Game talk

Game talk

This is the catch-all category for stuff about games and game design. It easily makes up the vast majority of the site’s content. If you are looking for something specific, I highly recommend looking into the tags used on the site instead. They can narrow down the hunt immensely.

Game talkRandom UO anecdote #2

 Posted by (Visited 1668 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 162014

UOHorseI just stumbled across this old story I told somewhere, and thought I’d share more widely.

In Ultima Online, the player was a container — one you couldn’t open, but which held your equipped items, your backpack which was the container you could actually see, etc. Because of the freeform “gump”1 style containment system used in the Ultimas, you could position anything to any location in a container, which meant they were basically treated like maps, with coordinate systems in them.

Then we added mounts.

When you rode a horse, we simply put the horse inside the player, and spawned a pair of pants that looked like your horse, which you then equipped and wore.

When we first did this, however, we forgot to make the horse stop acting like a horse. Pretty soon there was a rash of server crashes because the horse inside the player was wandering around, picking up the stuff it found inside the player, rifling through the player’s backpack and eating things it thought were edible, and eventually, wandering “off the map” because the player’s internal coordinate system was pretty small, and the edges weren’t impassable.

  1. According to UoGuide, “graphical user menu pop-up.” It was the term that was used at Origin back then, long-forgotten now expect maybe among the UO emu community. Basically, any UI window of arbitrary shape floating above the game. In UO, inventory systems did not use slots but free placement on a coordinate system. 

Aug 122014

The tl;dr version is “go here for the talk.”

This past week I was in London, attending Wikimania 2014. Many thanks to Ed Saperia and the organizers for inviting me to speak, it was a highly illuminating experience.

I gave a talk about seeing the Wikipedia experience itself as a series of games: the game of being a reader, the game of editing (or attempting to edit) the content within, and the game of active participation in the community, in terms of working with its policies, its infrastructure, and so on.

Along the way, my intent was to basically toss a few hand grenades in the general vicinity of the foundations of Wikipedia, and in fact of the larger Wikimedia project. This is one of the most idealistic projects in all of human history, and a group of highly intelligent and altruistic people who are fortunately very open to self-examination. So I felt that maybe questioning some of the fundamental assumptions about how they saw themselves and their project was something healthy, and maybe something that would be extra-helpful if done by an outsider.

To make it extra fun, I tried to make the slides look like they were from an old print book.

You can find the slides as a slideshow or as a PDF, and even video of the talk, all here on this new page I have created. I also participated in a panel with a bunch of wonderful folks, on the broader topic of virtual communities. That video is also posted there.

I left the conference thinking a lot about complex systems thanks to lengthy chats with Yaneer Bar-Yam, and toying with the idea of reframing my various definitions of play and games as just “dealing with complexity.” About which more later, I am sure, as it continues to percolate.

Game talkWikimania 2014 in London

 Posted by (Visited 1463 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Aug 042014

wikimanialogoI am speaking this week at Wikimania 2014 in London. I’m speaking in the “social machines” track, which is about systems wherein the code and the people are inseparable — as in Wikipedia itself, social network systems of all sorts — and of course, multiplayer games. I’ll be doing both a lecture session and participating on a panel.

In the talk, I am going to be very literal, and talk about Wikipedia as a game. It seems to me that Wikipedia as a system is unquestionably what I call a “ludic system,” a construct that lends itself to game-playing. It was not constructed as such, however (my term for intentionally constructed systems like that is “ludic artifact.”) The fact that it was not intentionally designed as such means that we can look at it with a jaundiced designer’s eye, and see ways in which is functions poorly as a game.

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Game talkWhen is a Clone

 Posted by (Visited 2952 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jul 232014

Just some relatively incoherent notes here, originally written in an email… this post may serve as useful background as it expresses many of the same thoughts in a more coherent form. This was written in part in response to all the discussion around cloning going on in the game industry these days. As it happens, today I read this Gamasutra blog post:

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

- Svyatoslav Torick

Which prompted me to post this here.

“Game” here used in a strict formal sense, to save me from typing “ludic artifact” over and over again.

taflMost games can be described as rules (e.g., processes that are largely based on conditionals, limits, and actions) and sets of numeric values (number of an asset type, values for things, etc). You also have a variety of metaphors and presentation elements that are used to convey these: visuals, sounds, etc.

In general, if we see a game that has all the same rules and all the same scalars, but uses different presentation, we can consider that “a reskin.” It is exactly the same as a Lord of the Rings chess set or the like.

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Game talkInteractive Mountain

 Posted by (Visited 2726 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Jul 102014

mountaingameEveryone is talking about Mountain.

Mountain is a game where you see a 3d mountain. It can be turned. You can play some notes on the keyboard. The mountain does things on its own. Trees grow, clouds, etc. It “says” things. Stuff falls from the sky. It’s pretty.

There is nothing you can do to affect the mountain, at least not that anyone has discovered.

Now, obviously this is the sort of thing that would get called “not a game.” And in fact, while praising it, some get perilously close to saying exactly that, in academic lingo:

Just to be clear: Mountain is not a text. It shouldn’t be treated as one. Mountain is best understood as an exercise in form — it’s a small, contained work that depicts and explores a mountain as an object.

At Critical Proximity I pointed out that the avant-garde/art/whatever games would have been called “formalist” in any other medium, so I like this observation.

Here’s Brendan Keogh reacting negatively to Mountain:

I thought I would write a piece about how it makes a point of nothing-ness in a really interesting way. In its menu, where it explains the controls, both ‘keys’ and ‘mouse’ are said to do “NOTHING” despite this being clearly false (keys play musical notes and the mouse rotates and tilts the mountain). It seemed like an explicit commentary on videogames and nothingness, and I thought that would be cool.

But I found it so boring.

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Game talkGamemakingPrivateer Online

 Posted by (Visited 3362 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: , ,
Jun 192014

privateeronline7In the wake of the excitement over No Man’s Sky and its procedural worlds, I thought that it might be a good time to tell some of the story around the version of Privateer Online that I worked on, that never saw the light of day.

After I moved off the UO team, I worked on several MMO concepts for Origin. The mandate was explicitly “come up with something that we can make using the UO server and client pretty much intact, without big changes, because we need it quick.” This limited the possible projects enormously, of course.

So I started developing one-sheet concepts that fit the bill. None of them got farther than a few pages, and the idea was to give execs some choices on what we would go make.

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 Posted by (Visited 3984 times)  Gamemaking  Tagged with:
May 132014

Monkey-X is my current favorite language for doing game prototypes and even full projects. It isn’t at all widely known, and has more than a few rough edges, but I still find it congenial and thought I’d share so that more people will give it a try.

When I went looking for something to code in, I had the following criteria:

  • Get stuff on screen in under an hour. Ideally, under ten minutes.
  • Output to as many platforms as possible.
    • Web, because that is useful for accessibility, Facebook, demos, and more.
    • Desktop, because that’s where midcore and core gamers still live.
    • Mobile, because the whole world is moving to touch.
  • Avoid porting. Porting is tedious and expensive. Yes, you get the advantage of maximizing use of the hardware, but the fact is that there’s a lot of headroom on hardware these days.
  • A community large enough to supply libraries for things I don’t want to write myself. I am no great shakes as a coder, you see.
  • Syntax that doesn’t make my eyes cross (looking at you, Objective C).
  • Garbage collection. Why? Because I always mess it up, and then it gets in the way of being productive.

Monkey-X met these criteria, though the community is still pretty small.

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May 072014

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the financial future of developers.

The supply chain for creative work

To go back a ways, back in 2006 I suggested that you could look at the winding path a piece of media takes to the public in this way:

086260-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-dollar-solidA funder of some sort ponies up the money so that a creative can eat while they work. Sometimes this is self-funding, sometimes it’s an advance, sometimes it’s patronage.
020790-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-thought-bubble-ps A creator actually makes the artwork.
066167-rounded-glossy-black-icon-people-things-people-securityAn editor serves the role of gatekeeper and quality check, deciding what makes it further up the ladder. They serve in a curatorial role not just for the sake of gatekeeping but also to keep the overall market from being impossible to navigate, and to maximize the revenue from a given work.
033343-rounded-glossy-black-icon-culture-castle-five-towersA publisher disseminates the work to the market under their name. A lot of folks might think this role doesn’t matter, but there are huge economies of scale in aggregating work; there’s boring tax. legal, and business reasons to do it; it serves brand identity, making the work easier, to market…
002953-rounded-glossy-black-icon-media-loudspeaker1Marketing channels make it possible for the artwork to be seen by the public: reviews, trade magazines, ads. This is how the public finds out something even exists.
040733-rounded-glossy-black-icon-transport-travel-z-truck25 Distributors actually convey the work to the store’s hands. This role functions in the background, but it’s absolutely critical. There’s a lot of infrastructure required.
086385-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-tagStores then retail the packaged form of the artwork to the end customer. Stores have their own branding task, and likely serve as a curatorial and recommendation engine all over again, this time trying to find the right fit for the customer.
020767-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-smiley-face1The audience then gets to experience the work.
009311-rounded-glossy-black-icon-arrows-arrow-circle-refreshRe-users then take the creation and restart the process in alternate forms; adaptations to movies, audiobooks, classic game packages, what have you.

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Game talk2048: Game Design Theory Edition

 Posted by (Visited 1944 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
May 022014

gametheory2048I have to post this here for posterity even though I already tweeted it yesterday. Anyone better at 2048 than I who can post the full list of everyone in it? I’ll update the post with the details. :) See below!

2048: Game Design Theory Edition. Made by Brian Upton.

I can’t get higher than Eric Zimmerman… my daughter saw Frank Lantz though.

Edit: the full list, as provided by commenters:

  1. Chris Crawford
  2. Greg Costikyan
  3. Jesse Schell
  4. Raph Koster
  5. Ernest Adams
  6. Marie-Laure Ryan
  7. Jesper Juul
  8. Eric Zimmerman
  9. Frank Lantz
  10. Ian Bogost
  11. Brenda Romero