Part B! Looking at techniques game developers use to control the players experience within a game.
Blog Post Week 8-9 Post B
How Video Games Immerse a player
Since the days of Metroid and Mario, video games have been immersing players within new worlds. Some, such as Elex (Elex, 2018) and World of Warcraft (World of Warcraft, 2018), replaced reality, creating an entirely new universe for the player to experience. Others, such as Legendary (Legendary, 2018) and Call of Duty (Call of Duty, 2018) sought to build upon this universe that we already have.
An avid reader as a child, I had long been used to escaping reality when I first discovered gaming, in the form of Jak 3 (Jak 3, 2018) on PlayStation 2. However, here was a form of story I had never experienced; one that I could interact people. And it is this interaction that is at the heart of game immersion. This week, I am going to explore 3 facets of this interaction that I feel most contribute to gameplay immersion.
Interactive, or branching, stories did not start with game development. Instead, there were a certain form of book called “choose your own adventure”. “If you want to head down into the dungeon, turn to page 385, if you want to head up to the turret, turn to 923”. While fairly clunky, these books were an amazing way to experience choice within a story-based context.
While one of the first interactive stories in gaming was almost certainly the first Fallout (Fallout, 2018) game, two of the most prominent examples are the Dragon Age (Electronic Arts, 2018), and the Mass Effect (Electronic Arts, 2018) series, notably developed by the same studio: BioWare. These games allowed the player to choose from multiple paths to develop the personality of their character, with the Mass Effect using the widely known “Paragon” system. The “Paragon” system was an attempt to condense morality into a single statistic, which is not a new feature. Good vs Evil. Right vs Wrong. Paragon vs Renegade. As the player made the appropriate choices, they would move their moral slider toward one side or the other. Whichever the choice, the player was rewarded and punished the most for committing the most. Pure paragon gave the player much less monetary reward, but more companion based skills, whilst renegades took the money. This was a single instance of meaningful choice in games!
Another element that these games excelled at was their development of supporting characters. Both Dragon Age and Mass Effect had broad choices of companions, roughly fifteen (15) for each game. Companions would react differently to your choices, and if you weren’t careful they would desert you altogether. The opposite was true, to a startling degree, giving BioWare games a somewhat raunchier reputation. Thus was the player surrounded by elements pulling them into the game. Befriending, outfitting and adventuring with a well written companion character is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences, one promoting empathy and teamwork.
But what tools are we using to consume these games? From arcade machines and Pinball, to CRT monitors and Tetris (Tetris, 2018), to a 44” flat screen and Fallout 4 (Fallout 4, 2018). Each of these affected our experience. Racing games become ever more immersive once a steering controller is placed in front of the player, flight simulators become engaging with a full joystick, and Sing Star pretty much blew our minds with its controllers. This has taken a leap since 2016 with the introduction of VR into the public eye. Slowly becoming more prominent, Virtual Reality (VR) allows us to experience a total overlay of sight, hearing and the vestibular system (balance). At the most basic, these allow the player to “look” around inside a virtual world, but they also create new interaction methods such as Gaze and 3D gestures. Evolutions of this technology such as the Windows Mixed Reality ("Windows Mixed Reality headsets", 2018) headset, and the Vive Focus ("VIVE Focus", 2018), allow for “inside out tracking”, which allows for essentially limitless tracking. Run onto a football field and your play space is now 50 meters wide … minimum. This introduction of interaction mechanisms allows for new avenues of choice and experience. Experiences within VR seem to connect to some area of the brain previously untapped, with some experiences being reported as “too immersive”. People scream as they believe they fall off cliffs, they fall over when being hit with a virtual object, and they vomit when seated in a virtual rollercoaster. Admittedly, the latter is more due to a disconnect between the ocular and vestibular systems, but it’s still amazing!
And finally, I want to look at the mechanic design that goes into immersing a player in a game world.
The Monomyth, or the “Heroes Journey”, is a story analysis tool that fits many of the tales constructed today. The hero has a call to adventure, which they might not understand or accept. A crisis forces them to take the role of a reluctant saviour, and with the help of a teacher/mentor, they venture forth to find/fix/do the thing. Along the way they fall into a physical/emotion/moral pit which forces them to adapt and transform. They emerge from this pit a new person, and go on to defeat/solve the bad thing, and return home, where they reflect on their personal change. As you can see, it’s a pretty vague outline, so it fits a lot of stories. But one thing is certain, and that it focuses on the trials and evolution of the protagonist.
In video games, the player is the protagonist. Therefore, the growth and trials are those of the player. Instead of reading about Odysseus and Polyphemus, the player can instead fight a one-eyed giant. Or befriend them. Or cook them blowfish. Given the open nature of choice in many games, many emergent storytelling situations can arise.
Many games have approached player progression differently. Traditionally, a level-experience token is used. The player accrues experience by defeating enemies and completing encounters, the idea being that by the time they reach a certain level, they have had to witness a certain amount of content. Thus, a high-level player is one who has seen much of a game, and can be respected as one who has progressed. A low-level character hasn’t really seen or done much, and is a noob. Games using a Dungeons and Dragons (Dungeons and Dragons, 2018) statistics calculation approach, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Knights of the Old Republic, 2018), use this often, as do Massively Multiplayer Online games such as World of Warcraft, or Aion: Tower of Eternity (Aion, 2018).
Some games use the mechanics to progress the player. In Portal (Portal, 2018) and Portal 2, the player can only progress through the story as they learn the tricks of the various puzzles that they are presented. And excellent example of “teaching the player”, the player is initially shown how to simple make a portal. They are shown that they can move through it, and that it can only go on certain surfaces. Then, this knowledge is incremented. Objects can move through portals. Objects can press buttons. Buttons can open doors. Doors can have goo. Goo can make more portals. Or bounce. Or slide. The player is shown, and taught, more and more, and they progress as a real human being in their problem solving ability and in a highly valued skill: the ability to play Portal 2.
In case you missed it in my rambling, here it is again. Video Games are an exceptional tool to embroil people in worlds, stories and puzzles, such has never been seen before. Video games teach practical skills such as survival and problem solving, and ephemeral skills such as compassion, and loyalty.
They’re pretty damn cool.
Arts, E. (2018). Dragon Age. Retrieved from https://www.ea.com/games/dragon-age/dragon-age-inquisition
Arts, E. (2018). Mass Effect Official Website. Retrieved from https://www.masseffect.com/
Bethesda LLC. (2018). Fallout [Windows]. https://store.steampowered.com/app/38400/Fallout_A_Post_Nuclear_Role_Playing_Game/.
Bethesda LLC. (2018). Fallout 4 [PC / Console]. https://fallout.bethesda.net/.
BioWare. (2018). Knights of the Old Republic [Windows]. https://store.steampowered.com/app/32370/STAR_WARS__Knights_of_the_Old_Republic/.
Blizzard Entertainment. (2018). World of Warcraft [Windows].
Naughty Dog LLC. (2018). Jak 3 [PlayStation]. https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/jak-3-ps4/.
NCSoft. (2018). Aion [Windows]. https://www.aiononline.com/.
Spark Unlimited. (2018). Legendary [Windows]. https://store.steampowered.com/app/16730/Legendary/.
Tetris Holding. (2018). Tetris [Windows HTML]. https://tetris.com/play-tetris.
THQ Nordic. (2018). Elex [Windows]. https://elexgame.com/.
Treyarch Entertainment. (2018). Call of Duty [Windows/Console]. https://www.callofduty.com/au/en/.
VIVE Focus. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.vive.com/cn/product/vive-focus-en/
Windows Mixed Reality headsets. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/collections/vrandmixedrealityheadsets
Wizards of the East Coast. (2018). Dungeons and Dragons [Tabletop]. http://dnd.wizards.com/.
Valve Entertainment. (2018). Portal [PC, Windows] https://store.steampowered.com/app/400/Portal/
Hi guys! The latest part of my blog, focusing on how game development can be used to affect an emotion in the player. The emotion in question? Enjoyment.
You may notice that I am skipping from Week 3-4 to Week 8-9. The inner weeks are on their way, I am simply a bit behind on my class work. It will be caught up on!
Enjoy the blog :)
Eliciting Enjoyment In The Audience
The Ekman Atlas of Emotions (Ekman, 2018) is the result of nearly 150 scientists who study emotion, coming together to share their knowledge. This study concludes that there are five (5) distinct emotions at a minimum: Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Happiness. Today, I want to look at how Happiness, or Enjoyment (as I will be referring to it), affects and is affected by the discipline of Game Development.
The Atlas of Emotion breaks emotions up in to three key areas: trigger, experience and response. What causes the emotion, how does this emotion present, and what are we likely to do in reaction? Enjoyment experiences are then broken down into a further twelve (12) sections, detailing exactly the type of experience, and its intensity. For example, we have a “sensory pleasure” response. This is defined as “Enjoyment derived through one of the five physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.”, and has a low to medium intensity attributed to it. An example of this within game development may be simple aesthetic beauty (eyesight), or haptic feedback (touch).
Each of these 12 sections vary in intensity, none of a particular value but rather falling into range. For the purposes of description, I will be rating intensity on a 0-10 scale, 0 being not affective and 10 being total ecstasy. Given we are working with a range, you will thus often see a min-max format (e.g. 2-4).
Enjoyment is an emotion that is the traditional goal of game development. From our earliest ages, we play tag, chasey, tree climbing, swimming. We hop between cracks of bricks and from cushion to cushion so as not to perish in the lava of our loungerooms. With the advent of the video game development industry we experience the wonder of world exploration, the joy of fiero and sensory stimulation more than ever before. This enjoyment includes many of the 12 sections, however the key areas I wish to focus on are:
But how exactly does Enjoyment tie into the games industry? For the sake of a tighter focus, I will constrain myself to video game design, and not the wealth of history and information contained within the physical mediums.
The first computer game was made in 1958 by Physicist William Higinbotham, using software co-opted from a missile trajectory system, and was named “Tennis for Two” ("October 1958: Physicist Invents First Video Game", 2018). The players had a dial and a button. The dial controlled angle, and the button hit the ball. The players had to time their shot and angle to make it over the net.
This game was remarkably simple, with two lines to represent net and ground, and a circle to represent the ball. However, the movement of the ball was smooth and continuous, and the game created a sense of Sensory Pleasure. Given that this game was shown off at a technical exhibit, Higinbotham attributed its popularity to the fact that “the other exhibits were so dull”. However, in interacting with this medium in such as unique and innovative way, all participants of this exhibit experienced a sense of Wonder in its use. And this game was not easy. A mistimed or malaligned shot would cause a fail state, so there was also a sense of Fiero in the game.
This represented the beginning of the game development industry, however as time has passed and technology has evolved, games have found more and more avenues to express themselves. Games are now used for education, storytelling and art, inspiring more and more varied emotions in the player.
Let us take the Witcher III: Wild Hunt for example. Widely lauded for being one of the greatest storytelling experiences of all time, the player is continuously in a state of Wonder. The world is huge, and there are hundreds of NPC’s to interact with, whether it is just a quick word or hour-long quest. The game looks at several philosophical statements as its core, the foremost being “Slaying monsters”. “Slaying Monsters” was the title of the pre-release promotional trailer, where Geralt, the protagonist, comes upon a set of men assaulting a woman. He has dealing with these men, and begins to ride away, but upon turning back he is asked “What are you doing?”, to which he replies “Slaying monsters”. Here the developers look at the comparison of the basest human natures to that of a traditional monster (slimy skin, big teeth and all). This message goes beyond what was every portrayed in traditional games, and perhaps what was even possible to portray.
The game industry approaches the creation of enjoyment in various ways, but a widely known theory known as “Flow Theory” forms a large centrepoint for many related decisions. “Flow” is defined as “the state of concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one's skills” ("Flow Theory & Works", 2018) and this theory was proposed by 1950’s Slavic Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow exists when the challenge presented to a person is equal to their skill. Both challenge and skill must be above a certain threshold to avoid apathy however.
Csikszentmihalyi links Flow directly to enjoyment and happiness, not only instantaneous, but long lasting, as the flow-ee is often “creating high quality works” or “improving skills leading to mastery”.
This theory has been central to game development for many years now, with developers striving to modulate game difficulty to match player skill. A common example of a games use of Flow can be seen in Tetris. In the beginning of Tetris, the user feels apathy or boredom. However, the game scales continuously, with the challenge rising per line deployed. Thus, the challenge rises to meet player skill, and the player often ends in a state of flow.
Another notable, if not ethical, mechanic that is often used in game development in the pursuit of enjoyment is the Skinner Box, or Operant Conditioning. “Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence” (Skinner, 1938). Skinner goes on to link positive rewards with continued behaviour, and negative rewards to negative behaviour. This is prevalent in our lives, from early childhood behaviour reinforcement to our adaptation to new environments in adult life. It is also highly prevalent in game development.
At the most basic level, game development uses skinner box tactics to make the player feel better. “You passed a level!”, “You got gold!”, “You did the thing we wanted you to do!”. The purpose of this is twofold. First, the developer can lead the player down the paths they want them to go in the game using only reward tactics. Reward a player for turning left at a maze 100 times, and they will turn more left than right. The second is that once positive stimuli has been repeated within the games context for a sufficient amount and time, the player will begin to associate the experience of playing the game with pleasure, at a subconscious level at least. This will lead them to continue playing the game, increasing retention rates.
But while subconsciously enjoying, often the player will consciously dislike the game. For example, Candy Crush. Candy Crush uses Continuous Reinforcement, “…reinforced every time a specific behaviour occurs” ("B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning", 2018) to reward the player whenever they complete a level, or make a match. This has lead to a high retention rate for the game. However, due to a consistent theme and challenge, the game often becomes boring after a certain time. At this point the player ends up in a conflict of the two mindsets. The first: I should stop playing, as I am not enjoying myself any more. This is the uppermost thought, the conscious thought. The second: I should continue playing to receive rewards. This is the lower thought, the subconscious. This conflict often leads to players playing for much longer than they wished, and then associating the game with a negative experience.
Finally, one of the most common techniques in game development, and a subset of Operant Conditioning theory, is Token Economy. A Token Economy is a secondary reward type that rewards the player with small elements of faux currency. This currency may then be exchanged later for a primary reward. Within game development, it is common to have a currency system, (traditionally gold, although often something else) that may be used to purchase goods and services within the game. However, with the advent of microtransactions in the modern game, the game economy now often encompasses 2-3 currencies.
B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
Ekman, P. (2018). The Ekmans' Atlas of Emotion. Retrieved from http://atlasofemotions.org/#states/enjoyment
Flow Theory & Works. (2018). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-flow-theory-works.html
October 1958: Physicist Invents First Video Game. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200810/physicshistory.cfm
To further elaborate on Part A's comments, every week will come in a Part A and Part B format. A is a response to a very specific question, whilst B tells me to analyse something and report in my own words. This week? Are Games Art?
Are Games Art?
Art is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” ("Art", 2018). Now, this definition is fine to be going on with, however I would like to note my distaste of the “visual” exclusivity inserted here, as I personally believe literature and music to be innate elements of art. I will be examining the inclusion of games within the artistic genre with this in mind.
It is my opinion that games are works of art, and that this is clearest seen when looking at games as a sum of their parts. Each game contains a myriad of other art forms. Visual elements, such as texturing, architecture and sculpting. Auditory elements such as music, audio-scapes, SFX. Literature in the form of lore, storytelling and poetry. And the viewer that considers even a single one of these facets to be art, must concede that games therefore have an artistic element. And it is not only the inclusion of these facets, but the way in which they are combined. Game design does not look at music separately from the game, but as an integral part, to be considered beside the visual theme and game genre. Music often fluctuates dynamically as game situations change, with fast paced, bass focused tunes for thrill, and floaty, dreamy music for exploration.
But why are games made? The answer to this question bares striking similarity to the answer of why art is made. For profit. For education. To create emotion, and to create meaning. To escape reality, and to enforce our opinions about elements of it. Furthermore, it may be said that a purpose of art is to communicate with an audience, to share ideas or argue concepts. We see examples of this within the gaming sector with the political concepts raised in the Far Cry ("Far Cry 5", 2018) series, and the exploration of character mannerisms in Thomas Was Alone (Thomas Was Alone, 2018).
Roger Ebert writes “The divide is between the narratologists and ludologists.” (Ebert, 2011) Narratologists focus on the storytelling aspects of gaming, comparing them to the traditional artforms of canvas, authoring and cinema. Ludologists focus upon the gameplay elements, finding meaning within mechanics and systems.
Within both of these viewpoints there are great arguments to be made for gamings artistic integrity. Narratologists may look at games such as the Witcher (The Witcher, 2018) series, a set of action role-playing games centred around Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. Widely acclaimed for being one of the most immersive story telling games made, this game immerses the player in music, beautiful landscapes and character development on an unparalled level.
This may be contrasted to Valve Games Portal and Portal 2 (Portal, 2018). A puzzle game set in a science laboratory, this game tasks the player to progress through increasingly harder challenges using only a simple portal mechanic. This game is a masterpiece due to its ability to provide atmosphere and flow using only the most basic of tools. An environment with whitewashed walls. Some splashed liquid, a cube and a disembodied voice. Using these, Portal has created a game lauded as one of the greatest emotional adventures created.
Harking back to Oxfords definition, they state that “emotional power” is a key component of an artpiece. Looking at the pieces I have presented, games that cause glory, suffering, rage and elation, I can find no other classification for games, other than as art.
Finally, I wish to look at the practical applications of art. A graffiti artist, Banksy, is known for making stark political and sociological statements using his artwork. He has become known as one of the greatest social critics of this age. An example of this was the literal “defacing” of a bust depicting a cardinal, where Banksy removed the face from the bust, and replaced it with coloured tiles meant to represent a pixelated face replacement ("banksy: cardinal sin", 2018). This was said to be in commentary to the Church’s continual child abuse scandals, and the little to non-existent punishment for said infractions.
Where we to look for an artist such as this within games, I would say to look no further than auteur Hideo Kojima. Designer and producer for the Metal Gear franchise, almost all of Kojima’s games have had a socio-political comment, largely focused on military decisions. The most recent example of this was within Metal Gear Solid V (Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, 2018). A 3rd person shooter, you play as the leader of a mercenary company in the middle of storyline so complex that no one really understands it. Within this game, the player may build up their base, adding defences and weapons to the various agents within it. Toward the end game, the player has the option to purchase/build nuclear armaments, as a way to dissuade attack. A “Nuclear Deterrent”. Kojima programmed into this game an achievement, received only when all players have deactivated their nuclear arms. Kojima’s purpose here was to provide evidence of possibility. If we can do it within a game, it may happen within real life.
I thus conclude once more that video games are art. I would like to hear any comments or counterarguments, a good debate is a lively debate!
Im back with a new set of study blogs :) These ones will be focusing on Critical Inquiry, the title of the unit. I hope you enjoy, with this blog, and blog post B, looking at definitions of popular culture, and the culture industry!
A Critical Analysis of the "Banksy Opening" to the 2010 Simpsons Episode
“The culture industry”. A term coined by critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, such as Adorno and Horkheimer, which refers to the mass production of art and culture for the purpose of capitalism. They theorise that the production of culture is standardized, that “Films, radios and magazines make up a system that is uniform as a whole and in every part” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1993), and that this is thrust upon the consumer as “the man with leisure has to accept what cultural manufacturers offer him”.
The result of this, the cultural product, is popular industry. An industry filled with deviations and reflections upon “popular” products. John Story theorises that popular culture is culture that:
37 seconds into the sequence, we see a room filled with identical workers, greyscaled, producing iterations upon the lounge room scene from earlier in the video. The room has militaristic guards, meshed windows and cracked and broken walls. The overall impression given is of dank oppression, with the “Simpsons” art standing in stark relief.
There are two areas I wish to address in relation to this scene; the first looks at the caricatures in this scene as a single entity, without individualism working to create a commercial product, the second looks at them as separate entities, all highly influenced by a singular product and seeking to emulate it for personal gain.
In the first, we see an assembly line of drones, all working on minute pieces of the presented whole. We are influenced by the greyscale appearance of the workers to view them as dull, without life. I extend this meaning to “without inspiration, or creativity”. We are shown the production of a product made without meaning excepting that derived from monetary gain.
In the second, we can look on the workers as representative of different agents within popular culture. With “The Simpsons” being presented as a standard of successful culture (within the monetary context, at the very least), we see the room as derivative creators, struggling to achieve success by creating variations upon the formulae that “The Simpsons” has presented.
Before I explore further, I would also like to point out Banksy’s use of the Asian stereotype as the workers. Due to overpopulation, Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, China and India have developed stereotypes of countries driven by industrial techniques such as mass population assembly lines. A good example of this is the “50 Cent Army”. These were a collection of Chinese children employed by Chinese political parties to post propaganda online supporting the various agendas. Each child was paid 50c per post for this task. This technique was only viable due to the sheer number of workers available for the task.
Anthony Fung explores the effect of the labour intensive Asian workforce on the culture industry, stating that “… it is a strategy for big transnational companies to search for the cheapest locations to ‘Manufacture’ cultural products using low cost” (Fung, 2016). I believe that in this section, Banksy is attempting to bring to light the poor conditions many of these workers are subjected to.
Further into the sequence, we see the produced slides being taken and dipped in toxic liquid. Near the toxic liquid are piles of bones, and the liquid is obviously handled without care, as many barrels are leaking. This could be symbolic of a few things, such as the integration of “toxic” ideas into mainstream media (homophobia, sexism/male gaze, racism, discrimination, etc), or even a comment on the work conditions that members of the creative industries are subjected to in order to meet deadlines and goals within a commercial context. An example of this within the game development industry is “crunch culture”. Recognised as a problem facing a large portion of the industry, it has become commonplace for a game developer to be forced to work large portions of unpaid overtime in order to meet deadlines set by the company. A recent example of this was the closure of TellTale Games studio. This studio forced employees into “20 hours a day, up to 100 hours a week” (Farokhmanesh, 2018) consistently, with the pervasive threat of being let go if they refused. This is only a single example of the many toxic elements that creative practitioner work through.
Finally, the camera moves down a hole, through a series of underground shafts. Pervasive through these shafts is evidence of merchandise manufacture, culminating in animals being shredded for stuffed toys on the bottom floor. Adorono and Horkheimer portray culture as something that is thrust upon the people for passive consumption. “The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offers him”. This is evident in this production. There is Simpsons music, Simpsons plush toys, Simpsons blankets and Simpsons house decorations. All in an effort to surround the consumer, to overwhelm them, within the sea of this product.
I do not believe this to be wholly true however. With the advent of the Information Age, society began to both create and consume. They learn the tenets and formulae of artistic creation, and dissect the pieces that are provided. Thus does the culture industry lose an element of its control, as the public begins to understand the tools of manipulation. Yes, trends will still occur, but when everyone may create, not everyone will blindly follow the popular movement. Many will instead experiment will areas hitherto discarded or given little importance. The regeneration of the Virtual Reality trend was seen as foolhardy until its success. The Battle Royale genre was only seen in “indie” games and mods such as H1Z1 (H1Z1, 2018) until the success of PUBG (PLAYERUNKNOWN: BATTLEGROUNDS, 2016), leading to world wide phenomenon Fortnite(Fortnite, 2018). These events provide proof that the individual may still diverge from the influences of mass culture. It would have been difficult for Adorno and Horkheimer to forsee this reality without knowledge of future events, such as the advent of the internet, its social trends, and the tools and information it would provide to anyone with a handheld device.
20th Century Fox. (2010). Simpsons [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX1iplQQJTo
Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1993). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.
Daybreak Game Company. (2018). H1Z1 [Windows/PSOS].
Epic Games. (2018). Fortnite [Windows/Mobile/Xbox/PS4].
Farokhmanesh, M. (2018). Toxic management cost an award-winning game studio its best developers [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/20/17130056/telltale-games-developer-layoffs-toxic-video-game-industry
Fung, A. (2016). Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor (p. 15 Redefining Creative Labor: East Asian Comparisons). California: University of California Press.
PUBG Corporation. (2016). PLAYERUNKNOWN:BATTLEGROUNDS [Windows/XBOXONE].
Story, J. (2014). What is Popular Culture?. Cultural Theory And Popular Culture: An Introduction.
Week 3 Activities
Practical Exercise A
Video at: https://youtu.be/_mFOsBUvMgo
Apologies for this week being late, it was hectic on my side, so im doing all my catch up now 😊
As can be seen in the video, I had some interesting problems with framerate that I am still going after. However, at 300 units moving simultaneously, and recalculating path every ~3 seconds, the framerate is fairly steady from 50-70 fps.
I have attempted various techniques for both node and path smoothing. I can confidently say that my attempts on node smoothing did not work, at all. My initial logic was that if a node was surrounded by other similar nodes, that its edges and connections could be transferred to the outside nodes, and the node itself deleted. However, considering that all my nodes are similar, I ended up with a set of nodes bordering my obstructions, and none to path. E.g.
Thus, the player could not navigate to… anywhere, as there was no node present.
I did manage to scavenge some level of success from this approach, when I increased the nodes compared from the nearest neighbours, to the next level of neighbours inclusive (neighbours, as well as neighbours of neighbours). This created a sort of shell around the obstacles, removing nodes on the far edges of the maps. Useful for some situations, perhaps not others. E.g.
Now, for path smoothing;
More success! With just a single function, my paths are shrinking from ~17 nodes to ~3.
The function in question follows as such:
public List<Node> SmoothPath (List<Node> original)
List<Node> smoothPath = new List<Node>(original);
print("Smooth begun: " + smoothPath.Count);
Node checkPoint = smoothPath;
Node currentPoint = smoothPath;
while (currentPoint != null)
Ray ray = new Ray(checkPoint.position, (currentPoint.position - checkPoint.position).normalized);
if (Physics.SphereCast(ray, 1, Vector3.Distance(checkPoint.position, currentPoint.position), obstructionMask))
checkPoint = currentPoint;
if ((smoothPath.IndexOf(currentPoint) + 1) < smoothPath.Count)
currentPoint = smoothPath[smoothPath.IndexOf(currentPoint) + 1];
currentPoint = null;
Node temp = currentPoint;
if ((smoothPath.IndexOf(currentPoint) + 1) < smoothPath.Count)
currentPoint = smoothPath[smoothPath.IndexOf(currentPoint) + 1];
currentPoint = null;
print("Smooth Finished: " + smoothPath.Count);
checkPoint = starting point of path
currentPoint = next point in path
while (currentPoint->next != NULL)
if Walkable(checkPoint, currentPoint->next)
// Make a straight path between those points:
temp = currentPoint
currentPoint = currentPoint->next
delete temp from the path
checkPoint = currentPoint
currentPoint = currentPoint->next
Now, from this (unfortunately separate) video (https://youtu.be/myosIgGyLME) we can see that sometimes the AI will clip through nearby obstacles. I have a few different methods to solve this, which result in slightly different behaviours for the pathing, but for the exposition I went with my default settings, as I prefer their result for now.
As the smoothing adds a further step onto path generation, it does increase lag during gameplay, but the function is quite fast so its not a major concern at this stage, at least not as much as the pathing itself.
Practical Exercise B
My chosen algorithm is A*.
A* is not only well optimised, for both swift prebaking and live gameplay, but it has an abundance of documentation and literature about it, allowing for many variations to be studied and integrated into my gameplay.
A drawback to this approach is the cost of operations; ie, repeated calls for path generation. A* will not perform as well as D*, as D* stores path data and changes when needed.
As a resolution to this problem, I am finding “probable” paths between important nodes and storing them. Then, when a character needs to move between important points they can simply draw on the pre-generated paths.
E.g., For this week I created a mock village simulator, with villages going from building to building. In this instance, we may assume that we can create paths from every building to every other building and store them. When the character needs to go from fields to storage, it queries the field for its storage path and uses that rather than generating its own. While workable, this approach will need some refinement to be properly usable. Perhaps not all buildings need to reference each other?
Hi again everybody!
As promised, a follow up to Week 3: Language Inquiry.
To further investigate how to integrate and design languages for games, I created a little simulation. The sim consists of 2 parts;
The first part: The player must make their way along a series of platforms. These platforms lead to 5 different signs. The first 4 bear runes with different words. Each word is a translation of a rune on the final sign. Once all runes are collected, and the player interacts with the final sign, the phrase is uncovered (“All Dragons Fly South”, previously “Maar Dracus Vin Laos” and a path to proceed is revealed. This is extremely simply language construction, just replacing English words with fantasy ones.
This example of language integration has potential for a lock-key mechanic, a foundation of game design. Single word use has also been seen in Skyrim, as a spell system (known ingame as “Thu’um). This approach to language design and integration looks to be the easiest, but is thus limited. It is fairly crude, and can be seen as such. Were the language to be used extensively throughout the game, it would need to be advanced, or detract from the overall quality of the game.
The second part: Continuing down the revealed path, the player reaches an NPC. The NPC says “Ji Na Venn Dross Va Mohl”. As the player finds signs that correspond to runes, and talk to the NPC, words are uncovered. When all nearby signs are used, the NPC says, “Ji Na Reached End Va Level”. While not entirely translated, the player is given enough contextual information to understand what is being said.
This system still uses single words, but hides the lack of grammar and syntax behind a wall of unknown words. By not introducing the player to all the intricacies of a language, you can pretend you have a full blown language while having simple word replacement . This system was used very well in Final Fantasy VII. FF7 also experimented with changing word order however, something that has come up in my research. The English Language uses a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) ordering, while Japan uses a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV). 
The potential of this slightly more advanced system is high. Games where you cant interact with other civilisations until you can understand them. A return to a “no quest marker” quest system, where you have to figure out where to go based off your conversation with an NPC. This would make language very important. An NPC who says “Szi Dracus Vin Go Laos Mahasi” is incomprehensible, but an NPC that says “The Dragons Vin Go South Mahasi” is more challenging than impossible.
As to creating a more indepth and structurally sound language, there is a cost-benefit scale to analyse here, as it seems that language creation requires almost exponentially more time and resources to create, as its complexity increases. For every word, you now require syntax, and grammar. You then need to find standard order of operations and pluralisation. I may wish to experiment with my own characters if I develop my own syllables. All of these items seem to feed off of each other, each increasing the difficulty of the other. This is not to say that a complex language is an insurmountable task, only that should I wish to explore this, I will definitely need to set aside time and resources to do so.
I will definitely be experimenting more with this as I progress with the Eternal Series, so keep an eye out!
This is Week 2… again!
*EDITED* Just added a video at the end so you guys can see my inquiry piece! Not complex or pretty, but a way for me to dig into exactly how difficult it would be to integrate and create game ready language mechanics.
My lecturer requested that I come at this assignment from a different angle, so here is my new Self Reflection. You can find the latest piece at https://drive.google.com/open?id=18TJBNLiQcDkEz3r4zP371DY-yzIvQ_8I
This piece is less of a game, more a stark portrayal of who I am.
In the centre, the closest I could get to portraying myself in 3D. Couldn’t get a beard going with Morph3D (Morph 3D, 2018) so bare faced, which annoys me more than it should. Heavier than your average joe, short-ish brown hair. I like to dress plain, generally in blacks. Glasses on my face, because my eyes have everything under the sun wrong with them. Long sighted, lazy eye, a stigmatism. Worn slightly too low because if I need to focus on things I look over the top.
At my feet and surrounding me are all the main foci of my life. To my right, my computer (or a close enough reproduction). I spend enough time in front of this thing that it has become integral to my identity. Do a thousand small improvements to something, and you come to feel like it’s a part of you. From performance, to useability, to security. I have made my computer an extension of my creativity, with every facet tailored to my own creative process. My computer is where I first develop my ideas, where I begin to mould them and where I finally transform them into my art.
On my left, a guitar. My family are all introduced to musical instruments early in our life. For me, around Year 5 (10 years old). My sisters played flute and clarinet. My ears probably have permanent damage from the clarinet. Music has always been a large part of my identity. I have never been particularly skilled at guitar playing, or music composition, but there is music for every emotion. If I wanted to savour a feeling, you find the music for it. If you want to induce a different feeling, you find that music. I have a set of epic orchestral dubstep pieces that always make me feel energized and self-improve-y (the feeling you get at 1:00am where you want to go learn or exercise or reform your ways). I recently began teaching my girlfriend the guitar, and that too has been an experience!
In front of me, books. When I was young, I devoured books. By the time I had reached 12 years old, I had finished my school library, and half of the town library. I love epic high-concept fantasy. David Eddings, Raymond E Fiest, David Gemmell, Robert Jordan. And lately, Brandon Sanderson. Stormlight Archives everyone. They are literally the best ever. Reading was a large part of my identity construction when I was younger, and to this day. I learned morals from Druss and self confidence from The Magician. I learnt how morality can be twisted from Way of Kings, and Kaladin’s battle with honour vs necessity.
In front, a cat. I’m a cat person. Dogs give unconditional love, and I can see the attraction. But if a cat loves you, you earned it. Also, cats are self-sufficient, and just need feeding and pooper scooping. They are amazing companions, etc. Enough about how awesome cats are. Animals as a whole are a large part of my life. I have always had at least 2-3 in my house. It broke my heart when I came to Perth and stayed in a series of no-pets apartment complexes. I am moving to a new house (tomorrow!) which allows all pets! Guess who’s getting a kitten ?
Im sure you noticed a kind of outlier behind me. That is, in fact, a dragon. As I mentioned above, I love the classics, but Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series (known for its first book “Eragon”) captured me. I quite simply love dragons. Not sexually (no matter how much my friends joke about my dragon fetish). I love the vast array of concepts that are contained within dragons. The science, the magic, the power, the wisdom, the recklessness. Thus, I love to integrate them into my stories, and my games. If you were expecting a dragon-less Eternal Ember, you will be disappointed!
This is a quick reflection of my life, and there are some events that profoundly impacted my development that I do not wish to air publicly. However, I do wish to speak quickly about how the above have impacted my creativity.
As you may have guessed, I was an introverted child. Head in a book consistently, or in my room playing guitar. When I got my first game console, this just compounded! I learnt the skills every introvert learns. To self-amuse, to enjoy my solitude. And while I was reading, I came to want to tell stories. While I was gaming, I wanted to know why I felt this sense of flow. While playing guitar, I wanted to make my own music. This led to me seeking a career in writing, which I did not really click with, and then finally, a career in Game Development. As I have aged, I have grown, and I am no longer a true introvert. My psych friend calls me a mezovert, or an ambivert (Definition of Ambivert by Merriam Webster, 2018). I have traits of both an introvert and an extrovert, but I will always be influenced by the drive to create that bloomed in my youth. When I create, I focus on telling a story; of progression, of choice and of trials. My games contain elements from all areas of my life, and thus become a product of them. During his Ted X Talk, Taika Waititi talks about his childhood and how his actions then have affected his creativity now. “I find that creativity is best when seen through the lens of a child’s eye” (Waititi, 2018). I believe that this is true, and while I accept that I have grown, it does help to see things from multiple perspectives.
I hope you enjoyed this look into my life, and how it affects me creatively!
ReferencesDefinition of Ambivert by Merriam Webster. (2018). Retrieved from Merriam Webset: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambivert
Morph 3D. (2018). Morph Character System. Retrieved from https://www.morph3d.com/morph-character-system
Waititi, T. (2018). The Art of Creativity. Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL71KhNmnls
For this weeks endeavour, and for the rest of the unit, I have been tasked with formulating a creative inquiry. A question to stretch myself and my abilities in a new direction.
Creative inquiry as a subject is a large part of what it is to be a creative practitioner, so my initial thoughts were; “What makes this assignment different than another day at work?”. Thus, I have tried to delve even further than the standard “That looks cool, how do I do that?”
The question I will be asking is:
What are the basic steps to create a new language, with regards to incorporation into my game design and development?
After a cursive search my findings so far are actually somewhat extensive.
The first? That this project is very possible. This is due to the various extents to which this concept can be applied. As a starting point, getting a simple universal sound down is important, as then you can just make up words for what you want. Gravi. Holstis. Mierka. They could mean anything, but for the language I have been working on for this week, they mean “gravy”, “reduction/less of” and “swamp”
By using individual words separately I can do a concept like can be seen in Skyrim, and the Thu’um. Simple concepts can be combined to form rudimentary phrases. E.g. Fus Ro Da. Force, Balance, Precision.
This can be extended by creating particular syntax rules. From what I can tell, the more syntax, the better the language and the more you can use the language for.
As the language expands, I could begin to use it in a way similar to Final Fantasy VII. In FF7, as the player unlocked words from journals and people, foreigners would become more understandable.
“vien ma guru sta vo gavi”
“vien ma guru sta vo beach”.
And after a while you would have a sentence like;
“Where ma guru go to beach”.
As a tool for game creation, this can really highlight previously arbitrary faction boundaries.
I will be releasing another post soon with the results of my findings, in game form of course.
This weeks blog is set in two parts, with this being the first. My task this week was to create a piece of art in the style I chose (for me, obviously a game), that reflects on myself as a creative practitioner. Please note that a link to the art piece in question is located at the bottom of the page.
Island of Embers is a High Fantasy RPG set on the shores of an island in Dracon Interactive’s “Eternal Ember” series. This project was created as a reflection of myself as a creative practitioner, and to explore and examine my current abilities and how they have grown.
Speaking practically, Island of Embers was a chance to visit many areas that I have worked on for years. Terrain Creation, Animation Controllers, AI Programming and Camera Control. I have grown significantly in these areas, learning to mesh my code and design as cleanly as possible. A large part of this is due to a change of view over the last year. Early on in my game design career, I believed that I could single-handedly create masterpieces on the scale of Kingdoms of Amalur, or Skyrim. Harsh experience has shown me that compromise is not only an option, but absolutely necessary until I can secure a position creating games with a team. Thus, Island of Embers was created in a miniscule amount of time (10 hours), with the help of premade assets.
A factor that I have begun examining more closely after my exploration of it in my Creative Practitioner unit is the iterative element of my design and production. Due to the limited time frame, there was very little time for planning in this project. Thus, it was more of a single push to find and implement ideas, rather than my usual recursive process. Production contained elements of iteration, mostly in the mechanic implementation process. Using my usual technique of applying basic mechanics at the beginning of a game (walking, interaction). This proved to detract from this particular project, as I eventually completely replaced the movement system with an Animation based Root Motion technique I have been attempting (and failing) for a while. Once this was implemented, I then solidified my interaction, and combat and looked to the Quest system. I have long had trouble with the concept of a quest system, but a chat-bot I made a couple of weeks ago actually cracked this for me and this project seemed the best time to see if I could implement this. While I initially had a bit of trouble, I kept revising until the system worked, and I am quite happy with the result, as I will almost definitely include this technique in the production of Eternal Ember, my major project.
On a more creative note, a number of things contributed to my decisions about setting and genre for this project. My work on my major project Eternal Ember was a large part of this. Started around 4 years ago, Eternal Ember is a Fantasy RPG of somewhat unrealistic scope (wildly, wildly unrealistic scope if I’m being honest). My work on this has been the crux of my development, and personally embodies the concept of creative research for me. Focusing so much of my research on a single project has influenced my preferences and biases when it comes to projects. I feel the most comfortable when working on Fantasy RPG’s, and this can alter my projects and ideation process to reflect this.
There were two main areas where my aesthetic choices came into play in Island of Embers. The first was the texturing and models used to create the island, from the trees, to the grass colour. For this project, I chose a pseudo-realistic texture style, applied to low poly models. This created an okay type of ambience. However, had I had more time on this project, I probably would have opted for higher poly models, with a custom shader for the basic environment. The colours of the environment were your basic yellow, green, browns and whites. I did make these a bit lighter, as I wanted to create a “harsh colours after being stranded on an island” effect. This was tempered by letting the player be actually able to see, and not feel too uncomfortable. I finally applied a series of Post Processing techniques, from Anti-Aliasing to Ambient Occlusion.
The second aesthetic area was within my choices for the games User Interface (UI). Initially, I had a very prototype-y, programmer art type of UI. Basic boxes, Arial font for everything. Colours either white or black. However, as a developer, I like to work on projects that have a bit of effort put into appearance, so when I got a chance, I imported an asset from EvilSystems User Interface Systems, and integrated it into my existing systems. This manifested mostly in the Quest Log UI. Should I work more on this project, I would then extend this to the Screen UI (health bar, action bar, unit frames, etc).
The setting of this project is representative of both my practical and creative areas of development. On a practical side, forming the island took work learning to understand the algorithms used to form landmasses. I then took these, modified them and configured until I was happy with the result. However, the end goal for this was created through my creative processes, considering what kind of atmosphere I wanted for the player, and the area.
With more consideration to why I chose to create Island of Embers, it is because this project allowed me to explore more technical points relating to my main project, Eternal Ember. Work on this has continued for a significant portion of my career, and almost all of my projects allow me to learn something that will be useful in the construction of the project. Island of Embers feeds into my main goal, and resembles my main goal, portraying a large part of what helps me identify myself as a game developer.
Lastly, Island of Embers is a marker of how much I have grown in my game development journey. Creating a full scene and limited mechanic RPG in 10 hours is a feat I would have considered impossible 4 years ago. Growth is a large part of game development, and my own journey, as I am consistently learning new tools and techniques.
Download Island of Embers HERE.
To start; a question I can not google.
This was a quick thought for me, as for years I have had a ridiculously frustrating thought stuck in the back of my head; "How did Time start?". It makes no sense. We use time to measure things, and to define where things start. So, without time, how did time start. Its not like there could have been time passing before time began... So we then move onto whether time has been around forever, and thus, has the universe been around forever, etc, etc, my head hurts. One thing is for certain, while google may give me many opinions on the matter, there is no answers.
The TED Talk by Chris Wire talks about curiosity, and its link to creativity. On the whole, I am in total agreeance with the concepts proposed by Chris. Curiosity today is less than it has previously been. This is affecting our cultural identities and our individual identities. There were a few points that I disagreed with however.
The first, that technology is responsible for this decreased curious activity. I am in direct opposition to this in fact. I believe that having such easily available fact finding facilities at our disposal, will increase our curiosity. When I was younger, and I was curious about a fact, I would have to ask my parents, my teachers, or find it in a book. This led to many facts remaining unanswered. And after a while, I would forget the question and go about my life. But by the time I was reaching year 4/5 at ~ 11 years old, I was beginning to ask less questions. Not because I was being told "be quiet", or berated for my questions (I was, but that didnt stop me), but because I wasn't getting any answers. With the advent of smart phones, google and all that came with them, my curiosity resurged. Because now all of my questions could have answers. And I believe that this was not just the case for me, but a global phenomenon. Thus, I reject the proposal that we were all so curious before technology, as Chris hasn't given me any evidence or reason to believe that this statement is true.
The other point is that children are naturally more curious than adults. As a STEM (Digital tech) education provider, my day job is to go to schools and teach kids to program, to make a circuit, all the fun tech stuff. However, on the whole, my kids aren't bursting full of questions and curiosity. I show them a new piece of technology, and often I will not get any questions. At most, a "cool, how does it work". Kids arent interested in the broad applications of software, or the different things they can do with it. Kids like to find a single use for an object and slam all their attention into it. Give a child the internet, and they will not spend time on google asking questions, they wont even go looking for new activities. They will go to the same activity they did yesterday, and every day before.
Which, if my experience serves me well, will be some sort of gaming. Or pictures of cats (kids seem unaware of the irony of just using the internet for kitten pics).
In regards to the creative quiz at https://hbr.org/2015/12/assessment-whats-your-curiosity-profile, my results came back in 3 categories.
I like to think in my own way, and my own way is often different from those around me. However, I believe this is true for many people, and I don't believe it really makes me unconventional. I am not one of those people who makes wild leaps of thought to strange areas (I think). In my life, it has been the direction of my thought, not the variability of it that has been different.
I can agree with this. Learning and progression are large parts of my personality makeup, and are aspects that are often forwarded into my work. They are possibly what makes me enjoy my work so much, as progression of character and player is one of the greatest aspects of game design.