Answer
- Don’t Retell Story
- Child’s Vision
- Doubt the Experience
- Butterfly Lands on Boy
Alternatively called the F it system this is for when often I’m uncertain or given too many options. If there are 6 different ways we can go and we can’t be sure which to go well then just throw hands in the air, F-it, and pick one.
Most importantly I document the choice!
I will force myself to finish the design or complete going down the path, no regrets. Then if possible when we have more time I go back to that fork in the road and re-examine the choice. Though to be frank it’s rare that you find yourself going back and re-evaulting.
Keep It Simple Stupid! This is all very basic advice that I was hesitant to post but then I recall watching a 30 minute cooking show on cooking Potatoes and thought well sometimes simple advice is very useful.