Sep 282016
 

I recently had the chance to sit down with Markee Dragon, during AGC. It was at the offices where they are making Crowfall, but we didn’t really talk about Crowfall. Instead, we talked about… fish tanks.

Or more exactly, about game design in general, and then about how there are systems in the world around us which provide inspiration, and how a lot of them, like gardening, just have really bad user interfaces. Which led us to fish tanks, and the rich and complex game system that exists in one. So we kind of started designing that game right there on the fly.

It was a highly entertaining conversation, for me at least — and now Markee has released the video, so maybe it’s entertaining for you too!

 

Sep 252016
 

slide1Here it is, in all its mathy glory: Gritty Systems Design for Retention.

I barely pulled off getting this one done in time. I knew what I wanted the shape of it to be, largely prompted by some of the design choices I saw in Pokemon Go. But I also knew it would involve an awful lot of spreadsheet work and an awful lot of graphs. And I wanted to make those graphs real, not just sketches, so that people could walk through the math and see how it worked.

So — I had notes, but then worked from 10pm to 3am the night before, and then from 9am to 2pm the day it was supposed to be delivered. I don’t recommend cutting it quite this close (the talk was at 4:45, so I finished with not quite three hours to spare).

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Aug 152016
 

agc2016logo-547x286I’ve mentioned it a fair amount of Twitter and Facebook, but I wanted to call attention to it here again, for those who still follow such antiquated things as blogs! I’ll be speaking at the newly revived Austin Game Conference, taking place in Austin of course, on Sept. 21 and 22.

For those of you who fondly remember the various incarnations of game conferences in Austin — this event is going to recapture that vibe, I think. The advisory board is pretty much the same crew of folks who curated all those excellent conferences for a decade, starting back in 2003.

My topic:

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Game talkA Poke-roundup

 Posted by (Visited 1194 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 192016
 

My piece on how “AR is an MMO” traveled far and wide this week. Among the appearances:

There’s probably more to come — I was asked about interviews by several outlets this week, and actually said yes to at least one, as I recall.

If you’re looking for more to read from a game-design specific angle, I recommend

Also, you may recall I mentioned that alternate client views is common in MMOs? Well, here’s your global map of where all the Pokemon are. If you can get in — it’s overloading with traffic.

May 232016
 

Slide2I spent last week up in the mountains around Banff, Canada, with a spectacular group of people, as we talked about “computational modeling of games.” This was a workshop held at the Banff International Research Station, or BIRS, and organized by Andy Nealen of NYU and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz. As you may be able to tell from the title, it was moderately mathy, though I was assured by several of those there that it was dramatically less so than an actual mathematician would expect, and certainly less so than the other workshops in the series!

I was asked to give a “seed talk” on the question of “the limits of formalism.” The questions Michael and Andy asked me to answer were

What leverage does a formalist approach to game design give you? What might it leave out? What are the broad contours of the landscape of formalist game design theories? What intellectual commitments are formalist game designers making? What are the biggest holes in our current understanding of formalist approaches to game design?

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Game talkMailbagReadingBooks on writing

 Posted by (Visited 2696 times)  Game talk, Mailbag, Reading  Tagged with: , ,
Mar 052016
 

Hello!

I watched the recording of your lecture “Teaching to fish.”

At the end you recommend books for the different subjects, and you said that a lot of people start with Joseph Campbell, but that there are a lot more, interesting books, out there.

Do you have any books to recommend about creative writing?

 — Christoffer Lundberg

Sure. Starting most broadly, the top recommendation is to read. Read a lot. And read widely, not just in one sort of fiction. I could rattle off a host of recommendations, but there’s probably no point — there’s a huge universe of well-written books out there to look at as models and inspiration. So let’s move on to craft books instead.

To start, though it may be a tough hill to climb, you could go back to Aristotle’s Poetics.1 The amount of terminology and best practices that we still get from this book is hard to overstate. For general writing books, among many others I like John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. They perhaps tend a little more literary than others. I am tempted to also mention Babette Deutsch’s A Poetry Handbook, even if you don’t plan to write verse, because anyone who wants to master cadences of language, and the use of techniques of rhythm, assonance, and the like, would benefit from poetic training. Continue reading »


  1. All books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links, just so you know. That means I get paid a tiny bit if you buy them from here. 

Nov 102015
 

I posted up the slides to my talk at SGC earlier; now the conference has released video of the session.

This talk was a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics. So I tried to straddle the line by doing a talk that would be helpful both to indies and interesting to game studies folks.

Questions start right around the 49:00 mark, and in particular there’s a bit of a rant on my part about the value for interdisciplinary learning for people who are going to creatively lead projects. After that answer, Rami Ismail (who was there, of course, he is everywhere) asked if I could list the five most important or relevant books for covering the various fields that I had described in the talk. I couldn’t… so I listed more like 30.

 

Sep 192015
 

Slide15I had a great time in Sweden, despite the fact that there did not seem to be a canonical way to pronounce the city was in (Skövde — sort of hghuheffdduh-ish, but depending where I was in the country, it was also hgheffduh, hghuffda, and a few others).

The talk I gave, put together after some rather late nights with boardgames and beer (well, hard cider in my case), was called “Teaching to Fish.” It had to work as a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics.

I ended up doing a bit on game grammar, but focusing more on the fact that given the breadth of the field, it is important that practitioners know what sort of thing they are making, and use the right tools for the job. And that they take their field seriously, study the relevant literature from both games and the countless other disciplines that interact with and impinge upon games.

A lot of the audience was students; I was told afterwards multiple times over that I might have scared half of them right out of the course of study. I was asked two questions at the end, and one of them was “so, since learning all that is impossible, what then?” more or less, to which I answered “it’s not impossible, I did it.” That was followed by a question from Rami Ismail basically designed to force me to prove it, asking me to list of some relevant books; so I gave title and author recommendations for each of the fields in the slides — more like twenty than the requested five. 🙂

Besides Rami, I also got see old friend Lee Sheldon and Mike Sellers, and make many new ones. I learned a lot about the Nordic LARP scene, which is utterly fascinating. Tommy Palm (formerly King, now doing VR) and Ben Cousins and David Goldfarb (now at new studio The Outsiders) were kind enough to host me for meals on the last day as I attempted to sightsee Stockholm on foot. Twelve miles, one blister, and I had managed to walk most of the core of the city in the rain, visiting museums, tourist traps, and sites from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Slides for the talk are here. It was filmed, and I imagine that at some point I may get a link to that to share it with you. For now, you will have to make do with a parable about fish with a couple of bad puns. Well, one REALLY bad pun, a few middling ones, and one fairly decent one.

Game talkPAXDev Game Grammar talk

 Posted by (Visited 4394 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 092015
 

At PAXDev I gave a talk on Game Grammar. It’s an overview of my current understanding of how all the parts of games fit together. I don’t touch on how every part works — that would have taken far too long for the time allotted — but I do provide the overview, what I have taken to calling my “map of game.”

For the last few years, the tension between the various different ways of looking critically at games has often run high. With this view of things, I wanted to reconcile things a bit. It draws a bit on the stuff from the essay “Playing with ‘game'” and also from the presentation with the same title, which is actually about something else entirely. It pulls in stuff from Games Are Math and from the deck on Social Mechanics.

It tries to map it all out in terms of how it fits into the classic interaction loop that we’re all familiar with, and discusses the techniques used not only for creating solid game mechanics but also what sorts of rhetorical and artistic techniques work best when you are working towards, say, Tadhg’s Kelly’s notion of “storysense,” or towards putting someone in shoes that are not theirs, as in the efforts that are happening so much in the indie narrative game scene.

This also has a few little examples of how you can use simple game diagrams to look at game designs and assess them for flaws or scope.

It’s dry and full of diagrams. Enjoy!

 

Game talkGames affecting people

 Posted by (Visited 5371 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Jun 302015
 

This comes up, especially in relation to questions about free speech. It comes up, in terms of working with compulsion loops some might term addictive. It comes, in terms of whether or not game designers worry about what they do.

The most common answer is “no,” likely because it’s an uncomfortable question people would rather not think about, or one that positions games as somehow an implicitly risky medium and vulnerable to censorship, or because of a disclaimer of responsibility embodied in the notion that we’re just providing entertainment and anything past that is the player’s problem. Sometimes there’s an implicit idea that mere entertainment cannot have any effect.

So do designers worry?

Yes. I have, personally.

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