terça-feira, 8 de dezembro de 2015

Procedural rhetoric in Super Meat Boy

Super Meat Boy, an iconic indie game*, is a perfect example of procedural rhetoric. There’s a constant difficulty in every single stage of the game and it forces the player to discover the right way to solve the different types of challenge.

One hit, you die. So, it’s important to memorize each step inside the phases. When a stage ends, it’s possible to see all the deaths of the charismatic Meat Boy happening at the same time. Check some examples of the game dynamics and mechanics below:

The idea of learning from fails dialogues with the concept of procedural rhetoric. According to Bogost (2007, p.3) “just as verbal rhetoric is useful for both the orator and the audience, and just as written rhetoric is useful for both the writer and the reader, procedural rhetoric is useful for both the programmer and the user, the game designer and the player”.

*Watch the creative process of Super Meat Boy in the documentary INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE.


BOGOST, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, 2007.

segunda-feira, 23 de novembro de 2015

Gaming characters

Mario, Lara Croft, Kratos, Carmen Sandiego, Sonic, the Angry Birds, Samus, and so many other video game characters are not only popular among video game fans, they are also famous in other entertainment fields beyond gaming universe.

In contemporary times, with so many transmediatic environments, it’s very common to find these characters in comics, animations, movies, toys, and other platforms. Video game characters (as movie/theater/book characters) are the key to establish a dialogue with certain audiences. With technological improvements and new possibilities in gaming platforms (mobile, PC and consoles) we have the chance to develop deeper characters and more immersive situations with them inside the gaming ambient.

About characters from the gaming universe, Miller (2004, p.90) says

. They can attract a large and dedicated group of users, even drawing people to a project that might not ordinarily be interested in interactive entertainment.
. They can increase a project’s perception of being fun or fascinating, even if the underlying purpose of the project is educational or instructional.
. They can give people entry into an unfamiliar or intimidating world and allow them to explore it in a way that feels comfortable and safe.
. They can keep people hooked, willing to spend hours immersed in the character’s life and environment.

However, it’s important to highlight that even with so many advances in the gaming field, we still have excellent games without characters. Mostly games like Tetris, Super Hexagon, Rotatio, and other abstract titles. These examples are perfect to illustrate wide possibilities to create games nowadays. We have multiple audiences with multiple interests, an interesting ecosystem to observe business, narrative and social networks.


MILLER, Carolyn Handler. Digital Storytelling: a creator’s guide to interactive entertainment. Burlington: Focal Press, 2004.

segunda-feira, 2 de novembro de 2015

The butterfly effect as a gameplay element in UNTIL DAWN

Until Dawn (Supermassive Games, 2015) is an interactive drama survival horror video game. It’s a mix between Alan Wake’s atmosphere/scenario and Beyond: Two Souls’ choice-based mechanics. I recently played this game on PlayStation 4 and the experience was awesome. The launching trailer below explains the game’s main plot:

Until Dawn works with a choice-based mechanics, very similar from Quantic Dream games, where you must choose one option on the screen. Your choice will determine specific paths and different endings (I talked a little bit about this subject in this post about decision trees).

The plot is about a group of youngsters in a cabin in the mountains one year after the mysterious disappearance of two of their friends. Supernatural forces and a serial killer complete the script.

One point to highlight in this context is the idea of the ‘butterfly effect’ as a gameplay component. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. So, the game takes this idea and materializes it in an important part of the plot. Every time you make an important small decision, the interface shows a small butterfly, this means that your action will have a crucial importance in a near future.

From the middle to the end of the game, some flashbacks show how your choices interfere in the continuity of the narrative.

It’s a new way to tell an old story. The “butterfly effect’ makes great difference inside gaming ecosystem. You star to think more about the small decisions and how they can change the end of the game. Another good point: if you are truly involved with the narrative, probably you’ll play again to test other decisions (or if you’re lazy, you'll see the different endings on YouTube). =)


segunda-feira, 5 de outubro de 2015

Why we need to pay attention to Farm Heroes (or any other game from King.com)

I’m a hardcore gamer. I love Bloodborne’s challenges. I’m very excited to complete Batman: Arkhan Knight with 100% of the missions. I really like to die and try again the experience of Dark Souls.

On the other hand, I’m a casual gamer too. I think – for a work in game design and gaming studies – it’s essential to explore both worlds (and the intersection between them).

I’ve played a lot of mobile games the last three years for two reasons: 1) they’re extremely fun; 2) most of the time I’m far from my videogames. So, I downloaded lots of games in my iPhone/iPad. There are many good ideas, interfaces and mechanics, but I want to focus on the games from King.com. Yeah, you certainly know one or two games from them; Candy Crush is an icon from this publisher.

However, I intend to talk about another game in this post: Farm Heroes Saga. Farm Heroes has some important points to think (and rethink) game design: 1) the core mechanics is simple (you need to join three pieces of a kind to eliminate them from the interface and earn points); 2) the simple mechanics evolves with new characters (you start with fruits and vegetables, but after some time there’re animals, fireworks and many other powers); 3) There’s a social model embedded in Farm Heroes that create a community inside the gaming universe, where players can share lives and special powers; 4) There’s a business model in the game and you can spend real money to buy powers, lives, gold bars and special features (very similar to all King.com games); 5) Finally: it’s free, fun, colorful and has a friendly interface.

The ideas from this game remind me the words of Juul (2010) in the book A casual revolution. Check the video with the gameplay:

The conclusion is: King.com creates a complete model of casual games with very integrated social, business and fun aspects. Every game replicates the same model with a new skin. With great number of games, their chances of profit increase a lot.

I celebrate King.com’s work in the casual gaming industry.


JUUL, Jesper. A casual revolution. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010.

quinta-feira, 24 de setembro de 2015

A new book for my ludic library: Death by Video Game

I bought this one in Oxford during the The Videogame Cultures Project: 7th Global Meeting following the recommendation of my hungarian friend Attila.

It's interesting. A little bit morbid for me. Nevertheless, the book has a very good investigative work done by the author. I'm reading the chapter 2 in this moment. I think it will be good to understand new ideas from the gaming universe.


Whether it's Space Invaders, Candy Crush Saga or Grand Theft Auto, video games draw us in and don't let go. In Taiwan, a spate of deaths at gaming cafes is raising a question: why is it that some of us are playing games beyond the limits of our physical wellbeing? Death by Video Game uncovers the real stories behind our video game obsession. Along the way, award-winning journalist Simon Parkin meets the players and game developers at the frontline of virtual extremism, including the New York surgeon attempting to break the Donkey Kong world record; the Minecraft player three years into an epic journey towards the edge of the game's vast virtual world and the German hacker who risked prison to discover the secrets behind Half-Life 2. Investigating the impact of video games on our lives, Death by Video Game will change the way we think about our virtual playgrounds.


PARKIN, Simon. Death by videogame: tales of obsession from the virtual frontline. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2015.

Click here to buy.

segunda-feira, 14 de setembro de 2015

About "The Videogame Cultures Project: 7th Global Meeting"

The 7th edition of "Videogame Cultures and the Future of Interactive Entertainment" (Oxford, 2015) was awesome. There were epic days full of good people and good presentations about the ludic universe. I want to thank Daniel Riha and the other organizers for the chairman invitation. It was an honor to moderate the Player Behaviors' session. Thanks to all participants for the inspiring speeches and for the good company. Thanks Shauna Ashley, Alexia Bhéreur-Lagounaris, Vanessa Erat, Thomas Faller, Veit Frick, Thomas Hale, Declan Humpreys, Bradley James, Ewan Kirkland, Britanny Kuhn, Amanda Marie LeBlanc, David Mizzi, Simon Murphy, Dariusz Poczekalewicz, Daniel Riha, René Schallegger, Felix Schniz, Attila Szantner, Nick Webber, Kieran Wilson. Waiting anxiously for 2016! May the force be with you! #GoGamers

Some good pics from the conference below:

I want to share my paper presented in the meeting: Observing iterative design on the mobile indie game Dominaedro >> Click here for download.

segunda-feira, 7 de setembro de 2015

Horror ludens: using fear to construct meaning in video games

Fear is one of the most ancient feelings orbiting the human existence. The feeling of fear, historically, has been a fruitful basis where different writers, filmmakers and many other storytellers seek the inspiration to create their works. Video games, legitimated as “forms of media, human expression, and cultural importance” (FLANAGAN, 2009, p.67), were not left out of this list; the sophistication of the latest generations of consoles elevated fearful ludic narratives to a new frightening level.

In this context, we can discuss how fear could be a powerful element to construct meaning in some specific video games. Titles like Evil Within, Alan Wake, Slender and many others help us find some answers in this scenario, but in this post, we intend to focus our attention on the game Outlast (Playstation 4, 2014). Created by an independent studio named Red Barrels, the game sets its action in a psychiatric hospital in which the player takes the role of a reporter looking for clues of some bizarre experiments made with the patients. Without weapons or special powers, the player has only one hand cam to help him through the journey. Hide and run are the only options to escape from some creatures and tormented patients of the hospital. This kind of fear-based game, unlike other game genres, e.g. role-playing, first person shooters, puzzle, action, sport games etc., focuses on stimulating the player in a negative way. Check the trailer/gameplay below:

In this situation, fear is understood as creative “fuel” to develop narrative, gameplay, experience and immersion. Spinoza, in his book Ethics (2005), set out to analyze the origin and the nature of human affections taking as its starting point the desire, joy and sadness. Spinoza postulates that human beings, by nature, are passionate and affected by external forces to it. The Dutch philosopher drew a deep observation about feelings/passions that underlie human existence, complying aspects of fear.

The rhetoric of fear allows the development of games with meaning based on horror and terror like Outlast. About this, Ghita (2014, p.58) says as a refining of fear, ‘terror’ constitutes a multifocal aesthetic emotion, whose main feature is the state of anxiety, brought about by a well-balanced series of artistic elements: plot, atmosphere, characters. As an intensification of fear, ‘horror’ represents a unifocal aesthetic emotion, whose main feature is the state of revulsion, brought about by the paroxistical development of the afore-mentioned artistic elements.

In the context of game design using fear/terror/horror to create meaning in Outlast, it has been possible to identify three specific elements as Nielsen and Schønau-Fog (2013, ps.52-53) propose: 1) a deep narrative that allows the player to invest emotions into the character; 2) a deep sense of freedom to establish a connection and a deep grade of immersion on the player; 3) and, finally, the player should feel like a victim rather than a contender. Another point to highlight in this category of games is the use of “illogical architecture to turn houses, gardens and streets into great mazes which would make no sense in the real world” (NIELSEN; SCHØNAU-FOG, 2013, p.45). In Outlast – our main example for this post – we can identify these previous elements strategically hybridized with many different aspects of terror and horror, the narrative works alternating these both aspects to create a stronger immersive experience for the players.

Maral Tajerian, in an article for the site Gamasutra.com entitled “Fight or Flight: The Neuroscience of Survival Horror”, says that anxiety is a point to highlight in terror games. This author also says “next to fear, anxiety is perhaps the most prominent feeling experienced in video games. Unlike fear, which is a response to an imminent threat, anxiety is a response to a future potential threat”.

In this ambient full of “ludic fear” there’s a crucial question: why do some players search for fear and other bad feeling in games? To solve this puzzle, we quote Suits (2005, p.55) who says, “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.

Now on to your opinion.


FLANAGAN, Mary. Critical Play - Radical Game Design. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

GHITA, Catalin. Discussing Romanian Gothic. IN: KATTELMAN, Beth; HODALSKA, Magdalena. Frightful Witnessing: the rhetoric and (re)presentation of fear, horror and terror. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2014.

NIELSEN, Danny Langhoff; SCHØNAU-FOG, Henrik. In the mood for horror: a game design approach on investigating absorbing player experiences in horror games. IN: HUBER, Simon; MITGUTSCH, Konstantin; ROSENSTINGL, Herbert; WAGNER, Michael G; WIMMER, Jeffrey (Eds.). Context Matters! Proceedings of the Vienna Games Conference 2013: Exploring and Reframing Games and Play in Context. New Academic Press: Viena, 2013.

SPINOZA, Baruch. Ethics. London: Penguin Books, 2005.

SUITS, Bernard. The grasshopper: games, life and utopia. Broadview Encore Editions: Toronto, 2005.

terça-feira, 25 de agosto de 2015

quinta-feira, 13 de agosto de 2015

Creating sense in the impossible

Here's the situation: you are a powerful warrior in the city of Yharnam, a place fulfilled with an army of beasts and ancient monsters. You have a huge war axe and an arsenal of explosive potions. The battles against the creatures always end in a complete carnage. With your powers, you can destroy colossus, face the undead and survive in inhospitable conditions. But, there’s one thing you can’t do: open a closed wooden door.

This example comes from Bloodborne (Playstation 4, 2015), one blockbuster game created by FROM SOFTWARE and launched this year. Besides the great power of your character, some simple situations like destroying wooden doors are impossible in the gaming universe, forcing the player to tread more dangerous paths. Surely, you have found this kind of situation in other games: your character can free-fall from high levels, but is killed with a punch; a weapon that exterminates gods can’t cut a rope; a missile that explodes tanks can’t destroy a wall. And, normally, this kind of situation makes perfect sense in the gaming universe. Sometimes, we even wait for this kind of absurd situation in games.

Why can we accept this kind of anomaly – that makes no sense in the real world – in gaming narratives? One good explanation comes from Ensslin (2015) that postulate one nuclear point of this discussion: some games are “unnatural narratives”.

Following this author thoughts, we can say that some games have more unnatural content inside its narrative than others and “(c)learly, mainstream videogames are full of physical impossibilities” (ENSSLIN, 2015, p.53) allowing a kind of suspension of disbelief by the players. Ensslin (2015, p.53-54) also says that we can find another unnatural details in games like anthropomorphised creatures, “the anatomic dimensions of some hypersexualised characters would be anatomically impossible”, “teleporting, between geographic areas is a standard form of fast in-game movement” or the Bloodborne’s example previously commented in this post.

We have lots of games that explore fantasy and the impossible in its interfaces. It’s part of the nature of some games. On the other hand, we have games created in a very realistic way that work with a great dose of credible facts. To better understand this relationship we use the words of Ensslin (2015, p.55) again

some games are more “unnatural” (…) than others because they deliberately violate the ludo-narrative conventions of their genre and the medium itself in order to evoke meta-ludic and meta-fictional reflections in the player – as well as other types of philosophical and critical processes.

One point should be emphasized in this context: the fun offered to the player is always fundamental in any case. A good game design work is fundamental to balance the equation of the fun blended with the unnatural elements of the gaming narrative.

We’ll discuss more on this subject.


ENSSLIN, Astrid. Video games as unnatural narratives. IN: FUCHS, Mathias. Diversity of Play. Meson Press: Lüneburg, 2015. Click here for free download.

quinta-feira, 6 de agosto de 2015

Game Design Lessons: Presenting Perfect Puzzles

Excelent game design lesson from The Game Prodigy channel. Simple, objective and ludic.

Puzzle games, by definition, focus on logical and conceptual challenges, although occasionally the games add time-pressure or other action-elements. Puzzles are a good format to structure interesting choices in games and this brief presentation synthesizes these ideas. In this short video we have inspiring ideas for game design and gaming concepts.


terça-feira, 28 de julho de 2015

My approved proposal to "The Videogame Cultures Project: 7th Global Meeting" (Oxford, UK)

Observing iterative design on the mobile indie game Dominaedro

M.A. Vicente M. Mastrocola (Postgraduate Research student and graduation level teacher at ESPM/São Paulo, Brazil; vincevader@gmail.com)

Smartphones and tablets are leading sales of electronic devices around the world, and became a rich field to explore gaming initiatives. Mobile media created a ludic ecosystem in which large publishers and small studios coexist; the new ways of digital content distribution allowed a gaming market with big productions and indie experiments to live in the same platforms. In this scenario, we seek to analyze a development process involving an independent Brazilian mobile game named Dominaedro, launched by Ludofy Studio in 2014.

Our focus in this work will be to discuss iterative design – a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a work in progress. In this context, we understand iterative design as a methodological tool to create a game. We intend to observe this kind of developing process, giving emphasis to the analogical prototyping phase that gives us some feedbacks from the beta-testing players, like in a qualitative research. Finally, we present the importance of the iterative design to quality assurance in the digital version of the game.

Data collected through 20 beta testing sessions showed the importance of iterative process to improve a gaming experience and to facilitate the production of the digital product. Based on this content we will demonstrate the whole process of creating a mobile game – from the idea, passing through the prototypes, until the final version.

We conclude highlighting the current tendency to create indie games using accurate design methodologies to gain audience in a very competitive scenario, and how indie games could be a learning point for aspirational game designers and small publishers; we will also emphasize the importance of using digital social networks and specialized media to publish and support an independent game.

Keywords: entertainment, mobile, iterative process, Dominaedro, indie game, Brazil

segunda-feira, 6 de julho de 2015

The core structure of a QUEST

Today’s post is about one of my favorite subjects: quest design. A good quest could create immersion and, consequently, an emotional attachment in players. In order to discuss the creative process of quests in games, we will bring some ideas from Jeff Howard (2008) from the book “Quests: design, theory, and history in games and narratives” (one reading that I strongly recommend for all game researchers).

I’ll try to synthetize some nuclear thoughts from Howard in this post. First of all: the space where the quest happens is fundamental to merge the player’s imagination with the narrative. Space for quests should be fantastic (an alien world, a steam punk city), dreamlike (the oneiric realm of Bloodborne, the mysterious ambient of Back to Bed), allegorically arranged to convey ideas through their layout (puzzle games), organized to create a sense of progression through difficult ascent, and labyrinthine (HOWARD, 2008, p.50).

To construct the spaces of the quest is essential to keep in mind some considerations: embedded meaning (allied with plot, narrative etc.), a balance between challenging obstacles and exploration and a sense of progression, and the organization of spaces according to “quest hubs” (HOWARD, 2008, p.58).

After the definition of a space for the quest (based on a previous narrative) it’s very important to tune the characters with the objects of the quest, creating challenging situations. In the Batman’s game, Arkham Asylum, the player wears the hero’s cape to fight the Joker as a final threat. The main narrative has the Joker as the final challenge and, stage-by-stage, there are other villains to stop (Scarecrow, Crocodile, Poison Ivy). For players who want a more immersive challenge, there are a great number of side quests to face: Riddler’s trophies hidden in the scenario, mysterious inscriptions with the diary of Amadeus Arkham and many more.

In games like Arkham Asylum, the balance between main quests and side quests creates an experience for different kinds of players. Some will try to end the game through the main line. Others will finish the game looking for each hidden element in the stages. Think quests for the videogame’s platforms are a challenging exercise and Howard’s book helps us structure this kind of thought more precisely.


HOWARD, Jeff. Quests: design, theory, and history in games and narratives. Wellesley: A K Peters, 2008.

segunda-feira, 22 de junho de 2015

Player interaction patterns

Today we have an excellent image to understand the complexes video games ecosystems and the multifaceted relationship between players and games (FULLERTON; SWAIN; HOFFMAN, 2008, p.52). We can bring some interesting examples to our discussion: single player vs. game (Super Contra); multiple individual players vs. game (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade); player vs. player (Mortal Kombat - versus mode); unilateral competition (Evolve - one monster vs. four hunters); multilateral competition (multiplayer games like Quake); cooperative play (Pandemic board game); team competition (Soccer).


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

segunda-feira, 15 de junho de 2015

A qualitative approach for gaming research

As a game designer, I always try to understand methods and practices that can help me in the developing process of a ludic interface. The iterative design - based on creating, testing, modifying and recreating until reaching an error-free product - is a methodological approach that allows excellent hybridizations with other research methods. In my last two projects, I tried to establish a qualitative interview during the iterative process with different players, to discover the potentialities and faults of my game.

Organizing a dialogue between different kinds of players is an inspirational key to open new passages in the game design process. Some feedbacks from players in interviews are fundamental guides to improve the game’s mechanics, dynamics, narrative and layout.

In this context, it’s always essential to remember that “videogames are fundamentally interactive, relying on communication between the player and their character, the player and the content, and even players with one another” and it’s crucial to ponder that “while games are developed in a studio, at least part of their meaning and significance is created at the moment of play and through the people who play them” (COTE; RAZ, p.93, 2015).

The qualitative method is one of many good ways to understand the creation of meaning and significance in a gaming interface. To conduct a quali interview, it’s necessary to have a good script with clear objects imbricated in the questions. Cote and Raz (2015, p.104) teach us how to write a very intuitive qualitative interview guide, adapted for a gaming universe:

1. Create an introductory script to open the interview and remind the study goals;
2. Warm-up questions to put the participant at ease and build rapport. Some examples that the authors use are “How long have you been playing videogames for?” and “What’s one of your favorite gaming memories?”
3. Substantive questions to collect deeper data that answers the research questions. This part is nuclear in the interview, here you will ask player’s feedbacks about gaming interface, mechanics and other aspects;
4. Demographic questions to gather data needed to describe participants in the final research report.

Applying qualitative process with iterative design is a great challenge for game designers. It requires more and more studies to generate better practices in our field. About this subject, I strongly recommend the second part of this Game Research Methods book.



COTE, Amanda; RAZ, Julia. In-depth interviews for game research. . IN: LANKOSKI, Petri; BJÖRK, Staffan (Eds.). Game research methods: an overview. Halifax: ETC Press, 2015. p.93-117.

segunda-feira, 1 de junho de 2015

Call for papers: 9th International Conference on the Philosophy of Computer Games

An excellent opportunity for game researches. This year’s conference is devoted to the philosophical exploration of how meaning phenomena contribute to the nature as well as the socio-cultural role of computer games. Click here for more information.


segunda-feira, 25 de maio de 2015

Serious games: a definition

In this moment I'm reading the excellent book "Design and use of serious games". In this text I found a very objective and didactic definition of this kind of game. In the words of Kankaanranta and Neittaanmäki (2009, p.21) we can define serious games as

games that engage the user, and contribute to the achievement of a defined purpose other than pure entertainment (whether or not the user is consciously aware of it). A game’s purpose may be formulated by the game’s designer or by the user her/himself, which means that also a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game, used for non-entertainment purposes, may be considered a serious game. The desired purpose, i.e. a serious game, can be achieved through a spectrum ranging from the mere utilization of game technology for non-entertainment purposes to development of specifically designed games for some non-entertainment purpose or the use and/or adaptation of commercial games for non-entertainment purposes. We also propose that any combination of the above would constitute a feasible way to achieve the desired effect

This idea helps us think games beyond entertainment. It is certainly an inspiration to understand games as tools in the areas of education, health and business training. Let's think about it and discuss.



KANKAANRANTA, Marja; NEITTAANMÄKI, Pekka (Eds.). Design and use of serious games. Jyväskylä: Springer, 2009.

segunda-feira, 18 de maio de 2015

Adding some entertainment in advertising campaigns

I like to show Brazilian examples of advergaming. First of all, because I’m Brazilian. Second, because Brazil has a rich field of excellent examples to illustrate this contemporary kind of advertising, which uses games in its core.

Today, I bring one very interesting example to discuss here: one app created for Vivo (one of the big mobile companies in our country) that mixes gaming language, educational concepts and rewarding. The app’s name is UNLOCK LESSONS, and the idea is to put some serious content in children’s mobile devices for everyday life. Every time the child will unlock their phone, they must answer a quiz question about some scholar content.

Check the video below to understand:

This kind of advertising piece proves a possibility to transform serious content in a funny content with relevant results. About this subject, Miller (2004, p.69) says “The special qualities of games and stories are equally valuable when it comes to projects that are designed to be more functional—works that marry entertainment to some other task. Such projects are used for education (edutainment), information (infotainment), and advertising (advergaming). They also serve a role in training, promotion, and marketing. Game and story elements can make such interactive works far more palatable to the target users, and more successful at accomplishing their intended mission”. I’m gathering some good examples of Brazilian advergames for a more complete post. Wait for news.


MILLER, Carolyn Handler. Digital storytelling: a creator’s guide to interactive entertainment. Oxford: Focal Press, 2004.

terça-feira, 12 de maio de 2015

Thinking about iterative design

The idea of iterative design synthesized in a very didactic video. Check below:

My favorite subject of study today.


quarta-feira, 29 de abril de 2015

About formal analysis of gameplay

To construct meaning and understand the complex relationships of gameplay and player, it’s necessary to observe the ludic universe with an accurate vision. Gaming research helps us find some answers for this intricate industry, creating better experiences. In this context, it’s fundamental to remember that “(g)ames are seen as data and the research build understanding on games and how they work, provide experiences or information to its players” (LANKOSKI; BJÖRK, 2015, p.6).

One methodological form to observe the binomial relation gameplay-player is formal analysis. Formal analysis of gameplay, specifically in games, takes a basis in studying a game independently of context or platform, that is, without regarding which specific people are playing a specific instance of the game; although a specific group of players (independent of age, gender or social class) can be considered for the analysis, it’s important to highlight these are descriptions of players used for analyzing the gameplay and not descriptions of their gameplay (LANKOSKI; BJÖRK, 2015, p.23).

As an example, we can bring to our discussion the analysis of an analogical game (dice, card, board) and its rulebook to discover nuances about the underlying system. In this case, a formal analysis could be done purely by observing the gaming components and together with the understanding gained by playing; the experience of the players and how gaming dynamics operates processes in this context is another important point of the analysis (LANKOSKI; BJÖRK, 2015, p.23).

There’s a lack of books about methodological principles for games, but recently a very good one was launched for free on the Internet. Its name is “Game research methods: an overview”, a very complete compendium with many good articles that certainly will enlighten your thoughts about gaming research. CLICK HERE to download.


LANKOSKI, Petri; BJÖRK, Staffan (Eds.). Game research methods: an overview. Halifax: ETC Press, 2015.

terça-feira, 21 de abril de 2015

The king of kong : A Fistful of quarters

A documentary about fanatic players, records and games. The king of kong is one of my favorites movies about the gaming industry and I want to share this content in this post. Watch the full video below:

Synopsis: Named "Video Game Player of the Century" in 1999, Billy Mitchell sets a record score in "Donkey Kong" that many felt would never be broken. In 2003 Steve Wiebe, who has recently lost his job, learns about the record, sets out to beat it and does. So both men embark on a cross-country battle for inclusion in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records as the supreme king of the electronic game.


terça-feira, 14 de abril de 2015

Bloodborne: a ludic masochism

Last week, I started to play Bloodborne (Playstation 4, 2015). As Dark Souls and Demons Souls, the new From Software game has an extreme level of difficulty and challenge. Every simple wrong move could put you six feet under and, every time you die, you lose all your progress. Add to this equation some monsters with weapons and the stage is ready for the fight.

This is a game where you need patience to learn small details to survive. A friend of mine even questioned me why people like to play this kind of game. It’s a “ludic masochism”, he sad. Check the trailer below:

Well, the gaming industry is plural and we have games for all kinds of players. Bloodborne fits in a category of high-challenging games, and an example of it is the great difficulty of the narrative. Jesper Juul (2013) helps us understand better this ecosystem and how people play this kind of “torture”. The author teaches us that “games are a perspective on failure and learning as enjoyment, or satisfaction” (2013, p.45). To complement this idea, Juul (2013, p.56) also says that “we are emotionally affected by games, and we are aware of this before we start playing”.

This feeling of failure and victory are sides of the same coin. One thing is important: the game must have a plausible solution even for well-skilled players. An impossible game could be only a frustrating experience. Giving hints of progress is fundamental in this scenario. And it’s important to remember that the “problem with fictional tragedy also showed that it is failure that makes us feel responsible for the events in the fictional “JUUL, 2015, p.117).

I think we must play all kinds of games, from casual games to experiments like Bloodborne. In both cases, I try to identify how the experience of victory and failure is created inside the gaming world. This is a fantastic exercise for game designers.


JUUL, Jesper. The Art of Failure: an essay on the pain of playing video games. Cambridge/London: MIT Press, 2013.

quarta-feira, 8 de abril de 2015

More about iterative process

Iterative design for games is one of my favorites subjects.

One first view about this methodological process comes from Zimmerman (2003, p.176), who says, “Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a work in progress”.

Source: http://goo.gl/i1wTfu

Complementing the previous idea, the process of iterative design for games, according to Fullerton, Swain and Hoffman (2008 p. 249) can be divided into few stages: A) conceptual phase: consists of generating ideas, formalizing and testing them; B) pre-production: here the ideas are reviewed to evolve and be tested again; C) the production stage: the game is tested and revised with different groups of play testers to locate errors*; D) phase of quality assurance: where the game is tested to be launched without errors.

*It's essential in this process to revise the game with different groups of play testers to locate problems and searching a free-error product (Holopainen et al., 2010, p.1).


Fullerton, T., Swain., C., Hoffman, S. Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Burlington, 2008.

Holopainen, J., Nummenmaa, T., & Kuittinen, J. (2010). Modelling experimental game design. Proceedings of DiGRA Nordic 2010: Experiencing Games: Games, Play, and Players (click here for download)

Zimmerman, E. (2003). Play as research: the iterative design process. Design Research: methods and perspectives, 176-184 (click here for download).

sexta-feira, 3 de abril de 2015

Monument Valley – Forgotten Shores

I talked about Monument Valley (UsTwo, 2014) one year ago. This game holds a special place in my smartphone and in my heart.

It’s an immersive experience created with puzzles (based on Escher illustrations) and synchronized with an awesome soundtrack that responds to player actions. It’s a masterpiece.

Now, the game gained its first expansion pack: The Forgotten Shores. With new eight levels of puzzles, the game works with new kinds of interface interaction. Check the improvements on the trailer below:

Forgotten Shores is a lesson on how to maintain an engaging game in its expansion pack. The experience is short but very instigating. It’s an essential game to study and play many times.

quinta-feira, 26 de março de 2015

Game Balance

In this post, we’re going to discuss some ideas about game balance. A good mechanic and a great narrative can be destroyed if unbalanced inside the gaming universe. The logical here moves between many beta tests and iterative processes.

Rollings and Morris (2004, p.105-106) say there are three essential types of categories when we are talking about gaming balance:

Player/player balance: we can find this kind of balance in multiplayer games (Destiny, Call of Duty, Battlefield etc.). The system creates situations for newbie and experienced players trying to create a scenario of good opportunities for all. Luck is an important component here and should be available to all players.

Player/gameplay balance: this type of game usually offers a learning curve to the players. One important thing here is to develop a crescendo of challenges with some key process for the player. The more the player advances in the narrative, the more he/she has information to survive the challenge. The logical behind procedural rhetoric is finding here (http://gamingconceptz.blogspot.com.br/2013/01/procedural-rhetoric-and-games.html)

Gameplay/gameplay balance: “means that features within the game must be balanced against each other”. This balance refers to things inside the gaming world and narrative; if a special weapon causes triple damage, sounds logic to cost three or more times than one that causes double damage. This kind of guide helps us to explore balance in the beta testing sessions. It’s important to thoroughly test the game to detect errors at first, but it is essential to create a balance that will generate a great experience for the player, while the game is running.

Reference: ROLLINGS, Andrew; MORRIS, Dave. Game Architecture and Design. New Riders: Indianopolis, 2004.

terça-feira, 17 de março de 2015

Linear Gameplay

I want to share more knowledge from Penny Sweetser’s book Emergence in Games. Today, we’ll try to define the idea of “linear gameplay”. The logic behind a linear gameplay is that it’s a game that doesn’t offer much sense of freedom to the player. Sometimes the player could have a false sense of freedom, but as Sweetser says (2008, p.56) “the key elements of linear games are an underlying story to be discovered, puzzles to solve along the way, and a limited and predetermined set of ways to interact in the game world”.

We can find this kind of game in the classic Sonic the Hedgehog or in the new The Order 1886. Let’s check these games out to understand this idea in different moments of the gaming industry:

In the previous video, we can discuss another idea from Sweetser (2008, p.56), that “despite the continuous nature of the game worlds and the resulting freedom of movement and exploration, player interactions in these worlds are still very limited”.

We already talked about interactive fiction in a post, few weeks ago. Today, we discuss linear gameplay and soon we will analyze sandbox games based on the ideas from the excellent book Emergence in Games.


SWEETSER, Penny. Emergence in Games. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2008.

quarta-feira, 11 de março de 2015

High level of difficulty as a game design component

Dark Souls, Demons Souls, Lords of the Fallen and even the simple mobile game Flappy Bird have one thing in common: a challenging gameplay with a high level of difficulty. Destined to a specific kind of player, this type of game invites to a deeper gameplay experience.

Another game that suits as an example for this discussion is PHASES: INFINITE ZERO (Ketchapp, US, 2014). In this game, you command a small ball to the left and to the right, trying to escape from every black piece on the interface. Check the gameplay below:

A ludic experiment like PHASES puts the idea of procedural rhetoric in another landing place. As Bogost says (2007, p.3) “just as verbal rhetoric is useful for both the orator and the audience, and just as written rhetoric is useful for both the writer and the reader, procedural rhetoric is useful for both the programmer and the user, the game designer and the player”.

We discussed about anxiety as a game design component in another post. The subject of this post complements this idea and gives us some new ways to think about gaming creative processes, and teaches us how to work bad feelings in a ludic way.


BOGOST, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, 2007.

terça-feira, 3 de março de 2015

Thomas Was Alone: a gaming masterpiece

In 2010, I played a strange indie game created with Adobe Flash, in which you command a group of squares with special powers, trying to solve puzzles with these pieces. In that occasion, I played the game a few times and never remembered the name of it.

Five years later, during a board game session, a friend of mine evoked this game again: Thomas Was Alone. I downloaded it for PS4 and now I’m experiencing the game in a whole new scenario of interactive possibilities.

Thomas Was Alone is an indie puzzle platform video game created by Mike Bithell and nowadays it’s possible to play it also in Android, PlayStation 3, iOS and other platforms. The idea is simple: you command squares with “special powers” (one with high level jump, other with swimming abilities etc.) and, level by level, you need to fit the characters in their correspondent slots.

Wait. Did you say characters? Yes. Thomas Was Alone, besides its abstract conception, has an incredible narrative focus. There’s a very interesting storytelling behind the simple square forms, talking about technology, freedom, ideology and relationship.

Check the trailer and the gameplay:

This kind of game teaches us how to balance mechanics and simple graphics with immersive story. Thomas Was Alone is a class of elegant game design. If you have never played it, I strongly recommend it.

quinta-feira, 26 de fevereiro de 2015

Interactive fiction

Right now, I’m re-reading the excellent book Emergence in Games, written by Penny Sweetser. The author masterfully created a comparison table between some different kinds of games, like interactive fiction, linear gameplay, sandbox games and emergent gameplay. In this post, I want to focus on the first type of game in this group, to discuss some nuclear features about the category.

Sweetser (2008, p.54) defines interactive fiction in a clear way - the author says that interactive fiction “was the first step away from passive media, such as movies and books”, and remembers us that in interactive fiction, “the players are still very much the receivers of information, rather than active agents in the game world”. Here, player interaction is in the form of limited choices between transmissions of a linear story.

In interactive fiction games, “players have no real choices, impact, or control of the game world” and they “simply act out a pre-scripted path, playing a slightly more active role than if they were to simply observe the story from the outside” (SWEETSER, 2008, p.55). This kind of narrative is, in a certain way, very similar to the old RPG books with multiple (and delimited) choices.

Finally, this author (2008, p.56) presents us the idea that the “gameplay in interactive fiction can be characterized by the discrete nature of its interactions” and players “can only ever choose from a specific list of interactions in any one scene, such as typing a keyword, clicking on an object, or choosing an option from a list”.

To illustrate an example let’s take a look in the past to one of the earliest interactive fiction computer games: ZORK. Check out the video below:

In due course, I want to discuss in another post some other genres explained by Sweetser, to deepen these concepts.

Go gamers!


SWEETSER, Penny. Emergence in Games. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2008.

quarta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2015

Playful mindset X serious mindset

Today I want to share one important idea from the book Pervasive Games;  the authors cite the work of psychologist Michael J. Apter about the differences between the serious and the playful mindsets.

“Michael J. Apter (1991) discusses pleasure and arousal in the context of playful and serious mindsets, claiming that people in a playful mindset seek pleasurable, aroused excitement and avoid boredom, whereas people in a serious mindset seek pleasurable, non aroused relaxation and avoid unpleasant, aroused anxiety. Basically, this means that being worked up while working in a serious mindset leads to anxiety, whereas being worked up while playing a game in a playful mindset is experienced as exciting” (MONTOLA; STENROS; WAERN, 2008, p.106)

Michael J. Apter’s (1991) visualization of how telic (serious) and paratelic (playful) mindsets operate differently.

This type of graph helps us visualize some interesting directions for creating games and how to observe player's behavior. I strongly recommend the full book. Check the references below.


Apter, M.J. (1991). A structural-phenomenology of play. In J.H. Kerr & M.J. Apter (Eds.), Adult play: A reversal theory approach. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.

MONTOLA, Markus; STENROS, Jaakko; WAERN, Annika. Pervasive Games: Theory and Design. New York: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2009.

terça-feira, 10 de fevereiro de 2015

The Swapper: a good game to observe puzzle mechanics

The Swapper is my new favourite entertainment. The game is a puzzle-platformer developed in 2014 by Facepalm Games, a small Finnish independent studio.

The game has awesome features allied to the puzzle mechanics and it's possible to see a perfect balance between narrative, scenario, mechanics and interface. Let's talk about each one of them.

The narrative is about a space traveller trying to get out of a mysterious abandoned space station. The dark scenario is perfect and there's an aura of fear and anxiety all the time.

The game operates in a side scrolling 2D and this choice of interface is determinant for the puzzle development.

The game mechanics is very clever. Your space explorer has a clone weapon and it's possible to "launch" a clone of your character in an unachievable part of the scenario to complete a puzzle. Check a video below:

Another weapon allows transferring your conscience to the clone to finish the puzzles. The Swapper is a good exercise of level and puzzle design to observe.

The main idea of the game is to collect some orbs to open panels and try to runaway from the space station.

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 they move toward or away from the solution.

The Swapper is my most played game of this year. Waiting for new content from Facepalm.


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

terça-feira, 27 de janeiro de 2015

Crossy Road: using a game to promote other games

Crossy Road (2014) is a casual mobile game created by Hipster Whale Studio. It’s a tribute to the classic game Frogger (Atari, 1981), this time constructed in an isometric perspective, full of new possibilities. Check the comparison below:

You start the game with a chicken trying to cross the cars, rivers and other dangerous obstacles but, by earning some special points it’s possible to acquire new characters like the duck, the goat, the zombie, the mage, the monster of Frankenstein and many others (even the internet meme DOGE gained its digital version in this game). There’s a clever business model inside the interface and players are able to buy (with real money) new characters or watch advertising videos to earn new points, at anytime.

There’s another smart point inside the game: sometimes the system gives out some special characters to play. These characters are from other games and an invite to download a new experience appears on the screen. In the example below, the player earned the main character from the game named Epoch; few seconds after receiving the prize, an ad with the message “EPOCH – download at App Store” appears to the player. There are many characters to achieve in Crossy Road, lots of them from other games.

This kind of communication structure refers to Davis’s ideas about promotional culture; this author (2013, p.191) says, “Promotional culture has become a more central, influential part of communication and social relations, just as financialization, globalization and new communication technologies have”. In the contemporary times, a good mediatic product never comes without a promotional strategy embedded inside its essence.


DAVIS, A. Promotional culture: the rise and spread of advertising, public relations, marketing and branding. Bristol, UK: Polity, 2013.

quarta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2015

Narrative and games

Some posts in the past, I’ve talked about the games I’ve created. I explained some approaches and creativity process to the games YN, Álmok, Dominaedro and others. All these games have something in common: they are abstract games, more focused on mechanics and less in narrative.

But, at this moment, I’m developing with some friends a new mobile game named: MIND ALONE. I’ll talk more about this game later, but it’s basically an interactive narrative for mobile platforms. So, what is it we actually mean by interactive narrative? Ince (2006, p.48) defines very well the term, saying, “In a broad sense it is simply that the experience of the unfolding story responds to the actions of the participant. In terms of games, those actions are the gameplay choices the player makes. At any one time, the way the narrative responds could be character-related, plot-related, story-related, or a combination of these”. I’m studying a lot of books to give the right tune to this ludic interface.

The game I’m creating is more based on plot/story-related. I intend to put some dark atmosphere with an intense narrative in it, and the gameplay will be created using some clever puzzles in the background. The idea here is to follow the concept that “story, dialogue, character profiles, etc., should all be created in a way that add to the design of the gameplay” (INCE, 2006, p.36).

So, wait for news about my new game. It’s a new creative experience for me and I hope for it to be a good journey for the players. The previous image is part of the game’s opening. Curious? Keep track here for more information.

Make games not war! =)

Go gamers!


INCE, Steve. Writing for video games. London: A & C Black Publishers Limited, 2006.

terça-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2015

The experience of IRON FROM ICE

Telltale Games is an American independent digital publisher, founded in June of 2004. The company has in its portfolio games like The Walking Dead, Tales From The Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. Few days ago, the studio launched the first of six chapters of The Game of Thrones new game, entitled Iron from Ice.

With a gameplay based on decision trees, Iron from Ice offers an experience of narrative construction to the player. The game adapts the choices you make and the story is tailored by how you play. Even simple dialogues are constructed to give to the player the sensation of meaning choices, like in the example below:

As its predecessor – The Walking Dead – the game is not 100% based on dialogues, it also offers some ability tests and moral choices to the player. It’s interesting to play it more than one time, trying to choose different options to watch different outcomes in the narrative.

This kind of experience shows us a new way to read a story, and Gee (2003, p.13) remembers us that “when people learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy”. This author (2003, p.14) also emphasizes that there are different ways to read different types of texts; in this context, literacy is multiple, then, in the sense that the legal literacy needed for reading law books is not the same as the literacy needed for reading physics texts or superhero comic books. This game idea is not new, and we have some old examples from the 80’s that share the same game mechanics. The point is: with the new generation of consoles, a game like this one becomes exponentially full of possibilities for experimental narratives.

Check the trailer below:

And the gameplay:


GEE, James Paul. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.