Games Development Seminar – Belfast, 14th Sept

Last chance to register for a games technology development seminar here in Belfast.

Wed, 14 September from 10:00 to 12:00 at Radisson Blu, Gasworks, Belfast

The speaker is Paul Durrant, Abertay University’s Director of Business Development. He has been instrumental in developing a range of projects to support digital media IP generation, business start-up, incubation, and skills development particularly in the video games area. He developed Dare to be Digital and Dare ProtoPlay to become significant international events including a partnership with BAFTA to recognise talented young developers and the development of the Channel 4 Crunchtime TV series. He also raised £2m to establish a prototype fund for small games developers and has recently launched a partnership with the Technology Strategy Board to fund novel games applications.

In this seminar, Paul will describe the Scottish experience in digital content, the contribution from Abertay and the funding opportunities available through Abertay which are available to companies in Northern Ireland. In particular, he will describe the Abertay University Prototype Fund ( and the Future Games Contest ( )

Game Prototype development quote needed

I’m looking for a prototype of a RTS game on iOS developed. Just a single level, basic graphics. 2D sprites on 3D isometric plane.

Happy for it to be done in Unity and/or another rapid development environment. Would be nice for combat (ranged and melee) and some pathfinding for units.

Can be SP, MP or 0P. For the prototype, I’m not fussy. It’s not necessary to have full functions.

Email would be lovely but you can also tweet me.

Indies on the Mac

From the Oddlabs blog:

Many game developers, indie or not, view the Mac as a freak that no one cares for or wants to be associated with. They look at statistics that show only 5% of desktop machines are Macs and say: “Why waste a lot of time and money for only 5% of the market?”
Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

Not bad for 5% of the market.. And we haven’t even done any paid advertising that has been directed solely at Mac users.

What this shows is that not only are the Mac users easier to reach, they also convert at a much higher rate.

This is not a secret. Wil Shipley talked about this in 2005. Developing for a platform where the users appreciate design and good software will reap dividend (if your product doesn’t suck).

This is why I question people who make silly decisions. Like not to support the Mac when porting software or deciding to go Android-first when developing for mobile platforms. Go where the money is – where the money truly is.

And yes, it’s not an easy ride. As I said, your product has to not suck. And if you’re entering a crowded market (like games on the App Store), you may have to work a little harder to get noticed but these people do not mind paying money for quality software. That has to count for something.

Although they are developed in software, games are not software

The title of this post is from this article: You Need $100,000.

Users relate to them differently. Immersion matters. Balance matters. Drawing people into the world of the game in a way that doesn’t break their attention every few seconds matters. Any successful game weaves a web of illusion around the player to engage them at more than just a rational level, and so they are more than the sum of their parts.

This applies just as much to tabletop RPG design. They are made of words and pictures but they are not words and pictures.

It’s the difference between a well-made FPS and a poor FPS. The former is addictive, the WASD and mouse look are intuitive and it becomes part of you. You don’t have to think about it. In contrast a poorly made FPS feels like you’re fighting the system. It’s like lag in a multiplayer system – it just becomes an exercise in frustration.

Many RTS games are about whether the user interface is tolerable enough for you to learn. The control of subunits is left to grouping strategies activated through arbitrary keyboard commands. We learn the controls but we’re not learning tactics.

Skirmish MP

Following on from my last post, I would posit that there is something missing from MP RTS (Multi Player Real Time Strategy) games and that would be the lack of a feeling that success has an impact.

Left 4 Dead is my favourite FPS game because it encourages teamwork between players on both sides and even though the macro gameplay is poor, the micro-events within each of the 3-5 episodes within a scenario, make for an entertaining mix. A lucky strike and a Survivor is dead and the game becomes that bit harder for the remaining Survivors. But other than the accumulation of points, there is no lasting effect for poor performance (or even great performance) within a episode of a scenario.

Myth II almost managed because if you had surviving forces, they would become more “seasoned” in the next episode of the single player. That wasn’t extended to multiplayer (and indeed there was no way it could be) but the thought of a multiplayer game where you began with raw recruits and ended up with seasoned warriors through six episodes of a scenario is kinda tantalising. Especially, with the Myth II model, that a skirmish tends to take about 10 minutes. Historically accurate? No. Cracking good fun? Yes.

So, take the Left 4 Dead model of a multiplayer game having 3-6 episodes, add to it the concept of units gaining expertise between battles (and for high performance during earlier episodes, additional units) and sprinkle a little story across it.

Most RTS single player modes suck…

Josh Bycer writes:

Honestly, most RTS single player modes… suck. The reason is that designers try to use it to teach the player about multiplayer which doesn’t work, as an AI is not a good substitute for a player …
Over the years, the structure of mission design has changed and can be broken down into several categories:

  1. Skirmish
  2. Puzzle
  3. War
  4. Story

One of the amazing parts of the Myth series by Bungie was the focus on the single-player story. While there was a “puzzle” element to it – having limited resources and time – it was heavily narrated and each battle, though skirmish-sized, contributed to the progress of the story. So while it was a war, there wasn’t control over the outcome of the war in terms of high level strategy. You fought where you were told to fight.

Compared to the single-player game, Myth multiplayer was a poor cousin with mismatched units and allegiances. While the array of game devices (the various match conditions) was impressive and a lot of fun, I couldn’t help but want more control during match setup, with the ability to select either light or dark units and allow my opponent to do the same. The ability to vary the number of points used – to deliberately create unequal games – would have added another dimension to allow use of terrain, tactics and skill to get a victory against a far superior force. This was the essential gem in the single-player game – the tactical use of your units to defeat wave after wave of superior forces.

So, in the creation of a game to “replace” Myth in my heart, it should offer this “relatively” simple concept.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

Great videos from the launch team here.

Described as a Tower Offense game, it certainly adds a different flavour to the stock re-runs of tower defense games (like Plants vs Zombies) which have been so popular recently. And certainly distracts me from plans to make “World of Angry Zombies versus Goo”. Because that could win, obviously.

Anyway – as you can see, I’ve downloaded it and I just played through the tutorials and it is fun. Now, multiplayer would be awesome…

Digital Games can be Social Experiences

Professor Mark Durkin from the University of Ulster suggested:

“For customers, the constant and often simultaneous use of laptop, MP3 player, smart phone and TV, especially by our young people, has serious implications in terms of attention and focus, he says.
“Of note is the fact that such stimulating multi-tasking makes the necessary recovery time needed by the brain for consolidating daily thoughts increasingly absent.
“Time once available for reflection, thought and consideration is being eroded by the constant noise of electronic devices demanding our attention.

“In actuality, society has become enslaved by what we still view to be liberating technology.
“What needs to be realised is that the technological capability that purports to enable the ‘social’ in ‘social networking’ simply creates a sleepy virtual environment populated by discrete interactions that are often narcissistic, superficial and ephemeral.
“As a society we are actually connected only in our collective belief that the Internet ‘connects’ us socially”.

In the 1950s, this would have been about rock and roll music.

The article is mainly about how businesses cannot interact using internet-based social marketing in a half-hearted way. And I think h’s inferring that this alone is where the enslavement appears. By the same token we are enslaved by the television (it forces us to turn it on and watch it if we want to see our favoured shows), we are enslaved by the kettle (we are forced to turn it on and wait for it to boil if we want a cup of tea) and we’re enslaved by the very air around us (which we are forced to breathe or else we die). As Professor Durkin is a Professor of Marketing at the University of Ulster and professionals in marketing education are reeling from the effects of the Internet, technology and social networking, it’s not entirely surprising to see this reaction. It’s not possible to just teach the 4 Ps “Marketing Mix” and hope that’s enough to educate tomorrows marketing experts. It fails to take into account the social effects (unless you count individual and mass communications under Promotion).

Personally I find that technology is liberating. Yes, we become complacent about it and maybe dependent to a degree but we can re-learn if the technology is not available. But technology is liberating, it is social and it can cause interactions which were not present before. For example, check this video out.

From single user devices, we find that multi-user devices are better at enabling interactions. Especially at 0:07 when Jacob ditches the Nintendo DS.

Are either of these individuals enslaved or has the technology advanced to the point where they can share an experience.

Once, Twice, Three Times a Detective

Dolgion Chuluunbaatar of Gamasutra writes about non-linear adventure games:

As I was on vacation, I picked up my sister’s copy of Sherlock Holmes stories, and quickly I got caught up in the really really beautifully narrated and well thought-out plots. As I had my phase of obsessively playing the classic LucasArts adventure games, the very first Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” led me to think about the adventure game genre.

In “A Study in Scarlet”, Sherlock Holmes is first introduced to the reader by the narrator and companion Dr. Watson. It is through his eyes that we perceive the story and Holmes’ actions, not counting in the second part that explains some of the necessary background of the plot.

It’s almost always the question of “What did the game designer want me to understand so that I can find the trigger to advance the narrative?”. It’s trigger that sometimes puts me off, because in a badly designed game, it can end up in senseless actions being asked of the player and therefore he/she gets stuck for no valid reason. With good puzzle design, this can be minimized, but still, it all puts the player’s range of action into an uncomfortable corset.

This design paradigm consists of the basic idea that the player should be able to solve a problem by using their own brain power instead of hunting for triggers. Triggers are a more primitive way of the designer forcing the player to think, sadly resulting in use-everything-with-everything orgies if badly done.

A non-linear approach allows the player to make mistakes and encourages the player to make their own conclusions and gives them the power to execute on them. Of course a autonomous world to do that in is awesome already by itself and it should allow for pretty new motivation to replay an actually linear plot line if it was not for the player :D.

Of course, as a gamer I’ve run many detective games. These range from the high thrill, high horror, low schlock games like SLA Industries to the low key, psychic conspiracy thrillers like The 23rd Letter.

In the 80s, I remember playing Consulting Detective with the older kids and thoroughly enjoyed the level of detail, the requirement for immersion and visualisation and the reliance on observation and deduction. But it was not a popular game because to the average teenager, the game was hard. We were smart kids (most of us anyway), and yet we seemed more stupid in a group. Smart as we were, we were no Sherlock Holmes.

It is my belief that when running a detective game, you have to remember that the players are often less than the sum of their parts (due to confusion, interrupted narrative, last night’s football results and the imminent arrival of spicy food and naan bread).

This means that even smart individuals may miss important clues, may not see the allusions and the inferences in the newspaper clippings, fag ends and hastily scrawled dying notes which litter the genre. We all have day jobs and families and we’re not the super-obsessive compulsive consulting detective that the game might assume so the designer has to take the step of telling us once, telling us twice and telling us a third time to make sure we get the clue. We might misremember small facts, forget to keep copious notes (which, in my opinion, spoils the enjoyment of the game) or simply we may not be wired to think that way. Kevin Beimers of Straandlooper spoke about this aspect of game design at an event we held at Belfast Metropolitan College earlier this year. Clues need to be logical and discoverable.

There is also the problem when this translates into a video game that the game will often, by necessity, highlight items which are important. Games like Myst and Hector: Badge of Carnage thankfully escape much of this but it can be maddening to be tapping around trying to figure out exactly how to get something to work as a fan belt.

But we enjoy the discovery, even as it frustrates and confounds us. I’ve had almost as much fun watching someone play an engaging game as I have had playing it. So, why are there so few multiplayer detective games?

Are there any?

Games in Education

I believe that my playing of games has contributed positively to my development as an individual. Traditionally advocacy for gaming has included the development of teamwork and leadership skills, understanding of competition, resource management and also a greater appreciation of geography, politics, religion and ‘alien’ cultures. Games, especially tabletop role-playing games, have been used in education for years as they are comparatively light on resources, encourage participation and are good for personal development.

I read this from BrainyGamer

This year, for the first time, a video game will appear on the syllabus of a course required for all students at Wabash College, where I teach. For me – and for a traditional liberal arts college founded in 1832 – this is a big deal.

I pitched the idea to my colleagues on the committee (decidedly not a collection of gamers), and they agreed to try Portal and read selections from Goffman’s book. After plowing through some installation issues (“What does this Steam do? Will it expose me to viruses?”), we enjoyed the first meaningful discussion about a video game I’ve ever had with a group of colleagues across disciplines. They got it. They made the connections, and they enjoyed the game. Most importantly, they saw how Portal could provoke thoughtful reflection and vigorous conversation on questions germane to the course.

And so we’re playing Portal at Wabash College.

Portal is, for a single player game, utterly fascinating.

I yearn for a group of individuals who get together to not only play games but also to have meaningful discussion about games and play. To examine the meta-design of games and to discuss the reasons why they are fun.

The Fun Theory

When designing games I tend to think about what will make the game more ‘sticky’. At the start, I can usually enthuse someone about a game by talking to them about it. You’re the consummate salesperson for your game and design and in theory no-one can sell the concept like you can. To get people to play (or better still, to pay), you have to describe the game in such terms that it seems fun. This was a challenge with The 23rd Letter because it doesn’t contain pictures and like it or not it’s the visuals which usually interest someone in a game.

In theory, with the concept of Playbor (work that seems like play), you can make anything seem like fun. Whether this is Tom Sawyer fooling others to whitewash the fence or the complicated patterns from the Folding@Home project, you can get results by adding simple things like achievements, leaderboards and a dollop of fun.

I’m very interested in the motivations of people especially with respect to getting them to change behaviours. Work I’ve done with the University of Ulster was describing scenarios for changed behaviours and how you can take advantage of those for good (or evil). Needless to say that lots of companies are looking at this area because it goes beyond advertising. In this world, advertising is already dead and we’re presenting people with things that would normally be described as ‘not fun’ and making them into ‘fun’. That’s actually a lot easier than getting someone to click through on a banner advert.

Can you get more people to take the stairs by making it more fun?

This is the essence of games.

Not everyone can appreciate the fun of a game like Left4Dead (one of the very best co-operative games on the market). And not everyone is going to appreciate games like Diner Dash or Farmville. But there is a feeling of enjoyment and achievement in all of these games which is what is common in games.

This is Jane McGonigal at TED talking about how games can be used to fix real-world problems.

My aim is to start a new company (working title: Alien Salvage) which will focus on the development of games which will have both learning and healthcare applications as well as being fun.