Learning Game Design

with Arcade Berg

Archive for October 2008

Achievements

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I have 167 Achievements and 2830 Gamerscore on my Xbox Live account.

I have 13 Trophies making me a level 2 user on my Playstation Network account.

I have 15 achievements from Team Fortress 2 on my Steam account.

Achievements ruin the fun and freedom of playing for some, including me.

I’m not saying a game is bad simply because of achievements. I’m merely of the opinion that achievements aren’t a good thing per default. They can be used as a powerful tool to enhance games but unfortunately it’s a double edged sword and I don’t think everyone is wielding it just right.

I’m not offering a solution for this. All I do is trying to define some of the problems while also noting some of the positive aspects as well.

The word

The phenomena of which I speak, the “achievements” has many different names depending on the community. Being it Achievements by Microsoft or Trophies by Sony, the fact remains that they are all the same thing; a pseudo-trophy of accomplishing something in a game that is predefined by the developers. The trophy is then connected to your registered profile of the present community.

In this text I’ll continuously use the term “achievement” as a union of all different communities reward-term.

Player Types

Richard Bartle writes in HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS (http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm, available 29/10-2008) about four different kinds of players. His text and classification of players are focused on playing MUD; the types however are applicable on many kinds of games. The text is also used in several Computer Game Development educations, the one I studied being one of them.

The player types are Explorers, Socialisers, Killers and Achievers. I think what I’m about to present is mostly valid for the last one; Achievers.

Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal, and all is ultimately subserviant to this. Exploration is necessary only to find new sources of treasure, or improved ways of wringing points from it. Socialising is a relaxing method of discovering what other players know about the business of accumulating points, that their knowledge can be applied to the task of gaining riches. Killing is only necessary to eliminate rivals or people who get in the way, or to gain vast amounts of points (if points are awarded for killing other players).

          Richard Bartle

One important thing to note if you haven’t and will not read Bartle’s text is that a player is seldom 100% of anything. It’s an interest graph in which each player is leaning one way or another.

Playing for rewards

What is the goal when playing?

When playing, you want to play in the “most rewarding” way. Especially achievers. What rewarding means goes from having fun to acquiring achievements and Gamerscore. Achievements are just meta score that doesn’t really mean anything except for self confirmation, aka. E-penis.

Simply put, E-penis is a measure of how much power you have on the internets. E-penis can be from power from controlling a BBS, chat room, ISP, live journal, message board, website, or wiki. It can come from being powerful in a game (whether from wasting their life away to gain skill or by cheating). It can also be from the old-fashioned past-time of mailbombing; maybe even Denial of Service attacks over IRC (large scale DoS get you sent to prison). Pretty much, the larger your E-penis is, the less you’re really worth in real life. TRUTH.

          Encyclopedia Dramatica
http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/index.php/E-penis, available 29/10-2008

Okay, so maybe that quote is a bit extreme but you get the point.

The most rewarding way of playing is for some the way that gives me the most achievements. Let’s use the term achievers for this kind of player.

Another thing that makes the meta scores lose some of it’s’ value is due to the increasing amount of different achievement communities. Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Steam and Blizzard; for each new player base that initiate an achievement system all the other are affected in something very much like inflation.

The E-penis Utopia would be if all games were to share one system. But then again, not all games have achievements. I believe Sony has made a bunch of Playstation 3 owners grumpy about this.

The Problem

And here comes the problem with achievements, they direct the way you play the game. The keyword here is being restriction.

Normally you can’t get all the achievements in a game by “simply playing it”.

Take Bioware’s Mass Effect for the 360 as an example. There is an achievements for gaining enough Paragon points (gained by playing as “good”) and another for gaining enough Renegade points (gained by playing as “evil”).

Now, when I played through Mass Effect I started playing as a Renegade doing things my way, the badass way. I started fights, I insulted people, I stole and I slaughtered. Heck, I even committed genocide. My Renegade points just kept coming but a bit into the game the “Should I solve this the “good” or the “evil” way?”-dilemma was gone for me. Since I knew there was an achievement for gaining enough Renegade points, I kept choosing the “evil” way of playing at every opportunity I got. If I were to choose a Paragon-approach I would all of a sudden work against getting the achievement, since I figured you can’t get both in one play-through.

In Mass Effect there is also achievements for defeating X enemies with a Sniper Rifle, another for defeating Y enemies with Tech Ability Thingymabob, another for defeating Z enemies with Biotic Ability Watchamacallit and so on…

The problem? “Forced” play-style.

My character became a great sniper early on in the game as it was the weapon I felt most comfortable with. Unfortunately after a while I got the “Sniper Achievement” and thereafter I felt I shouldn’t use the Sniper Rifle anymore (except during hard sections where I simply had to ignore the achievement urge) because there was no “reward” by doing so in comparison to other weapons in my inventory. Therefore I started using pistols, shotguns and assault rifles instead, even though I often felt some of them being of very little use compared to my beautiful long-distance-one-shot-one-kill-divine-sniper-rifle-of-gorgeousness!

Is Achievements a selling point?

At the time this is written; tomorrow is the release-day for Bethesda’s Fallout 3. I pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition a while back. I just can’t resist the bubble-head Pipboy! I knew I didn’t want to order it for the PC because I prefer playing in the couch with a controller staring at my TV but there was still the decision of whether I should get it to the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3.

I finally decided on the 360-version because of the promised exclusive downloadable content being released for PC and 360 and not Playstation. If it weren’t for that I’d gone with the PS3-version due to the fact that I then wouldn’t have to bestow the achievements a single ounce of consideration. In short: the gaming experience wouldn’t be affected.

Let’s just hope that Bethesda’s isn’t mean to me and that I can have some self control and just ignore the achievements and play the game for what it is alone.

I can’t deny that these meta scores are a success. A lot of people choose the 360-version over the PS3-version for multi platform games because of the achievements. I don’t. I’m kind of the opposite.

It aint all bad

But let’s not get all depressed about achievements now. As mentioned before, they can be used as a tool of good as well!

Achievements can enhance gameplay or at least replayability by a great extent.

I have finished EA’s Army of Two four times, once with the A.I. and the rest with three different friends. More than just playing on different difficulties I also found some extra enjoyment in earning some of the achievements by, just as in Mass Effect, defeating enemies with weapon X, Y and Z, using the shield-bash technique, etc.

I know this is in a way a contradiction to what I’ve previously stated. Why am I enjoying it when I hated it a few paragraphs ago? I think I’m excused because I (and many others) don’t usually play through the same game four times. I gained these extra achievements mainly thanks to the amount of time dedicated to the game.

How it should be used

If there are to be achievements, I’d rather see progress based and game mode encouraging only.

Progress based achievement is a great kind feat for a reward; the motivator for playing some more is still there. I want to play more, to get more achievements. It’s the same psychological urge for getting confirmation of my worth, but it doesn’t dictate how I should play except for “more”.

If we only use only progress based, I can still brag.

”I’ve finished more games than you.”

“I got more score than you.”

But it only means I’ve progressed more in games. Not that I’ve played according to the game designers whim. I can still progress my score, I can still “level up”. My e-penis still grows.

In addition to progress based I think achievements that promote trying out all the game modes in a game are great! Cheering the player to try out the Multi-Player mode in an otherwise Single-Player game, perform a race in Time Trial Play in a tournament racing game and so on. Requiring the player to win a match online is also fair enough as long as the achievement doesn’t dictate pre-requisites of winning. “Win 20 online games”, sounds good enough. “Win 20 online games utilizing only the knife” is bad.

Why can’t I just don’t care?

Some might say I’m just silly, since you can just discard the scores all together, but somehow I find it difficult to do.

I want to play for fun!

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Written by Arcade

October 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

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G’night y’all

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Just a little something I did just now before going to bed. Painting relaxes me once I get into it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have mad skills, I still find it stimulating and soothing.

Work in Progress.

While listening to DMX. Not very gansta' though...

While listening to DMX. Not very gansta

Written by Arcade

October 27, 2008 at 1:29 am

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Nintendo DS injury

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If a friend asks you to join him for a game of tennis and you haven’t played in a long time, you can excuse this by saying that you’re “a bit rusty”.

I haven’t played Nintendo DS in a while but is it acceptable to say that I’m a bit rusty? The thing is; I rode the train for about an hour and a half, so I thought this would be a great time to try out the new Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.

I played it for a little longer than an hour and the game seems great, really. When I shut down I was trying to beat the second boss but damn, he was mean! I would love to play it some more tonight but I can’t. Do you know why? Because my arms hurt!

The DS is a great machine with some great games but it’s not even remotely ergonomic to hold! After this short gaming session my arms hurt. It has now been almost two hours since I played and they still hurt…

Is this because:

A) The Nintendo DS is a pain to hold?
B) My arms are made of chocolate pudding-DNA?
C) I’m just a bit rusty at playing The DS?

Written by Arcade

October 26, 2008 at 10:12 pm

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Theory isn’t enough

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Right now I’m taking a small break from designing the game Gangsters, to tell you guys how I’m working with it.

Since previously I’ve had a document for Gangsters in which I’ve written about a lot of different elements in the game as separate things. I’ve written about the police, about the trading, about the expansion of territory and how to “offer protection”. I wrote this months ago and every now and then ever since, I’ve looked at it, changing some stuff, letting it all sink in. I don’t really think you can “crunch design” a good game (not saying that this game will be good for sure) and therefore I keep several designs for quite some time, just to give me a good amount of time to think about it.

I now feel that Gangsters has been out of the oven for long enough and I’m ready to mix the ingredients.

What I’m doing now is by using the previously mentioned document I’m trying to write a set of rules, as they would appear if one were to buy the game in a store. This helps me find eventual contradictions and some holes in the design.

Now, this won’t make the game nearly done. It’s merely a revision further. After I’m done writing this draft of rules, the game will probably pretty much…well… suck! But that’s nothing to be grumpy about. In a way, it’s a good thing. If only I can isolate why it sucks, maybe I can fix it, making the next revision much better.

Once the draft is complete I will try to trick some friends to come over and play it with me. I might have to bribe them with some tasty chocolate pudding and sweet vanilla sauce but in the end, it’ll be worth it.

I’m sure that after just one play-through I will have a bunch of notes I have to go through. I will discover scenarios I haven’t thought about, some major imbalances, play-styles I didn’t consider and even more holes in the design. Afterwards I’ll have to go back to the desk and try and fix these things.

Then afterwards, a real problem occurs; how will I trick my friends into coming over again to play the game they have such horrible memories of? Chocolate pudding just won’t cut it…

I’m in need of some suggestions!

If you agree, disagree or just have some neutral opinion about the things I write, I’d love to hear them. Please comment.

Written by Arcade

October 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm

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Announcements

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Hey y’all!

I was thinking; since this blog is (partly) about game design I should let you know some of my projects I’m working on and over time give you some updates. Even if the projects turn out to be as interesting as a big bucket of tar later on, we can do some cozy post mortems together, right? I mean, I don’t think all of my ideas would turn out great if they were to be realized into actual games but even if they don’t there is always an important lesson to learn.

Oh, and a little disclaimer-thingy. I don’t always finish all my projects. The reasons vary; lack of time, boredom, new and more exciting ideas and so on.

My primary game projects right now are:

Park Runner – A 2D plattformer game. It’s still in pre-production since I’m still writing on the design for it.

Mouser Jet 2nd Try – It’s a little game controlled with the mouse alone. It’s the second time I’ve started this project. Last time I couldn’t get the math right so the controls didn’t work as intended. It works now however, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s in actual production.

Gansters – It’s actually a board game I’m working on. I’ve never made a board game before (well, except for one that was an assignment for the university) and I think it will be good practice for me as board games aren’t really that different from computer/video games. I’m working out the rules of it now, the concept and the overall design is done. I should really start play-testing it now so I’ll realize all the cases and scenarios I haven’t thought of.

And maybe I should mention that those titles are just Working Titles. In addition to this I of course have a gazillion other games in concept stage. For some; abstract thought swimming around in my head is an even better definition. You should see my notebooks in which I scribble and sketch my ideas. It’s mayhem in most of them, and I have many.

Btw, never use notebooks with lines in them. It’s ugly and it ruins the doodles! I only use blank papers.

Today I’m working on the Gansters project. Wish me luck!

Written by Arcade

October 26, 2008 at 1:32 pm

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LittleBigProblem

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It’s just silly… But I respect it.

This is the weekend I was supposed to be playing LittleBigPlanet. I pre-ordered my copy a while ago along with a LittleBigPlanet T-shirt.

As many of you already know; the game was delayed due to that in one song from one level in the game, two lines of the lyrics may be offensive to some…

We learnt yesterday that there is a lyric in one of the licensed tracks which some people may find offensive, and which slipped through the usual screening processes. Obviously MM and Sony together took this very seriously. LBP should be enjoyable by all. So within 12 hours of hearing about this issue involving a lyric (in Somalian, I believe!), Media Molecule had prepared an automatic day 0 patch and had a new disk image ready; however a decision was made within Sony that the right thing to do for quality and support of people with no on-line was to replace existing disks. They assure us that they are doing everything in their power to get things straightened out as fast as possible, and will announce dates soon.

Media Molecule Blog (17/10-2008)
http://www.mediamolecule.com/2008/10/17/and-in-other-news/ 

I understand and I respect the decision as they do put up some valid arguments. But for me, the unoffended guy in Sweden, it sucks!

Penny Arcade recently published a great comic about it all:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/10/22/broken-clock/ (25/10-2008)

Gabriel: I don’t really get the LittleBigPlanet recall. Some of the stupid songs is the least of their problems.
During the beta, I played a level where you fly a plane into the Twin Towers.
That shit is going on the evening news.

Tycho: It’s user-generated content, though.

Gabriel: You think your mom cares about that? Nobody knows what that even means.
Chris Hansen is going to come on, and show a level where Sackboy bombs his school.
When that happens, we are all well and truly fucked.

Not only will I now have to wait untill early November to get a chance to play LittleBigPlanet but it will also greatly collide with me playing Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (please god, let it be great!).

I’ve been a huge fan of LittleBigPlanet since the first video was released a couple of years ago and my interrest has grown over time. However it’s not just the content creation elements that I like. Sure, they might be great but I’m deeply in love with the art-style as well. A technical impressive plattformer is also a selling point for me. Plattformers are among the most fun game genre (btw, I don’t like to use “genre” when it comes to games, but more about that some other time) to play if it’s just simplistic fun you’re looking for.

I’d buy the game even if it was released without the creation tools.

“The game is soooo Games 2.0!”… That’s what a lot of people are saying and I hope they’re right. I want it to be all it can be but I see it more like a step in a good direction. Obviously, not all the players will create levels and only a very small amount of the ones who will, will continue doing so for a long time to come. But I believe the game will sell quite good and if even  only 1% of those people will keep creating levels, there will be more than enough content to play.

My hope is that all the reviews out there are right; that the game without the creation part alone is great!

I talked to a collegue yesterday who’s had the change to play it (bastard!).

It was the first time I really felt I wanted a Playstation 3. That game alone is worth the money for both the game and console.

And to that I say: Thank you! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear!

I like what I’ve seen of the editor so far. It seems easy enough to use and let’s you create some inzanely crazy stuff! There’s a guy who’ve created a calculator that can add and subract, god damn it! I know I will spend many, many, many hours creating content, both myself and along with friends. I’ll do some artsy levels, some experimental, some totally random, some… Well, pretty much all I can think of. However, I’m afraid the lifetime of this thing won’t be nearly the same as with the “real editors” used in the modding communities. There’s nothing strange about that though. Unfortunately I don’t think the PS3 controller is the optimal input device for creating. The PS3 can handle both a mouse and keyboard, why not let us use that if we want? (Or do they? If they do, just ignore me.) Although I don’t have a doubt in my mind that the tools are greatly adopted for the controller at hand, so don’t get me wrong.

As a level designer, I know how to use several editors, including Valve’s Hammer, Epic’s UnrealEd and Grin’s internal editor and quite frankly;  I wouldn’t want to use any of them with a 360 or a PS3 controller.

Well, I guess all I can do now is wait and try it out once it arrives.

I hope you’ll try out my levels!

Written by Arcade

October 25, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Web Log

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I thought I’d share my thoughts about why I chose to blog with WordPress and why I’m doing it on my own domain.

The term BLOG comes from web log.

A blog is a website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order. Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries.

– http://www.sussexlearningnetwork.org.uk/glossary/B (20/10-08)

I decided that I wanted a place to express my way of thinking when it comes to subjects I’m passionate about. I’d already been blogging for 1-2 years, some posts being about games and design but most being about trivial stuff, like me cooking stroganoff. My stroganoff is the best by the way. The problem is, that blog, although still alive is very unfocused and is really only “useful” for my friends that wants to keep up to date with what I’m doing. That, and for giving bored people something to read.

The URL: http://arkadhallen.blogspot.com (20/10-08)

My hope is that this blog will actually be… well… Interesting. At least for people interested in what I for now will call experience design.

Because honestly, there are three kinds of blogs:

  1. Blogs that people write for their own sakes
  2. Blogs that people write for others
  3. A mix of the two above
I’m thinking this will be numero tres. Of course it’s for my own sake, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. But unlike my other “diary blog” this one might actually offer something for the reader as well. 

The question I asked myself before deciding on WordPress on ArcadeBerg.com was:

“Where should I put my blog?”

The choice wasn’t as abvious as one might think.

I considered using the blog-feature found on many community-sites such as IGN.com being one of, if not THE biggest gaming network or perhaps GiantBomb.com because the community seems great and the site is really web2.0. The only thing I had to do was to compare the pros and cons, right?

Pros:

  • Big Community
  • The mentioned community consist of gamers 
  • The blog is put in blog-lists and people will have an easy time finding it
  • No personal maintanance needed
Cons:
  • Overfilled with features I don’t want/need
  • The mentioned community consist of gamers (players, not creaters)
  • Little control over my blog
I quickly reached the conclusion that even if the pros are nice the cons are not. Of course I don’t disrespect gamers in any way (…Look at me, I’m talking about gamers as “them”. I am one!) but I don’t feel that the majority of gamers that’s only interrested in playing games will find this blog appealing.

As an alternative, I thought about setting up my own blog by installing it on one of my domains; systems like perhaps WordPress, Nucleus or whatever. It’s great, you get total control and stuff but it’s such a hassle to keep it updated and prevent hacking, etc. Therefore I discarded that idea as well.

So what I wanted was a scalable blog-system giving me a great deal of control but leaving the hosting to the blog-provider. My other blog I mentioned is hosted by Google’s Blogger. A truly great system indeed, however I didn’t feel that it catered to my needs for this site but WordPress seemed to do just that.

So here I am, on a WordPress-hosted blog using my own domain. Hopefully it’ll all turn out great.

Written by Arcade

October 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

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