A Glance into Brandon's Imagination

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Calling Your Own Fouls

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of basketball. Mostly pickup games at the gym. Now, I’m not the most spectacular player by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m often reminded by my teammates that I’d probably fit in better on a football field than a basketball court, but I’m still learning.

The nature of the pickup game, though, is such that there usually isn’t a referee. Most often, there’s nobody whose job it is to make the calls, enforce the rules, and make sure that everyone’s playing fair. Because of this, it’s really left up to the individual players to call our own fouls, track our own out of bounds, and watch for travelling, keep track of the score, and decide what is and isn’t “fair play.”

It’s a raw version of Huizinga’s magic circle, especially considering that, regardless of the individual players’ full, half, or even just partial understanding of the rules is generally just submitted to whomever the players believe best understands them.

Put another way, I often have a hard time with the intricacies of basketball rules: Three in the key, hand is part of the ball, proper screening, hand on the back when you’re defending, boxing-out techniques, foul rules on rebounds… There are just so many things that I don’t completely understand the specifics of, and so I generally try to take what more-experienced players on the court tell me as truth.

All players, upon entering the court’s magic circle, agree to abide by the group’s consensus of calls on the court, for most anything, except for one rather specific instance.

Fouls. Everyone is expected to call their own fouls. When you foul someone, you’re expected to say something, so that the offended player/team can get the ball back and everyone can start playing again.

Maybe a Foul.

Maybe a Foul.

Now, of course, because it’s a bunch of human beings playing, as opposed to robots, this opens up the system to abuse, as players are allowed to self-determine what is and is not a foul. The system’s effectiveness is determined by honesty, which can sometimes be difficult to ascertain when both individuals in a situation are in conflict, each with a stake in the outcome of a decision.

So, we appeal to sportsmanship, and the desire for fair play, in the hopes that our own common decency will allow us to look a little past our personal gain towards the greater goal of everyone getting back to the game and playing again.

Granted, the stake and the repercussions may not be all that high in a pickup basketball game, and so generally things go relatively smoothly. But not always.

On Facebook, forums, and message boards, or even in random conversations in real-life, I feel like we similarly enter into a “magic circle” when we offer an opinion. We agree to allow for others to look over something that we’ve stated, and respond to it.

Much like a game of pickup basketball, we tend to pick teams quickly, deciding for or against a given opinion, with those who don’t care choosing not to enter the circle. What is interesting, though, is how quickly we end up in a foul situation, with two or more individuals battling over a “call” that was made.

The desire is not to get back to the game, instead, the game is transformed into “winning the call,” and we pride ourselves on our own moral victories over another individual simply because we were “right” and they were “wrong.” We delude ourselves into believing that the “call” is what’s important, when the reality is that even when you have a referee, sometimes the wrong call is made. Sometimes it doesn’t come out in your favor, but you’ve got to keep on going, and keep on playing anyway.

But so often, we don’t do that. Instead, we focus on the call, we let it boil inside of us. We get angry, bitter, or spiteful that someone would dare make the call against us. Or, on the flip side, we instead make the call pre-emptively, assuming a foul before the play has even occurred. We call foul when, in fact, the play was clean to begin with.

Now, of course, the metaphor is starting to get away from me here, but I’d just like to leave it at this – We, each of us, are either playing the game, or we’re standing on the sidelines watching. Each time that we engage someone else, each time that we decide to share our thoughts with others, we consciously decide to take a shot.

From that point in, you’re in the magic circle, you’re on the court, and you don’t always get to decide who’s going to be playing with you. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t show a little good sportsmanship. Play the game.

Because unlike basketball, there’s not always a clear winner. But if we don’t learn to call our own fouls, you can be sure there will be plenty of losers.

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The League of Legends Gun Armory

league_example

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague the other day, after we were discussing the free-to-play game design models at length. After tossing around the obligatory annoyance for the differences in monetization, we started talking about what it really was that bothered us about F2P games in general. Was it the fact that not everything was included in a game? Was it having to pay for things multiple times? Maybe just that gamers are, by and large, cheapskates? Or is it the lack of meaningful compensation for the player’s money much of the time?

Our ideas went all over the place, and though it wasn’t a discussion with any particular goal or agenda, we did start discussing something interesting that I wanted to write about.

league_example

Every time the annoyance at F2P gaming comes up, someone will, inevitably, bring up League of Legends. Now, that’s not without merit – League is easily one of the most high-profile and profitable free-to-play games in the world, and they’ve not only survived, but thrived on F2P, generating revenues rumored to be upwards of $100 Million per year.1

This is even more staggering when you consider that the game has largely avoided the derision that has seemingly attached itself permanently to the F2P moniker, eliciting groans from gamers when they hear the term. Instead, League has proven to be very popular, and I’m consistently curious why that is, but that’s a discussion that’s being had all over the place, and not really what I wanted to bring up.

(Though, I will say, the next point was brought up in conjunction with an aside comparison between Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 which, owing to their perspective top-down and FPS views, may have had some influence in the conversation.)

I came to a realization last night as I was talking with my friend, and realized that, if you pull back to a high level, the Champions in League of Legends are no different than choosing a different “gun” in Call of Duty/Battlefield/Planetside 2, etc. Fundamentally, the “playstyle” of the weapon may change, but the “purpose” of the weapon is essentially the same, in that the player is contributing his/her skills to the completion of the overall goal.

The value difference between a LoL champion and gun, however, is notable. When you purchase a champion, you’re gaining an entirely new way to play the game. Four new skills, a new strategy, a new playstyle, and an individual narrative backstory and character round out your purchase, resulting in something that’s well-worth your initial investment.

By comparison, a gun, well, shoots stuff. Maybe reloads faster, or has a faster fire rate, more damage. But that’s it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately over different games, and how others might better utilize the free-to-play space in ways that don’t feel cheap or lacking value for the player, and it feels like there’s something here. When a purchase is meaningful, it offers something unique to the player. Unique enough to change the way that the game is played, but still familiar enough that the entirety of the game that they’ve been enjoying is not different just because they made the purchase. (Borderlands 2 has done tremendously well with this strategy. Not in a F2P model, of course, but in their DLC. Topic for another day.)

So here’s the thought that I wanted to share today – How can we make the purchase of a gun, or really, anything in a free-to-play experience, have the value that a champion in League of Legends does? If we can figure that out in our own games, I think the benefits will follow.

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Sources: 1. Games Industry International – Persons of the Year 2012


Gamer Psychology – Killers: I Must Cause Change

KASE-Diamond

“The world is made up of two classes – the hunters and the huntees.”
― Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game

Predators seek out prey, looking for the places where they can either strike in the most damaging location to a strategy, or disrupt things beyond recognition so all plans go out the window. To a Killer, the rest of the playerbase is naught but a herd, where the weak can be culled, and pulled away from the safety of others to be exploited, dominated, and defeated. A Killer is truly, without question, an agent of chaos.

Thriving on fear, cunning, control, and manipulation, the Killer is a fascinating individual who actually tends to enjoy being studied, if only to counter your preconceptions and “analysis” and cause you even more trouble. They are smart, looking for weaknesses, and have no qualms with attacking and devaluing a foe who is disproportionately less-skilled than they. The Killer is not looking for a “challenge,” but instead is looking for “prey,” which is a key difference.

Now, that’s not to say that everything about a Killer’s personality is expressly dedicated to hurting others. Though the personality may seem that simple, there is actually more to their motivations. Instead, a Killer looks for opportunities to affect other people. They search for ways to have their will be inflicted upon others, both for bad or, if given opportunities, for good. A Killer is just as likely to hurt a stranger as they are to help a friend, but it is the ability to act upon another which attracts them. A Killer can stalk his chosen prey, seeking to cause anger, frustration, and disrupt a “plan.” Just as well, a Killer can leap into the fray against another Killer, acting as a savior to another in an attempt to block the other Killer’s actions. Both are valid “Killer” motivations.

Unlike Achievers, Killers are keen to act, but not for the sake of accomplishment. In fact, a Killer is completely satisfied in not being recognized for their efforts – They are very aware of their own personal accomplishments and capabilities. To them, the challenge and “battle” itself is what is important, not necessarily showing off their accomplishments to others. That is, unless the act of showing off creates envy in the eyes of another, at which point they will happily parade their superiority before the masses. Every opportunity to act upon and gain reaction from another person is a pleasant experience to a Killer.

This can quite easily be seen in the game of football, as offensive players are usually a group of “Achiever” personalities, looking to work together for a common goal, whereas the defense’s primary goal is disruption, causing the planned strategy to break down. While a receiver or running back is extremely excited by achieving a touchdown, a tackle is just as excited by sacking the quarterback for a significant loss, killing the play, despite not receiving the same adulation of the crowd.

This Achiever/Killer comparison is also continued throughout sports culture in general, as high-scoring players in any competition overshadow those players that stop achievers from reaching their goals. Still, though, the Killer is usually not bothered by this – the personal causation of change to another is much more important than the accolades of “fans.”

Killers are usually lone wolves, acting on their own, but will sometimes roam in packs with like-minded individuals. These “Killer Packs” are often short-lived, though, because Killers will tend to “troll” even one another, devolving into dueling matches and inter-pack competition if there is no steady resource of other individuals to prey upon.

Mischief is the Killer’s trade, even among his/her friends. The Killer will joke, poke, prod and jab their teammates, and are almost always pranksters and jokesters. Killers are prone to be comedic, and will even often view their failures through laughter and lack of seriousness. Killer humor, though, is typically off-color, and can quickly become macabre. They live to offend, even just a little, and so break preconceptions in everything, even in their sense of humor.

Killers are quite often viewed as just bullies, but generally do what they do, not for the sake of being mean, but for the sake of causing an effect. They look for a response, and as such, are completely shut down by a lack of response to their actions. Killers are bored easily, and can find themselves restless, anxious, or fidgety when forced to endure an event where patience does not provide a clear path to a return.

As such, they may seek out the advice of Explorers, who are masters of their domain. Killers use this information, however, not to simply gain knowledge, but to improve their own efficiency in perfecting their own craft. They look for loopholes, for tips, tricks, and creative combinations to make themselves even more able to create chaos for their prey. A Killer is the own determiner of his/her own challenges, and unlike the Achiever, is not beholden to the standards of another.

Socializers… Socializers are the Killer’s ideal prey, especially if the Socializer is particularly bothered by the Killer’s actions. This is where the “bullying” image comes from. What’s most interesting here is that the Killer can be just as satisfied in his/her search for challenge by improving that same Socializer, instead of demeaning them. But the default is always to “kill first,” which can be difficult to overcome.

Killers, just like the other playertypes, can be found throughout any environment, but should be kept a watchful eye for. Solitary by nature, Killers have a tendency to stay inside their own heads, and if left to their own devices can truly start to distort their view of the world around them. They can start to see others as only prey, which is unhealthy.

To provide meaningful experiences for the Killer, give them tools to affect change. Whether destruction or creation, the Killer is empowered by the ability to change. They are just as capable at building, often, as they are at destroying, but they simply find destruction much more fun and immediate.

As dour as they might seem to be around, Killers are actually rather fun personalities in a group, if a little rambunctious and prone to chaos. On a team, these are your shakers, your shifters, the individuals who will create new perspectives for you. Be good to them, and show that you are better off for their efforts, and they’ll be ready to do more for you than you’d expect. But just be careful not to turn them into an enemy, because just as they can be staunchly loyal, they can just as easily be obsessively focused on methodic deconstruction.

Overall, Killers benefit most from being given a direction and being told to accomplish something in their own way. Just make sure that that accomplishment is to your benefit, and you’ll (probably) be pleased with the results.

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Gamer Psychology – Socializers: I Must Know Everyone

KASE-Diamond

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
― C. S. Lewis

Think of any group, be it a group of friends, your office at work, your sports team, or a classroom. Generally, you can think of at least one individual in the midst of that group that is liked by just about everyone. She or he is charismatic, loves to joke and laugh, and is unabashedly likable. It’s the person that you want to be around, because they make you feel happy just to be around them. They know your name, they know who you are, and they make it a point to get to know you as long as you let them. They may also have a tendency to get into the midst of a social group, and insert themselves as the center off attention, even if it’s by accident.

This person is a Socializer.

Socializers are all about relationships – And much like Killers, the game that they are playing is often completely different than the game that was designed to be played. The pure Socializer, however is less interested in inflicting his or her will onto another person, but instead prefers to create and be entrenched into the social environments that a situation creates.

When a task needs to be completed, a Socializer will often keep an eye out for the well-being for those in the group, even above the needs of the project at hand. They are concerned with those around them, and the completion of the task is secondary to that. This can sometimes be viewed as a stereotypical “Motherly Instinct.”

Socializers do these things because they genuinely love people. While they sometimes are not the most talented at the task that the group is working towards, (often not the justifiably “best” player), they are usually the individuals that a group will center around. They strive to be friends with everyone, even going out of their way to make sure that “social outsiders” feel included, or treating with a smile those who just as soon kick them in the teeth. Everyone loves a Socializer, and they are usually one of the most well-known people in any group setting. They are the person that everybody loves, even if it is sometimes in a begrudging way.

Because of their ability to attract others and their almost natural likability, Socializers are a welcome sight. They love to talk about things, and are very attracted to drama. If the Socializer is not waist-deep in the most dramatic situations of a group, you can bet they’re about to be. They are emotionally sensitive, and as such, love to know and discuss the latest gossip, why this person and that person are no longer friends, and what the latest rivalries are. They love the narrative that is created by groups upon one another, and are much more interested in discussing the social value of an individual than their skill or tactical prowess.

In a way, a Socializer could be described quite well as a flipped coin of the Explorer. While the Explorer knows everything about the game, the Socializer could tell you everything about the people playing the game. While an Explorer could tell you a teammate’s stat percentages with the gear he’s currently using, a Socializer could tell you about a teammate’s spouse, how many kids they have, their names, and all about the last time that their families went out to dinner together.

Despite this comparison, however, Socializers and Explorers don’t often get along, simply because neither sees the same information as relevant. This can create awkward situations if the two are forced to interact, simply because their priorities are so divergent, and the two will usually seek separate paths. That’s not to say that the Socializer won’t be willing to try to engage the Explorer in conversation, but the relationship will often not go beyond superficiality.

A Socializer’s focus can often be found on celebrities, politicians, or other influential people, and they will often try to engage with those people, or at least talk about them with others, in an effort to be involved, if even by proximity.

Socializers always seem to know the latest gossip about everything, and have a hard time keeping it inside. When they learn something new about someone, it’s as if they need to share it with someone or they’re sure to burst from sheer excitement.  As such, they tend to revel in the exploits of both Achievers and Killers equally, because these individuals are most often the movers and shakers of the environment that the Socializer is in.

Achievers will usually keep a few Socializers around them, especially those who provide to them some kind of adulation. Because Achievers thrive on vindication of their skills, and Socializers thrive on the telling of a tale, especially if that tale involves someone that they know, this match works rather well.

Killers, on the other hand, often provide great drama for the Socializers to consume. Killers love for their actions to have a reaction, and as such, Socializers often become their ideal prey. Not only is a Killer assured that his actions have garnered an effect, but the larger an effect, the larger the “social ripple” will be that his actions have created.

That said, a Killer whom a Socializer has befriended can often become the staunchest of companions, almost seen as something of a watchful guard dog or bodyguard to his friend, who will tolerate no disrespect to them. The Killer, usually a rather isolating individual, can prove to be loyal to a fault, performing “dirty work” for his friend, whom he/she views to be more respectable.

Socializers can be found in almost every type of social environment, and are very outgoing. (Almost all Socializers are natural extroverts.) While they are quite often viewed by other types as “less skilled” than others, they are nonetheless almost universally liked, and as such, are often accepted into most groups. (At the end of the day, Socializers are usually just a kick to have around.)

To cater to a Socializer, provide opportunities for them to talk. Provide easy ways for them to interact with others, to communicate, and especially, provide places for them to congregate with others. Let them learn about the goings on of others, and give them opportunities to share in these experiences with others. Socializers love nothing more than the telling of a great story, especially when it is them who is doing the telling.

Above all, say hello to them, but more importantly, go ahead and say hello back after they talk with you. You’ll probably like them, and they’ll make you feel great, whether you like it or not.

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Gamer Psychology – Explorers: I Must Know Everything

KASE-Diamond

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
― T. S. Eliot

Want to know absolutely anything about something? Ask an Explorer, because they know everything and then some. And we’re not just talking about general knowledge, either. An Explorer knows the exact stats for the weapon that you’re carrying, what level you had to be to use it, the mana consumption or rounds in the clip, and the exact distance at which it starts to become less-efficient. The Explorer knows what kinds of monsters drop that item, what the chances are of getting it out of a grind, and how often you can go back to try again after the monster respawns, as well as the best and quickest shortcuts to get there.

A typical conversation with an Explorer revolves around the quickest ways to level up, the most efficient gear for a given situation, and the fastest ways to get somewhere. They painstakingly compare things within a game so that they understand what every little thing in the game is for, and the logic behind the decisions. They know where the game’s breaking points are, how to push the system beyond its limits, and even how to “break” the game. They do this, not to necessarily “cheat,” but instead to simply understand, to poke and prod at the game’s systems, in order to better “see” the full picture. They test all the boundaries of the game just because they want to know.

Explorers are the stat people. They are tinkerers, tweaking things and trying things, often against the “logic” of players around them. To them, it’s not enough to simply know about something, their drive to understand the world that they are immersing themselves in is so strong, that they need to understand how this thing works in minute details.

Many see this behavior as eccentric, often associating it with individuals who are obsessive about something. A comic book Explorer could tell you the exact moment and issue when Superman bested He-Man, and how it was accomplished, and a breakdown of each combatants individual power levels, skills, abilities, and counters. A film Explorer could explain to you, in detail, the history of Scorsese’s film achievements, what awards he’s won, and what for, his contributions to cinema, as well as what he’s working on right now. A basketball Explorer knows LeBron’s shooting averages in the paint, his free-throw percentages, and may even know his shoe size, as well as how his career has affected the game of basketball as a while.

Explorers sometimes develop a superiority complex when it comes to their favorite topics, especially because they seem to know more about things than anyone else. They differ from Achievers, however, in a specific way. Achievers learn these things in order to use them to win at all costs. Pure Explorers are looking to know more than anyone else just for the sake of knowing, but honestly would do what they do even if no one else was watching. Theirs is a drive simply to understand for the sake of knowledge itself, and not to explain to others that they understand.

While an Achiever is searching for accolades and outward recognition of his/her accomplishments, a pure Explorer is satisfied with the knowledge itself as his/her currency. Explorers interact with the world, while Achievers are looking to act upon the world.

Achievers and Killers both can learn a great deal from Explorers, specifically because they tend to know more than anyone about the specific topics that the first two are looking for.

From an Explorer, and Achiever can learn what the most effective strategies and gear are, how to get the best items, and how to creatively combine unexpected strategies to achieve success. Achievers, however, find very little satisfaction in “besting” an Explorer, because the drive to win is not the Explorer’s goal anyway.

A Killer, on the other hand, can learn lesser-known shortcuts, devious counters, and the best places for ambush, all in an effort to cause havoc among others, but similar to the Achiever, finds very little satisfaction in bothering the Explorer – Explorer’s will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go about what they were doing in the first place, because they generally find such actions as something to be analyzed, but won’t provide the player feedback that a Killer feeds off of.

Socializers… Explorers will generally just ignore these types of individuals completely, and in fact, the two often find that they don’t get along very well, simply because their motivations are completely separate from one another. Explorers only interact with others for the purpose of learning and discussing about the topic they have in common, and have little patience for “small talk,” whereas that is something that drives a Socializer.

Don’t get the idea that an Explorer doesn’t care about other people, now. An Explorer often enjoys company, but they tend to keep those around them that have a similar thirst for knowledge, and disregard anyone else as unimportant unless an individual can help them to achieve their goals. They often see people as resources, and their analytic nature can be off-putting.

The classic Explorers were truly that – explorers of the unknown. You’ll often find these impassioned individuals on the frontiers of their fields, looking for the new and undiscovered. You’ll also find these personalities in almost any topic of depth, from science fiction to exercise, from computer science to car racing. Explorers are masters of efficiency, but usually don’t take the time to put masterful plans into action unless compelled to by another.

To cater to an Explorer, provide them with things to discover. Add complexity to allow for multiple “ideal outcomes,” and allow them the freedom to seek them out and test them against one another. Give them projects and tasks which allow for more than simply mundane approaches, and let them figure out for you where your systems are going wrong.

And never be afraid to ask them questions. Because they know the answers to everything.

And they would be more than willing to explain it to you.

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Gamer Psychology – The Achiever: I Must Win at All Costs

KASE-Diamond

“Champions are made and not born. Champion’s feats are acquired and not inherited, earned and not transferred, attained and not deposited.”
― Ikechukwu Joseph

Achievers are probably the most common player types in gaming, and for good reason – Games are meant to be won, in a quantitative and (usually) undisputeable way. Games, which revolve around challenges, goals, and the completion of those goals, are practically a beacon for these players. Everything in the actual “system” of a game can usually be whittled down to a “score,” and a higher score is what an Achiever lives for.

In a multi-user game, Achievers often define their success by characteristics such as their level, their rank, or their stats. They brag about their kill to death (KDR) ratios, their successful raids, or their unbelievable score counts. Achievers attempt to beat, no, to master the system, whatever it is. If there is a challenge to be completed, this is the type of player who will have it done, regardless of the difficulty, the obscurity, or the length of time it takes to complete it.

Achievers are natural-born succeeders, looking to accomplish and even surpass every challenge that they come across, regardless of the difficulty.

Now, of course, in real life, the Achiever is usually pretty easy to recognize. Some will instantly think of the sports superstar, others may see a wealthy businessman. But the key to understanding the Achiever personality is not simply in wealth, though that can certainly be a factor. It can also be in what that wealth is used for – The best car, the best suit & tie, the best shoes, the best watch or jewelry, the best house. Achievers strive not only to succeed, but to succeed beyond anyone else.

And while drive, ambition, and the will to succeed are all worthwhile goals, there is definitely a flip side: Achievers hunt for the thrill of not only doing well, but in doing better than someone else. To an extreme Achiever, it’s not enough simply to succeed – They require a quantifiable and tangible display of their superiority.

The suit, the tie, the car, the house, the boat, the prominent photo of the pristine family… Achievers are all about pride, and they utilize these symbols as ways of showing that they are better at the game than anyone else, (in this case, the game of real life).

This can manifest itself in ways outside of monetary wealth however – social capital is just as potent to an Achiever as gold, sometimes even more so. As such, you’ll see those who seek to have more “Likes” on Facebook posts, more followers on Twitter or Pinterest, or have more comments on an article or blog post. (The irony of that sentence does not escape me, I assure you. <grin>)

While there are other player types who are more social-centered, (ie – The Socializer), Achievers look at game, at life, and at everything as a competition to be beaten, to be bested, and to be won. They want to win, and more importantly, they want others to know that they’ve won.

When designing a multi-user game, these players are catered to by finding the best gear, completing the biggest challenges, and being able to carry trophies of their achievements. (You may notice the subtle insertion of both the PlayStation and Xbox token monikers in there.) Achievers wear their glory on their sleeves, often quite literally, and to them, level, rank, and prestige are extremely important.

Now, don’t think that this “eye towards success” means that Achievers are completely selfish. Quite the opposite – Achievers are often very willing to explain to you how they’ve accomplished something. They get a lot of joy in helping others to succeed as well, often because it increases their own social standing. They may not even have that as their conscious goal, but they hope, in some part of their mind, to “bring others up to their level.”

They love to have discussions about how to be more efficient, to get more out of a tool or resource, or find unique ways to combine elements to create an improved solution.

As such, they often make really good teachers, coaches, and advisers, albeit ones who are sometimes a little too critical, too harsh, or too demanding, simply because to them, success is everything, and lack of success is not improvement, it’s failure. However, they are very well-motivated, and can help those who seek to to improve tremendously.

To cater to an Achiever, give them tangible goals, things to, literally, “achieve.” They will seek out challenges, and defining them in a tangible way helps them to focus their efforts. That’s not to say they are not creative – quite the opposite, actually. Second only really to the Explorer, they often know more about a system than anyone else does.

At the end of the day, if you want to win, then make friends with Achievers. They will carry you to victory on their shoulders, and as long as you keep shooting praise their way, they’ll push hard for you to the end of the earth.

To them, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

As long as you win the game.

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[Note: In each of these descriptions, I'm going to detail the most extreme elements in order to best differentiate one from another. Every player is different, and is likely a combination of each of these. Just something to keep in mind. - K]


A Little Gamer Psychology

FourPlayerTypes

FourPlayerTypesWhile I was in the EAE program, we spent a lot of time, especially in the first year, discussing not only aspects of games and their design, but also the psychology behind certain decisions, and how different types of players will react to different stimuli. While studying the history of MUDs, or Multi-User Domains (this translates easily into the modern MMO), we came upon a theory by Richard Bartle, where he discusses differing player types, and how those types of players interact within the MUD, affecting one another, affecting the world around them, and what they each strive to “get out” of the gaming experience.

Each type of player within the MUD is different, and while Bartle’s theory was limited to gamers within a userspace, I thought it might be interesting to use these classifications with a broader scope, looking at whether these classifications apply outside of simply “video games.”

I’ll be going into deeper detail in a succession of posts, but for now, let’s define what the four archetypes are, and why I’ve got the suits of playing cards at the top of this post (and I’m going to try to focus on the extremes here, so that distinctions between the four groups are as clear as possible):

Achievers (Diamonds) – Achievers love the glittery and shiny, or more specifically the trophies, the best items, or the method of showing off. Achievers are driven by a need to not only become better, but to have others recognize that they are the best. This type of  player needs points to justify their activity. An Achiever plays for points, and everything has a value. They will assist others, as long as that assisting means that they will receive something in the end. In an Achiever’s mind, it’s whomever has the highest score at the end of the game who wins, and the most glory can only go to one.

Explorers (Spades) – Like their real-world counterparts, explorers relish the idea of seeing things that few have seen, and knowing things that few others know. They trade with the currency of knowledge, seeking to know everything about the game that there is to know. Need to know an amazing shortcut? The exact stats of an item? As an Explorer who can tell you not only what you need to know but lots more. Explorers strive to understand the system of the game, and its inner workings. For them, “just because” is never enough. Instead, they must always know why, and discover the game’s inner workings for themselves.

Socializers (Hearts) – To a Socializer, a game is simply another forum, a backdrop in which to converse with others. Socializers don’t much care one way or another about the actual game itself, but are more concerned with the relationships between the players themselves. They’re chatty, outgoing, and prefer the discussion of the game to the game itself. A Socializer’s goal is not the gaining of the most points, or to know the most about the game, but instead is  the goal of truly getting to know others within the gamespace, to form lasting relationships, and to empathize with others.

Killers (Clubs) – Killers are most interested in imposing their will upon others, not necessarily in a good or bad way. The name may be deceptive, because Killers are most interested, not in the kill itself, but in the reaction that the kill creates in the victim. (Anger, surprise, shock, etc.) Killers are most often those who find dastardly ways of causing havoc among other players, either striking from shadows, or being so powerful, there is no way to stop them. Killers thrive on the knowledge that they’ve gotten the best of someone, and that someone is angry with what they’ve done, but can do absolutely nothing about it.

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The image above is a good way of looking at the four groups, and how they interact with one another. Achievers are most interested in Acting upon the World of the game in their pursuit of glory, and view the game World as something to be conquered. Explorers prefer Interacting with the World in order to learn its secrets, and seek intimate knowledge of the gamespace. Socializers seek to Interact with other Players, to understand them and build relationships with them, and finally, Killers seek to Act upon other Players, in order to impose their will.

While it’s probably somewhat evident that there are real-world counterparts to these archetypes, in the next few posts I’d like to explore them a little deeper, and look into how each of these interacts with the world around them, and their places in society.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to GamerDNA’s “Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology,” which help you see what kind of a player you are. I found it interesting as I was studying through this, and it kind of gave me a lens to look at the information through.

Next time, we’ll move onto Achiever’s in more detail.

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The Deafening Silence

“If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”

- Dave Kovic, Dave

My life, especially for the past few months, has been consumed in the not-so-glamorous work of job hunting. Each day is a malaise of cover letters, resume adjustments, application searching, emails, phone calls, and searches of every job listing service under the sun. It’s a routine that’s taxing, not only on time, but more often on confidence, on self-worth. Every job is another hope ignited, and every morning is a search for a response, for a reply, for some sign from the universe that I’m doing all that I can, and eventually it’s going to pay off.

But each morning I wake, I open up my email, and the only consistent responses that I seem to get for anything is a bit more junk mail to sift through because that job site has placed my email onto yet another mailing list for something else I don’t need or simply can’t afford.

It’s a maddening endeavor, with very little light in a tunnel that doesn’t seem to have an end, and when you express the frustration of it to someone else, their response is always the same – “Yeah, it’s tough.”

All of that, though, is just part of the process. It’s part of the “way it is,” and it’s awful, but there is a single, simple thing about it that bothers me more than everything else in this job-searching system combined.

enjoy-the-silenceIt’s the silence. I can’t stand the silence.

Email after email, application after application, the most common response that I get is just no response at all. I’ll often get an automated “We’ve received your Application” message when I apply at a company’s site, but there’s no common courtesy of responding back, even as days, weeks, or even months go by. Some companies have an automated system that changes from “Application Received” to “Please Check for Other Opportunities,” but there’s not even an email letting me know why I wasn’t considered for the position.

Do I not have enough experience? Too much education? Am I too old? Too young? Too male? Too articulate? Not articulate enough?

Am I too brash? Too friendly? Is it because I live out of state? Or is it because you didn’t like my last name? My first name? My hair color?

Is my resume too colorful? Not bright enough? Not outlined like you’d personally prefer it to be? Do I take things too seriously? Do I not take them seriously enough?

Did you need someone more mold-able? Or someone more established? Did you need more passion? Or was I just too intense?

All of these things – Any of these things… They all could be reasons why I’m not getting a response. Why I’m not getting a call. But I’ll never know. It’s not as if I’m applying to things that I have no experience at all in doing. I’m familiar with the requirements of each position, and I always apply to those jobs that look to be something I could fulfill, so why is it that my effort in applying doesn’t even merit a response?

I am very much aware that the world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t.

But, the world asks for effort, and, (unless I’m very much mistaken), companies are looking for people to fill the positions that they are putting out listings for. So why is it that my efforts don’t even merit a reply of “We’re sorry, but you don’t quite meet the criteria that we’re looking for. Please gain more experience in [BLANK] and apply to us again in the future.”

Perhaps that’s unbelievably unrealistic of me. Perhaps I’m asking too much, and it’s not reasonable to expect an HR individual to respond to every email and application they come across. I get that.

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But to receive nothing, especially from those with whom I’ve had personal contact with, those whom I’ve had conversations with… It makes me think that putting my head through a wall might be a better way to gain some notoriety. (At least I can be fairly certain there will be a  tactile and tentative response!)

Ah well. At least each day is a new opportunity, and if anything, this is a great lesson to keep in mind for myself – If the tables are ever turned, you can bet that I’ll make sure to respond. I don’t know when or if that’s ever going to happen, but this lesson in frustration is definitely something that will be sticking with me for the rest of my life.

Don’t mean to be so negative, but everything’s an opportunity to learn, right? One day at a time, take a deep breath, and try it again. There’s gotta be something out there!

- K

PS – Hey, anyone need a producer/project manager/film guy/graphic artist/writer/designer? I know of a good one!


Are you the Protagonist? Or just an NPC?

[Alright, I've got these thoughts in my head, and I need a chance to ramble. I wanted to go over a few talking points, and as I read through this after the fact, I realize that I'm all over the place. Sorry if this is a little unfocused, but it's been driving me crazy thinking about it all, so I just wanted to get it onto the post. My blog, my show. Here we go! - K]

Back during my “film days,” I remember often writing down an adage that seemed rather catchy:

“Each of us is an extra in someone else’s movie, but we get to decide if it’s a speaking part.”

I considered myself rather profound. (My unbelievable modesty notwithstanding.)

But as I’ve gone into games, the medium in my head has shifted. I see games everywhere, and there are a lot of comparisons to be made.

I now see a more clear distinction between different types of “characters” in a game. There’s always the protagonist, whom the player controls. There are supporting characters, who are sometimes there to help, sometimes there to annoy, and sometimes there to even backstab you later on down the line. As you continue on through your quest, this group of yours grows as more and more people shift to your cause for differing reasons.

But throughout games you, as the player, are the motivating factor. Yours are the actions that change the world, save the land, and defeat the great evil threatening everyone. In games, you are the central, pivotal figure in everything that is happening.

That’s why I love this video – Gamers will get it. Even partners of gamers may get it. Others probably won’t, but it’s an awesome video, so I’m going to include it anyway.

Is it any wonder why games often feel so addicting? Who doesn’t see themselves as the center of their own world? Now I’m not talking about the center importance of the world, you understand, but we all contextualize the importance of something by how it affects us. Whether our reaction is to help, to hinder, to hug, to hold, to hurt, or to hassle, we react to the world in very personal ways, with our very personal selves.

We get to choose how our journey continues. We get to choose if we’re going to go out and start gaining XP and get better at skills to eventually take down the dragon, or we get to choose to spend our time just fishing at the pond.

The movie Gamer starring Gerard Butler has been a strange fascination of mine ever since I saw it. The movie has some really interesting things to say once you get deeper into it, especially about our own lives. I don’t want to go too deep, (mostly because others have already done so), but I wanted to discuss a few things that seemed interesting to me.

In the movie, players are controlling these death row convicts for two reasons: 1) It’s the biggest “game” in the world, and 2) If the “avatar” survives 30 rounds, he gets his freedom.

Gerard Butler’s character Kable has, at the beginning of the film, survived 27 matches, which is more than anyone ever has. This has made him, as well as the kid who “plays” him, rather famous. As well, he’s a man who was wrongly convicted, and so has the “not-really-being-a-killer” going for him, which doesn’t mean much in the gunfight, but plays out later in the film With that set-up, here’s the scene (Take note – This is definitely NSFW):

Despite the uber-violence throughout the scene, with all the bullet, explosions, death and destruction, (as well as a gamer-inspired “teabagging” around the :42 mark), I wanted to focus just on a couple of small things.

At the 1:18 mark, you see two people exchanging monopoly money back and forth. This is because, for minor offenders, there is an option for them to act as pre-programmed “NPCs” in the fight (Non-Player Characters). If they survive that round, they are set free. (Hint – They almost never do.)

What’s poignant to me about that little part, though, is the thought that these people are doing this on a gamble for freedom. It’s a risk/reward system to be sure, but at what cost? How often have we, in our lives, stood by while something happened, hoping for no one to notice us, even though the world around us us out-of-control? We see the insanity around us and yet we are still compelled just to keep our heads down, and exchange little pieces of paper like they’re worth something.

What’s most telling to me, though, is when the guy flinches as blood splatters his face, and yet he keeps right on going. He reacts, but doesn’t act, if that makes sense. Do we?

(There is, of course, SO much more to consider in those little situations, but that’s beyond my scope right now.)

At around 1:55, Kable hears glass as it’s stepped on behind him, and he whispers “Turn me around.” Now, in the film, Kable can’t actually talk to the player, so the whisper is more of a plea, but do we do this in our own lives? We get that nagging feeling to “turn around,” to do something, and then we don’t? Perhaps we only write a Facebook post about it. (Or, we write a blog post about it – I’m not above the irony.)

Who is controlling you?

Think back about your own life as a game. In most games, the player controls the main protagonist. As I said before, this individual is the driving force of the game, the mover, the shaker. Nothing occurs except where this person roams, and nothing changes except what this person decides and is able to bring into being. Are you that protagonist in your own life? Or are you simply an NPC, doing only that which you’ve been “programmed” to do – Saying what you’re “supposed” to say, going where you’re “supposed” to go, and being who you’re “supposed” to be?

Are you just an avatar in someone else’s game? Or are you really in control of your own life? Are you a mover and a shaker? Or are you just going along a pre-determined path?

One of the creepiest scenes in Gamer (among several) is a scene starring one of my favorite actors, Terry Crews:

What strikes me here is a correlation between what “freedom” is believed to be, and what “freedom” really is. In this scene, Kable is still scheduled to play another game. In that game, he’s not in control – someone else is dictating his actions. But the killer? The person who is really out to get him? He doesn’t follow the rules. He doesn’t care about the laws. To him – One who already disregards the rules, more rules will not affect him, and he knows it.

In a world where each person is absolutely controlled, fenced, and convinced to do things in a specific way, is the free man really just the one who chooses not to follow the rules anymore? What does it say about a society when the homicidal killer is the one who seems the most “free” in it? Of course, he’s still in the game, and he’s still in the system, but he has no question – when he chooses to move his hand, it’s him who is in control of that decision.

Anyway – Just weird thoughts. Food for thought, I guess, or perhaps just nonsensical ramblings. I guess there’s just one question that it call comes down to, that is really the only thing I wanted to ask all along – In this game of life, as we build up our inventory, gain XP, and strive to “win the game,” there’s just one thing that you need to ask yourself:

Are you the Protagonist? Or Are you an NPC?


GDC – Thoughts and Takeaways

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[NOTE: So, I was a little sick last week - Not sure what happened, but GDC really wiped me out. (I blame the lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, and over-hyped days and nights of being busy for 28 hours per day.) So, here's my thoughts and notes and whatnot from that experience now that I've drank a few dozen gallons of orange juice and am pretty much out of that funk. So, enjoy! - K]

Ah, Game Developers Conference, we meet again. Last year, you had me intimidated. I was taken in by all your sights, your sounds, your flashing lights. But this year… This year I went in prepared. I walked in with resumes ready, confidence in my skills, and a hunger in my heart. I knew what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and how I wanted to approach things.

…And then I got there, and things were a little different than I expected.

Interestingly enough, GDC is not the same experience every year. While there are certain standbys, I’m sure, it’s just that the video game industry moves so fast that a year is a really long time. Trends change, companies open and close. Sometimes that dev that you were sure you were ready to talk to isn’t hiring this round. Sometimes the ones that you didn’t think you had a chance at are surprisingly helpful. There’s just a ton of things involved with GDC, and to encapsulate it all in a single post here would be frankly impossible. So instead, let me go through some of my highlights.

The Game Narrative Summit

Anyone who reads through my blog at any regular basis knows that I enjoy the study of narratives. I love to talk about tales, analyzing the meanings of things, constructing and deconstructing the elements of stories in order to figure things out. Now, while I’ve spent lots of time going into things like the Hero’s Journey, the 8-Sequence Structure, and multiple other things, applying that kind of structure understanding to video games has proven a more intricate task than I’d originally assumed.

While of course, you never exactly become perfectly knowledgeable in everything, but figuring out that line between player agency and crafting a proper narrative is a task that I’ve attempted a few times, but am definitely not an expert in. I’d love to sit down with people like Ken Levine, (Bioshock) or Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman (The Walking Dead) just to pick their brains about this kind of thing and how I could apply those kinds of things in my current development challenges.

The next best thing was the Game Narrative Summit.

Here is two days worth of sessions, with material, lectures, post-mortems, and a ton of information, all centered around video game narrative. I was extremely pleased to learn that they’d be transferring this amazing series from GDC Online in Austin to San Francisco. Learning in-depth about the narratives behind AAA and indie games covered all kinds of different aspects. (You can read through my play-by-play on my Twitter feed under the #gdc hashtag.)

Some of the most interesting sessions bear mentioning.

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Walt WilliamsWe Are Not Heroes: Contextualizing Violence Through Narrative – Understanding the progression of the character “Walker” in this game was amazing. The little things that I did notice throughout the game were explained in a logical manner, including decisions that helped to compound the guilt of the player without letting him free of it. Spec Ops: The Line was a game that’s really stuck with me from last year, and it was great to hear the thoughts that went into the decisions in the story. (Especially compared to the rather negative response to the later Far Cry 3 talk that was given just about an hour later.)

Georg Backer, Creating Immersive Narrative Games Without Big Budgets or Resources – I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t really know who Georg was before this talk, but I was amazingly impressed with the examples he brought to the table. He discussed Portal’s companion cube, Thomas Was AloneFTL – Faster Than Light, and System Shock 2, explaining rather inexpensive ways to create empathy within the game for your avatar, for NPCs, and even for little low-poly blocks on the screen, without the, for example, prohibitively expensive technology touted by AAA rockstars like David Cage. It was such an excellent discussion, and really opened my eyes about the simple decisions to be made in game narrative development.

Warren Spector, Narrative in Games – Role, Forms, Problems, and Potential – The best way to sum up Warren’s comments would be to just talk about how “We [the video game industry] suck at story structure.” It’s interesting to notice that despite all of our attempts to make a more “realistic” game, all we’ve done is make it easier to shoot someone than to talk to them. We need a new structure that isn’t based on traditional film and novel storytelling. This actually leads into the last one that I want to talk about:

Jesse Schell, The Future of Storytelling: How Medium Shapes Story – Jesse’s talk was the closer of the whole thing, as he talked about the verbs that we use in games (jump, shoot, run, punch, etc.) and how our conversations and actual interactions with games haven’t really evolved since practically the very beginning. (I mean, despite all the graphics and voice acting, what are the core differences between the conversation trees in Mass Effect 3 vs Shadowrun? And the idea of consistent game avatars that you actually have a friendship with? Blew my mind.

I’ll be honest – I basically planted myself in the Narrative Summit for two days straight and just let it all wash over me. I’m really glad I did, because there was just so much interesting material, and these are the parts of games that I really find myself drawn to. I’m really looking forward to it again next year, and may go a little more in-depth on my thoughts with them in some future posts.

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The Expo Floor and The Career Pavilion

Last year, GDC’s Expo floor was separate from the Career Pavilion, but this year, they were basically all one big mash of booths, albeit the Career Pavilion was on the far right. Honestly, though, I thought this was a great choice. I spent most of my Wednesday and Thursday in the Pavilion, mostly because I’m unabashedly looking for a job in light of my graduation in the next few weeks. (Hint, hint!)

Strangely, there seemed to be a lot less companies there than last year, including some of the big hitters like Activision and EA, who had rather extravagant booths last year. The only thing that I could think of was that these companies are so large they likely get hundreds of applications every year. (Including a few dozen of my own in the past few months.) Why pay so much for floorspace when you are already getting so many leads?

Regardless, I talked with a whole lot of different people, from small mobile devs to big names like Riot and Microsoft. The most helpful conversations, though, were with the devs at Sony Playstation, who were quite sincere in their conversations. If I had to judge a company based on the interactions at the booths, I’d say that the people at Riot genuinely love to work there, but aren’t exactly looking for “new” devs. Microsoft, it seems, didn’t even really want to talk, but Playstation – They were pretty awesome. It may still be a bit of a pipe dream, but I felt at least that the people there were genuine.

I also had the opportunity to attend one of the Valve Q&A sessions, which left me with some rather interesting ideas. They really don’t have a lot of need for producers, it seems, but I left with a lot of food for thought.

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The Parties

Throughout the week, there were all kinds of parties. Everything from the Newbie Networking one to the Black Hat “Notch” Party. I went quite a few of the events, and while I generally had a good time, there were a few things that bothered me.

I was surprised, especially, just by the sheer lack of actual “activities” at most of these gatherings. I mean, you have a whole bunch of game developers together, and the most creative things that we can do are to stand around inside of  a nightclub with loud music shouting at each other while slinging back open-bar cocktails? My friends and I talked about this quite a bit, especially in light of designers like Jane McGonigal talking about how playing games with others helps to build relationships.

(The Game Narrative “Write Club” was pretty great. It was a little loud in the bar, but the stuff I could hear was absolutely hilarious.)

I was really impressed with the Ouya party, though. They had food, an open bar, and they had actual games there. Now, of course, GDC isn’t some big arcade, but those little consoles sure got a workout as we were hanging around them, competing with one another. There was something to do, and that fostered even more discussion. It got me thinking about ideas for more involving GDC party possibilities.

Why not a bowling competition? A game jam? A night of board games? A gaming tourney? There are plenty of ways that a group of devs could “let off some steam” without every single night being a night on the town. I completely understand that people who eat/sleep/breathe games may want to just do something else, but especially for people who actually want to network, there are better ways to go about it, in my opinion.

Still, I did get to talk with a whole lot of really interesting people, which was great.

Summary

The Game Developers Conference… It’s such an interesting event, with an amazingly revealing peek into the wider industry and the pulse of where we’re headed. Sure, I don’t know exactly where I’m going to fit in all of this quite yet – I have talents for certain things, skills in others, and aspirations for even more. I’m working to prove myself, and while I know I’m not exactly a rockstar (yet!), I feel like I’m walking in the right direction.

I loved being there this year, and I’m looking forward to the next!

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My Introduction to the League

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So, today I finished up my last application to Riot Games, and one of the questions asked about my experience with League of Legends. I’m really not sure if it was too long, or not long enough, but this is the answer I gave, and it seemed like a story that I should put up on my blog. Enjoy!

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I came upon League of Legends when a couple friends of mine in my grad school program introduced me to it a year and a half ago. Because it was free, and I’m always looking for a new gaming experience, I said “Sure!”

I hopped into a game, and after a brief tutorial, my friends had me join their group and we went into a game. Now, I’d never really played a lot of DotA, but I was familiar with RTS games in general, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out.

After looking over the free characters of the week, I chose a tough-looking chap in yellow-and-blue armor named Garen Crownguard. He was stoic, heroic, and (I figured), just my style with a sword taller than he was.

We started up the match, I made my way to the top lane…

…And I was immediately smashed to the dust, over and over again.

It was a bit of a sobering experience, as I slowly improved a little, but I was resistant to the fact that I couldn’t really figure out the items system right off the bat. I wasn’t sure what went where, and I didn’t even KNOW there were guides out there until much later, so I was really just choosing things in a reactionary sense, looking to combat whatever I happened to be fighting against.

Though I had some fun at the first, and I even picked up the Commando skin for Garen, I moved away from the game for a few months, working on other projects and a little turned off by my perceived complexity of the game.

However, I still took the time to keep going over the different characters’ lore. I read through a lot of the “Journal of Justice” articles, learning about some of the different cities, and the characters of the game interacting in the world of Runeterra. I read through character profiles, and tried to figure out how the kits fit together.

I was fascinated by the world of League, but just couldn’t break that barrier that I’d formed from my beginning experience.

It wasn’t until after speaking with people at GDC in 2012, and even talking to those at the Riot Booth, that I realized that I needed to give the game a second chance. Everyone seemed to be playing this, and so, with friends of mine there in the grad school studio, we started playing the game.

I gravitated towards ranged characters, trying out Ashe and Sivir, but eventually settling on Caitlyn as a main. My only problem with her, though, was that she was far too squishy for me. I could contribute from range, and I could pick off that final fleeing character, but I always wanted to be a little more in the fight.

When I came across Graves, I knew I’d found a more appropriate ADC. The manly man with the shotgun became my reckoning force in the bottom lane, and I generally do alright.

The games continued as my friends and I leveled up a little at a time, often meaning many, many solo games as I rushed towards 30. I generally stuck with ranged characters, though I sometimes tried out tanks, and even spent some time failing at jungling over and over again.

It wasn’t until that following summer, almost ten months after I’d started playing League in the first place, that I noticed I still had Garen as a character, and I still had that Commando skin that I’d purchased so long ago.

On a whim, I tried him out, finding some suggestions for a “Spin-to-Crit” build on Mobifire. In that game, I decimated the competition. Sure it was a fluke, I tried it again, and won again. Suddenly I realized that not only was I better at the game, but with Garen as my character, I was playing at my best.

That first instinct of a stoic warrior who charged into the fray was completely right, and now that I understood the game, and how to play, how to juke, how to dodge, how to use brush and flash effectively… I suddenly just had everything “click” for me.

Garen Crownguard went from my forgotten first champ to my dominant main.

As I play now, still mostly with friends of mine, and even occasionally ranked, I feel very comfortable playing. Those jitters are gone, and I know what I’m doing, even if I don’t always know the character that I’m playing.

Recently, I’ve been running through games with characters that I own that I’ve never actually tried out. (During the $100 extra RP sale, I bought quite a few characters that have just been sitting unused on my account.)

Really, the more that I learn about this game and its world, the more excited I am about the opportunity to work and create within it. Thanks for giving me the chance to apply!

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Confessions of a GameDev Podcast

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For the past few months, I’ve been a regular on the “Confessions of a GameDev” Podcast, with Spencer Buchanan and Trent Baird, along with various special guests. How I ended up involved was pretty funny:

Spencer and Trent had originally been just meeting once a week to go over some game dev ideas, and settled on every Wednesday night. One night, I happened to be in the MGS North Lab, and Spencer was trying to get my attention, but I was deep in the middle of something. (Though I’m not completely sure, I would venture that it was probably a game of League of Legends.) About fifteen minutes later, when I was finished, I walked over and burst into the sound booth, unaware that the two were in the middle of a podcast.

The next week, there was a little more notice, so I hopped into the podcast about halfway through, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We have a podcast about every week, and they’re usually posted up on Thursdays. (This week, we did the podcast on Thursday night, so we didn’t get it up until today.)

If you’re looking for a fun, unfocused, rambunctious discussion about video games, pop culture, and the zany nature of learning game development, you should give us a listen.

Here’s the Link to Episode 17.

Enjoy!

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I am the Alien Collaborator! – Risk: Legacy Adventures

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(Expect some Risk: Legacy spoilers in this one. I’ll probably be making a review later about the game itself, but for now, if you don’t know Legacy, you probably won’t appreciate the impact here. But I highly recommend the game. It’s pretty awesome.)

Risk has been one of those games that, for a long time, I had very little love for. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to love it. I remember convincing roommates in Hong Kong to go along with me for a few sessions of Risk 2210, pleading with them to go along with it. (People can just be adverse to games, sometimes, so this often became a chore.)

But even with all the new little bells and whistles, the commanders and different strategies, the games still always seemed to come down to a heavy amount of luck, with some strategy mixed in. The roll of the dice is what made the game go, and unfortunately, that randomness could be fatal to your well-prepared scheme. The number of times where I watched a small, insignificant force push through by sheer luck… It made for some rather difficult losses.

Risk and I always seemed to have a love/hate relationship.

So, when I heard about Legacy, my thoughts were quite excited, while a little nervous at the same time. I mean, the core point of the game is to not only play, but to actively change the map for future games. What this meant was that a choice that won you game two could have terrible consequences for you in game six.

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The game utilizes factions, and you choose yours at the beginning of a session. In the first game, you choose abilities, which grant you strengths unique to your faction, but not unique to you. Then, after that choice is made, you throw the other ones away.

One of the producers whom I was playing with nearly fainted.

In Legacy, the board gets scarred, you write down everything from who won, to who held on, to who was eliminated, and all these different choices, stats, and other things that you keep track of all combine to affect choices down the road.

(I’d love to go into more detail on the more minute things of the game, and I might later, in another post, but for now, I just wanted to be super excited about tonight’s match.)

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You see, tonight, a good friend of mine decided that she wanted to act the troll. Though I’d already lost the previous game, It was decided that I was supposed to be bottle-necked, blocked into a very narrow strip of territories encompassing Iceland, Greenland, and Great Britain. You see, in Legacy, the goal of the game is not to simply take over the map, but instead the mission is to gain four “stars,” which are granted for various acts, the quickest of which is to take enemy headquarters.

Instead of populating the entire map from the beginning, players choose a starting territory and work outwards, grabbing unclaimed lands and expanding their population. The rules stipulate that two armies cannot start adjacent to one another, and so I was forced from my previously-established major city of Snowhawk, Iceland, and instead began in Greenland. My first act was to leap to Iceland, of course, but that immediately blocked expansion into North America.

The rest of the game was spent claiming single territories, grabbing opportune Territory Cards in the hope of a grand comeback late in the game.

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And my, how grand it was.

Upon turning in ten resource markers, I was granted thirty troops, but the act also allowed us to open one of the game’s “unlockables” – small packets of sealed items that acted as game changers – and I grinned as I unsealed the box:

OPEN WHEN SOMEONE IS ABOUT TO PLACE 30+ TROOPS ON THE BOARD AND HAS A MISSILE.

Suddenly I was crowned the Alien Collaborator, as troops emerged from the box. A new Alien Island was established, connecting Greenland and Argentina (I just know THAT is going to bite me in the ass later!), and ten extra alien troops joined my previous thirty-three as they began their great march across the map.

It was an epic march, as Khan Industries and their Alien buddies crushed territory after territory, all in a rush to the three other headquarters. In a single turn, I went from having almost nothing to winning the entire game, and that feeling of pride began to rise as I just laughed, trying to be as non-malicious as possible.

What began as a game where I was stuck, searching but finding no way out, became a massive turnaround. Though it could have just as quickly gone in another direction, it just so happened that my personal patience paid off.

In Legacy, the game can change at any moment. It’s a game where choices matter, and not only that but are permanent, and that’s such a unique trait in gaming itself, not just in Risk.

Though I ended tonight on a win, tomorrow’s game may end with my crushing and definitive defeat. That’s what makes the game so interesting.

It was a fun night, and it made for some amazing memories, and unique perspectives.

Plus, it was a whole lot of fun.

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Changing the Costume, Changing the Self

Everyone around us is constantly telling us who we are, what we can do, how we’re supposed to do it. Screw that. We get to decide who we are, and if we don’t like the way things are going, we can change it.

I have a bit of an obsession with superheroes. And not necessarily about individual heroes themselves, but about how they carry themselves, how they act, how they present themselves and their persona, and how that changes the reader’s perceptions of them.

See, how a superhero presents himself defines what we, as readers/viewers and fans, perceive about them, whether those assertions are true or false. While there are certain narrative considerations to keep in mind, the superhero’s background is often the determining factor in how that character chooses to represent themselves, which is again a determining factor in how that character is perceived.

Let’s take, for example, a character like Superman.

Superman is probably the most powerful “superhero” ever, and though there are technically other heroes and forces stronger/better/more capable than he is, and there is constant debate, he’s usually the go-to character when people want to have an argument, as he’s the subject of several “Can He Be Beat?” articles. (This is one of my favorites.)

Because of this powerful perception, Superman is always depicted as shoulders-back, chest-out, and chin-up. The flowing cape is really just a bonus, because this stance simply radiates power all on its own. Even if he weren’t the most powerful being of everness, he’s perceived as such simply by the way that he carries himself. Notice, even when he’s floating in mid air, he assumes this stance. It’s not just what he does, it’s how he chooses to be perceived, and it’s the key to his becoming “a hero.”

I’ve often made fun of how easy it would be to sniff out Clark Kent’s “secret,” but the truth is, were he a good enough actor, it’s conceivable that he could convince others, sheerly by posture, movements, and actions, that he wasn’t a strong man. He could hide himself in plain sight, under a “tucked in” persona. It would depend on how physically large he was, I suppose – When they draw Supes as a seven-foot body-builder, you’d have to be blind to not see Superman under the barely-contained white shirt and tie – but it certainly becomes more possible.

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That posture is used by many heroes, some who aren’t nearly as powerful as Superman, though. Captain America often holds that stance, as does Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and many others. In their personas, that stance sends a clear message of “I stand tall, no matter what’s coming.”

Compare that stance to those normally assumed by a character like Batman.

Batman is all about creating intimidation and fear in the eyes of his opponents. (And, some would say, in the eyes of his allies as well.) While the character never lacks for confidence, it expresses itself in the use of making the man seem larger, more powerful than he actually is. The smoke, the appearing from dark shadows, the disappearing into nowhere – That’s all an act, but when you see Batman “posing,” he’s hunched, almost exclusively from a high place, looking down on the person.

Does that personal affinity for looking down on others come as an expression of his history? Does it come naturally from his background and wealth/status? Or is it something he’s simply utilizing for perception, not only his own, but also for those he’s looking to “impress?” (Or scare the begeezuss out of?)

You can think of most any notable hero, be it Spider-Man, Wolverine, Green Lantern, Black Panther, Punisher, Daredevil, Flash, or whomever, and can instantly see not only who they are, but who they perceive themselves to be. They’ve made a conscious choice in how to represent themselves, and everything about them emulates from that core belief that they hold inside of them.

In our own lives, I believe that we can do the same. We may not look as good in tights, (or we might!), but we can choose to “change our costume,” and become a new person whenever we please, not only when danger strikes.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been taking it upon myself to change who I am. Not necessarily to become a superhero, but to change my own perception of myself. In my undergrad, a combination of frustrations as well as outside perceptions combined to give me a mental picture of what I thought I was. I’d always considered myself smart, but I came to believe that aggression=power, which is fundamentally untrue. (Sorry, Wolverine. And Hulk, too, for that matter.)

At the beginning of my current MFA program, our instructor brought in a specialist to run us through an exercise where we would interview with this person for five minutes, and he would only ask us a single question. It was up to us as individuals to fill that five minutes with speech, and we quickly learned how difficult that can be. The interviewer didn’t respond to our questions, didn’t respond to our jokes, jibes, pleadings, or anything else, which I’ve heard described as “social quicksand.”

With no way out of that awkward situation, our core perceptions of ourselves quickly rose to the surface, as we struggled with the stress of the situation. For me, my aggressive nature came out. So as to not appear weak, I leaned forward. My face started becoming more intense. I made allusions to “muscling through” challenges, and overcoming difficulties by “breaking through” them. Everything about myself was quickly brought into light, and even before he took the time to analyze that, I realized who I personally believed myself to be.

And I didn’t like it.

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I’ve thought about that night a lot since then, and it’s a mental image that I haven’t been able to shake. (Funny enough, it was an impromptu exercise on Halloween, and I happened to be dressed in a Captain America costume, which not only made the experience a little more awkward, but is perhaps where my mind makes the connection.)

I made a determination since then, that I wasn’t going to be that person anymore. I was going to start letting go. It wasn’t a quick fix, by any means, but it’s certainly changed who I am over the past year and a half. I’ve traded that aggression for confidence, or at least that’s what it feels like. I’m not often quick to anger, but instead quick to laugh. I smile more often. I don’t carry myself as a brute, but I walk tall, shoulders back.

I’m much more assertive, and I make my opinions known. I don’t back down from challenges, but I don’t respond with fury, instead with confident assertion.

It’s funny, but the friends that I’ve made here in Salt Lake likely have little idea of the change that I went through. Those who knew me from before, though, that’s a little different. I had a friend, recently, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and he commented on how I just seemed… different. That’s what I attribute it to.

Just like a superhero puts on a costume and becomes a new person, each of us can do the same. We decide who we are, and we are able to teach others how we should be treated. If you want to be more confident, then act more confident. Carry yourself with confidence. And if others try to shoot you down, ignore them. If you want your opinions to matter, then make them matter. Be proud, and put your hand up. You don’t need someone else’s permission to do what you want to do, and what you want to do means something to you, so it’s important.

Watch the way that you sit. Do you scrunch in your chair? Do you hunch forward? Do you constantly rub your neck?

It’s funny, but when we succeed in something challenging, we often throw our hands in the air, chin up, taking up as much space as possible. But when we’re insecure or threatened, we close off, making ourselves smaller, almost willing the world not to notice us. No one had to teach us these behaviors. (After all, a blind person, who’s never seen anything but black, will perform the exact same actions.) It’s just part of who we are.

I’m a strong believer in making of life what you want it to be. You don’t need to be tied down by anyone else’s opinions of you, or what others may say. Social constraints be damned. This is your life, not theirs. So don’t spend your time worried about how others perceive it.

Instead, take charge of it. You get to decide who you want to be, and you get to decide how you want others to treat you. The power is all in your hands.

Superheroes put on a costume when they’re ready to act. You can mentally do the same thing every day. Inspire yourself with confidence, and go out there and face it.

You’ll be happy that you did.

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Dragon Age: Origins – The Power of Immersion

Dragon Age: Origins was the first western RPG that I’d ever been really pulled into. I had dabbled in Morrowind and Oblivion before that, but they had never really grabbed me. The loose story just never really caught my attention, and so I had kind of turned my mind off to the RPG genre. It wasn’t until I came across an excellent review by Kevin VanOrd of Gamespot that I decided to give the game a shot, and I’m very glad that I did. Even after playing through Fallout 3 and New Vegas, Skyrim, and even story titles recently like Dishonored, Arkham City, or Assassins Creed (like, all of them), DA:O still stands as my favorite story experience in any game, ever. If you’ve never played it, you owe it to yourself to do so. Originally written November 23rd, 2009.

I think that each of us plays games for many different reasons. We do it to unwind. Some of us may do it to actually get ourselves more riled up. We game to cooperate with others. We game to dominate others with our unbelievable skill. We game because while we can’t exactly live the stories on a film or be the heroes in the stories that we read in books, comic books or watch on TV, we can feel like we’re doing those things in a game (at least to some degree).

It’s a surreal kind of escapism; the ability to become another person, to say those things and do those deeds that we don’t have the opportunities to say or do in real life. We can blow a helicopter out of the sky, we can destroy legions of the undead, and we can save the world, get the girl, and when it’s all said and done, we can do it all over again.

But for me, it’s not only the “Holy Sh**!” moments that keep me locked into a game. Sure, there’s plenty of times where a certain jaw-dropping sequence will nearly make me drop the controller as I jump out of my chair in unbelievable, mind-bending amazement at what has just happened on the screen. But more often than not, those little moments fade over time to become more of a triviality.

What keeps me playing, especially in a single-player game, is the story. It’s the experience. And it seems that, while I’ve been annoyed about the perceived absence of good storytelling in many of the games in recent years, the past few months have been a divine plethora of choice storytelling game experiences. From Ghostbusters, to Batman: Arkham Asylum, to Brutal Legend, and most recently Uncharted 2 and even Modern Warfare 2, the storytelling in games has just been getting better and better.

But my most recent game took it all to a whole new level.

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I just finished Dragon Age: Origins this morning, after a lengthy campaign of many, many hours. Immediately, however, I started from a different origin story, and I’m going to do it all over again. It’s been quite some time since I was last pulled into a game so deeply, especially in ways that made me think about my choices, made me question my decisions, and forced me to live with the consequences.

I don’t really want to go into a spoilerific stream of things, so let me be general in my praise here. The gameplay is excellent. There are a number of difficulty settings for all different play tastes. There’s the super-meticulous turn-based strategy experts who understand all the nuances of Mana and damage types and how each point will affect each character… And then there’s the setting for guys like me who only wants to worry about keeping my character alive while I’m hacking a couple of lightning swords at a dragon’s feet. But the most important part about the gameplay is, to me, that it doesn’t get in the way of the story.

And what an experience this story is. There’s themes of loyalty, themes of passion, lust, greed, honor, respect, hatred and fear, as well as hundreds of variations of it all. As the pivotal character of the story, your decisions affect everything, from the way that history will reflect on your adventures, to your relationships with your characters, to who will stand by your side at the end of it all. And what makes the whole thing so engaging is how deep and intimate so many of these little moments can be.

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For example – I spent a lot of my attention, at least in the camp, with Morrigan. I wanted to know her stories, understand her history. I think I eventually ended up exhausting all of the dialog options for her, actually. But early on, she related a story about the fact that she had once found a golden mirror that she cherished as a child, but later her mother shattered it as a lesson to her.

The story disappeared into the recesses of my mind, until a few days later, when I was playing again, and I happened to spot the gift of a “Mirror” in one of the shops in Orzammar. I bought it immediately, thinking of Morrigan’s story, and gave it to her at the camp. It created a very powerful little scene where she was very appreciative of the gift. It was a very interesting, “thoughtful gift moment”, one that only served to deepen the immersion of the player in the story. That attention to detail is just amazing to me.

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I haven’t had this kind of experience since I played Fallout 3, or even Oblivion, which is an easy comparison, but Dragon Age is so much more polished, so much more rich in character and depth, that I would hasten to say that they’ve surpassed both of those games completely. This is an open-world RPG done right, and I can’t wait to play it again.

Well, this has gone on longer than I anticipated, so let me just end it like this – If you haven’t played this game, you should. But this isn’t a kids’ game. This is a story that requires some maturity, some thought, and some patience and curiosity to truly appreciate. If you have the time and patience to allow yourself to be drawn into an unbelievably rich, yet richly believable gameworld, than this is the game for you.

Trust me, you’ll love it.


Entitlement, Arcades, and the Lack of Consequences

Oh, the old days of being way too opinionated with a distinct lack of care for how words could be interpreted. I put together this post as a random rant on the lack of social consequence in modern online gaming. (Also, I say “modern” with this article written over three years ago.) I still think there are some valid points in here, but were I to rewrite this, I may be a little more… “polite” about simply deriding 13-year olds on XBox Live. That’s not fair to the decent 13-year olds who look like refined gentlemen compared to the 20-year plus dopes I usually run into now. <grin> Originally written November 26, 2009.

I miss the days of the arcade. When the opponents you played against were ones you usually knew by name. When the latest and greatest games weren’t the ones at home on your NES or Genesis, but were the cool ones at the mall, or at the 7-11 down the street. When you could wear your prowess with Kano or Guile on your sleeve and people in the arcade would recognize that.

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But then the arcades waned, and stumbled, and died away, to leave only a shell of gaming’s former glory, with only the online universe and itsidiosyncrasies to take its place. And now we get to deal with gamers (and others) who feel like the world owes them everything simply because they want it.

Why is it that there is this weird, profound sense of entitlement that seems to take over throughout the tech-driven universe? Everyone seems to feel that they exist, therefore they deserve everything and anything from anyone at any time. They feel like they can get anything for free, and they deserve it.

“Oh, Microsoft cancelled my account after I hacked something, which is against their rules. I should sue them.” “Oh, Nintendo isn’t allowing me to do something that they don’t support and didn’t intend their system to be used for. I deserve to now be monetarily compensated.” “Oh, World of Warcraft is charging for things that I can’t afford. It’s not fair. They should pay ME to play their game.” All this going back to the classic “Oh, I was an idiot and spilled coffee on myself because I was driving while drinking it. I deserve 8 million dollars.”

Is the world just nuts? Has everyone just lost their ability to reason? Their use of common sense?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of it. But I think I know what some of the problem is.

I remember back to the days before the US Arcade scene disappeared into the realms of consoles. I remember playing Tekken, and consistently stomping people with Eddy, and then Hwoarang, and later with Steve and Marduk in Tekken 4. I remember cocky, punk teenagers walking up and bragging to their friends how they were going to smoke me. And I remember their stunned silence after they werethoroughlytrounced a few times over.

There may have been swearing, but it was never at me. After all, when there’s a physical proximity of less than two feet between you and the person you want to yell at, it makes you really reconsider whether the idea is worth it. And usually, it’s not, and you just walk away, and let yourself cool off instead of doing something stupid over a video game.

But now, we have the online realm. Little punk 13-year olds living off their mommy’s dime can swear up a storm at you, insulting everything from your mother to your race to your humanity, and the most that they get is either told to pipe down, or you can mute them. But to me personally, you know what I think they need? You know what would help them more than all the stupid parenting books and whatever else is being used to raise them?

A swift kick in the butt.

I was raised to be respectful to others, and it annoys me more than anything that there are people who don’t have the same ideals when it comes to that. If you don’t agree with me, fine. I don’t mind that. But keep it to yourself. I’m not an idiot because I’m different than you. So grow up a little, realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and treat people with even a shred of decency.

But even as I say this, I realize that the people to whom this would do the most good for are those who willfully ignore it, and so these words fall on deaf ears. Alas, all I can do is stick to my guns and not let it bother me too much.

Oi. I miss the days of the arcade.


MAG, Teamwork, and Social Gaming

As many regular visitors know, I have a great fondness for the massive multiplayer shooter, MAG. I wrote this article as a kind of introduction to the game just as the beta was ending, and never knew how big of an influence it was going to be to me down the road. (It’s still my favorite gaming experience – I haven’t yet had anything come close.) Originally written January 19th, 2010.

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I’ve been playing games for a long time. I remember when 16-bit games were the new thing, and I watched the rise and then fall of arcade gaming in America. I remember when playing at home with more than two people at once was a revolution. I remember when gaming in a huge group consisted of four Xbox Systems hooked up in four different rooms with a private network as we all played on split-screens and yelled at each other across the house. And now I have fond memories of playing online as well as offline in different aspects.

For me, gaming is not just a solo experience. I mean, I do have those games where I get sucked in and play them on my own, but I really enjoy games where I can play with friends, and I especially like games where I can play with friends in the same room. I enjoy split-screen stuff, and I enjoy online stuff. A lot of times, I wish that games would implement doing both at once a little better. But not all games can be Halo, I guess.

Recently, (about a week ago, I guess), the most recent MAG beta ended. I have to say that I am amazingly impressed. I’m really excited for this game. I don’t think there have been too many other games that have so deftly captured the utilization of teamwork in a game, even in games like SOCOM. MAG is seriously in a class of its own.

Now, for those of you who don’t like it, I can sympathize. After playing Modern Warfare 1, and recently 2, this game was a little hard for me to wrap my head around. You see, those games are really more about the solo game, even in multiplayer. It’s not about the team; it’s about scoring your own points. In Modern Warfare, you run around, maybe camp in a good spot, and try to get as many kills as you can. But MAG isn’t that game.

MAG is a slower-paced game where you really have to help your team in order to succeed. If you’re looking to be the triumphant hero by blazing a swath of destruction, this isn’t your game. Instead, it’s about finding your role, and doing it. Not everyone is a front-line soldier. I know that I’m not. I tried my hand a sniping, and though I’m alright, I’m not the best at it. Instead, I’ve found that I’m an excellent Support and Medical Soldier.

In the beta, the goal was simply either to capture objectives, or to defend objectives. In order to do that, you had to keep your squad alive. While I would sometimes get kills, most often I would simply run up with a Medical Kit and revive people around me, keeping them alive and healthy. There were several games where I would get perhaps two or three kills, but 20+ revives, and I really felt like I was contributing, because the soldiers around me could keep on fighting.

When there were others contributing, I had MAG groups that were simply unstoppable, because everyone was looking out for each other. One soldier would fall, and there would be two there to revive him, heal him up, and repair whatever damage allowed someone to get a shot at him. We would hold our bunkers, hold our ground, and fight hard, because we each knew that someone had our back if something started going sour.

Now, of course, I’ve played MAG sessions where the opposite is true, and everyone seemed to just be looking out for themselves. It fell apart, and we lost that session horribly. I continued to try to support my teammates, but with no one else looking out for each other, it just became a mess of everyone dying, no one repairing, and no one reviving one another, and the other side just slaughtered us. But even then, as those of us with headsets discussed the game, we realized, for the most part, what went wrong. The lack of teamwork killed us, and we all knew it.

It’s a very different crowd though, between MAG and MW2. When I went back into Modern Warfare last night, I was disappointed to realize that the sense of camaraderie was replaced by straight-up anger at one another. Frustration turned into all-out hatred, and soon the racial slurs and sexual epithets started to fly, and I just listened in perverse fascination at the sheer contrast.

How could two games, which on the surface seem so similar, produce such diverse reactions? I think it’s just the nature of the design. MAG is focused on teamwork. You can’t just muscle your way. You can’t just camp in one spot and expect it all to work out for your benefit. The maps are just too big, and there’s just too many ways to approach. You need help. You need your teammates.

On the flipside, a MW2 master can just walk his way through the opposition, building up a Killstreak of 10-15 with relative ease if they’re good enough. The game is all about showing off how badass you are, how much you can dominate your opponent. And because of that, it’s all about the glory of one, and not the glory of your team.

I’ll be buying MAG as soon as it comes out, because of that difference. I want to support a game that focuses on putting emphasis toward working together. I don’t think that there are enough of them. While Co-Op is on the rise, I think that MAG is on a completely different level. It’s in a class of its own.

I like to play games, but more importantly, I like to play games with my friends, not just against them. This is a game that will let me do that.

See you guys on the front lines.


Modern Warfare 2 – Offline Multiplayer Party Games

My friends and I, a few years back, used to play Modern Warfare 2 offline in split-screen. Unfortunately, the robust offline play of that game was removed in Black Ops, and never really came back in lieu of how complex the rendering of the game has become. Even so, these matches are still some of the most fun that I’ve ever had in Call of Duty. Originally written January 1st, 2010.

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I’ve been playing Modern Warfare 2 since it first came out. I picked up the Hardened Edition on day one, beat the normal campaign that night, and then started playing the online multiplayer, quickly coming up against Level 50 and Level 60 players in the Team Deathmatch modes, and regularly getting my butt handed to me over and over. Since then, I’ve gotten better and better, learning new strategies, coming to understand the game a little better, and improving skills.

But I think my biggest help has come in the form of the Offline Multiplayer of MW2.

Now, I don’t know it it was just an afterthought, but playing offline is an almost identical experience to playing online, albiet with a considerably smaller group. I have a group of six friends or so who have come to really enjoy the game, and we get together every week or so and play for a few hours, and it’s really been a blast. Everyone creates their own profile, and so they get to track their own progress. It brings me back to the old days of Goldeneye or other similar split-screen games before online gaming became the standard.

After every match, each of us will go through, hoping that we unlocked some new Callsign or Emblem, or maybe got that gun upgrade or Perk Unlock that we’ve been working on. We do silly things, try new strategies, and generally all just die a lot. And with the XP system completely intact, just about everything you do brings you a little closer to another unlock or upgrade or something else, and the action doesn’t seem to get stale. It’s an engrossing experience, which has just made for some really crazy nights.

It’s such a different experience when you’re not only playing with other people, but when those people are in the room with you. While tempers have flared on occasion, things generally stay in good spirits, and there isn’t the usual annoyances of prepubescent or otherwise immature players singing or shouting stupidity into their headsets. It’s just friends playing the game. And even though we’re all not all that good, we’re getting better.

The only complaints that I have, (and I know Infinity Ward is reading this, so I’ll be sure to spell them out clearly ), are minor. But here they are.

1. LAN – While network support is included, it only allows for one-player-per-machine, which is annoying. While we can play four people split-screen, we can’t add another system and play with eight. I don’t know how difficult that would be to release in a patch or something, or even in DLC, but I know I’d really enjoy it. It’s just that there might not be enough demand for it.

2. No Map Cycling – Every time you play, you have to change the map, which is tedious. I wish that there was a “RANDOM” option that we could just highlight, and leave alone, but there isn’t. So we’ve just taken to starting at Afghan every time and cycling through the maps manually. It only takes a second, but that would have been a nice feature.

3. Radar On by Default – Every time we change the map, the “Game Mode” option switches the “Radar Always On” mode to “Yes”, which is kind of stupid. My friends and I debate about whether it enhances or detracts from the game, but I personally prefer it to be off. There’s no subtlety or sneaking when everyone in the map knows exactly where you are at all times, and some of the perks and weapons upgrades are designed specifically to keep you off the radar as much as possible. I just wish that the options that you select once would save, so that you didn’t have to go in and rearrange your options every time that you changed the map.

All in all, it’s a very cool, but very likely underutilized feature. If you have some buddies over and have nothing to do, I highly recommend giving this a try.

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Some New Old Posts

This is going to be pretty short, but as I was going through some of my old drafts, I realized that I had quite a lot of articles that are half-finished, some with outdated information or opinions.Even so, I find this kind of stuff fascinating, so I think I’m going to go through, clean them up, and post them, possibly with some minor commentary. No sense in letting some odd ideas keep me from making a fool of myself, right?

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I mean, it’s never really stopped me before.

One would imagine most writers going through the same dilemmas, with multiple article pieces and manuscripts littering desk wastelands or stuffed into a drawer, never seeing the light of day except to remind the writer that he once had had an idea. And that idea either proved too difficult, too wild, or maybe something else was just too distracting.

I’m not really putting these up for any other reason than that I have a difficult time with leaving things undone. If there exists a check box to be checked, then I feel compelled to do so, and this list of articles represents a large number of boxes just waiting for my reflexive mark.

I’ll still keep updating everyone on the progress of our game, Zodiac, in addition to other random thoughts, but this seemed like a fun change of pace.

Enjoy.

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Seeing The Light

Jorge has been working hard on a lighting shader in Unity in order to help our game really pop. Today, he showed it off, and it’s just a little too awesome for words:

We’ve been having a number of discussions about the “look” of the game, especially looking at ways to make our objects and landscape look a little more “paper-like.” Ashley and Misha have been doing quite a lot, pushing the textures in an attempt to get things working, and though the game has been looking better and better, getting the “paper” feel to the game just wasn’t progressing as we’d like, but with the new shader on top of the textures, things are looking much better.

This was a welcome boost.

We were quite impressed with the new look, and are excited to implement the change on Monday. I could try to explain the process myself, but I think Jorge does a much better job of it:

The Kinect Posing tool is done! At least for now we agreed that the functionality it has is enough for this stage and the lead engineer asked me to start working on making our game look better!

These days we have been working on little details of our game, adding HUD elements to give enough information to the player, crunching numbers to make gameplay more complicated but way more fun, modifying our models to make them better for the game, etc…

There has been a lot of changes on the art side, now that we have more experience with Unity and how it uses 3D models, we are at the stage where we can modify the geometry to make it look the way we want and get some special effects in Unity. These tweaks have also brought many challenges, some very common ones but a lot of unexpected too.

I started working with the Lightmapping tool in Unity, right now most of our textures don’t have any lighting information and I thought there is a lot of volume information that has gone missing because of that; the ligthmapping tool works well in the sense of giving you the ability to modify color tones to make stuff look more interesting. I have been testing with our level and checking what is possible and what is not; here is a small test that I put together to present to my team, I believe they liked it!

Another area I wanted to work on more was writing some custom shaders and some post-processing image effects. Hopefully I will get the all the 3D models on time so I can lit them properly and move on to the next stage!

Just wanted to give him a quick shout out. Great work!


Trials, Time, and Trepidation

Momentum is sometimes difficult to keep moving when the passion for a game has somewhat run it’s course. With the end of the year quickly approaching, (as well as the end of the semester even sooner), the stress of multiple projects is steadily pulling energy away from the team.

Interestingly enough, for those who have never had the experience of graduate school, your classes, projects, and studies truly become the dominant part of your life. You wake up thinking of the multiple projects that you need to get done, work on as much as possible over the course of the day, and then go home with those stresses still on your mind. This perpetual to-do list is further compounded by the looming date of graduation rushing steadily closer like an impending asteroid. We know it’s going to hit, so we’re looking to get everything as done as possible before it crushes any further opportunities.

Shoot, reading that over again, that seems a little bleak. I don’t mean to be, but with the weight of multiple responsibilities on our minds, it’s difficult to ignore. In any case, let’s talk a bit about where we’re at.

At the point of one of our EP’s proddings, we’ve taken a hard look at the color scheme for the game, as well as individualizing certain areas of the game into separate “biomes.” Highland, valley, urban, and forest areas are nearly complete, and are currently being implemented. Ashley has been hard at work, re-texturing and changing saturation on multiple elements to make sure each biome is ready for Anurag, who is currently implementing and adjusting the level design that Josh has created.

Jorge has been researching and experimenting with shading techniques in Unity, with Kevin implementing our new “Photographic Top 10 Board” for the end of the game. And at the head of all of these pieces has been Pace, weaving the game together like a tapestry as he’s been attempting to implement water features into the game (to add further color to our palette) after already adding ramping and adjusting collision actions. Everyone’s been working quite hard, especially dealing with multiple minor issues along the way, which constantly seem to come up as we continue with this Unity/Kinect experiment.

Spirits are a little difficult to gauge, but it’s easy to see that people are stressed, and with our EAE Day coming up next week, it’s a little alarming to realize that things are not exactly to the point that we’d like them to be. We’re continuing to work as best as we can which, at the moment, is the best that can be expected.

Personally, I believe that things will go a little better after the winter break, but owing to the thought that much of the team may not be available next semester – with internships and jobs coming up in the spring – it’s adding some unforeseen wrinkles into our plans.

But, just as the Guide cover says in large, friendly letters, “DON’T PANIC.” There’s always a solution, and there’s always a way to overcome any challenge. Things may need a boost, but we’ve overcome the odds before, we’ve met obstacles in the past, and we can do it again.

Just got to keep taking things a day at a time.


Technique VS Aggression

Every player has different playstyles. It’s a part of our gaming that makes us unique. Everyone has different tastes, different thoughts, different priorities. The most robust games are those that allow for multiple approaches to achieving goals within the game without creating the “best” way to play. There may be more dominant strategies, ways that seem easier to win for some, but in a game of proper balance, the game allows the winner to emerge from more than a single path.

I enjoy playing games for the challenge that they represent. When I find a particularly enjoyable game, some of the most memorable experiences are when I’ve come up against something difficult, and have been able to survive and thrive, sometimes even by the skin of my teeth. It’s a particularly satisfying feeling to have been able to face down a force of destruction and come out victorious.

While I’ve talked a little about my Borderlands 2 experiences, my approach took a little different turn when playing with a friend of mine. I’d call him something of a min/max kind of player. He looks for the fastest way to do the absolute most damage possible, making some of the most difficult creatures in the game (Such as Terramorphous) naught but child’s play, especially after he got hold of a Bee shield and a Conference Call shotgun. (The speed at which he can solo take down that giant monster is a wonder to behold.)

After watching him play this way for a while, however, I realized I was simply unfulfilled. He was constantly looking for another challenge, because he was killing these epic creatures without much but a couple seconds and a dozen or so rounds. The challenge was gone. I believe that the Bee shield “broke” Borderlands 2. It created a “best” way to win, and as such, nothing else could compete – Not even my awesome Nuke Turret and Vladof assault rifle. (Though that’s still a crazy beautiful sight, let me tell you.)

Whenever I talk about balancing, though, my mind is usually turned towards fighting games, or at least competitive games that force players to pit their skills and tools against one another, with only one side leaving as the victor.

I personally have been a Tekken fan for a long time, and as such, there are certain characters that have become my favorites. My best is Steve Fox, but I also like using Marduk, and most recently Miguel and Zafina in Tekken 6.

My playstyle, though, has always been less than spectacular. Though I’ve done plenty to understand how my characters are supposed to be played, my personal preference has always been just to be as aggressive as possible, overwhelming the opponent with fast, varied, and powerful attacks designed to overwhelm defenses. Were I to distill my playstyle into a single word, it’d probably be just plain “brutal.” It’s funny, but my main Tekken friend calls me a “bulldog,” which I think is pretty appropriate.

He, on the other hand, is a much more technical player, focusing on full combos, parries, guards, counters, and other moves designed to keep the player at arm’s length while moving them around at his leisure. He plays calm, collected, and has a much more comprehensive understanding of the game and its mechanics than I.

But at the same time, neither of our styles is ever “wrong.”

When we play, it always becomes a game of power vs technique as the two opponents battle using their styles, and we almost always come out about even. Both of the styles offer an equal opportunity of success, which makes for a very balanced game. (At least in this instance.)

Then I look at another game that I’ve been rather annoyed with lately, also from Namco, Soul Calibur V.

Up until this latest release, the Soul Calibur series was easily one of my favorites, offering an interesting weapons-based combat system that allowed for multiple styles. But in that last release, Namco removed much of the nuance, forcing the gameplay into a specific route.

The most successful SC5 players are those who play like I do – brutal, fast, and aggressive. Attacks batter blocks, which can shatter them easily. Counters and parries are possible, but only when the newly added meter is filled, which turns parries into things that can be prepared for. Without the constant parries and blocks, the game lost its defensive strategy, and so the game was no longer fun for my friend and I. Our styles were not mutually compatible, and instead I was winning regularly, which was no longer fun.

Challenge is fun for me, and winning too easily offers very little satisfaction, which is why I brought up the whole Borderlands 2 example in the beginning.

Whenever I come into a game, I want to be able to play it my way. I want to have some options. They don’t have to be widely varied, but there should be ways to play the game that are not necessarily the “main” way to play that are nevertheless viable. Especially in games where strategy is important, where planning and preparation are key, there should be multiple ways to play.

Oi – That sounds a little nonsensical, so let me try another summary:

Balance means allowing for multiple playstyles. It means that there cannot simply be a single way that is the easiest or “best” way to win. If that specific style becomes evident in your game, then it needs to be adjusted, or at least countered so that other playstyles are still viable. Otherwise, your game will lose its lasting appeal. If there’s only one way to play, and there’s really only one way to win, then unless you’ve got some other hook, then players will move on, especially in a multiplayer environment.

At least, that’s the way I see it.


IGF Submission

Now that a couple of days have passed, and the jazz from Halloween has died down a little bit, it’s good to sit and take a look at where we’re at.

We’ve submitted the game to the Independent Games Festival, with a final build and installer in and completed. We even got a sweet trailer in there that I’m going to have to post up here so that everyone can see it in all it’s glory. (Special Thanks to Karratti’s brother and sister for helping us out!)

There are still a few issues with the game, and we’d like to give the track another once-over to really make the textures and characters pop, but all the functions of the game are much smoother and working well. The pieces are really coming together, here.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the game, though, has been dealing with the Unity and Kinect installers, which have proven to be rather touchy about working properly unless a specific set of steps is followed. It’s been a source of annoyance especially for Anurag, who’s taken the menu system’s failings on as his personal challenge. (He stayed up for most of the night of the 30th, working until the menu at least worked. It was some impressive dedication.)

It’s an interesting dynamic to consider that, to a developer, the game is never truly finished. It just gets to the point that you can say, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” There’s always something else that you know you could improve if you were given just a little more time. There’s always another little bug, another bit of art, just one little bit of design that you know you could make into something amazing if you just had a couple more weeks, but instead, it’s got to get out the door.

We’ve still got some time to improve polish the game before our public release next year, but it does feel good to hit this milestone.

Moving right along – Ka poof poof!


A Little Dis-Kinected

Our team and the Kinect have grown into a bit of a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, it did offer some interesting possibilities as we explored the unique control scheme, and the “fun” of our game has been directly related to the ability to leap, move, and pose in order to progress. But on the other hand, the Kinect has offered some palpable difficulties, frustrating our engineers with imprecise tools, abundant quirks in the code, and numerous issues that have each required new, creative solutions in order to progress with production.

One of the most difficult aspects we’ve had to deal with is that, instead of working on making our game look better, we’ve constantly had to struggle with simply making sure that it actually works, as each new feature implemented seems to cause unforseen problems with items that we’d previously addressed. It’s understandable for the team to become a little frustrated by the whole situation, especially after the third or fourth time dealing with just the menu.

Recently, we had a lengthy conversation with our Project Manager, where we expressed our distaste for the hardware, and explained fears that our game would not reach much of an audience, considering the relatively small userbase of PC Kinect owners. This small market, we believed, would not offer a very large opportunity for players to actually experience our game, which could have a huge impact later as we looked to show our work to prospective employers. We believed that if we shifted our focus to mobile development, we’d have a stronger userbase to look into.

Our PM spoke with us about the concerns, but did explain something which we had not previously considered.

Firstly, this game is meant as a Thesis project, exploring how young children can enjoy a game with motion control, and whether it’s feasible for a student team to approach such a feat. As such, these struggles with the hardware offer some unique opportunities at first-hand experience. That frustration would not be nearly as useful were we to abandon the Kinect.

Secondly, there is a much larger PR opportunity here. Considering relatively nonexistent number of Kinect Student games, we’re really looking at some unexplored territory. There have been relatively few Kinect games that have really done something new and interesting with the technology, and there are even fewer examples of these games made by students, owing to its difficult development processes. (Some notable exceptions have come from DigiPen, as well as Walk the Line, which is shaping up well.)

Our team is still deliberating our final decision, but we’ve decided to at least take the Kinect to the final IGF submission, after which point we’ll address the issue again and have some further discussion.


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