May 252011

I had a truly wonderful chat on the phone with Keith Stuart of The Guardian a while back, and recently an article surfaced that is the fruits of his interviewing labors: The seduction secrets of video game designers.

It’s a bit more of the cogsci thing applied to games, with myself, Margaret Robertson, Jesper Juul, and a bunch of other folks all talking about what makes games tick. A neat element is some analysis at the end of four big games and why they click. I mention signaling theory in the context of Farmville — something I have been reading about some lately, most recently in the entertaining book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

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Playtesting versus science

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May 252011

…there isn’t much resembling a science for designing the abstract game features, or at least not one that is well-known and accepted. Even some of the better-known designers such as Daniel Cook and Raph Koster seem to consider their work to be more about casting an enlightened eye over trial-and-error, relying on play-testers to tell them what is fun. While nobody would seriously argue that you don’t need some sort of play-testing – just like graphics programming requires the programmer to actually look at what is being rendered – it seems a bit defeatist to assume that it’s not theoretically possible for a knowledgeable enough designer to be able to create a compelling game experience without needing to have others try it first.

via The importance of abstraction « Tales from the Ebony Fortress.

I’ve certainly made games that were fun right off the bat. It’s an exhilarating experience when it happens — though arguably, I played them in my head before playing them in code or on paper, in my first prototype. But I have definitely gotten prototypes to fun before showing them to other people. In fact, I generally don’t show them to other people until I get them to some semblance of fun.

So sure, it’s possible, and we don’t need to be defeatist about it.

What I have never done is gotten them to be as fun as they can be without someone else’s eyes on them.

I suspect this isn’t any different from any other creative medium; writers need editors, theater needs rehearsals, etc. Workshopping and dry runs are classic tools used in the arts for centuries, regardless of how much we manage to turn art from craft into science.

Blog posts I didn’t write lately

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May 132011

I have been very lazy about blogging lately. So I thought I would share the posts you’re not going to see.

  • Speculation on whether a game can effectively portray the umwelt of another species given the double mediation of digital gaming and the human senses.
  • Thoughts on whether the mini-furors over each elimination of popular contestants on American Idol are revealing of the nature of voting bloc systems, and whether there is any difference between political parties and
  • A response to Tadhg Kelly’s commentary on my GDC talk.
  • A response to Dan Cook’s controversial piece on game criticism; as someone both mentioned in the article’s original draft as a role model, and someone who has written plenty of “soft” non-mechanics-driven criticism of games (here, here, here, here and more), I don’t really agree with where he landed.
  • Musings on collaboration, overcollaboration, and vision-holding, also driven by a tweet of Dan’s.
  • Stuff that turned into tweets instead: social games killing soap operas, and what that and GagaVille mean; the notion that cognitive science could figure out the precise neurochemical triggers present in stories and publicize them, resulting in all books being written to maximize market share based on hitting specific buttons
  • The process of adding and tuning feedback to a game in order to better the experience
  • Rough thoughts on the architecture of a Singularity operating system, and what the implications of full brain simulation are on the then-simulated mass media

Sorry! Maybe I’ll get to these someday. 🙂