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)

quarta-feira, 4 de março de 2020

Blending narrative, art and mechanics in a majestic way: the immersive experience of “The gardens between”

Attention: this post contains spoilers from the game “The gardens between”

I’ve been playing games since I was a child. Now 41 years old, I’m proud to say that I've been a videogame player since the first generation of consoles that were raised on Earth. I’m a lucky person that has had the opportunity to play many kinds of different games in the last 38 years.

Unfortunately, today, I don’t have time to play all the games I want. So, when I’m choosing a game to play I’m very meticulous; I talk with gamer friends, I watch YouTube reviews and I try to read a lot about games. Nowadays, what do I search for in a game to play? I try to choose the minimum of three features: a good narrative, a creative gaming mechanics and an interesting aesthetic. If I can find a game with three of these features, I’ll probably play it with much more enthusiasm and immersion.

The last game I played that filled the three features was “The gardens between”.



I’ll start to talk about the narrative feature: the game is a beautiful story about two children on the last day they have together as neighbors; the boy is moving to another city and the story of the game is about them remembering the adventures of their childhood together.

The narrative feature is the basis for a stunning art direction: the game's atmosphere is full of childish elements but, on another hand, you can notice signs of fear, sorrow and depression. It’s about dark and light; about remembering the past but, at the same time, trying to move on.

To blend the narrative layer with the aesthetic layer we have a very interesting mechanics that uses time travel as the basis for puzzle solutions. The simplicity of the commands are great: you put the joystick to the right to advance the events in time, you put left and they come back to their original places. So, what’s the challenge? The game creates timing distortions to make the player constantly think about the sequence of movements he needs to make. Check the video below to understand how everything connects in “The gardens between”.



In this context it is interesting to say how we have a large list of indie games that can fill the previous features that I mentioned. Today, it’s not a privilege from the triple A games to have great narrative with stunning art and challenging mechanics. By the way, most of the time when I’m searching for this kind of game I’ll probably choose an indie to download.

#GoGamers

domingo, 2 de fevereiro de 2020

The concept of Tchekhov's gun in games

It is always interesting to create a cris-cross between literature and games. In fact, both worlds are intrinsically connected, and this is especially evident in games with narrative, characters, plot twists etc. I like to think about games as “ergodic literature” — an idea previously discussed in this post.

Here, in this short article, I would like to address the concept of Tchekhov’s gun applied to games. Anton Tchekhov (1860–1904) was one of the most important voices in Russian literature. He developed the principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. Tchekov said that, if you say in the first act that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or the third act it must be fired. If the rifle isn’t going to be used, it shouldn't be hanging there. The Russian author also said that one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it's not going to be fired. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep.



What does this principle mean inside the gaming universe? As Tchekhov has postulated for literature, in games we also need to create a sense of order and to make sure every single element is relevant. If the scenery displays a highlighted symbol, it should have some function in that stage, like serving as a hint for a puzzle or as an object that the player must collect in order to defeat an enemy.

To further illustrate this, we can discuss a puzzle from the game Little Nightmares. In the scenery, there is a TV that can be turned on and a door that cannot be opened. But, previously, the player received a piece of information: in the other room there’s a bizarre blind create that is attracted to sound. So, you must turn on the TV, get close to the door, and wait until the monster opens it, so that you can walk into the next room. Check the video below:



In this example, imagine if the TV was just a decoration, something useless in the puzzle flux. It would make no sense in the game and it would be contrary to the concept of Tchekhov’s gun.

This is the point I wanted to make with this short article: everything must be interconnected and play a role in your game.

I’ll talk more about the overlapping universes of literature and games in the next posts.

#GoGamers

quinta-feira, 2 de janeiro de 2020

10 Brazilian videogames to start 2020 in an epic way

I don’t like to make lists but this one is a special exception. I created a list with 10 Brazilian games that I loved a lot to play in last years. As a Brazilian guy, nothing fairer than talking a little bit about the games created in my country. You can find any of them easily in Steam or the mainstream consoles. I tried to put a small description of each one with a trailer. You can search on Google to know more about them.

1.Horizon Chase Turbo (Aquiris)

Horizon Chase Turbo is a modern take on the 90s old-school racers that we loved the most such as Out Run or Top Gear. It’s the first game in analogic Blu-ray launched in Brazilian Territory. Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS, Xbox One



2.Chroma Squad (Behold Studios)

Chroma Squad is a tactical role-playing video game influenced by tokusatsu TV shows, particularly the Super Sentai and Power Rangers franchises. Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Android, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, macOS.



3.Celeste (MiniBoss)

Celeste is platform game in which players control a girl named Madeline in a beautiful, challenging and metaphorical struggle against anxiety and depression (I really love this one). Platforms: Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One



4.Rainy Day (Thais Weiller & Amora B.)

A short and reflective experience about depression on a rainy day. A game to be played right in your browser. Click here. Platform: Internet browsers.



5.Shiny (Garage 227)

Awesome art, robots and puzzles. I'll not say anything more, but Shiny was one of the most immersive experiences I had with a game in the last years. Check the trailer below and try to play. Platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4.



6.Blazing Chrome (JoyMasher)

Blazing Chrome is a classic co-op run 'n gun with an original arcade feel. Players can choose between Mavra, the badass human resistance, soldier or Doyle, the groovy rebel robot, to kick some metal ass. Are you a Contra lover? You'll love this game. Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows



7.Aritana and the Twin Masks (DUAIK)

second adventure of a universe that explores even more the forest’s mysteries, based in the brazilian mythology and culture. With a new weapon, a bow and arrow, the adventure extends gameplay possibilities, bringing 3D movement, big sceneries in open landscapes to explore and powers that helps the player solve several puzzles. Explore a huge lost temple and find artifacts that can be mixed in many special potions and prepare yourself to save the tree of life. Platforms: Xbox One.



8.Sky Racket (Double Dash Studios)

Sky Racket is a mixture of the casual fun from Block Breakers and the awesome action from Shoot ‘Em Ups, which makes it the first Shmup Breaker. Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS, IBM PC compatible.



9.Tamashii (Vikintor)

Tamashii it's a platform game that generates a sense of strangeness for its gameplay and layout. I can't express in words why I liked this game so much. I think it was his strangeness that made me find an experience interesting. The dark ambience soundtrack with the lovecraftian/gigerian creatures/scenarios are the high points of the game for me. About the developer: Vikintor is a Brazilian independent artist and game creator; his work it's mostly about Metaphysical punk, Transgressive Gnosticism and Philosophically subversive themes. Making small and medium-size games with the proposal to conceive experimental interactive medium of expression (text from author's site). Platform: Microsoft Windows.



10.Lenin - The Lion (Lornyon)

Lenin is an albino lion, the only one of his kind, and because of that he feels insecure and constantly discouraged. In fact. Worse, his mother does not understand why his son was born this way, and the whole village despises him and treats him cruelly. At school, he suffers bullying and can’t concentrate on class. Now, hopeless about life, certain situations seem to awaken in Lenin something that is not of everyone’s reality, but only of his. Something he will discover to be the part of something else. Platform: Microsoft Windows.



Bonus Stage: Mind Alone (Sioux)

Time for self-promotion! MIND ALONE is an experimental mobile game that uses puzzle mechanics to create a dark narrative about somebody trapped in their own mind. Each puzzle is a memory and the player needs to solve them to find hints about how it happened. I created this game in a partnership with Sioux, a Brazilian gaming publisher. Platforms: iOS and Android.


Hope you enjoy and happy new year.

#GoGamers