12 August 2007
"We've spoken with a health-care specialist who believes that the intensity of your research efforts is unhealthy."
OK, so Sharkrunners has issued me with a health warning, and I was up until 3am last night scrabbing in Facebook with Australians. In my defence, I was deliberately staying up late to get a good view of the Perseids meteor shower. And, anyway, neither Sharkrunners nor Facebook Scrabble can be played with any real intensity. In Scrabble, you're kept in check by the turn-taking (why do all of my opponents take so bloody long to make a move?) and in Sharkrunners you're waiting to be alerted to an encounter. According to area/code, the developers of Sharkrunners, ships in the game move in real-time towards sharks that are representations of real-world white sharks with GPS units attached to their fins.
So it's intermittent play and in that sense reminds me of Twitchr, Matt's mobile play prototype. In Twitchr, digital birds visit your mobile phone and you have a short, intense moment in which to snap them. I like these playful interruptions.
In other (non)news, I also like Wii bowling. Because I win.
No chance of overplaying that one, my arms couldn't take it.
08 September 2006
But for how long?
It took me about three weeks playing every second day or so (and a fresh-air break in Aberdeen) to get my brain age down to 20. I haven't dared take the test since. Dr Kawashima would not approve.
30 July 2005
Level 60 del.icio.us player
I might not be that hot in AIM Fight terms, but I'm no. 175 of the 'Top 500 Taggers' at Collaborative Rank. This is a nice follow up to my inclusion in HubLog's Gatherers of the Month. I must, like Matt suggested last night, be a 'level 60 del.icio.us player'.
Users on del.icio.us who give meaningful tags to helpful/timely URLs (as evidenced by others subsequently doing the same) will be rewarded with higher CollaborativeRank, which means that their tagging will have greater influence on this search engine's rankings.
Along with 'socialsoftware', 'games', 'puzzles', 'rss' and 'women', one of my key areas of expertise is 'toread'...
See also: A draft paper by the developer, Amir Michail of the University of New South Wales, CollaborativeRank -- Motivating People to Give Helpful and Timely Ranking Suggestions (pdf).
21 July 2005
It's interesting to see AIM getting in on the popularity game being played with their software elsewhere (e.g. at BuddyZoo).
What can fighting really prove? Using a complicated algorithm, AIM Fight crawls through the depths of the Internet to answer the all-important question that plagues us all: How popular am I right this second?
How do I win?
Your score is the sum of the current number of people online who have you listed as a buddy, out to three degrees. This means the score is constantly changing, and the winner of the battle will constantly change with it.
How can I increase my score?
You can’t! You need to get people to add you to their Buddy List window, and have more people add those people to their Buddy List windows, and have even more people add those people to their Buddy List windows. Your own Buddy List window doesn’t matter in the score.
What’s AIM Rank?
If your score happens to be in the top 5% of all AIM users online, we’ll show you where you rank in comparison to the others in the top 5%.
If you don’t see your rank, it means you’re not in the top 5%. Remember, not ranking doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that people who have you listed as a buddy might not be online.
(Via Waxy links, aka 'infocombot'.)
See also: Friendster Pachinko
Update: According to this article in the Washington Post, AOL just increased the number of people allowed to be on a user's buddy list from 200 to 450. This all ties together very nicely for them.
18 July 2005
Girlguiding as a serious game
What is Guiding?
Guiding is a game - with a purpose. It provides opportunities for girls and young women to be challenged by new adventures and experiences and achieve a sense of pride in accomplishment and teaches them to understand and learn about the world, its people and cultures.
Makes sense. There are lots of basic game design patterns evident in Girlguiding: from learning by doing, to levelling up, trading, socialising, and collecting...
Pictures pilfered from here.
Girlguiding UK is also piloting a piece of safer social software: a moderated discussion forum carefully limited to Girl Guides and Girlguiding staff.
17 March 2005
Borrowed notes from GDC
I just devoted my lunch break to the latest from Gamasutra, which includes a slew of fantastic postcards from the recent Game Developers' Conference. There is so much here about simplicity, player creativity, multiplayer, intuitive interface styles and gentleness.
From Gamasutra's account of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata's keynote:
Iwata announced that the Wi-Fi protocol for Nintendo DS will provide users with a link to other players across the country or around the world. Once the service begins later this year, Nintendo DS users will be able to connect to the service wirelessly at Wi-Fi hot spots, whether they're at home, in a hotel or at a coffee shop. As one of several Wi-Fi games, Nintendo's in-house development team is creating a new Animal Crossing game for global Wi-Fi play.
The speech featured a live demonstration of two Nintendo DS software titles that Iwata said represented types of entertainment that go beyond the traditionally accepted definitions of "video games." One, Nintendogs, asks owners to nurture and interact with a variety of breeds of digital puppies. Puppy owners can issue voice commands, play games and train their puppies while developing real emotional bonds with them... The second title, Electroplankton, offers an otherworldly array of sights and sounds aimed to soothe or stimulate players with the innovative use of both the touch screen and voice interaction. "This is designed to produce harmony, not adrenaline," Iwata said.
From Gamasutra's Will Wright postcard, Future of Content:
Just a little bit of person ownership, Wright insisted, increases the value of the game in a way simply adding more content cannot... "Ownership translates into much more meaningful character stories." And from this, "Player stories will always be more powerful than scripted stories."
"I want to lure players into being creative," Wright explained. "Games like Pokemon with their elaborate rule sets… offer a sense of mastery. But imagine if you could create the monsters from scratch!"
He also emphasized the creative nature of the gameplay; instead of Luke Skywalker or Bilbo Baggins, "I wanted to put the player in the role of George Lucas…or J.R.R. Tolkien."
From Gamasutra's Peter Molyneux postcard, Agenda for Next-Generation Games:
Lionhead's newest simulation game, called The Movies, lets players not only run a virtual movie studio, but also write, direct, and export their own machinima-style short films.
Notable here is the game's simple interface – the left mouse button picks things up, and the right mouse button talks to people. Molyneux wanted to do away with icons, informational screens, and nested lists – and instead create a game that would allow players to spend their time interacting in the actual game world.
From Gamasutra's account of the talk by Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy:
He wasn't out to create a game into which a player could escape, nor a device for relieving/venting frustration. He just wanted to make something fun, that would make people smile...
The development for Katamari was a year and a half, with 8 months of prototyping. A CG design school was used to make all of the objects in the game, just because of a brainstorm that Takahashi had at the time. He then showed a movie of the prototype, musing as the movie played; “Hmmm. I guess the game hasn't changed at all since then.”
The fact that the game was so simple actually inspired some criticism both internally and externally. His higher-ups said that more features should be included, so he proactively ignored those suggestions. While simple is not necessarily best, he does think that it's nice to be able to sum up a complex design in a single word, in this case ‘rolling'.
Takahashi's background is in sculpture. He thinks that the tactile aspect of games is very important, which is why he made a game that uses only the analog sticks.
From Gamasutra's Puzzle Pirates: Lessons from an Indie MMOG:
The major design principle of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates was to create a game that is both simple and achievable. "Graphics and realism aren't fun," he argued, "fun is fun." James said that he was more interested in usability over technology, and that binding players into social groups, and having them both play with each other and with a living, thriving economy is the key to replayability...
As is the nature of games, and particularly in multiplayer online games, player behavior took some unexpected turns. For instance, early complaints centered mostly around players not having any direction, forcing Three Rings to add a new "mission system," which was essentially a fancy instruction sheet guiding players to features that had been in place the entire time. Another unexpected factor is that the community that formed in Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates are just too nice to each other, and that no one seems to be taking advantage of the player-versus-player mode, or the very profitable venture of island blockades. "We're going to have to do something about that."
And a timely offering of open source game-creation tools perhaps answers the call for more innovation via indie game development*:
PopCap Games has released its in-house development framework. Used to create titles such as Bejeweled, Bookworm and Zuma, the toolset is to be offered under an open source license and can be used free of charge by any developer for commercial or non-commercial use.
"Our primary goal is to help grow the casual games space," says PopCap President and CTO Brian Fiete. "But we're also hoping that by sharing our toolset we'll come into contact with innovative and talented developers."
And Three Rings Design, the indie developers behind Puzzle Pirates, have launched Game Gardens. Here's why:
Making any multiplayer game requires a bunch of work that has little or nothing to do with the game design but stands in the way of someone getting their idea turned into code. Being firm believers in (and users of) open source, we realized that the toolkit we'd written to save ourselves that trouble is exactly the sort of thing that makes a perfect open source project and we jumped at the chance to share it with the community.
With these obstacles lessened, we feel that many more ideas will make their way into code, and with an audience to appreciate and give feedback on those ideas, they may even evolve into really fun games. At a time when everyone in the industry is lamenting a lack of originality and wishing developers and publishers would take more risks, we are hoping to plant the seeds (pardon the pun) of innovation in this small way and do what we can to smooth the path for new game ideas to be born and grow.
* See Wonderland for a blow-by-blow account of the conference's closing panel, where game developers were invited to rant about the state of the industry.
My final GDC takeaway - I want to play Gish.
Wow, so much to think about. Imagine the state I'd be in if I'd actually made it to the conference. Now, back to work for me...
18 February 2005
Hunger pains interrupting your game? You're in luck - pizza is just a few key strokes away! While playing EverQuest II just type /pizza and a web browser will launch the online ordering section of pizzahut.com. Fill in your info and just kick back until fresh pizza is delivered straight to your door.
09 January 2005
Embodied interaction and seduction
"There are two main reasons why it works so well," says Gonzalo Frasca, researcher in computer games at the IT University of Copenhagen. "The first and obvious reason is that it is extremely easy to learn and it involves a very natural interface: body movements. But the most important reason for its popularity is that it is also a fun game to watch. People make a lot of goofy movements while playing it, so it is very enjoyable for non-participants...
"With these games, players can use their bodies to communicate, to express themselves," says Frasca. "In addition to your play style, you also have your body language style. For example, some EyeToy players will try to make minimal movements, while others enjoy doing more grotesque ones. Lots of people also enjoy doing movements that are not functional to the game itself, like spinning or jumping, just because it's a cool thing to do and they are aware that they have an audience."
This is something I've certainly noticed myself. One of my most enjoyable EyeToy moments was during my hen weekend, when the girls (who were most definitely not 'gamers', in the main) starting 'hacking' the boxing game by picking up objects lying around my livingroom - like a handbag - to increase the size and impact of their hits. It didn't exactly help them score higher but it was bloody funny so they kept doing it.
All of this makes me think of an ethnographic study of the game playing practices of girls, by Angela Thomas and Valerie Walkerdine of the University of Western Sydney. I'm going to quote extensively from this paper because there is so much of interest. (It is important to note that the girls in this study were playing more traditional videogames and also that the camera the researchers refer to is the camera recording the girls' play behaviour for the study.) The key insight from the researchers was that girls seemed to use games primarily as a medium or vehicle for social interaction:
Although girls enjoyed game playing as an experience equally to boys, and were quite adept at playing the games... the excitement and intensity for the girls seemed to revolve around the overall embodied and physical experience, rather than from the focused attention to a particular game, character, or screen event. The girls were quite ambivalent about gaining any mastery over the technical skills required of them in the game, and would play (albeit with a good degree of skill) with much less intensity and involvement in the game.
They found that girls' talk around the game would stray to discussions about what happened at school that day, or what they'd watched on the TV the night before, and that on some occasions the game was little more than background activity:
In one instance for example, a group of three girls were playing a game together. They deliberately chose a one player game, and while each girl would have her turn at the controls, the other two girls would sit and watch, whilst chatting about all manner of other topics, and, most interestingly, doing their French knitting!
Another noted behaviour among the girls was related to their awareness of the gaze:
Younger girls had a tendency to be more overt by waving to the camera, smiling at it, jumping up and getting out of the camera’s line of vision to cough. These actions were not just present at the beginning of the filming sessions, but often occurred throughout filming, at unexpected moments. For example, the girls would be deeply involved in playing, so much so that one girl would say or do something with quite a bit of emotion (such as using an expletive, thumping the table top in exasperation). Immediately either the same girl or their partner would make mention or reminder of the camera, as if it were wrong and concerning not only to behave in such a manner, but to have it caught on film.
Older girls would occasionally wave and make faces at the camera, but were more likely to whisper to each other when they did not want something caught on tape. They were also more concerned with their appearance on filming days. One girl in particular brought in eye shadow on her filming days...
Another question the researchers contemplated was that of 'gender performance':
Some girls loved it when a game would get them ‘scared’, for example when their character was being chased by a dinosaur and they would become quite theatrical with emotion. They said things like: ‘Ohhh I can’t watch this bit’ and cover their eyes, ‘Ohhh this game shouldn’t be suitable for girls, it’s too scary’, they would laugh and giggle profusely, scrunch up their body, swing their legs in a rather extreme embodiment of their emotions, and even scream. When faced with this same game, boys were more likely to hold their breath and play with a quiet, concentrated fierceness, close up to the screen. They seemed deadly serious about mastering the game as a means to prove their skills and gain success. Girls were more ambivalent about succeeding, seeming to simply enjoy the emotional and social experience of playing.
This study is fascinating on its own terms, but also as an illustration of the way value is assigned to gaming practices. As Anne Galloway wrote recently, "In the attempt to reposition play as something not wasteful or frivolous, to establish it as a viable and valuable activity, theorists like Huizinga and Caillois turned play into something productive and functional - but not particularly playful or full of fun."
The researchers here are disappointed by the girls' lack of focused, functional play:
Despite our hopes and expectations that girls who saw themselves as a part of the gaming culture would be able to showcase their keen intellect and skills when game-playing, this was rarely the case. With great disappointment... the observations, field notes and video data all pointed to traditional female stereotypes and a ‘lacking’ of something that the boys did have but the girls did not. With frustration, Angela Thomas, who collected the data, felt that the girls were not delivering ‘good or valid’ data and oft-times preferred watching the boys at play in preference to the girls. Many girls even irritated her to the point that she would rotate groups and work with other groups! Why?
To answer this we must first discuss what the boys were doing that was so exciting to Angela. Boys would totally immerse themselves in a game... To boys, games were skills to be mastered, challenges to be conquered. Angela saw this as valid, intellectual and educational and considered the skills these boys were developing in such play as significantly beneficial.
In other words, the boys playing games were enjoying a flow experience. To quote Anne quoting Torill quoting Csikszentmihalyi, "the flow experience... is one of achievement, not interaction, an achievement that is rewarding in itself, not through the rewards from others."
In a paper presented at the Other Players conference last month, Player Transformation of Educational Multiplayer Games, Rikke Magnussen and Morten Misfeldt (from the Learning Lab Denmark) looked at some social hacking of a mathematics game by a group of girls. The girls managed to avoid doing difficult calculations and still get the highest scores, by selectively losing rounds on purpose and shouting instructions and directions to each other:
In considering why the girls transformed the game in this way, the researchers didn't feel it was adequate to say it was to avoid doing math. This does not fully answer why the players in this case transformed the game in the complex manner they did. If they only wanted to avoid the educational part, they could just spend time running around in the 3D game world chatting with other players or lose Matematris on purpose to waste time until class was over. They players were obviously caught up in the game, they were competing and were eager to get on the high score list...
The transformed game structure has some interesting aspects that the original game does not have. In the transformed game, the players have included an element of conscious choice in the rules by including an action where they have to choose whether it is profitable to do calculations to make a piece. Making the right choice depends on cooperation and interaction between group members in the physical space... This has expanded a rather automatic game with little need for player reflection, to one with a social aspect where team members have to work together, make choices, cooperate and communicate possible solutions to problems in order to win the game... They showed creativity and developed strong cooperative skills in learning how to manipulate the game structure to accommodate the social actions.
The girls seem to have transformed a flow-directed game to a more seductive one; one that's social, interactive and flexible. In considering both embodied interaction and girls' game-playing practices, it seems necessary to take Torill Mortensen's lead and consider Baudrillard's theory of seduction at least as much as Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow.
Update: These late-night ramblings have been referred to in a couple of places and the summaries have made me realise that I wasn't clear enough about a couple of things ("disjointed", me?). Firstly, while I started off talking about the EyeToy, the gaming studies I went on to quote from aren't about the EyeToy; they're about girls playing more traditional computer games. They're only relevant to a discussion about embodied interaction because of the way the girls transform the games. I guess my point (if there was one!) is that the way girls play any game is very similar to the play style encouraged by gaming peripherals like the EyeToy, so embodied interaction in gaming is going to suit girls very nicely. And that, from a more theoretical point of view, 'flow' is probably an inadequate framework for understanding this kind of play. (Note to self, everything I said above could have been expressed in 2 sentences.)
Another update: Torrill Mortensen has provided a link to download the pdf of her paper, Flow, Seduction and Mutual Pleasures, so I've updated all of the links.
01 January 2005
Twinking and grinding in KOL
Dan Hunter recently wrote about Kingdom of Loathing on Terra Nova, noting that more humour is required in MMORPGs ("It's odd how even boring grinds become tolerable when there is a warped sense of humor behind the design") and wondering if/why there's a higher than usual level of twinking going on in KOL.
I think these two points are related. Kingdom of Loathing is much more about narrative than competitive game-play. If your turns are no more to you than grinding, you're missing the point. The humour isn't there to make the grinds tolerable, the grinds are there to out the humour. There is nothing else. The game is all about enjoying the details of each turn. And given that Kingdom of Loathing isn't so goal driven, there is a lot of twinking going on. Sometimes you'll gift someone some equipment or food just because the absurdity of the item delights you and you want to share that. The same goes for buffs. It's not so much about helping a character advance but even if it was, you're not really in competition with each other, so there's no harm done.
Plus, when the in-game currency is meat it's just too tempting to give meat trays away in trivia nights (see the newbie chat channel).
Sorry for the outburst of jargon.
Grinding: Term used to describe repetitive tasks in order to level up. Generally used in crafting items, but can also be used for running repeated combat missions to gain experience in a short period of time. Usually used in a negative connotation.
Twinking: The act of giving powerful equipment to lower level characters who could not have obtained the equipment at their current level of advancement.
Definitions from this MMORPG Glossary
Waiting for the naughty sorceress
So it's time to confess that I've sunk more time into the stick-figure populated virtual world, The Kingdom of Loathing, than I'm comfortable with, fighting its legion of anime smileys, spam witches, XXX pr0ns and flaming trolls. I initially checked in because it was a free RPG and I needed to reacquaint myself with the genre. Since then I've played 6955 turns (*gulp*); purchased a Mr Accessory; collected a full set of tattoos, familiars and skills; and completed all of the quests currently available. Exactly a month ago, I reached the end limit of the world, at the Lair of the Naughty Sorceress:
The details of the final confrontation with the Sorceress are still being hammered out.
It won't be too long...
-Love, Jick and Mr. Skullhead
You'd think that would have been closure enough... but I was still only an Apprentice Accordion Thief, so I spent a month grinding; eating, drinking and working out in my clan gym to build my moxie. Shameful, really.
I don't think I'm alone in this strange addiction to KOL. Its charms were well described by maisonneuve:
It’s so hilarious that you forget that the gameplay consists of clicking the attack button for forty adventures a day. See, that’s the neatest trick of all: at first I thought Kingdom of Loathing was making a brilliant mockery of the RPG form. And it is. But in playing this particular game, I’ve come to a first-time-in-my-life understanding (dare I say a genuine affection?) of role play.
For those of you who haven't played yet, here's a tasty sample of the daily adventures:
You're fighting an Anime Smiley This innocent combination of Shift+6 and the underscore has somehow mutated into a freakish grinning face. It gets the jump on you.
omg it zerg rushes j00 but j00 pwnz0r it lol.
You're fighting a Spam Witch
You look into this seductive creature's eyes and feel as if she can make your sword longer, your bank account bigger, your waist smaller, and show you the secret habits of barnyard animals. You fight to resist her charms . . .
You're fighting a MagiMechTech MechaMech
This is a big robot that's powered by a sinister blend of magic and technology. Since sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, though, you're not sure in what proportion.
It gets the jump on you...
Delightful moments of nonsense pervade every aspect of this game. I especially enjoyed its saucy ladies:
Anyway, the day after Christmas, I'd finally done it. I was a level 15 Accordion Thief and could retire from the game with a sense of great satisfaction. But there was a Crimbo stocking waiting for me, with eggnog and candy cane and a gingerbread bugbear, and a small Crimbo pressie to open... And there I was, diving in once again.
There's nothing for it but to stay in the game, waiting for the naughty sorceress.
See also: Chillin' and Loathin' at Coldfront, the official Kingdom of Loathing fansite.
Update: I just found this fascinating LiveJournal discussion about what other players are doing while waiting for the naughty sorceress, e.g. ''I'm trying to make my 3rd million and spend my time farming and sending random stuff to newbies', 'currently collecting ratguts because I am a nerd', 'games channel and philanthropy', 'make a new character and start all over', 'get really really really drunk'...