Integral Gear

It’s important that you see the gear you’re getting. You see it in the world as you’re fighting for it (or fighting the thing wearing it). Your character picks it up. Your character has to put it somewhere (even if it’s some technological Bag of Holding) and then when you use it you can see it on your character. That feels like an actual object. Items can’t be just entries in your inventory or bits of implied game mechanism anymore. We’ve graduated from AD&D. We can’t set up cutting-edge games that way. You can compare it to giving someone an interesting vocabulary list for Christmas instead of a gift. Think of the absurdity of saying, “I was going to buy you a PS4 and a remote control monster truck, but instead I printed out this list of words that’ll be really nice for you to think about.” That’s not why we play games! Back when games were just pen and paper, you had a real live person sitting there telling the story, guiding you along. When we buy a disc and it comes with a fancy word list to collect, that’s no different than having a GM handbook and no one to play with.

Now, it’s important to note items are well named and do evoke a sense of being a part of the world. They have to have that grounding. But then it is the designer’s job to take that grounding one step further. Once the player finally obtain an item, its effect needs to be seen. It has to make a difference in your game, has to change your strategy. When you get a new piece of gear, it should make your current challenges a little easier and allow you to take on a little more. Every item you obtain should do that. As an example, a new piece of armor might make an environment more survivable. Not being able to go in a hot room until you have heat resistant clothing is a way of grading exploration, but having a piece of armor or device that gives the player different moves when they’re in a certain environment, like camouflage or faster movement in a jungle environment,  is a far more interesting way of integrating the player into the world.  A new weapon can just be more powerful or it can set the player on a new path to victory. Initially it might cause an enemy to react differently rather than produce immediate results. Instead of being the higher number in a card game, the new weapon becomes the spearhead for a new strategy.

Everything that the player acquires should draw them deeper into the game and not just be a sticker on the wall. An item doesn’t have to actually affect gameplay to be a thrilling acquisition. In Force Unleashed, it was surprisingly satisfying to pick the costume and lightsaber crystal that looked the coolest together—and when it matched the environment, it made the next level that much more of a work of art. If functionality and game mechanics were added to that it would make it all the richer an experience.  I love it when every item in a game has a purpose for further interacting with the world. It immerses the player, makes them feel integrated with the world. This integration is best described by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in Flow:

The loss of the sense of a self separate from the world around it is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of union with the environment, whether it is a mountain, a team, or, in the case of [a] member a Japanese motorcycle gang, the “run” of hundreds of cycles roaring down the streets of Kyoto. … This feeling is not just a fancy of the imagination, but is based on a concrete experience of close interaction with some Other, an interaction that produces a rare sense of unity with these usually foreign entities. … When a person invests all her psychic energy into an interaction—whether it is with another person, a boat, a mountain, or a piece of music—she in effect becomes part of a system of action greater than what the individual self been before.

This quote captures that feeling of being in tune with a game world that can come from gear that offers visual engagement and added game mechanics. The items you acquire are the major visual and kinetic component of how your character evolves before they are ever trophies or a list of your progress through the game.

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To Beat the Internet

I’ve had a lurking thought for a while, a challenged I’ve unconsciously assigned to myself, and that is to come up with a puzzle that the Internet cannot defeat. That is to say, create an experience in a game that someone can’t just google the solution to. Games of skill can’t be “solved” by a walkthrough, but to create a puzzle or challenge that’s like those usually unlocked by a walkthrough yet can’t be stumped would be a new horizon of gaming in the Internet Age. It’s much like the problem of making a trailer for a scary movie. You have to tell the audience that something paranormal will happen (and usually what genre it is), but then they can’t really be as scared as that poor family when their status quo is first defiled. If instead the audience thought they were going to a drama film, then when the monster attacks everyone would truly be surprised. So it is with challenges in games: If you can’t find the solution, someone else has and you can just google it. There really is no true puzzle left that you have to set aside and return to periodically before the answer strikes you. Puzzles don’t make us sagacious and pensive anymore. They make us frustrated and entitled.

There are two parts to a potential puzzle that could be ungooglable. The first ally to the design is randomness. If each player’s puzzle is randomly generated then they will each have different solutions. Have enough variables to make the number of possible outcomes mind-boggling and players will at least have to code an application to solve it for them. That takes care of half the gaming population. But what about the guys that have written the optimal gear and skill tree calculators? How do we get back to a challenge that we just have to face with our mind and not develop a technology to beat it for us? It’s OK to have gamers that play that way. That’s what our world is now. It would be great to see game challenges that also embrace the metagame engineering abilities of their players also. But I would also like to create a challenge that engages players at the other end of our mental abilities, a corner of our minds that’s growing darker and darker for games.

So what more could be done to bypass software solvers? The solution of course is in the players themselves. If, for example, when the player creates their character, certain choices they make or maybe even questions they answer that lead to their stats, class, background, etc. could be used as seed data to create a puzzle that is unique to the player. This could come in the form of a cryptic alphabet whose solution is randomized for each player and whose decryption is the semantic data input by the player in the character setup process. Give a short personality survey that will “build the perfect class for your playing style”—you could call it Personalized Role Generation.  Don’t know what class to play? Not sure if you’d enjoy being a warrior or mage more 50 hours into the game? Not to worry. We’ll figure it out for you! It wouldn’t be hard to sell it. Then you give them moral dilemmas, would you rather, most embarrassing moment, and other similar questions. The answers will then be a put into the linguistic aspect of the puzzle. To make it even better the player could type answers in and it be semantically scanned, extracting particular terms to use. Then when it comes to posting solutions on the Internet, people may hesitate to! What would you be remiss to post for everyone to read? If you still sleep with a nightlight you might not wanna put that on a forum!

I don’t know what an impervious and 90%+ reliable solution would be, but going in this direction would create new and unique puzzles that could bring gamers in the Google Era back to challenges that are only gamer vs. the game.

Re: The Verge | China says it will lift ban on video game consoles

http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/27/4776324/china-says-it-will-lift-ban-on-video-game-consoles

This is huge. This should be in the top stories for every gaming new outlet because it’s going to have such a big impact on the global game industry. China— a country of 1.2 billion people—just opened their game market. 1.2 billion potential new customers. That’s the biggest news in any business! The game industry better get on it. Publishers should be jumping up and down and having parties and scheduling Mandarin classes! I had no idea China didn’t allow consoles until now. So only PC games have been making it over there en masse. Incredible. China is going to be such a huge market and partner in the game industry. Console developers now need to reach out and grab Mandarin speakers (because you don’t have to search for them) to translate their games. So console games have never been in Chinese? That boggles my mind. I’m excited to see this language being opened to video games and I hope it mean more developers will crop up in China and put dragon intensity into the industry. Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to do what the Japanese did for video games in their own way? I say that every nation that is added to the industry has the potential to bring new big ideas and will at least contribute fresh flavors. And an economic and demographic powerhouse like China is bound to shake the industry. 加油!

Re: Kotaku | Fox News Wants You To Be Mad About Assassin’s Creed III’s Evil George Washington DLC

Fox News Wants You To Be Mad About Assassin’s Creed III’s Evil George Washington DLC.

OK, another reblog (and another on ACIII), I know, but this is good stuff.

This time it brings in stuff from my Language and Advertising class. The Fox News article is definitely using the kind of slippery language that advertisers use to subtly sway you. I just did a presentation on how Starbucks is great at doing this.

I think it’s crazy anyone is complaining that Ubisoft, an international company in the 21st century (as opposed to say, 1066 or 1415), is creating alternate history. (Sidenote: It’s funny we inherited from the British this rivalry with the French, even though the French helped win our independence from Britain!) The point that people that sympathetic to Washington can take away is that he didn’t go bad like that!

Keep up the history remixing Ubisoft.

Re: Video games take aim at dyslexia | Psychology | Science News

Video games take aim at dyslexia | Psychology | Science News.

Mayhem teaches literacy! Scientists just said that!

And the effect lasted two months. That’s a lot longer than the post-Super Smash Bros. dex buff!

But wait, they only used Rayman. I wonder what an FPS would do? And they only did the study in Italian which doesn’t have horrific spelling like English. Oh man I wanna do that study! “Rumble Pit and Reading: Learning Effects of  Halo for Dyslexic Children.”

Re: Kotaku | This Assassin’s Creed Heroine Is a Great Black Game Character.

This Assassin’s Creed Heroine Is a Great Black Game Character. Here’s How It Happened..

I dream of more games that will help show other cultures and ethnicities in a positive light. The way Murray integrates cultural theory into writing for a game is more of what the game industry needs. Her talk of striping away the words so that the game mechanics tell the story really intrigues me. I may have thought of this kind of thing already, but I’ll have to ponder that one.