Humbled: a Review of Gemini
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 September 2014, 10:12 pm
High-concept games impress me; I like it when my understanding of reality is enhanced by having been twisted in a particular way, as with Portal and Miegakure.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't take much for a game to be a mind-opening experience for me.

This year at PAX Prime, I came across Gemini. Drawn in by the soothing graphics, I picked up a controller at an available station.

In Gemini, your avatar is a small sparkling circle. The world is 2D. There are no apparent obstacles; just the ground, which is a line you can't fall past. The game uses all of two buttons: left bumper and right bumper.

Naturally, I moved both left and right along the ground, but I didn't seem to be making any progress. I glanced over at the other players. They were clearly able to go up. I wanted to go up, too.

After skittering along the ground for another minute, I started pressing every button on the controller in a vain attempt to start flying. Sometimes I hopped a little. One of the devs caught me button-mashing, and tapped me on the shoulder. "Those are the only controls," he said, pointing at the LB and RB icons on the screen.

Exasperated and embarrassed, I looked up at the game's poster for additional clues. I finally parsed the name, Gemini. The twins, a constellation. Wait a minute. Twins. Should I expect another player to show up?

There was a glowing bauble that appeared from time to time. I had presumed it was a part of the background. It had moved around some, but didn't seem to do anything. I had ignored it. I did recall, though, that every time I'd hopped off the ground, that bauble had been nearby. Maybe it was important, after all.

So I went back over to the little glowing orb, and sure enough, I jumped a bit. But it wasn't a real jump. Instead, I ascended somewhat unpredictably while in its proximity. With more experimentation, I found that it would follow me upwards. The bauble and I were entwined, but only just so. I couldn't get too close, or it would repel me like the wrong end of a magnet. I couldn't get too far, or we would both drift to the ground. If I kept to a certain 'Goldilocks' distance, however, I'd move upward, and it would follow me a little bit. Only together could we ascend.

I found that I had the power to fly wherever I wanted, but I could never take a direct route to get there. Gemini rejects precise, Mario-like controls. Instead, you make a butterfly-like dance across the screen with your companion orb.

When I made this realization, I had to blink back an actual tear.

You see, I'm from a WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) culture. We emphasize the individual over the group more strongly than any other people in the world. The boundary I draw between myself and others is so strong that it took me several solid minutes to figure out that I even had a companion in a game called Gemini, let alone that my interactions with that companion could let me fly.

For gods' sake, I had rejected the power of flight in favor of telescoping in on the one aspect of the game I had the most control over. I was blind to the fact that my avatar could even exist as a system between a pair of entities. Consider my eyes opened, Gemini devs, and thank you.

NYU Game Center Incubator, please release Gemini soon. Every WEIRD person in the world needs to play it and be humbled.

Brewing Tea in the Office
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 March 2014, 10:53 pm
I drink a liter or more of tea per day, and keep 15 to 30 types of tea at my desk. Over the years, this habit has taught me some tips about brewing tea using a standard hot/cold water dispenser.

Brewing tea requires specific water temperatures and precise steeping times. While you can track steeping time using your smart phone, you cannot dip your smart phone into your cup to see how hot the water is. It's easier to interpret water temperature based on how your tea turns out, then apply what you learn to future cups of tea.

Black Tea
Most black teas are best steeped in near-boiling (195-210°F) water. A typical water dispenser doesn't make water quite this hot, but it comes close. When brewing black tea in the office, swirl hot water in your mug to heat the mug first. Dump that slightly-cooled water out, then immediately add your tea ball and pour fresh hot water right onto the tea. This helps ensure the hottest possible steeping.

Oolong Tea
Oolong is easy to brew in the office; most hot water dispensers produce exactly the right temperature water for it (about 185°F). You'll want to follow the same procedure as for Black Tea, but you can get away without heating your mug first.

White Tea
While a dispenser's water is slightly too hot for white tea, that's ok! You can get the extra heat to transfer to your room-temperature ceramic mug, creating water that is the right temperature; 160-175°F. So - pour the hot water in your mug, wait until the mug is hot to the touch, then add your white-tea-filled tea ball and steep away.

Green Tea
Green tea is difficult to brew even with the right equipment. I've ruined many a cup! Here's one way to avoid overcooking those delicate leaves in the office:
  1. Put your green tea in a tea ball in your room-temperature ceramic mug.
  2. Pour COLD water into your mug until it is about 1/6 or 1/5 full. Learning exactly how much cold water is right for your mug and your tea may take a few tries.
  3. Swirl the cold water around the tea ball, soaking the tea. This helps protect the tea against the near-boiling water you're about to add.
  4. Pour HOT water into the mug, filling it the rest of the way, making sure to aim the stream of water away from the tea ball.
  5. The green tea should now be sitting in roughly the correct temperature water (around 150°F, plus or minus). Remember to not oversteep.

Terminology Review: Girlfriend Mode
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 December 2012, 11:15 pm
To recap the Borderlands 2 Girlfriend Mode situation, the creators of the game wanted to make a character and skill tree that would appeal to players who are less talented at playing first person shooters. They came up with Gaige the Mechromancer, a solid addition to the game.

The trouble started when the lead designer (John Hemingway) referred to the Mechromancer as 'Girlfriend Mode' in a Eurogamer interview. Here's his most quoted quote:

“The design team was looking at the concept art [of the Mechromancer class] and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”

It's clear that John Hemingway is not sexist and he never meant to offend anyone with his terminology. His comments, however, provide a good platform for discussions of sexism in game design.

I mentioned Girlfriend Mode the other day to a fellow game designer in one such discussion. We bantered for a while, and at one point, he asked, "If most of the people who play in Girlfriend Mode are players' girlfriends, is the term still insulting?"

His question struck a chord. At first glance, "Girlfriend Mode" may look like a harmless phrase, but it contains insidious sexism. Here's an analogy I used to answer his question:

"Pretend there is a restaurant owner who has a variety of patrons. He learns that he could get more patrons, and make more money, if he put more inexpensive items on the menu.

"So, he adds several low-cost dishes and puts them on a new 'Dollar Deals' page of the restaurant menu folder. The owner is excited for the new menu's debut, so he takes an interview with a reporter.

"When talking to the reporter about his concepts behind the 'Dollar Deals' page, the restaurant owner says, 'I wanted to make, for lack of a better term, the Black menu.'"

It's clear why a 'Black menu' containing a list of cheap food would be considered racist. The terminology makes the assumption that Blacks are poor. Worse, it implies that Blacks are a separate group of patrons who, as a group, need special treatment.

There shouldn't be any need to ask, "If most of the people who buy food listed on the Black menu are Black, is the term still insulting?"

The same logic applies to Girlfriend Mode.

It should be clear why a 'Girlfriend Mode' with the easiest gameplay would be sexist. The terminology makes the assumption that girls are bad at games. Worse, it implies that girls are a separate group of players who, as a group, need special treatment.

As a culture, we've gotten to the point where we see this as racism, yet this kind of sexism remains invisible to many. We need to learn to see it and excise it, or else the makers of games will continue to unintentionally alienate a large part of their audience.

In Support of Gamers of All Genders
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2012, 1:15 am
The recent sex-based internet attacks on Anita Sarkeesian and Felicia Day are appalling and inexcusable. Watching the situation has reminded me that I can't just sit around and hope that misogyny in the gamer world will go away on its own.

So I'll say here that I support Anita and Felicia, and I'm glad that they have not been silenced or intimidated by the bullying they've received.

If you're unfamiliar with their situations, Squidy Girl has summed them up well.

More links:

Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 May 2012, 3:09 pm
You can find me on Twitter, @phorusrhacid

I've been busy, but not too busy to tweet!

Apple Noms
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 February 2010, 4:03 am
This post is only loosely related to gaming, but it is delicious.

I dedicate my Apple Noms to Fallout 3, which I was playing as I figured out the dessert's details. (I was going to call them "Apple Bombs," but that name is already taken by a mixed drink.)

You are invited to enjoy them as I do, as a winter snack after a long evening of gaming.

Apple Noms
Dessert. Generously serves 2.

  • 2 large apples
  • "nomshell" crust:
    • 1 c. whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/3 c. butter
    • 1 tbsp. water
  • "funpowder" filling:
    • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Peel and core the apples, then set them aside.
  • In a medium bowl, mix the flour with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.
  • In a small bowl, soften 1/3 c. butter. (I zap it for 30 seconds in the microwave.) Add the butter to the flour mixture, and use a fork to gently toss and mix until evenly crumbly. Toss in the water the same way. At this point, the dough should be crumbly yet moist, and it should form a clump when pressed together.
  • Coat the outsides of the apples in the crust. Use whatever method works for you. I like to press pieces of dough to pie-crust thickness and tessellate them onto the apples.
  • Use any extra dough to plug the bases of the apples, especially if you cored them all the way through.
  • In the small bowl, mix 1/2 tsp. cinnamon with the brown sugar. Spoon it into the empty cores of each apple.
  • Divide 1 tbsp. (refrigerated) butter in half, and mash the pieces into the apple cores as well.
  • Dust the apple tops with cinnamon.
  • Bake the apples in a covered glass or ceramic casserole dish for 45 minutes at 350 F. Then take the lid off and bake them for 15 minutes more.
  • Let the apples cool for a few minutes before carefully lifting them from the dish.
Troubleshooting tips:
  • If your dough isn't holding together, add water 1 tsp. at a time until it does.
  • If your dough is too sticky, generously coat your hands in flour when applying it to the apples, and don't worry about the extra flour that will end up on/in the crust.
  • If you use smaller apples, you will end up with extra dough.
  • If the filling isn't filling the apple cores, add more brown sugar as needed.
  • The final appearance of this dessert varies. Every kind of apple does something different in the oven. Some hold together perfectly, some seem to puff up, and others shrink inside their nomshells.
  • You can make your favorite pie crust and use it instead of the hax0red crust I use.
  • If you are using a sour varietal of apple, mix 1 tbsp. sugar into the crust, and/or add more brown sugar on top once it is stuffed.
  • If you use unsalted butter, add a couple of pinches of salt (no more than 1/8 tsp) to the crust.
  • You can use lard or shortening instead of butter, but please don't use margarine. 
  • You don't have to peel the apples, but if you don't, it can be tougher to get the crust to stick.
  • This recipe can be doubled or halved.

Storytelling in Castle Crashers
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 January 2010, 8:17 pm
I picked up Castle Crashers the other day. It's a well-made brawler with RPG and collection elements.

While various reviews mention Castle Crashers' simple story, the storytelling is well done. For example, at the beginning of the Marsh level:

You walk into the marsh and see that skeletons have killed a peasant. As you begin to fight the skeletons, two other peasants peek out from behind the terrain and watch your fight. They look at one another and nod, then leap out from the terrain and begin to assist you.

The designers could have just dropped in some NPC assistants; instead, they chose to tell a story that gave meaning to the NPCs' behavior - the peasants help you because you avenged the death of their friend. The game is full of little visual and gestural details that help the player understand what's going on - the sort of storytelling details that Scott McCloud writes about.

The game is also a good teacher - here's how you are introduced to sandwiches:

You reach a door that you cannot break open. Enemies run onto the screen intermittently, but steadily. Each time you kill one, it yields a sandwich that goes into your usable-item inventory. In fact, the unbreakable door itself is shaped like a sandwich. Everything points to the inevitable conclusion: try out one of those sandwiches, and see if you can't get the door open.

There are many good game design lessons to be learned from Castle Crashers. I recommend it.

Maintaining the Joy of Altruism in MMOs
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 January 2010, 1:53 am
Designers often rely on players' enjoyment of helping others when guiding them through their first steps in the game. New players may not yet understand XP or the advantages of leveling, but they do understand that the people around them need their help. First quests in MMOs often illustrate how the world is in danger; they give players the opportunity to assist while teaching them the basic mechanics of the game.

As players' time in the game wears on, they see more and more violent events. Many quests ask players to kill NPC animals or people. Art props in the game world often include bones and corpses, and less commonly, wounded NPCs.

My suspicion is that after a while, some players become inured to the violence around them, and become less likely to respond to pleas for help from the NPCs. At the same time, players learn more about how the game works, and discover how to direct their play experience towards the improvement of their characters. Some players become more likely to pick up a quest for its XP, gold, or gear than for the emotional reward of assisting the NPC.

If the joy of altruism could be maintained throughout a player's in-game career, it ought to provide for a more engaging experience. Briefly, here are a couple of methods that may help with this goal -
  • Let the player see that they've changed the world around them for the better. Admittedly, this is easier to do, and more commonly found, in single-player games than in MMOs - but even a wave and a smile from an NPC can help them seem more human and less like XP vendors.
  • Tell the story in a way that players understand. If a quest is too wordy, it won't get read, and if the story is too complicated, players will ignore it. Many games succeed by relaying the narrative with the help of the world itself.

Tidbits and Takeaways from GDC 2009
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 April 2009, 5:45 pm
Design games based on your interests and hobbies. For example, Shigeru Miyamoto realized it was fun to weigh himself every morning, and from that we got the Wii Fit.
(from Satoru Iwata's keynote speech)

Our brains are wired with a 'Seeking Circuit'. Seeking out a reward, in and of itself, is at least as satisfying as actually receiving a reward. A person receiving a gift misses out on half the gift if it isn't wrapped.
(from Chaim Gingold's presentation)

Games need weenies - navigational reference points that draw the player towards certain locations, pique the player's interest in future activities, and help the player set goals. The term was coined by Walt Disney; it's in reference to how you might wave a weenie in front of a dog.
(from Scott Roger's presentation)

"If I had given up, there wouldn't be any Metal Gear series. There wouldn't be any Splinter Cell series either, I guess...." This made me lol.
(from Hideo Kojima's keynote speech)

Passing money over a social network damages friendships. Money is there for when friendship won't cover what you need. "Facebook wouldn't be Facebook if it was a giant Amway party."
(from Nicole Lazzaro's presentation)

People move towards light, but more importantly, away from darkness. This point was reinforced in several talks. Lighting is one of our most powerful tools in guiding player movement and behavior.

Blizzard's WoW quest designers had to deal with concerns about spoonfeeding players with quest bangs, the quest log, and quests after level 10, among other things. Jeffrey pointed out, "players need a lifeline to the best moments in game. This is elegant game design, not hand-holding."
(from Jeffrey Kaplan's presentation)

Lionhead Studios likes portals. They were working on a portaling concept before Portal came out. Peter Molyneux demonstrated an experiment that his team had put together - a pair of mirrors that you could drop objects into, and depending on the objects' attributes, they change as they go through the mirrors. "Portal proved how brilliant the guys at Valve are."
(from Peter Molyneux's presentation)

Want to make great games? Bring a behavioral psychologist on staff! Valve has just such a person: Mike Ambinder, PhD, and I made a point of attending his talk. In a nutshell, he encourages designers to take a scientific approach to game design.
(from Mike Ambinder's presentation)

The Eyes of Master Chief
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 November 2008, 1:41 pm
"Why are you getting Halo 3?" my co-worker asked.

I gave him my answer. "I cannot go another day forward as a game designer without playing Halo 3. It is too important of a game for me to have missed." (And I'm over a year late!)

I had read the reviews and back story, of course, and I'd had many long conversations with fellow game designers about the glories and wonders of Halo 3, but somehow, none of that prepared me for playing the real thing.

At once, I drank in the beauty of the game. The music, the environments - and all the loving detail put into the weapons, vehicles, and characters - it was delightful.

In the initial sequence, my teammates help me up. They're so happy to find that I am well - they treat me like we've been friends for years. They have so much respect for me, I don't know if I've ever felt so welcomed.

What an unexpected sequence of emotions! I thought I'd be shot to death many times over in the first few minutes, not step into a living world surrounded by friends.

Then, at the end of the intro, the camera shifts to become the eyes of Master Chief.

Somehow, I wasn't prepared for it. Yes, the first two letters of "FPS" stand for "First Person" - you'd think that would be a big giveaway.

So I try moving around. No good - apparently my armor is still locked up. However, my friends are here to help, and one of them offers to recalibrate my suit.

He asks me to look up, so I look up. Then he asks me to look down, so I look down. We repeat the process. And then he tells me he's set my look style to "inverted."

I'll admit that I'm most accustomed to 3rd-person-style controls. In many 3rd-person games, your camera sits on the outside of a sphere and always looks inward towards your character's head. Thus, when you move the camera downward, you see more of what's above your character, and likewise, when you move the camera up, you look down. While it is "inverted" to move in the opposite direction from the way you want to look, it's completely natural for someone used to playing in the 3rd person (like me).

Satisfied with my inverted controls, my armor unlocks, and I'm free to move about on my own. I try all the buttons. Movement with the left stick - check. Shooting with the triggers - check. Reloading with the bumpers - check. Jumping - how do I jump again? Ok, the A button makes sense.

And then I try looking around. I can't do it. Looking up and down is great - we tested for that - but every time I try to look left, I end up looking right, and vice versa. What gives?

Unable to aim my weapons, I hit pause and go straight to the configs. I check all of them, and realize my problem. Inversion is only an option for the Y axis, not the X axis.

I try to get used to it. I run around, trying to look at rocks, plants, and my companions. It's a no-go. I'm moving the stick the wrong way every time.

Disheartened and frustrated, I go online to see if anyone else has my problem. Yes! Games with unalterable X axis controls are frustrating people on both sides. Final Fantasy XII has an inverted X axis that you can't switch to normal, whereas many FPS games, like Halo 3 and BioShock, have a normal X axis that you can't invert.

Sadly, many of the forum posts I read were hurtful. To put it nicely, players said that those who use inverted controls are backwards, and players who use normal controls don't know how to use a camera. Arguments on both sides generally ended in "just get used to it!"

So that is what I did. It took me a long hour of play to start looking in the correct direction, and it took me another hour to learn to aim accurately.

During those two hours, I spent a lot of time hiding behind rocks, being frustrated, and not shooting aliens. I felt like I was letting down the Arbiter, Avery Johnson, and the rest of my team. I could have jumped right into the game if I could have inverted the X axis.

With this experience, I have taken this lesson to heart: It's important to make a game's controls be configurable in as many ways as possible without breaking the game.

Designers can't assume that they know where a player is coming from, and players should not be forced to re-map what's intuitive to them - nobody likes to hear that they must "just get used to it."

Aside from that point, I took to Halo 3 fairly well. In fact, it's probably because the rest of the game is so intuitive that my X axis issues stood out like a sore thumb... or should I say, a confused thumb!

Players and Branding
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 November 2008, 11:15 pm
I attended the >play conference in Berkeley today.

One of my takeaways from the Creativity for Everyone panel was that as media becomes easier to create and share, everyone is developing their own brand.

It doesn't take long to write a blog post, put up a home video, or display artwork or photographs. Because many of the old barriers to self-expression have been taken down, people are joining the global conversation in droves.

By using new media to participate and interact, people are effectively creating brands for themselves. And they enjoy doing it.

This isn't news to web developers, but it's interesting looking at it from a gaming perspective.

People aren't just creating brands with websites like Facebook, Flickr and deviantART - they're using games like Second Life, Spore, and LittleBigPlanet to create in-game content that enriches and differentiates their personal brands.

So how can we, as game developers, help players nurture their own brands?

In my opinion, games that have the following components already help players. The more games that incorporate these features, the better!
  • Tools that let players meet/find each other easily
  • Engaging multiplayer play that allows players to communicate
  • Character and gameplay customization that lets players express their personal tastes
  • Systems that enable and encourage social networking outside of the game (and inside the game, if the game type allows for it)
  • Tools that help players create and share some form of game content
  • Methods whereby players can experience and rate other players' shared content
  • Rewards that both commemorate and display players' gameplay choices, and those that reward excellent shared content

Spore: Biological Details
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2008, 8:26 pm
Spore makes use of some incorrect biological premises. However, it's all for the sake of good gameplay.

Creatures in Spore evolve by spending earned DNA to develop new body parts. In a very general sense, this is a decent representation of how real species develop different traits over time.

However, Spore ends up confusing modern evolutionary synthesis with Lamarckism, which has been disproved.

Essentially, Lamarckism is the the concept that individual animals who use a body part more than other individuals will have offspring with a better version of that body part. For example, if a gazelle tries to run faster than other gazelles, then Lamarckism states that that individual gazelle's offspring will be able to run faster than other gazelles.

This is how Spore gameplay works. The body parts you are most likely to discover through play are the upgraded versions of the parts your creature already has.

However, that's not how evolution works. A population of creatures (like gazelles) will have a variety of genetic traits that they have acquired over time through random mutation. There are all kinds of traits that individuals in a population can have (like long and short legs), and those traits can be good or bad, depending on the situation.

If cheetahs attack our gazelles, the shorter-legged gazelles get eaten because they are slower, and the longer-legged gazelles survive to breed. The next generation will have longer legs.

Evolutionary pressure doesn't happen like this in Spore. If you die, you are reborn with the same features you had before. Whether your creature gets chewed on by a sea monster or outruns an angry troupe of freeps, your creature's next generation doesn't get tougher skin or a better run speed.

From a gameplay perspective, though, would "realistic" evolution be fun? Probably not in Spore's context.

Pre-tribal gameplay is already rather low key. Basing new body part choices on what features allowed you to survive (or die) might result in the same Lamarckian options. Removing part collection would take away perhaps a third of the game.

On top of that, if you earned DNA mutations at a steady rate, all you'd have to do is survive in order to progress - you'd have no motivation to befriend other animals, only eat them.

In the end, the Spore cellular and creature stages probably incorporate the best of both the biological and gameplay worlds.

Spore: No Water World
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2008, 7:13 pm
There is one obvious omission from Spore: the 3D underwater phase, which, according to this interview, had been partly developed, but was cut.

I had wanted to take my cellular creations on a gradual path from the microscopic to the macroscopic in a 3D world filled with bizarre aquatic creatures.

However, instead, you go straight from a single cell to a vertebrate with legs, and find yourself somehow eating whole fruit with your filter-feeding tentacles.

I can forgive Maxis for leaving out 'water world,' but they could have incorporated a less abrupt system for the cell-to-land transition. Despite the heartwarming cut scene, it feels like it was cobbled together at the last minute.

Something as simple as requiring players to replace all of their cellular parts would have made for a better experience. For example, my first attempt at a land-based creature couldn't walk, because I had given it fins for feet.

My only clue as to what I had done wrong was the name of the fins: cilia. Real life cilia are like fuzz, so of course you couldn't walk on them. But because Spore let me keep my cilia as macroscopic structures (and they sure look like fins), I assumed my creature could still use them for locomotion. I was wrong.

On a more amusing note, another missing feature is procedural mating (they kept the dance, but not the finale). Apparently, the creatures of Spore have figured out how to produce hard-shelled eggs without internal fertilization - and good for them! Players are already going to spam the world with Sporn; there's no need for the game to offer them any encouragement.

Spore Creatures: Unavoidably Cute
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2008, 12:33 pm
As a student of both biology* and game design, I have followed Spore with great interest. Since my copy arrived in the mail, I have spent most of my free time playing the game.

Spore is a technological breakthrough dressed up in cutesy visual design. The creature eyes, sounds, and procedurally generated animations are endearing, but there's a less-obvious source of charm: every creature's torso, tail, and limb segment is nearly circular in cross-section.

You can shrink a Spore creatures' eyes as small as they go in order to obscure their adorableness, but there's nothing you can do about the rounded bodies.

It made me a little sad to discover that you cannot laterally or horizontally squash and stretch body segments. I tried using Shift-Mousewheel and other key combinations in an attempt to discover hidden creature-shaping features, but I didn't have any luck.

So, ultimately, there is no way to flatten your platypus's tail. You cannot make a disc-like body for your lizard, a deep torso for your horse, or a broad chest for your ape.

No segment is allowed to shrink below the built-in minimum thickness, either. There is no way to make a gracile leg for an insect or a bird, nor can you properly taper a tail.

All in all, these limits don't detract from the enjoyability of the creature creator. While they enforce a certain humorously cute body type, that type can take many forms.

However, no number of spikes, claws and toothy jaws seem able to make Spore creatures less cuddlesome.

* My best college paper incorporated kinglet banding capture data from Manomet. I wanted to see if evolutionary pressure could be seen in action on kinglet populations; would the size of birds caught be smaller in warm years (since being small allows them to feed more effectively at branch tips), and larger in cold years (since being large allows them to survive cold weather)? The data, sadly, were inconclusive.

Casual vs. Hardcore
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2008, 10:30 pm
After making my opinion known about this touchy subject on my recent podcast, I figured I should shore up that opinion with some reasoning.

First, this is Raph's Post that started the discussion.

The question is, where does a player sit on the continuum between casual and hardcore? I think you can best figure this out by looking at the player's emotional investment in the game in question. This is very close to Damion Schubert's definition.

If you establish the casual-hardcore continuum only in terms of numbers of hours played, you misrepresent players who would play more, but are prevented from playing (because of illness, parents, social pressure, etc.). Number of hours played is a good indicator, but it's not the whole story.

If you base the continuum on how failure-tolerant a player is, you misrepresent players who play a game with great intensity, but who don't happen to take as many risks. For example, much ado is made about care bears vs. PVP'ers. Having watched players at various points on the care bear - player killer axis, I think it's safe to say that they're looking for different sorts of emotions, but the players' actual level of emotional investment is not necessarily affected by one play style or the other.

If you label players based on what kinds of games they play, you misrepresent players who are heavily engaged in games that just happen to be given the "casual" label. I agree with Raph in that the "mass market" label might be better here.

What we are left with as an accurate measure is the level that players feel like they are emotionally invested or engaged with a game. People who are heavily invested in a game are hardcore players, and those less heavily invested are casual players. Regular players fall somewhere in-between.

A Podcast!
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 April 2008, 4:19 pm
I've just participated in my first podcast.

Just to make sure my bases are covered, I want to say again that my opinions stated in the podcast - like my opinions stated here - are solely my own, and not necessarily those of my current or past employers.

Official Forums: Yes or No
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 March 2008, 9:50 pm
Should MMOs have official forums? The question has been debated for years.

This is the most recent incarnation of the question, as posed at the Stargate Worlds forums.

And this is Darren's take on the situation, along with many interesting comments made by his readers.

Also, Jaye writes in defense of official game forums. Given my experience on the development side of Vanguard, and my pro-newbie stance, I generally agree with Jaye.

MMOs are huge, constantly evolving games. As developers, we need to complete the circle of communication with our players. And we can't expect to accomplish that by solely relying on fan sites.

When Vanguard launched, the beta forums were taken down and no official forums came up in their place. Players had been warned, and they were given a list of fansites to visit instead.

Players, now offered a score of potential communities, didn't have an obvious place to give feedback. Because the barrier to player entry increased, the fansite-only system weeded out those less familiar with using forums - people who could have given valuable feedback.

Designers now had a similar barrier. We needed to comb through dozens of fansites to find new feedback. In order to meaningfully respond to players, we had to set up dev accounts in multiple places.

Regardless, without the familiar official channels to post in, players offered less feedback. Players seemed to think that without the official forums, they weren't being heard. Many players posted on fansites as though their only audience was other players.

While 'noise' was reduced, so too was 'signal.'

My argument is this:

Encouraging good player-player and player-developer conversation is so important to the health of an MMO, it's well worth the publisher's effort to have official forums.

Official forums provide players with a familiar, safe and reliable place to find information, give feedback, and receive developer responses. They show that the developer cares, and is listening.

As well, compared with most fansites, game publishers are better equipped to take advantage of modern media and proper information design to avoid losing 'signal.' Also, they can afford responsible moderators (and search technology) to help bypass 'noise.'

Are Designers Playing Too Many Games?
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Tue, 25 Mar 2008 21:03:00 -0400

GDC Swag
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Wed, 27 Feb 2008 20:49:00 -0500

Prepare to be Tested
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Sat, 09 Feb 2008 11:45:00 -0500

Kicking Stereotypes in the Face
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Sun, 03 Feb 2008 16:12:00 -0500

Personal Update
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Sun, 03 Feb 2008 16:00:00 -0500

Girl in the Computer Game Store
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Sun, 09 Dec 2007 14:23:00 -0500

Girl in the Gaming Store
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Sat, 08 Dec 2007 18:14:00 -0500

Shamelessly Reposted from Cuppytalk
Posted by Finding Fiero in Game Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on Wed, 05 Dec 2007 12:48:00 -0500

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