MusicThe Halloween Song: Dead Cheerleaders

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Oct 312010

– “Dead Cheerleaders” (mp3 download)

See below for guitar chords! No offense meant to any present, former, living, or dead cheerleaders.

Cheerleaders came to the door selling cookies
They were raising money for crazy acrobatics
But I told them I could not support their evil cause
So many cheerleaders fall and break their necks

Continue reading »

Game talkDan Cook on Triple Town

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Oct 162010

I occasionally think that Dan Cook and I share some brain. Fortunately, the parts we don’t share are wonderful and varied, and it means that there are new games he makes that I would not have thought of.

In this case, it isn’t so much the new game as it is the essay about the game that I want to point you towards. He’s got a new piece up that sounds like mostly an ad: Triple Town released for the Amazon Kindle. But what it is actually about is puzzles, methods of game invention and constraints.

His three core points are ones that resonate with me, albeit presented with his usual awesome diagrams and sheer clarity (unlike my own verbal wanderings and big wordage).

  • Algorithmic designs are better than static puzzle designs. I made this point very shallowly back in 40 Ways to be a better Game Designer.
  • Rethinking core assumptions leads to new virgin territories to explore. In this case, he’s talking about re-examining the match-3 game from basic premises. Echoes of Bartle’s recent cry for “why?” here.
  • Give yourself constraints, prototype with physical objects if need be; the dressing — and indeed even the fancy tech you can bring to bear such as AI and advanced code — are crutches that allow you to avoid elegance. And elegance is the place where you are going to get the best play.

I suspect that these are difficult lessons for budding designers, based on watching people who are newer to the field struggle with them. I likewise think that most veterans take them for granted, jumping straight to ways to alter simple three-rule-three-variable game atoms into something new with little more to prototype with than a pencil and a couple of items from their desks.

But either way, they are common underpinnings. Something that everyone in the field confronts and then has to master. And periodically be reminded of, for that matter, because they are awfully easy to forget.

The beautiful thing about these common elements being so fundamental is that then everything that is built upon them can blossom in so many unexpected and fascinating directions.

Which is why despite Dan’s post being more of an essay than an ad, this post is more of an ad than an essay… Triple Town sounds fascinating, and I want to play it.

But I don’t own a Kindle. Dan, did you do any prototypes on other devices?  *shameless begging* 😉

Game talkThe Fundamentals of Game Design

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Oct 122010

I got a request via Twitter for this old essay which had fallen off the Internet, so I am posting it here. This was originally written for Metaplace users… there is nothing here new to anyone who has followed the blog for a while, but since it was requested, here it is. 🙂

* * *
The fundamentals of game design

Starting out creating an interactive experience, of any sort really, can be rather daunting. In this tutorial, we’ll run through the basic components of a game, so we can get a handle on what the next steps are when you make the jump from the training tutorials to your own projects.

Often people have trouble when conceptualizing a game. The idea, after all, is often the easy part. It’s actually making it, and figuring out where to start, that is the hard part.

A friendly warning, though! Just like writers have different ways of working, and some composers write music in their head and others at an instrument, different game designers are going to have different ways of working. Some work better “in the code” and others like doing everything on paper beforehand. Some think in terms of story and narrative, and others are systems designers first and foremost. So this tutorial may actually run a bit against the grain for you, depending on your natural temperament.

In what follows, I am going to use the language of games, but really, every piece of advice in this article applies equally if you are designing any sort of interactive project whatsoever. So just because I say “game” in what follows doesn’t mean this article won’t be useful to you when you start making a classroom experience or a chat room or some other application. Continue reading »

Oct 082010

The intent of this talk was to do a “powers of ten” sort of look at multiplayer mechanics… not really to describe anything new, but instead to try to take the whole big spectrum of what we think of as multiplayer game design, and do a cross-disciplinary look at it. I covered a bit of game theory, a bit of psychology, a bit of evolutionary biology, a touch of history, a heavy dose of sociology, a dash of social networking theory, and of course, game design stuff.

My hope was that when done, it would both serve as a good context for thinking about multiplayer games of several sorts, and also as just a plain old reference, something to point at when discussing things like what the impact of gifts and wall posts are in social games, or why some MMOs have longer retention cycles.

So here it is as a PDF, for your perusal. I tried to make the slides stand on their own as much as I could, but of course, the actual voiceover would make many slides more comprehensible. For that, look for the actual session recording to appear on the GDC Vault.

Long-time readers will notice that there are bits here that reference and repeat elements of much older presentations. I recommend following up this one with the math-heavy but extremely related presentation on social network theory Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds (PDF), if you have not seen it before… I gave it back in 2003, a year before Facebook launched. 🙂 It digs a lot deeper specifically into many of the characteristics of large scale-free networks in games.

Oct 082010

Messrs Bartle and Trubshaw’s astonishing contrivance.

[edit: Follow along with Richard’s slides available here (PDF)]

Thank you all for getting up early or not having gone to bed yet. Feel free to keep cellphones on so if they ring they can wake people up.

I am going to tell you things that i have never told others before about the origins of MUD.

I am here because i cowrote the first virtual world MUD. Almost all today’s MMORPGs descend directly from them, but that isn’t actually relevant. What mattered isn’t that we were first, but that we were unaware of any others. We would have gotten virtual worlds anyway, the important thing is that when we did it we didn’t have anything to base it on, which meant we had to establish some principles and guidelines, and form views on what we were making and why. Continue reading »

Oct 062010

A few sites covered the talk I gave on John Donham’s behalf here at GDC Online.

I do think Gamespot commenters interpret my little dig at SWTOR a bit too negatively — it wasn’t a dis but rather a gentle dig, considering that most of the team leaders there are good friends, and one of them was in the front row. 🙂

The slides are actually John’s to post, so I won’t do so here unless he tells me to, but Tami’s liveblog actuall captures the specific slides rather well.

Game talkThoughts on Cow Clicker

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Oct 062010

Earlier today, after watching Ian Bogost’s GDCO talk about Cow Clicker, I tweeted “I don’t think Ian learned the right things from Cow Clicker.” I got a lot of questions about that, so here goes:

Let me start with the fact that Ian is a friend, and we have had plenty of volatile and engaging debates on any number of game-related subjects. Let that fact color everything I proceed to say.

So  I mentioned to him after his talk that he made an artifact that was a subtle and complex critique of a genre, using the genre itself, and got it to 50,000 people plus a bunch of press, who engaged with it on its own terms, and built upon it in creative directions as well as using it as a springboard for their own debate and commentary, even if only via ironic play of the same.

Ian reads this as a failure to some large degree, whereas to me, failure would have been if no one cared.

I read it as tremendous success, and also as validation of the notion that the limitations we see in the games today are not inherent to the social game paradigm (since his game managed to subvert and extend those paradigms through sheer intent). His game is proof positive, to my mind, that the games are not only cow clicking!

I say this even as I agree with elements of his critique. But I think he doesn’t give himself enough credit here. But Ian is a “glass half empty” kind of guy by his own admission, and the project did start out as satire…

I also think that there is a danger in saying, as he did, that he is concerned that people actually play Cow Clicker for entertainment. It is a mistake for a creator, IMHO, to believe that they “own” the “proper” uses/interpretations of their creation once it leaves their hands, and it has a whiff of worrisome elitism. This may perhaps be implicit in its origins as a satire. When I mentioned this point to him, he agreed, but said “But I don’t need to like it.” And that is also equally true.

The talk also had a bunch of stuff in it about audience, and I think that one of the elements there that set me off on that front was the notion that say, the creators of The Suite Life on Disney Channel don’t feel proud of what they do, and I think that is also a pretty dangerous avenue to go down.

That said — All props to Ian for seriously engaging with the topic enough to go as far as he did — it shows a level of intellectual honesty and rigor that few would venture to. I was one of those who said to him “you really should make one of these or seriously engage with them before you level this magnitude of accusation against them” and he took me up on it in spades. So my comment is in no way an attack on him, but rather a continuation of the debate. 🙂 In many ways, what he did was a brave act of game design. Most are content to carp from the sidelines. I just wish he gave his resulting work, and his audience, a bit more credit. 🙂

Game talkGDCOnline day one

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Oct 052010

I am here in Austin for GDC Online, and I haven’t made it to any sessions yet. Efforts continue to pare down my 1 hr 20 minute presentation to something that fits inside of a session slot, but moreover, I am now giving an addition presentation tomorrow, stepping in for John Donham who can’t make it. So if you are at the show, stop by Wednesday for this session:

AAA to Social Games — Making the Leap Speaker/s: Raph Koster (Playdom)
Day / Time / Location: Wednesday 1:30- 2:30 Room 5
Track / Format: Production / Lecture
Description: Developing games for social networks is a dramatic shift from making titles for PCs, consoles, or even the Internet. These new distribution channels have many unique lessons to learn, including fundamental revisions to the development process itself. This session will provide you with a solid basis for revising your strategy as you approach social game development.

My regular talk is on Friday. I also hope to have some liveblogs for you all of sessions I attend if I get the chance.

Game talkOne BIIIiiiillion

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Oct 012010

There are now one billion registered virtual world accounts, according to KZero, with 350m of them gained in the last twelve months.

More telling is the areas in which the growth has come. Around half that billion is in kids’ worlds (ages 10-15), which now boast many worlds over 10m users, including some shockingly large figures like Stardoll at 69m, Girl Sense at 18m, GoSupermodel at 18m, Neopets at 63m, and Club Penguin at 47m.

Universe chart Q3 2010: 10 to 15 year olds | KZERO – Blog.

The 15-25 bracket has the monster Habbo of course, at 175m registered. KZero picks this segment as the one to watch in terms of innovation. Meanwhile, worlds for ages 25+ have not seen nearly the same level of growth, but still have basically doubled in total registrations since Q1 2009.