quinta-feira, 5 de dezembro de 2013

Observing level design in Gauntlet

I’m an old school gamer and, occasionally, I like to play NES cartridges from the 80’s. One of my favorite titles from this time is Gauntlet.

Gauntlet (1985, Atari Games) is a fantasy-themed hack and slash game, originally created for arcade with versions for NES, Master System, Mega Drive and other consoles. In the NES version, players could select among four playable characters: Thor the barbarian, Merlin the Wizard, Thyra the Valkyrie, or Questor the elvish archer. Gauntlet’s levels are full of orcs, spectres, skeletons, treasure chests and other classic elements from medieval Role Playing Games.

Each character has unique abilities, powers and weaknesses. So, it’s possible to explore different ways playing the game solo or combining different powers with a friend on the second joystick.

The gameplay is set within a series of top-down, third person perspective mazes where the goal is to find and scape through the exit in every stage. The video below shows Gauntlet’s mechanics.

Despite the simple interface and limited resources of this time, Gauntlet is a good example of level design management. The game has 100 stages and each of them is unique and works with the limited boundaries of the TV screen. The game uses the player’s memory with complicated mazes and has a life meter that works as a time pressure component.

The 100 stages are divided among five worlds, each one with special technical features. In Gauntlet it’s possible to see a well-constructed difficult/learning curve by passing the stages. The game hybridises the levels with the mechanics to offer the player a positive experience.

In this context it’s possible to say, “games consist of stages, or levels. As the player progresses through a game, the levels generally increase in difficulty and the story develops. The designer must create a series of challenges for the player as he progresses through a level. This means that the design of individual levels is closely linked to the design of the game mechanics” (THOMPSON; BERBANK-GREEN; CUSWORTH: 2007: p.93).

I think it’s important to analyze ideas from the past to establish new connections today. The beginning of the 80’s is a perfect frame to observe some conditions that are patterns of today’s gaming industry.


THOMPSON, Jim; BERBANK-GREEN, Barnaby; CUSWORTH, Nic. Game Design: principles, practice, and tecniques - the ultimate guide for the aspiring game designer. New Jersey: Wiley, 2007

quarta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2013

Gaming experience and social network: how games can be funnier with RAPTR

In this post, let's figure out how to engage an audience in a deeper entertainment experience using a digital social network. I’m taking about RAPTR, a social networking website and instant messenger, targeted towards video game players launched September 3rd, 2008. The site allows users/players to import their Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam accounts. It also includes other features such as trophies and achievements tracking, and this is a point to highlight in our discussion.

With RAPTR, you can compare your in-game statistics, level of engagement and collection of trophies/achievements in a wide mode. This is possible because RAPTR allows users to explore/connect a world broader than the console network.

As an example for this post I’ll use the game “Batman: Arkham Origins”, that I started to play recently. When the playing experience starts, automatically the game appears in your RAPTR dashboard with your level of engagement and list of achievements. The most interesting feature of the system is the possibility to view your performance against other players of the same game. In the image below we can see these features and the ranking on the bottom side (I’m 5th in the ranking, but I'm working to get a better position.).

With social networks like RAPTR we can have a parallel contest involving a large number of players fighting for symbolic rewards and ranking. In other words, it sounds like a game inside the game and it’s important for publishers to stay alert with this kind of social tool. In this scenario, companies also need to understand how to survive in times of media fragmentation defined by Lord and Velez (2013: 223) as the “increasing availability and consumption of different types of media across channels”.

Among the players, to be well-ranked in a gamer ecosystem is a very important reward and an essential component of social capital construction. As Santaella (2013: 43) says, by creating a profile on the social networks, people start to respond and act as if this profile were an extension of the self. Like an extra presence of what constitutes their identity. These profiles become flags that represent the people who hold them.

In this context we define social network sites in the words of Boyd and Ellison (2007) as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

The new generation of consoles promises interactions involving increasingly sophisticated games and social networking. Definitely, this is a matter for further discussion and deserves more attention.

Now on to your opinion.

Note: Unlike “Batman: Arkham Asylum” (Rocksteady Studios, 2009) and “Batman: Arkham City” (Rocksteady Studios, 2011), this game will not be developed by Rocksteady Studios. Warner Bros. Games Montréal, co-developer of “Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition”, created Arkham Origins, with additional development by Splash Damage for the game's multiplayer feature. Check the trailer below:

Go gamers!


BOYD, D. M., & ELLLINSON, N. B. Social network sites: definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11, 2007. URL: http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html (last access: August, 2013)

LORD, B.; VELEZ, R. Converge: transforming business at the intersection between marketing and technology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2013.

SANTAELLA, L. Intersubjetividade nas redes digitais: repercussões na educação. IN: PRIMO, A. (org). Interações em rede. Porto Alegre: Sulina, p. 2013.

quarta-feira, 20 de novembro de 2013

What is a game?

Researchers of gaming studies field are always discussing this subject. One thing is certain: there’s no absolute answer for this question. A game can be defined in many ways and videogames – specifically – become so complex platforms that is very difficult to reach one single idea about “what is a game”.

The good point is: there are lots of good visions about it. In an excellent presentation made at DiGRA’13 keynote named “The Ambiguity of Game Studies: Observations on the Collective Process of Inventing a New Discipline” the author Janet Murray discusses (among other things) what is a game.

The graph below, from the book “First Person" shows one (of many) interpretations of this subject:

I strongly recommend the complete reading of this presentation. You can find the slides HERE.

quarta-feira, 13 de novembro de 2013

Using fear as narrative in video games: origins

In the last few years we had lots of iconic survival horror games launched around the world for video game consoles. Just to give a few examples, we can bring to our discussion Silent Hill 4: The Room (Playstation 2, 2004), Slender (Parsec Productions, 2012) and Alan Wake (Microsoft Game Studios, 2010). All these games are very scary and possess sophisticated features in their narratives but it’s important to look to the past to understand the origins of horror in video games.

One of the first horror narratives in video game was used in an Atari game named Haunted House (Atari, 1982). With very limited interface and resources, the game creates a classic horror movie atmosphere with a house full of bats, phantoms and traps. The player commands a pair of eyes in the dark trying to find pieces of an ancient ark.

You can check a game play video below:

The game is very simple and there’s a fundamental detail that puts the player inside the gaming reality: the illustration on the cover of the box. The drawing dialogues with the player about the ambient of the game, and it’s possible to understand better the game mechanics (a good text about this subject could be found here).

quarta-feira, 6 de novembro de 2013

Recreating game mechanics

One important thing about game design is the ability to learn from games. The act of creating a repertory full of different references and mechanics is fundamental for the work of a game designer.

With great knowledge of these points it is possible to recreate game mechanics. To demonstrate this, I will use as an example in this post a game that I created: ÁLMOK.

ÁLMOK is a card game for 2 to 4 players that uses an oneiric world as a scenario. Players need to find combinations of dreams to escape from a nightmare dimension.

The game mechanics were based in the classic memory game, with some modifications. In the original memory game, the idea is to find a pair of equal images, but in ÁLMOK, the players need to find three of a kind. After a player finds a “combo” of three cards, he or she earns a special coloured gem. Each gem has a special power (like discard cards from the table, see hidden cards, etc.) that could be used in the turn of a player.

So, in essence, it’s a memory game, but we have some “turbo” modifications.

The game is played with a 64 deck of cards in a 8x8 grid that offers a major challenge for the player’s mind.

Ceilikan Games launched the game in Brazil in February 2013. The art made by me and ÁLMOK means “dreams” in Hungarian language.

At this moment, I’m working on a translation into English for the rules and a print and play version to make available for download to non-Portuguese speakers. Wait for news!

quarta-feira, 30 de outubro de 2013

Top Ten Tips for Boardgame Designers

Good stuff from the Dice Tower site. Tom Vasel, Zee Garcia, and Sam Healey give advice to aspiring boardgame designers. Have fun!

Recap for everybody:

10. Do your Research;
9. You will not make much money;
8. No one is going to steal your brilliant idea;
7. Be inspired by other game, do not just copy them;
6. Match your theme with the game mechanics;
5. Listen to developer and publisher, they want your game to succeed;
4. Streamline your game, remove unnecessary aspects (keep it fun);
3. Listen to your play testers, but don't design by committee (it's your game);
2. Design the game your way, there is no "one way" to do it;
1. Play test your game along the way! (use honest people who aren't afraid to hurt your feelings).

quarta-feira, 23 de outubro de 2013

Beyond Two Souls

I put away GTA V (for a while) to start playing BEYOND TWO SOULS (2013), that is the new interactive drama action-adventure video game for PlayStation, developed by French publisher Quantic Dream.

In the publisher’s site is the plot of the game: “Born with a connection to a mysterious entity (named Aiden) with incredible powers, Jodie was different. In an adventure spanning 15 years of her life, your actions will determine Jodie's fate as she faces extraordinary challenges, danger, and heart wrenching loss on a journey to discover the truth of who she is. Beyond promises an emotionally-charged journey unlike any video game before.

As the publisher's previous project, HEAVY RAIN (2009), in BEYOND TWO SOULS the player is invited to experience a kind of a movie with special commands. The game works in what we can call “decision trees” and the narrative is driven by choices the player makes.

The idea of these “decision trees” is to offer the players some choices to create uncertainty and unpredictability among the narrative. Sometimes you have time to choose what to do, sometimes there’s time pressure to choose one way and at moments you have to choose some actions just to add charming flavour to the universe of the game.

To create a perfect balance between game and interactive movie, Quantic Dream brings real famous actors to the production, and you can see Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page acting side by side, but in a different interface. It’s not new; we have lots of games with famous real actors, but BEYOND TWO SOULS brings a new experience in using this cast to create the atmosphere of the game. Check the trailer below:

The narrative is the main point of the game and in BEYOND TWO SOULS players have a chance to use a second screen experience downloading an special app in mobile phone that gives some complement interaction to the story. The connection between different narrative elements give to the game a unique kind of experience.

As Dille and Platten (2007, p.52) remind us, there are a pallet of media elements (voice, sound effects, music, cinematic, text, graphics, commands, etc.) to tell a gaming story. The authors also say “think of them as story elements. Don’t forget – story in video game is anything that helps you immerse yourself into the game-playing experience. Story isn’t just characters and dialogue. An interface element can be a storytelling device”.

In the last year, we saw many games with a focus on the narrative and I’m very excited with the evolution that kind of game will have in the generation of consoles.

Now on to your opinion.


DILLE, Flint; PLATTEN, John Zuur. The ultimate guide to video game writing and design. New York: Skip Press, 2007

quarta-feira, 16 de outubro de 2013

quarta-feira, 9 de outubro de 2013

The new generation

Ludic interfaces are leading and intertwining landmarks of contemporary culture. In the last thirty years or so, gaming culture has become a major trend. From videogame consoles connected to the internet to playing traditional board games, people are increasingly experiencing the field of entertainment.

The contemporary multiplatform environment, with so many connections to different devices, becomes a privileged ambient for the wide use of gaming language.

The new category of mass self-communication (CASTELLS 2009) poses further challenges to understanding current modes of sociability and consumption inside this field. As Castells says (2009:135), the great amount of content access by multiple platforms - digital TV, tablets, smartphones, video games etc. - offered to the public is one essential characteristic of global communication in the digital age. In this digital scenario, many governments, citizens, business groups and entertainment companies have begun to explore the advantages and have started to integrate these multiple platforms in their everyday communication processes.

Why mention all this? The new generation of consoles that will be arriving in the end of the year is a mirror of this process. The Xbox One and The Playstation 4 will surely create new ways of selling entertainment. Not only through the high sophisticated games, but integrating the gaming experience in an ecosystem with television, internet, voice command and social media.

We have many languages involved in this process, but undoubtedly the language of entertainment has a very important role in this context. It’s still early to make predictions, but I bet we will have a significant revolution in the way to make entertainment with this new generation of consoles.

PS: I played Xbox One and Playstation 4 at F.R.O.G congress 2013! Awesome experience.


CASTELLS, M. Communication power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

quarta-feira, 2 de outubro de 2013

F.R.O.G (Future and Reality of Gaming) Congress - Vienna, September 2013

Last week I was at Vienna (Austria) presenting a poster at the F.R.O.G (Future and Reality of Gaming) congress. Awesome keynotes and fantastic content in three days full of games in this beautiful city.

Vienna’s annual Games Conference offers an open and international platform for leading game studies researchers and scholars, game designers, researchers and scholars from various other fields, education professionals, and gamers from around the world. The main objective of FROG13 was to explore the “Context Matters” in regard to questions of player communities, challenging or problematic play settings, game theory and development, impact of games and cultural facets of play.

And now I would like to share the content that I presented at the congress. I hope you enjoy.

ECOLOGICAL CONCEPTS IN A BOARD GAME: How to discuss serious causes using ludic interfaces

Author: MsC. Vicente Martin Mastrocola (ESPM/Brazil)
E-mail: vincevader@gmail.com


In this presentation we seek to analyze the use of game mechanics for serious causes. We discuss, using a brazilian board game named Climate Game, how we can use a playful and ludic interface to cast a message for a serious cause and how a game could work with ideas about global warming in a fun/educational way. In this context, we use the idea of magic circle proposed by Johan Huizinga, author of the book Homo Ludens, in which the author explains how a physical space could be a place for playing, meaning and experience.

In this presentation we also discuss the impact of a ludic interface in the mediatic scenario, the gaming culture and how important it can be for the contemporary world.



Homo Ludens, entertainment and games

First of all, the notion of homo ludens, introduced by the dutch historian Johan Huizinga, is the conceptual backbone for this work, where we seek to analyze the use of game mechanics, ludic concepts, and game thinking applied to a brazilian board game with ecological theme named Climate Game. This game uses a playful and ludic interface to cast a message for a serious cause, and works with ideas about global warming in a fun/educational way.

In his book "Homo Ludens" (1955) Huizinga discusses the possibility that playing is the primary formative element in human culture. The author also presents the idea of the magic circle, one important subject for our discussion.

As described by Adams and Rollings (2009, p.8), Huizinga did not use the term as a generic name for the concept: his text refers to the actual playground, or a physical space for playing, meaning and experience. As the authors says, inside the magic circle, real-world events have special meanings. In the real world you kick a ball into a net but in the magic circle you score a goal.

Huizinga (1955, page 10) wrote that the arena, the card-table, the stage, the screen, etc, are all function playgrounds. They are all temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.

As Ehrmann says (1968, p.55) in an antropology of play, the latest cannot be defined by isolating it on the basis of its relationship to an a priori reality and culture. To define play is, at the same time and in the same movement, to define reality and culture.

The Climate Game

The Climate Game is a production from a brazilian company named Games For Business that works in the area of serious games, that, following the thoughts of Nick Iuppa and Terry Borst (2007), may be explained as games with a professional, educational or pedagogical use. Climate Game is a game that challenges its players to save the world from global warming. This game is both of competition and cooperation. It promotes competition because the player who emits no carbonic gas at all wins. But the integrated work of all the other participants is essential in order not to exceed the gas limits of the greenhouse effect.

Therefore, participants have lots of puzzles to solve together and, as Juul says (2005, p.8) games are usually well-structured problems, and this has led them to be used in several other fields.

This kind of game will not transform a player into a specialist in ecology or in global warming, but it can reinforce important concepts about the planet’s health. This game can teach basic ideas and stimulate the players to search for more information about the theme.

By this brief overview we can conclude that game mechanics can be a meaningful space for significative experiences. It seems that these ideas are essential to study and understand the gaming universe and the impacts of the game culture in the contemporary world.



ADAMS, Ernest; ROLLINGS, Andrew. Fundamentals of Game Design. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009

EHRMANN, Jacques. Homo Ludens Revisited. Yale French Studies, No 41. Game, Play, Literature (1968). pp. 31-57. (click here for download)

HUIZINGA, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1955.

IUPPA, Nick & BORST, Terry. Story and simulations for serious games: tales from the trenches. Burlington: Focal Press, 2007.

JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

Climate Game english site >> click here.

terça-feira, 24 de setembro de 2013


In the early days of the videogame industry, PONG could be elected a huge turning point in this scenario. As Cohen (1984, p.17) reminds us, PONG was a tremendous success inside the arcades around the world and many people lined up to play the game.

And it’s important to remember that PONG, in these early years, became also a domestic console and one new component was added in the growing gaming market.

For the first time one person – at home or arcade - started to interact with a screen with real time responses using a controller. In this moment the spectator gained “new powers” and was transformed in something new: an interactor.

As proposed by Murray (1997, p.153) “the interactor is the author of a particular performance within an electronic story system”. In this new ecosystem the interactor would be a kind of spectator who has capacity for agency, understood as the ability to perform significant actions and experience the proposal of a fictional universe.

So, more than simple players, we have a world full of interactors. Today many people are not necessarily playing a game, but interacting with digital platforms that use the ludic language. I think it’s important to think beyond the player and try to observe a more complex piece in this complex stage: the role of the interactor.


COHEN, Scott. Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.

MURRAY, Janet (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: MIT Press, 1997.

terça-feira, 17 de setembro de 2013

Candy, fans and profit

I’m an old school true gamer. I really like to play everything. I can have fun playing The Last of Us in the survivor mode and I can have equal fun playing Zombie Tsunami. One important thing in gaming research is looking at all kinds of games (and players) without prejudice. And this piece is about players, passions, casual games and fans.

Recently I started to play Candy Crush on iPhone. The simple game catches me. Not for the game mechanics (that is nothing new if you’ve played Bejeweled sometime in your life), nor for the thematic/aesthetics (I really don’t like candy) but the game has an excellent idea of business model and how to engage the users in the experience transforming great part of them in fans of Candy Crush.

The video below shows the game mechanics idea and the colourful interface:

– the studio behind Candy Crush - is the largest site for free games online. But “free” requires a good strategy to earn money from other sources and other formats. The most part of King.com games works on a “freemium” model.

Freemium (free + premium) is a business model by which a proprietary product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for advanced features, functionality, or virtual goods.

In Candy Crush, King.com puts lots of efforts to create a balance between entertainment for players, sharing in social media and selling of virtual goods (extra lives, special powers, etc.). The game offers limited lives to the player and when they are finished the user has two options: 1) wait a few minutes to gather more lives or 2) pay with real money to get new lives (or powers) immediately. The addictive game mechanics create the perfect ecosystem to sell virtual lives and powers that facilitate the journey in the game. Players can also gain new lives sharing Candy Crush features on Facebook (bonus in exchange of advertising).

King.com is trying to create an intense relationship with the players to achieve more profit. More than just users, the company needs fans to grow. As Sandvoss and Harrington (2007) remark, for better or for worse fans tend to engage with their passions not in a rationally detached but in an emotionally involved and invested way.

Jenkins (2006: 41) reinforces this idea about the role of the fan in contemporary participatory culture. Although the author examines television shows and other kinds of fan activity, we believe his ideas may help us make sense of what goes on in the social networking service in question. Let us quote what Jenkins has to say about the way one becomes a fan:

One becomes a “fan” not by being a regular viewer of a particular program but by translating that viewing into some kind of cultural activity, by sharing feelings and thoughts about the program content with friends, by joining a “community” of other fans who share common interests. For fans, consumption naturally sparks production; reading generates writing, until the terms seem logically inseparable” (…)

As we know, fans have a special role inside social media communities. A community of fans that surrounds a specific platform becomes a fandom, and this audience deserves special attention. A well-structured fandom can become an effective marketing tool for any specific social media platform.

It seems that companies like King.com must understand how to motivate and activate the fandom audiences, as well as how to bring them closer. Meaningful experiences are important in this context because it’s a key for players to spend money inside the game experience. The idea of freemium is surrounded by strategies to engage the player as a fan.

And now let me try to finish the level 89 of Candy Crush.


GRAY, J.; SANDVOSS, C.; HARRINGTON, L. (eds.). Fandom: identities and communities in a mediated world. New York: NYU Press, 2007.

JENKINS, H. Fans, bloggers and gamers: exploring participatory culture. New York: NYU Press, 2006.

King.com official site (link here)

quarta-feira, 11 de setembro de 2013

quarta-feira, 4 de setembro de 2013

4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness

Is game art? Well, it’s a very wide discussion and I think a simple blog post is not sufficient to debate this, but, undeniably, games use lots of things from the art field. This post is about a very curious ludic experiment that mixes art with games. In 2010, the Nordic game designer Petri Purho took the main idea of John Cage’s composition 4’33’’ and transformed it in a ludic interface.

4’33’’ (pronounced "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds" or just "Four thirty-three”) is a composition by American experimental composer John Cage (1912–1992) and the idea of the performance consist of NOT playing any musical instruments during that period of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The sounds of the environment is the only thing that the listeners hear while it is performed, although this composition is commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence".

In the digital gaming experiment 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness the user needs to look into a white screen with a black progression bar for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. To reach the end of the experience successfully, the “player” must be the only person in the world looking into the screen. You’ll win the game if you’re the only one playing it at the moment in the world and the experiment works online only.

The creative mind behind this ludic interface said in his website that 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness is “an exploration to what actually defines a game. You can win or fail in the game, but there is no user input or interactivity of any kind. I was tempted to leave the graphics out completely, but I figured that the white progress bar is abstract enough.”

You can play the experiment by clicking here.

And you can see a live performance of the John Cage’s composition in the video below:

Now on to your opinion.

quarta-feira, 28 de agosto de 2013

Creating and solving puzzles

This is a post with special content from one great book: Jesse Schell’s ‘The art of game design’. It’s a mandatory reading about gaming concepts and game design. The author explains with awesome graphs – in a very intuitive way - the whole process of creating games. It’s a fantastic guide for everybody who works or wants to work in the gaming field.

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: puzzles. In ‘The art of game design’ we can find a special session (SCHELL, 2008, p.210-218) analyzing this theme. I don’t want to quote all content of this chapter of the book but I intend to highlight some essential points using a good puzzle from ‘God of War: Ascension’ as an example.

Let’s watch a short video of the game to discuss some important features of the puzzle creating process.

In this God of War’s challenge we can identify essential points about good puzzles. According to Schell:

#1 Make the Goal Easily Understood: when Kratos enters the great room there’s a wide view with every element to solve the puzzle: the mortal spiked wheel, the lever, the way with the concentric circles, etc. And the goal here is clear: stop the spiked wheel for a few moments to get the treasures on the top side.

#2 Make It Easy to Get Started: the scenario provides the player the option to try the levers and see how the spiked wheel stops on every obstacle. So, the player needs to investigate a logical order to achieve the challenge. The important thing here is: the interface of the game guides the player into the center of the room to use Krato’s weapons in the levers.

#3 Give It a Sense of Progress: each lever generates a different result on the spiked wheel and the order the player hits each one, too. This way, it is possible to generate a type of learning curve and the idea of progress.

#4 Give It a Sense of Solvability: each element in this part of the game creates a visual key of understanding to the player. Each lever creates a different kind of interference in the scenario and it’s possible to see, in fact, the solution.

#5 Increase Difficulty Gradually: this is not the first trial of the game. The player has probably passed other ones. It’s important to create a high level challenge on each stage. Otherwise, the game could be a boring experience.

#6 Hints Extend Interest: hints are a good way to engage the player inside the puzzle experience. Video games have excellent resources to do this. In ‘God of War: Ascension’, for example, we can see visual hints every time the player pulls a lever. In other situations in the same game the camera travels to show the player which elements in the scenario one needs to interact.

#7 Give the Answer: and a reward! After a puzzle it’s important to give some kind of prize to the player and it’s essential to tell them that the enigma was solved. It’s clever to show the player that they did the right thing and this part of the game is finished. In Playstation and Xbox games, a virtual trophy or achievement is another way to say to the player “congratulations, you’ve done this”.

Soon I want to address another issue from this book: interface.


Reference: SCHELL, Jesse. The art of game design. Burlington: Elsevier, 2008.

quinta-feira, 22 de agosto de 2013

The delicate balance between challenges, narrative and rules

At this moment I’m playing again ALAN WAKE (Xbox 360, Remedy Entertainment /Microsoft Game Studios, 2010). The game is a third person psychological horror thriller about novelist Alan Wake, as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife's disappearance, during a vacation in the small fictional town of Bright Falls. During the game, Alan is transported to a kind of dark dimension where stories from his horror books become real.

The game is one of my favourites and it offers an awesome experience to the player with a perfect blend between the puzzles/challenges/enemies, the narrative and the rules/mechanics.

In ALAN WAKE the ammo is limited, the creatures are in great number and, frequently, you need to run instead of fight. The game dynamics creates an atmosphere of tension all the time and in the end of each chapter you can relax a little bit enjoying the game's good soundtrack (‘Up Jumped the Devil’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is included). The transition between the chapters is very creative and uses a language of TV show to create immersion for the player.

ALAN WAKE’s experience offers to the players a very special way to enjoy a good narrative inside a game. But it is important to remember that this experience is commanded by rules that create bounds in the game’s universe.

Jesper Jull (2005, p.5), in his book ‘Half-Real’, says, “the rules of a game provide the player with challenges that the player cannot trivially overcome. It is basic paradox of games that while the rules themselves are generally definite, unambiguous, and easy to use, the enjoyment of a game depends on these easy-to-use rules presenting challenges that cannot be easily overcome. Playing a game is an activity of improving skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.”

And this ‘learning experience’ is fundamental in games like ALAN WAKE because it generates the process of immersion required in good horror stories like this one.

On the other hand, Linda Hughes (1999, p.94) says that “Game rules can be interpreted and reinterpreted toward preferred meanings and purposes, selectively invoked or ignored, challenged or defended, changed or enforced to suit the collective goals or different groups of players. In short, players can take the same game and collectively make of it strikingly different experiences”

One thing is certain: to create balance between challenges, narrative and rules, a lot of time* is necessary for beta testing sessions. Patience and deep research are the pillars for good game design.

Check the game trailer below:

*ALAN WAKE took five years to be produced.


HUGHES, Linda A. Children’s games and gaming. IN: SUTTON-SMITH, Brian; MECHLING Jay; JOHNSON, Thomas; MCMAHON, Felicia. Children’s Folklore. Utah: Utah University Press, 1999. (93-119)

JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

quarta-feira, 14 de agosto de 2013

Game design process: a graphic approach

A good graphic reference for game designers from the Jesse Schell's book "The art of game design" (2008, p.463). Check the content below (sorry for the bad resolution):

SCHELL, Jesse. The art of game design. Burlington: Elsevier, 2008.

quarta-feira, 7 de agosto de 2013

Serious games: origins

Recently, we have heard a lot about serious games. The media is talking about the use of gaming activities for a great number of purposes including: e-learning, training, advertising, healthcare, social causes, education, etc.

However, the term "serious game" is not new and has been used for a long time, being redefined over the years. Author Clark Abt in his 1970 book "Serious Games" sets the following definition:

Reduced to its formal essence, a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives. We are concerned with serious games in the sense that these games have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement”.

By that time we didn’t have any digital games, but it’s possible to imagine these concepts applied to analogical games.

A little bit of history always helps to improve our gaming researches.

terça-feira, 30 de julho de 2013

The casual experience of DOTS

Created by Betaworks One Studio DOTS is a minimalist abstract game about connecting small dots in a 6x6 grid. DOTS is an excellent example of casual game category for mobile media (iPhone and iPad).

The idea of the game is very simple: join the little dots orthogonally and try to create a big chain, more dots equals more points. But DOTS has a special detail: each game lasts exactly one minute.

And the best part of the ludic experience is to try to be the number one in a global ranking. Many players are trying to overcome the score within the same amount of time.

Check the video below to understand the mechanics and gameplay:

Matching games are a great success since the early years of video games. As Trefay (2010, p.79) remembers us “we like to pattern match – our brains crave it. Games are essentially complex systems of patterns. (…) Games are comprised of pieces that can behave in unique, but prescribed manners. (…) Matching and sorting games provide a very basic form of pattern matching and bring it to the surface of the game. This makes them very accessible and well suited to casual games.”

The elegant gameplay of DOTS brings us a good reference to study casual dynamics. The simple interface and sound design offer us the idea that the basic could be, sometimes, better than the complex.

So, what are you waiting to play DOTS and be number one in the global ranking?


TREFAY, Gregory; KAUFMANN, Morgan. Casual Game Design. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann, 2010

terça-feira, 23 de julho de 2013

Off-topic: Misinformation and trust on the social networking site Instagram

Well, this is not about games but it is about digital/social media. Here it goes: my paper to the ICA (International Communication Association) 2013 congress that happened in Málaga (Spain) last week.

I wrote this stuff alongside with my doctorate ‘mastermind’. =)

Check the content below:


Misinformation and trust on the social networking site Instagram
Related area 5: Trust in the media

Dr. Gisela G. S. Castro (Professor of Postgraduate Studies on Communication and Consumption Practices at ESPM/Sao Paulo, Brazil; castro.gisela@gmail.com)
M.A. Vicente M. Mastrocola (Postgraduate Research student and graduation level teacher at ESPM/Sao Paulo, Brazil; vincevader@gmail.com)

Taking communication and consumption as leading and intertwining landmarks of contemporary culture, this presentation discusses a relevant issue regarding misinformation and trust within the context of social media. Acknowledging the prominence of digital networks in today’s mediapolis (SILVERSTONE 2006), where mass self communication (CASTELLS 2009) poses new challenges to understanding current modes of sociability and consumption, our focus will be directed to Instagram, a mobile photo based application for Android and iOS systems, in the light of a recent hoax episode involving Brazilian Internet users of this social networking site.

Some figures may help illustrate Brazil’s role in the global consumption market. The country is the fifth largest in the world, it has the sixth largest population and it ranks seventh in terms of Internet usage. Brazilians are heavy Internet users, spending the largest average number of hours in the Internet (23 hours a week). The country currently has 240 million active mobile devices (30% smartphones and 70% mobile phones), for a population slightly over 190 million (link here).

The circumstances that trigger our discussion began to take place in 2012. On one occasion, rumor was spread on the web alerting users that Instagram Host Company actually owned and was willing to sell content posted on the digital social network. As information quickly spread, thousands of Brazilian web users reacted angrily against the site.

The misunderstanding occurred because company officials had recently published new rules and part of the textual information had been misunderstood. Moments after the negative buzz had spread virally through major digital social networks, company co-founder Kevin Systrom issued a statement explaining that the pictures would not be sold under any circumstances (link here).

Even after the official clarification had been delivered, a significant number of Brazilian users remained skeptical about the application causing Instagram to suffer a heavy impact on its levels of trust.

Due to its huge popularity, Instagram quickly formed an active community of Brazilian users, many of whom are keen fans of the application. Therefore, small changes in its interface or protocols will generate immediate response from its fan based community. As Sandvoss and Harrington (2007) remark, for better or for worse fans tend to engage with their passions not in a rationally detached but in an emotionally involved and invested way. Even the slightest conflict of trust may trigger the display of anger and revolt involving fan communities in social media networks.

With this work we aim to highlight how tarnished corporate image may be as a result of distrust generated by misinformation spread among social media users. As Castro (2012: 188) notes, as more and more people spend hours online, digital technology plays a key role on levels of affection, trust or mistrust, it is important for companies to engage their consumers as partners and fans. In this attempt, social media networks can pose as an opportunity as well as a potential risk.

Informed by academic studies on communication and consumer culture, with special emphasis on digital social networks, our empirical research is based on the virtual ethnographic approach (HINE 2000; KOZINETS 2009). The challenge here is to explore the process of making connections while crisscrossing boundaries related to online and offline corporate as well as interpersonal routines and sensibilities.

We welcome the opportunity to present this relevant discussion as a means of contributing to the ongoing efforts in exploring the role played by the media – especially social media – in constructing and deconstructing ever shifting levels of trust and distrust in today’s culture of consumption.


CASTRO, Gisela G. S. Entretenimento, sociabilidade e consumo nas redes sociais: ativando o consumidor-fã. IN: CASAQUI, V. e ROCHA, R. M. Estéticas midiáticas e narrativas do consumo. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2012, p. 187 - 206.

CASTELLS, Manuel. Communication Power. Oxford, N. York: Oxford Press, 2009.

FEATHERSTONE, Mike. Consumer culture and postmodernism. London: Sage, 2007.

GRAY, J.; SANDVOSS, C.; HARRINGTON, L. (eds.). Fandom: identities and communities in a mediated world. NYU Press, 2007.

HINE, Christine. Virtual ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2000.

KOZINETS, Robert V. Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage, 2009.

SCHOLZ, Trebor (Ed.). Digital Labor: the internet as playground and factory. Routledge, 2013.

SILVERSTONE, Roger. Media and Morality: on the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2006.

quarta-feira, 10 de julho de 2013

Last of us

Recently I’ve finished the fu**ing awesome LAST OF US (Naughty Dog, 2013) for Playstation 3. LAST OF US is a survival horror action-adventure game where the player takes control of Joel, a character trekking across a post-apocalyptic United States in 2033, in order to escort the young Ellie to a friendly resistance group, the Fireflies.

During the long path to the Fireflies base, the characters must defend themselves against zombies contaminated by fungus spores, bandits, soldiers and a great sort of other enemies. Briefly that’s the main idea of the game.

Why the game is awesome in my opinion as a gamer and game designer? Check some points below:

1) The game balances action, tension and emotion in a unique way. Sometimes you need to solve a little puzzle, sometimes you need to run like hell, and sometimes you have little ammo and lots of zombies around you. LAST OF US puts the player in a kind of ‘wave’ of content and you stay attached to the narrative of the game (a great feature to comment, by the way).

2) The narrative is a good mix between gameplay and cinematography action. It’s not an open world game but the player can experience moments of free action around the scenarios without loosing focus on the main mission. As Bateman (2007, p.107) says “many games now combine open and closed storytelling. They offer the player a chance to play a series of defined story missions alongside the chance to explore a world in whatever order that player wants”.

3) Good characters. As Dille and Platten remind us (2007, p.65-67) there are major types of characters that can exist within a game: the main hero (in that case Joel), the allies (the girl Ellie and others), neutral characters (the background characters), and the enemies (LAST OF US doesn’t have final stage bosses, only packs of enemies all the time). The characters, even the evil ones, are well structured and create empathy with the player.

4) A good end. Some people loved and some people hated the end of the game. I’m on the first group. I don’t want to give out any spoilers but the end is awesome in my opinion. It works with the personality of the hero (Joel) in a rare way we can see in modern games.

It’s immersive. It’s violent. It’s an epic product for a videogame platform. Prepare to be surprised. Make every bullet of your ammo count in this game, and prepare yourself for new ways we will massively have in the new generation of consoles.

Check the game trailer below:


BATEMAN, Chris (editor). Game Writing: narrative skills for videogames. Boston: Thomson, 2007.

DILLE, Flint; PLATTEN, John Zuur. The ultimate guide to video game writing and design. New York: Skip Press, 2007

quarta-feira, 3 de julho de 2013

Knowledge for game designers

"Do weird and difficult things" — Masaya Matsuura, Game Designer.

"Focus groups tell you what people like, but they don't tell you what people want" — Ron Gilbert, Game Designer.

"Play testing by people outside of the development team typically comes too late to have a major impact on the final product" — Jeff Orkin, Game Researcher.

"What game is worth doing that's not creatively risky?" — Tim Schafer, Game Designer

Source: Quotes for game designers

quarta-feira, 26 de junho de 2013

About Jane McGonigal presentation at Cannes Lions 2013

Few days ago I was in France at the Cannes Festival of Creativity (A.K.A Cannes Lions Festival) and watched an awesome presentation by Jane McGonigal, an American game designer and author who advocates for the use of mobile and digital technology to channel positive attitudes and collaboration, in a real world context.

Jane talked about how games could change the quotidian and bring positive effects to the contemporary world. The author also spoke about how games make us resilient and could be used in non-gaming context.

McGonigal brought an excellent case to the audience about how, in clinical trials, casual games outperform pharmaceuticals for anxiety, depression and other health disturbers. To illustrate that interface between games and healthcare, Jane used as an example the game Re-Mission (HopeLab, 2006). In that game the player is inside the bloodstream of a cancer patient as his/her mission is to destroy the cancer cells with a special weapon. The video below shows the gameplay of Re-Mission:

This game is used in the treatment of children with cancer. As Jane said, in the behavioral side the patients tend to have better chemotherapy adherence (20% higher blood chemo levels), and in the psychological side patients tend to have higher rates of self-efficacy.

There’s so much to research in this area but I think authors like Jane McGonigal are doing a great job.

And I recommend the book “The reality is broken” from this author to start a new discussion about the use of ludic interfaces in non-game contexts like health, politics, serious causes and education.

quarta-feira, 12 de junho de 2013

Immersion, image & games

Last week we had the announcement of the new Microsoft's console, Xbox One. Few weeks ago we saw the presentation of the Playstation 4 and Nintendo launched the Wii U in the beginning of the year. The new generation of video games is here and gamers are curious about the enormous possibilities of this new communicational ecosystem. Undoubtedly, the graphics are one important piece to analyze in this process.

What I want to highlight in this discussion is the evolution of graphics on video games, since the first electronic games until today. We had a great leap from the first textual games (like Zork) to the modern first person shooters (like Call of Dutty).

Graphics on video games are important pieces to a player’s immersion. And I’m not talking about realistic graphics only, because all we know that an abstract game like Tetris could create a strong immersion in the players. A textual game could be immersive too, but it seems that images can be more determinant in this complex act.

As Aarseth remembers (1997, p.102) “images, specially moving images, are more powerful representations of spatial relations than texts, and therefore this migration from text to graphics is natural and inevitable”.

I think it’s possible to say that the main object of the graphics on a game is to be a kind of “bridge” or “portal” to the immersion. A kind of facilitator/translator to the player to get totally inside the game interface.

As Nitsche says (2008, p.44) “evocative narrative elements encourage players to project meaning onto events, objects, and spaces in game worlds. They help to infuse significance. Their value is not realized on the level of the element itself but in the way players read and connect them. Creating these connections, players can form narratives that refer to the game world. If this meaning assignment becomes very strong, the virtual items themselves can leave the rule-based space, fictional space, social space, and even the play space”.

In a world full of possibilities of connections and full of screens all around it’s important to study ways to create better immersion process to our players.

Now on to your opinion.


AARSETH, Espen. Cibertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Maryland, 1997.

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

quinta-feira, 6 de junho de 2013

A quote from Espen Aarseth

Sometimes I like to share some good quotes from great authors of ludology, narratology and gaming concepts areas. The quote below is from Professor Espen Aarseth, and wit as said during his presentation in Brazil last December.

"Video games are neither narratives nor games, but software that may contain both.

Let’s think about it.

Read an interview with Mr. Aarseth by clicking here.

quarta-feira, 29 de maio de 2013

Advergaming with Doritos

Doritos launched a few years ago one fictitious Hollywood studio named Snack Strong Productions. The main idea of the studio is to promote the brand with some ludic interfaces like Internet games, interactive stories on YouTube, video games and viral campaigns.

A successful case of the fictitious studio is the game named Doritos Crash Course (Wanako Games, 2010). The game is a 2.5D side scrolling plat-forming advergame developed for the Xbox 360's Live Arcade service. It is free for download and has an awesome and intuitive interface.

Crash Course has two good features to highlight: first of all, the game is an experience sponsored by Doritos and the brand appears in the beginning of each stage. The second important feature is the in-game advertising possibility inside some floating outdoors in the game interface. As you can see in the image below, the outdoor is displaying an ad for Crash Course 2 (the second game of the franchise) and it supports many kinds of advertising.

The social strategy is very important here and players with an Xbox Live membership may compare records with friends or play head-to-head against online opponents.

Doritos is investing heavily in business strategies with entertainment. Definitely, the brand seems to have understood how to adapt itself to the ludic context that permeates our contemporary world.

quarta-feira, 22 de maio de 2013

Money through mobile games

As you know, I’m a postgraduate research student and graduation level teacher in Brazil. At this moment, I’m teaching Digital Media and Gaming Concepts to my students. In a specific class about mobile gaming there’s question that comes up every semester: “How can we make money through mobile games?”

Ok, the world is going mobile and everybody wants to create the new Angry Birds to become a millionaire, but it’s essential to analyse some important business models inside this complex (and gigantic) market. In this post I just want to highlight some of these models. It is not my intention to write a complete document about this subject.

1. Freemium (a neologism mixing “free” and “premium”): is a business model by which a game is provided free of charge, but money is charged for advanced features, functionalities, or virtual goods. “Cut the rope” is an example of freemium game because you can download the content and play ten stages of the game, but if you want the complete experience its mandatory to pay. “Zombie Tsunami” is an example of how a company can make money with in-game equipment (players are invited to visit a virtual shop to buy scenarios, powers, clothes, etc. with real credits).

2. Ads and banners: there are a lot of free games with advertising inside its interface. It’s very common to find a free game with ads/banners in the screen. Sometimes it sucks but someone needs to pay the price and advertising could be an answer.

3. In-Game Advertising: refers to the use of digital games as a medium for the delivery of advertisements. This is a better way to put products and services in the interface. We have a lot of examples of brands that created games for its products, like “CP3K” running game from Nike.

4. Free for long-term profit: a good strategy for small companies in the beginning of its existence is to give the whole game for free or put the game for free for a while and put a minimum price on it after a few weeks. In the beginning it’s necessary to build a name in the mobile gaming field. If your first game was good, certainly people will pay for expansions or new ones.

5. Put a price on it: there’s no rule about a price for a mobile game. In this case it’s important to have an overview about similar games to create a coherent value to your game.

There’s a lot of another strategies to create “talkability” and make your game to go viral. It’s possible to distribute promotional numbers for free downloads to influent people, use social media, etc. but this is a subject for another post.

Now on to your opinion.

quinta-feira, 16 de maio de 2013

Made for Play: Board Games & Modern Industry

Excellent content. Brilliant documentary. One master piece about the board games industry in Europe.

Jettingen Germany is home to Ludo Fact, one of the world's largest manufacturers of board and card games.

This documentary shows how a board game makes the leap from an idea to your table. You'll see every aspect of the manufacturing process: the technology and machines, the many detailed steps, and the hundreds of people that are involved in the production of a single game.

Mostly, we hope the film gives you a greater appreciation of the time, effort and investment that goes into every quality board game that makes it to the marketplace and your home. The business of fun requires a lot of hard work!

For more information on The Spiel and our media coverage of the game playing world, visit thespiel.net

quarta-feira, 8 de maio de 2013

Game industry & fans

The global game industry is a colossal and powerful juggernaut. There's nothing new about it. The world video-gaming industry is predicted to record 9% yearly growth through 2013, to exceed $76 billion, according to the site Report Linker. Yes, there's a great amount of money and a wide industry such that requires strategies to engage consumers with more and more meaningful experiences.

It seems that game publishers need to understand how to create characters, challenges, sequences, rewards and a wide chain of derivative products to transform players into fans. A fan is an important piece in the contemporary culture for many entertainment brands.

A fan is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something, such as a band, a sports team or a entertainer. Fans have a special role inside the enormous game industry. A community of fans that surrounds a specific game becomes a fandom, and this audience deserves special attention.

A well-structured fandom could be an effective marketing tool for a game publisher, so good as advertising in television. Companies must understand how to motivate the fandom audience with meaningful experiences and how to bring the player to its side.

As Jenkins (2006, p.148) says, successful media producers are becoming more adept to monitoring and serving audience interests. The game industry, which sees itself as marketing interactive experiences rather than commodities, has been eager to broaden consumer participation and strengthen the sense of affiliation players feel towards their games.

In a big business like this, companies must understand games as well as understand marketing.


JENKINS, Henry. Fans, bloggers and gamers: exploring participatory culture. New York: NYU Press, 2006.

quarta-feira, 24 de abril de 2013

Games and simulations

Few weeks ago I participated of a discussion about important features in game design process. Among a lot of important topics, there is one that deserves special attention and asks for a highlight -- I'm talking about the idea of "simulation" in games.

It’s very common to read in some articles a few notions about this subject, but I think it's important to bring one conceptual definition to this discussion. First of all, we are talking about digital games and, in second place, all games are simulations by nature.

Becker and Parker, in their excellent book The guide to computer simulation and games say (2012, p.64) that in the computer simulation community all games are simulations, but not vice versa. If one looks at the algorithms of a fully digital game (i.e., one that is not a digital version of a traditional game) – those algorithms that actually make it behave the way it does – one will find that they are in fact simulations. While it is certainly true that most games have some aspects that classical simulations normally lack, that does not make them something other than simulations.

The quote above helps us to imagine this idea clearly. The programming code per se is a simulation tool that gives life to the game and to its interface, mechanics and dynamics.

The authors also state that (p.65), at least until recently, simulations did not normally involve the use of joy-sticks or other game-like control devices. Nowadays, we are seeing more and more simulation engines being built to take advantage of those very same devices.

In other words, the simulation field is getting wider and their practices have acquired new meanings every time. And it's even hard to say how much the games and features related to the idea of simulation affect areas beyond entertainment.

I think it’s necessary to understand better these different features to use games in a broader way. To initiate a deeper discussion I recommend the book listed in the reference of this post below.

Have a nice reading.


BECKER, Katrin; PARKER, J.R. The guide to computer simulations and games. John Wiley & Sons: Indianapolis, 2012.

quarta-feira, 17 de abril de 2013


Today I want to talk about one of my favorite ludic genres: puzzles. Puzzles are a good format to structure interesting choices in your games.

Puzzle games, by definition, focus on logical and conceptual challenges, although occasionally the games add time-pressure or other action-elements.

We have pure puzzle games like Tetris (by the way, Tetris is credited for revolutionizing gaming and popularizing the puzzle genre), Bejeweled and Dungeon Raid. We also have a hybrid format that mixes puzzles with another gaming genres, as we can see in God of War and Resident Evil (action + puzzle). It seems that a balance between action and puzzle is a great way to structure a good narrative/gameplay to your game.

Fullerton says (2008, p.324) that puzzles are also a key element in creating conflict in almost all single player games. There is an innate tension in solving the puzzle. They can contextualize the choices that players make by valuing them as moving toward or away from the solution.

Ernő Rubik, the Hungarian architect and creator of the magic cube, said a long time ago that “the problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is about solving puzzles”.

Inside the puzzle genealogy we have many different examples: textual puzzles, puzzles with numbers, visual/color puzzles and much more.

I’m studying some puzzle logics for a new iPhone game design project. Soon, I want to share some impressions and sketches about the game with my readers.

Now on to your opinion.


FULLERTON, Tracy; SWAIN, Christopher; HOFFMAN, Steven. Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2008.

quarta-feira, 10 de abril de 2013

Beyond the entertainment

I believe it's possible to say games are far beyond pure and simple entertainment. You can find several examples of gaming use in the fields of health, politics, economy and social causes.

I want to share a great quote from Jesper Juul that helps us understand this fact. As Juul says (2005, p.8) games are usually well-structured problems, and this has led to them being used in several other fields.

The idea of “well-structured problems” is correlated with relevant contents, creative concepts, well defined interface and the coherent use of game mechanics in non gaming contexts.

Finally, entertainment is a language that creates a mediation between various aspects of our daily lives.You must understand this language to innovate in several other areas of knowledge.

Think about it.


JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

quarta-feira, 3 de abril de 2013

Essential questions to answer during a game design process

Regardless of the platform, every gaming project has some common elements that need special attention. The authors of the book Game Design (reference at the end of the post) created a good list of essential questions (2007, p.86-87) to a game design project.

These questions are important in order to give you a concept form as a game and avoid a poorly defined idea. Let’s check this useful content:

1.Can you describe the game concisely in one paragraph? Keep in mind that you need to explain the main idea of the game in less than 30 seconds. Try to describe your favorite games in one paragraph to exercise.

2.Can you summarize the story? You can find excellent references on the back cover of video game cases.

3.Which platform? Playstation or card game? Xbox or board game? Remember: a good idea can be multi-platform, sometimes.

4.Does it fit a genre? First Person Shooter, puzzle, 2D platform, survival horror, etc. What kind of game we are talking about?

5.What’s the target audience? There’s a difference between creating a horror game for adults and an puzzle game for children. You need to knowyour target audience deeply. This is very important: you’ll create a game for a specific audience, not for you.

Think about that in your next game design project.


THOMPSON, Jim; BERBANK-GREEN, Barnaby; CUSWORTH, Nic. Game Design: principles, practice, and techniques - the ultimate guide for the aspiring game designer. New Jersey: Wiley, 2007

quarta-feira, 27 de março de 2013

Culture of play

It is undeniable: games are part of our culture and our everyday life. We are living in an age where entertainment and work cross paths in every moment. I think it’s possible to say that certain audiences are living in a kind of “culture of play”.

My idea in this post is to discuss briefly and cast light on this subject and recommend an excellent text for further reading. I think that, in a first moment, we need to understand this “culture of play” and the idea of “play” itself.

This complex idea requires a multidisciplinary approach. To understand the “culture of play” in the mediatic scene and contemporary world we need mostly to search for knowledge in sociology, anthropology, history, psychology and other sciences.

As Ehrmann says (1968, p.55) in an antropology of play, play cannot be defined by isolating it on the basis of its relationship to an a priori reality and culture. To define play is, at the same time and in the same movement, to define reality and to define culture.

So, a good starting point for a rich discussion can be found in the reference below.

Have fun!


EHRMANN, Jacques. Homo Ludens Revisited. Yale French Studies, No 41. Game, Play, Literature (1968). pp. 31-57. Stable (download here)

quinta-feira, 21 de março de 2013


Today I’ll talk a little bit about a recent independent work. I’m a researcher/teacher in a communication university from Brazil but also a game designer. I recently started a partnership with my friend Rafael Verri to develop mobile games, and I would like to talk about our first project: TÍZ, a game for iPhone.

TÍZ (“ten” in Hungarian) is a dice rolling puzzle with ten sided dice (D10). It’s a very simple game with very intuitive interface. In TÍZ, the player can play alone versus the computer or versus a friend. The goal is to arrange the dice in lines on the board to create sequences. A sequence without connection between the numbers (like 2, 5, 9) is worth 1 point, an ordely sequence (like 5, 6, 7) is worth 3 points and, finally, a sequence with equal numbers (like 7, 7, 7) is worth 6 points. The player who gets 18 points first wins the game.

The video below is the game tutorial where it explains the mechanics and dynamics of TÍZ.

I was responsible for the game design and creation of aesthetics. The original version of TÍZ is an analogic board game with real dice and the whole idea started with a simple prototype -- my attention was focused on the core mechanic.

As Fullerton says (2008, p.188) the core gameplay mechanism, or “core mechanic” can be defined as the actions that a player repeats most often while striving to achieve the game’s overall goal. Fullerton (2008, p.189 and 190) also stresses the importance of creating prototypes to see the “soul” of the game.

The core mechanic was the starting point of the project, but we have some additional features that complete the whole game. I want to highlight some important details about the creative process of TÍZ:

1.The internal logic of creating lines with three dice and a sequence of numbers came from tic-tac-toe, Sudoku and poker.

2.The score was created from the logic of triangular numbers (click here to learn more). This resource is very helpful and lots of games use this idea for scoring.

3.The layout was designed based on minimal abstract arts from the artist Josef Albers (link here).

4. The balance of the game was made with many playtests. I insist that this is a very important part of the creative process. (check this previous post about this subject here). It’s necessary to have multiple views on the gaming dynamics to detect errors.

There's no secret or mystery. We need to play and study a lot of games to create new ludic experiences.

Download TÍZ now! Go gamers!


FULLERTON, Tracy; SWAIN, Christopher; HOFFMAN, Steven. Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2008.

quarta-feira, 13 de março de 2013

The experience of YEAR WALK

Year Walk (2013) is a weird game. Better yet, Year Walk is a weird ludic experience.

The game is the fourth project developed by Simogo, the publisher that was responsible for launching the wonderful Beat Sneak Bandit in 2012. Year Walk is a double screen mobile interface: you can play the game on your iPad and there’s a free app for iPhone called “Year Walk Companion” (a kind of illustrated guide for the wandering monsters of the story). Both are enjoyable in their own way, but together they create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The narrative of the game is about an old Swedish folklore legend and the gameplay is a first person adventure about glimpses and visions of the future with a very unique touch screen interaction. Year Walk tries to create an aura of supernatural feelings where you need to solve cryptic puzzles, touch and listen in search to foresee the future, and finally discover if your loved one will love you back (!). But wait, it’s not a beautiful saga with a happy ending. As I said in the begging, it’s weird (and freaky).

Check the trailer below to understand the atmosphere of the game:

And why talking about this game? Year Walk is a good example of how such a strong narrative/story can complement the idea of gameplay. The game design and gameplay are very important in this case, but the narrative is the core of the ludic experience.

As Richard Dansky says (2007, p.2), in the context of game development, story is often confused with design. The story is what happens, the flow of the game that can be separated from the game mechanics and retold as a narrative. To complement this idea, the author says (p.5) that on the most basic level, narrative strings together the events of the game, providing a framework and what can alternately be called a justification, a reason, or an excuse for the gameplay encounters.

As its best, narrative pulls the player forward through the experience.

Now on to your opinion.


BATEMAN, Chris (editor). Game Writing: narrative skills for videogames. Boston: Thomson, 2007.

quarta-feira, 6 de março de 2013

Reinventing games

What happens when you mix Bejeweled with elements of medieval fantasy? The answer is Dungeon Raid (2011), a puzzle roleplaying game.

Dungeon Raid was created for mobile platform (iOS and Android) and it is a challenge to your strategy skills. The game interface is very simple/intuitive and the only thing you need to do is trace a path, match the tiles to collect the treasure, buy and upgrade weapons and defeat monsters. In the video below we can see the gaming dynamics and mechanics:

Dungeon Raid
is a good example of how such a classic game idea as Bejeweled can gain a new skin for a new audience. So, we can notice the importance of a good repertory to create a game. Even casual games like this one.

Besides good dinamics and mechanics, Dungeon Raid has a very important narratological component: each time you play the game a new short story is presented to explain your motivation to enter the dungeon.

As Bissel reminded (2010, p.93), a good game attracts you with melodrama and hypnotizes you with elegant gameplay.

Now on to your opinion.


BISSEL, Tom. Extra lives: why video games matter. New York: 2010, Pantheon Books.

quarta-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2013

A little bit about THE UNFINISHED SWAN

The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow, 2012) was a great game launched for Playstation 3 platform last year. Hands off, one of my favorites from 2012 and a game from which we can learn many things.

The Unfinished Swan is about exploring the unknown. The player is a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered off into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where players can throw paint to splatter their surroundings and reveal the world around them (you can visit the official site here).

The game has many positive features and I believe it is possible to extract valuable lessons from its interface. First of all: like Portal (Valve, 2007) it's a first-person puzzle-platform, but here you shoot paintballs around the scenery to solve enigmas. A great part of the game is made of a completely white screen and the challenge is to discover the paths to move along. The video below shows the basic dynamics of the game:

Another important point about the game is a good balance between storytelling and gameplay. You are an orphan trying to find the painting of an unfinished swan made by your mother. The swan gained life and escaped from the frame to a mysterious world of fantasy, and it's your mission find it and bring it back with you. Inside this narrative the game offers a very clever dynamics of puzzle solving using ink to paint parts of the ambient.

The game has good procedural rhetoric embedded in its interface. You learn gradually how to interact with the interface and how to use different kinds of special powers.

Finally, The Unfinished Swan is an indie game that managed to draw attention of a large producer (Santa Monica) and was launched with support and good advertising.

Undoubtedly, The Unfinished Swan is a living example of another kind of configuration of the gaming industry. A creative independent game launched by a small studio, supported by a great publisher, with many mechanics/storytelling innovations and focused on a casual player. I'm happy that the gaming market today has also room for this kind of initiative (it's a great incentive for game designers all around the world).

quarta-feira, 20 de fevereiro de 2013

Rules and fiction

Picture the following scene: two chess players fully focused on the war for territory over the board. There's no music, there's no battle sounds and there's no special effects following every moving piece. There is only an ecosystem formed by two players immersed in an atmosphere of tension/concentration and sculpted wooden pieces. Both are skilled players and few hours from the beginning of the match, the player with the black pieces checkmates he opponent. They greet each other and now it's time to relax and discuss about the right and wrong movements.

Now, let's picture another scene: it's late night in a big city. Inside a small apartment we can see a lone player sweating while he looks to the TV screen (no, it is not a porn movie). Right now he is a member of the Assassin's Creed and has an important mission to achieve: kill a famous noble from a medieval court. The player drives the character sneaking it through a wooden beam in the ceiling of the medieval court, using the commands of the Xbox 360 gamepad. The soundtrack begins to rise, it is possible to hear the sounds of each step on the rotten wooden floor, the scenario is full 3D and each detail was recreated as state of the art. The player prepares a complex sequence of commands to complete his mission and the character takes a fatal leap behind the noble and cuts his throat. A short movie is exhibited and the player runs to his secret base.

There is a broad discussion inside the field of game design about its rules and fiction. There's a balance between them: Is "Assassin's Creed" more immersive than Chess? Is Chess more strategic than "Assassin's Creed"?

We don't have precise answers for these questions. In game design we are working, all the time, with subjective ideas and different kinds of players. It's important to have in mind that games are systems of meaning.

As Juul (2005, p.163) says, rules and fiction interact, compete, and complement each other. A video game may project a world and the game may be played in only a part of this fictional world. Examining a number of game examples in detail, it turns out that fiction in video games plays an important role in making the player understand the rules of the game. A statement about a fictional character in a game is half-real, since it may describe both an fictional entity and the actual rules of a game.

In the game design process, the game designer must select which aspects of the fictional world to actually implement in the game rules.

Now on to your opinion!


JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

quarta-feira, 13 de fevereiro de 2013

Three levels of player enjoyment

Good visual idea from the author Stewart Woods.

Source: WOODS, Stewart. Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games. McFarland, 2012.