terça-feira, 1 de setembro de 2020

Three basic layers to observe/analyze games

There is a very complete (and complex) way to analyze and understand games proposed by Nitsche (2008) that I have already discussed in here. I have used this idea from Nitsche, semester after semester, in my game-designing classes, and it is a very didactic way to explain to the students the different planes in the gaming ecosystem.

However, since 2018 I’ve been teaching a discipline named “game essentials” in my university's IT course. It is an introductory (and general) approach to understand different bases of the gaming universe. Trying to synthesize some complex concepts, I’m discussing with my students the three fundamental layers to analyze games: the mechanical layer, the narrative layer, and the aesthetical layer. In an attempt to create the habit of always trying to identify which layer is predominant in a gaming experience I ask my students to grade – from 0 to 10 – these three aspects of the game. I’ll use as an example below, a short analysis that I made using the indie game “She remembered caterpillars”. Don’t know the game? No worries, you can watch the trailer below and understand the central idea of this title:



She remembered caterpillars” is a color-matching puzzle game with an unsettling organic aesthetic. In my point of view, the mechanical layer is the protagonist in this experience (grade 10) because all the gaming experience – in its core – is about solving the puzzles by positioning the characters in the right places of the scenario, respecting the color rules (ex.: blue character can go through a blue bridge put can’t go through a blue arch); another interesting point about the mechanics is the fact that you start the game using characters created with primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and, as the game progresses, you start mixing the characters to use secondary colors (purple, green and orange) to solve the enigmas.

In “She remembered caterpillars”, the aesthetical layer is just as important as the mechanical layer (grade 10 for this aspect too). How the characters were conceived with distinct colors, how these colors are always highlighted in the scenario, and how the layout information about the goal of each stage is always clear are nuclear features. In this game, the aesthetic aspects go hand in hand with the mechanical aspects all the time.



Last, but not least, we have a very curious narrative layer inside the “She remembered caterpillars” example. In this title, players eavesdrop on what appears to be one scientist’s quest to save her father. The surreal landscapes filled with organic elements, fungi plants, and cute characters look like some kind of metaphor for the despair to reconstruct some brain connections. In this case, my grade for this layer is 5; it’s a great narrative (if you stop to read the texts and pay attention) but you can play the whole game ignoring all this metaphoric information and have a great gaming experience.

It’s a simple starting exercise to observe/analyze games in a more critical way, but it has worked very well in my introductory classes. Hope it helps you too.

#GoGamers



Reference

NITSCHE, Michael. VIDEO GAME SPACES - image, play and structure in 3D worlds. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008

segunda-feira, 10 de agosto de 2020

First semester top ten games

I played a lot of games in the first half of 2020 (especially because of the coronavirus quarantine). I created a list of the ten games I liked the most here on the site (without an order of preference).

Check it out below.

The gardens between: a beautiful and clever puzzle game about childhood, goodbyes and memories of two great friends. The game uses time warping mechanics to compose the puzzles. Fast and awesome.



Little nightmares: delicately scary. Little Nightmares has excellent puzzles and an extremely bizarre narrative and fabulous graphics.



Sundered: rogue-like game set in a post-apocalyptic scenario with elements of magic and technology. Play, die and play everything different again (another interesting procedural experiment).



Starman: one of the biggest surprises of this year. Starman is a very relaxing puzzle game with fantastic art. The narrative deals with loneliness in a unique way. 



Old man's journey: a very simple story about facing the past and the future. A family drama with simple but very engaging puzzles.  



The las of us 2: AAA huge game with epic scenarios, animations, cut scenes and challenges. Although many did not like the narrative, I did; and I really liked it. In my opinion, just one problem: the game could have ten hours less of gameplay (it gets a little repetitive from half onwards).



The almost gone: depression, pain, memories of life and death. A perfect mix for a good mystery puzzle game.



Zenge: just another clever visual puzzle with simple design and a very crazy narrative created with beautiful images. 



Over the top tower defense (OTTTD): one of my favorite genres! Put the turrets, kill the enemies, earn money and build new powerful turrets. This one is very frantic and distressing. A perfect one after a long day of work. =)



Alteric: according to the developers - Thomas was alone meets Dark Souls. A 2D puzzle platform game quite challenging with minimalist graphics. Excellent!



#GoGamers

quinta-feira, 16 de julho de 2020

Procedural generation in games

In the last semester, I had the opportunity to be the supervisor teacher in a very interesting graduation work: a deep study about roguelike games and procedural generation behind this kind of games.

Probably, you’ve heard about this category – roguelike – a type of game characterized by the random generation of maps, scenarios and positioning of enemies. The concept behind these games is complex, but the final idea is very simple.

In computing, procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically as opposed to manually, typically through a combination of human-generated assets and algorithms coupled with computer-generated randomness and processing power. In video games, it is used to automatically create large amounts of content in a game. To understand the difference between a roguelike game and a game without this resource, let’s take for comparison the original “Super Mario Bros.” and “Enter the Gungeon”.

In the first title, every single element is always in the same place in the interface when you walk through the scenario; it’s even possible to memorize the traps, enemies and platforms for a better performance (as we can see in some “speedrun” tournaments).



The second title is a roguelike game; every time you play it, the scenario and the gaming elements will always change (the weapons, the bosses, the common enemies etc. are always changing in a procedural way).



In the images below, I tried to construct a simple diagram to illustrate the idea behind procedural generation in games.







Sundered”, “Spelunky” and “Enter the Gungeon” are some recent examples that we can bring to this discussion about procedural games, but we have also some examples from the eighties, like the title “Rogue” (the reason that today we categorize these games as “roguelikes”).

Undoubtedly, one of the big advantages of roguelike games is the multiple possibility to experience the game every time. Titles like “Enter the Gungeon” offer a myriad of easter eggs, secret passages, special-stage bosses, enemies, weapons, secret characters and much more.

#GoGamers

quarta-feira, 1 de julho de 2020

Game design process: an approach based in iteration and prototyping

I always like to bring my own experiences in the game designing field to this site. In this text, I will talk a little bit about the new project I’m developing at the moment with my friend Daniel Moori: the mobile and PC game named STENA. I also want to discuss (and show) how important is the iterative process and the huge abyss we find between the idea put down on a GDD (Game Design Document) and the final/tested product.

First of all, let’s briefly describe the game that will be our object of discussion in this post. STENA is a reimagined version of the classic PONG arcade; but, instead of horizontal paddles settled for a two-player match, STENA has a circular scenario where, in solo mode, the player must defend the core of each stage with multiple paddles rotating 360º. We can see the main idea of the game in the image below :



As you can see, this is the very first idea, created in a wireframe for the Game Design Document. A GDD structure is an excellent guide for the first gaming insights, but it’s very important to be “hands on” in order to materialize the first playable versions of the game. In the case of STENA the first versions created using Unity revealed a serious problem with the gaming physics that we adjusted in many ways using new scenario elements, enemies, random systems and, of course, improving the gaming code. In the video below you can have an overview from the iterative process of STENA – from the first “crashed” idea to more complex levels using several interface elements.



I have already discussed in this post about the importance of iterative design in the game designing process and I want to reinforce this idea here.

Develop your games in a GDD always, but be conscious of testing your ideas in a different way. Remember: to create an effective game is not about you playing one version of your game one hundred times but trying to make one hundred people play many different versions of your game one time. Always prototyping. Always in an iteration process. 

Do you wanna try STENA prototype? Click here (for Android only).

#GoGamers

sexta-feira, 1 de maio de 2020

Game analysis: Starman

Last week I was searching for games on Nintendo Shop to play on my Switch and I came across a game that was costing only 89 cents (!). The game icon immediately caught my attention and the name “Starman'' evoked good feelings in my mind. I downloaded the game, a production created by Nada Studios (a Spanish indie game company) and had a great surprise.



Starman echoes games like Limbo and Monument Valley. A depressive and beautiful atmosphere runs through the game where you must complete a series of nine stages filled with excellent (and clever) puzzles.



Each level takes you to a different oniric scenario. You control a character that, in a moment, is a retro club with a pool and, in another, is in a sci-fi movie environment. Starman invites us to participate in an interesting co-creation exercise with the game designers behind the gaming experience.

The music is a relaxing dark ambient soundscape and it fits perfectly in the gaming dark mood.

I played Starman entirely last week. I avoided searching for hints on the internet and finished the game by myself. It’s available also for mobile platforms.

The kind of game that I presently look for in my life: a strange narrative with immersive puzzles and minimal design.

Search for it! And congrats to the brothers @eiprol and @jeicob for the game!

#GoGamers

quarta-feira, 1 de abril de 2020

Independent. Experimental.

It is March 2020. The whole world is fighting a silence war against Coronavirus. Most part of Earth’s population is confined inside their houses. Different forms of entertainment take a special role in this moment to help people pass the time and fight boredom: streaming services, internet, pornography, books, e-books, and – of course – games.

Many people from my social circle are searching for games to play on consoles, PC and mobile media in this terrible moment. Many friends of mine are spending hours and hours in “Animal Crossing” (a big launching in this crisis times). Me? I’m searching for indie and experimental games. I’m using these times to analyze strange ludic experiments and new ways to explore gaming mechanics. The inspiration for this? Jesper Juul’s last book “Handmade Pixels: Independent Video Games and the Quest for Authenticity”; a deep discussion and a deep dive into the world of independent and experimental games.



In the last ten years indie games reached a special place with a big audience inside the huge gaming industry. The category “indie gamer” appeared in the gaming ecosystem and, today, people like me are preferring the experimental and independent gaming experiences instead of big and complex AAA games. According to Juul (2019, position 101) “independent games are new video games inspired by independent cinema and independent music, creating new experiences in new settings in new ways”.

Juul (2019, position 105, 114) also says that

Video games fundamentally involve doing something. Not just watching something or thinking about something, but physically making something happen on a screen, or outside the screen, something for which we generally feel responsible. The difference between different games is what they make us do, how they make us do it, and how they present what we are doing. Independent and experimental games contain a fundamental newness: they are about playing in new ways, solving new problems, solving old problems for new reasons, being free to ignore something we used to have to do, or framing video games in a new way – no longer as products, but as cultural works created by people. Independent videogames look in ways we never thought a video game would look and are often made by people who did not use to make games (or whose video games had not been reconized)”.

What do I like about experimental and independent games? The strangeness that some titles can offer me. In “The artist is present” you must stay in the line to attend a performance made by Marina Abramovic; in “That dragon cancer” you follow the real story of a couple struggling with childhood cancer; in “Rainy day” you are invited to understand the felling of being depressed together with the main character.

I also like to shooting some zombies or try to reach a deep level in “Enter the GUNgeon” but I must confess that every time I play something very strange in a game interface I become happy that games are reaching a new level within the scope of message transmission.



Reference:

JUUL, Jesper. Handmade Pixels: Independent Video Games and the Quest for Authenticity. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2019. (kindle version)