Friday, August 31, 2012

Babycastles Summit: Designing Games for Public Space

Greg Trefry, of Come Out & Play Festival, curated a panel between three public space game designers: Ramiro Corbetta of Hokra, Matthew Parker of Recurse, and J.R. Blackwell of Shelter In Place.

Ramiro Corbetta's Presentation
  • Ramiro worked at Powerhead Games for 5-6 years, where he worked on many casual Nintendo DS games and Glow Artisan, which won an IGF award. He attended Babycastles and started learning programming. Then Charles Pratt approached him to make a game for the No Quarter Exhibition.
  • He made Hokra, a 2v2 game played with XBox 360 controllers. It's a game that's meant for 4 people playing and 20 people watching. Charles told him to make a game that'll be entertaining for spectators, so he added motion trails and made the UI very easy to understand.
  • He was looking for inspiration for a public space game and found it in soccer, which is the quintessential public space game for him (he's Brazilian).
  • Abe Stein, a writer at MIT, wrote a review of Hokra. He mentions that it's the "physical and digital jostling, the shouts, jeers, grimaces, chants, cheers, roots" that make Hokra a sports game. The game is very much about the audience and the players as much as what's on the television screen.
  • Ramiro also made OBMAD (Or Buy Me A Drink) along with a developer of Super Crate Box. It is a drinking game where people get a card with instructions when they buy a drink. They can give this card to anyone else, who must either do the actions instructed on the card or buy the challenger a drink. Ramiro is really interested in drinking games and is now working on a single-player drinking game.
  • They key to making a public space game is to have meaningful interactions between players, make it entertaining for spectators, and make gameplay as performance.
J.R. Blackwell's Presentation
  • J.R. Blackwell is the creative director at Galileo Games.
  • Velociraptor! Carnivore! is a board game for 4-6 players where velociraptors steal body parts and eat prey.
  • Bulldogs LARP! is LARP game taking place in futuristic space. Players fill out a Transgalaxy Employment Contract which is their character sheet for the game. This game also involves a puppet of a punk-looking bear.
  • Shelter In Place is a zombie LARP for 10-24 players. A director decides how games will go. There are human players and zombie players. The game is played in three acts with zombies growing strong each subsequent act. The game is like a big game of tag where the character with the higher number value wins in an exchange.
  • The human characters include a business man, construction worker, medic, architect, horror movie buff, and a child, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The child, for example, is the last human to be bitten, which is an advantage to him. However, any other character that the child gets close to gets decremental value, which is a big disadvantage for the team.
  • The zombie horde all work as a team towards one goal -- eat brains.
  • There can also be twist characters such as a cyborg, vampire, werewolf, time traveler, MIB agent, or a tourist. The tourist is J.R. favorite twist char because he just came into town and doesn't realize he's in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. The game is lost if he is convinced that he's in a horror situation.
  • The game uses props to make it more immersive. Physical engagement is very important for public space games.
  • Shelter In Place has flexible game design and is adjusted based on the space and the audience. The game is based on zombie movies from Night of the Living Dead to Shaun of the Dead, so at the start of the game, the director picks the mood of the game based on the players.
Matthew Parker's Presentation
  • Matt is involved with Deepak Chopra's Leela and co-authoring Hacking the Kinect.
  • He designed Hali, a hide-and-seek game played with GPS-enabled mobile devices. In this game, everyone knows where everyone is at any given time, but GPS only gives the approximation of locations. The game is intended to be play on huge parks and fields.
  • Matt curated "Fuck the Screen" event at Babycastles, which showcased Doug Wilson's Johann Sebastian Joust, Kaho Abe's Hit Me, and his own Duello. Duello is a cowboy duel game where both players are armed with a gun and a cowboy hat with sensors. The game is projected on the ground for both the players and the spectators.
  • Recurse was commissioned to be a lobby piece for the NYU Game Center. It's a simple Kinect game where the player waves their hands frantically at passing green spots and avoid red spots. The game was also released for the iPad.
  • At Jean Claude Van Jam 2012, the game jam ended up producing a lot of physical games, which was appropriate for the huge space at Eyebeam. The winning game was Wrong Bet, based on the film Lionheart. Two fighters play a simple game of Rock-Scissor-Paper on two separate laptops, while a crowd circles around them, yelling suggestions and making bets. This game was interesting because it made spectators a very big part of the game.
  • Matt also worked on Lumarca, an installation piece that projected 3D objects onto string. This was hooked up to Kinect so that the objects on the string installation were mirrors of the objects in front of the camera. He tried many ways to turn this piece into a game, but could not find anything.
Panel Discussion
  • Major influences of public space games are sports and theater.
  • Most games (board and digital) have big barriers of entry, but public space games aim to lower that barrier. They're meant to draw in random bystanders and get them into the game in a seamless fashion, or at least bizarrely entertain bystanders with its strange spectacle.
  • Ritual is a big part of sports and performance. Ritual is something developed and shared among people.
  • There is an internal vs. external performance when it comes to public space games.
  • Is accessibility the enemy of depth? There can be accessible games that are also deep. Examples include Baribariball, Tennis, and Nidhogg.
  • What makes a game a public space game? It's the possibility of an audience and its permeability.
  • Street Fighter is a public space game. It was made for arcades which are very much public spaces.
  • Duello was more fun for spectators than players. It was designed to have realistic shooting and most people are very bad at shooting accurately, so players couldn't find too much fun from the game. But spectators were entertained by the silly outfits and the performance of the duel. On the other hand, Recurse was more fun for the players than the spectators. People watching other people play the game feel really uncomfortable or awkward, but once they're in front of the game, totally get into it and start doing silly motions.
Question and Answer
  • Do you look at technology first or come up with the idea first? Doug Wilson looked at technology first for Johann Sebastian Joust. He investigated accelerometers, realized that they suck, and designed a game about not moving the accelerometer. Duello was very much theme first and then finding technology to fit the concept. Hokra and Shove were both technology first. For Hokra, Ramiro was excited about finally making a game for a big television screen after working on Nintendo DS games for the last five years. For Shove, he looked at the Kinect and designed a game that the Kinect cannot do well, ie. getting close and in contact with other players in front of the camera.
  • Are cosplayers game players? Cosplayers are definitely inhabiting characters, but not necessarily playing games. However, there is a lot of crossover between cosplayers and LARPers. Costumes make games and role-playing much more immersive.
  • Most LARP are centered around horror because there is a lot of opportunity for conflict in the horror genre. In addition, LARP is very effective at creating true fear, so it's playing at its strengths.
  • Minecraft is not an accessible game and Matt doesn't consider it a game at all. Making a game accessible and deep is the hardest thing to do.
  • Does technology limit accessibility? A controller is definitely more inaccessible than a camera since there are too many buttons and it's very intimidating for someone who's never seen it before.
  • Not all games need to be accessible like Chess. LARPs are very inaccessible but are very engaging.
  • The best LARPs are the ones that are highly curated.
  • Drinking games are big public space games. Drinking games should be studied for inspiration for public space games because they succeed in how easy it is for people to enter the game and how quickly they can get players engaged.
  • Recurse was meant to draw people, who don't expect to be playing, to play the game. It uses a mirror, which innately attracts people, but also skews it in an interesting fashion, which intrigues them even more.
  • Public space games differ between spaces. The experience definitely changes for Shelter In Place depending on the location. Recurse was designed specifically for an individual space (the lobby of the NYU Game Center), but got more attention when it was brought to spaces with large audiences. Hali, on the other hand, was built to be played anywhere, but didn't really work in testing. It was brought to the Come Out & Play Festival in San Francisco and the game was barely playable because the fields were too hilly and the technology couldn't keep up. Hokra can be played anywhere, though it was meant to be played in public spaces, but will probably end up being playing in the living room. OBMAD is played at bars, but the game completed broke when it was brought to an event was an open-bar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Babycastles Summit: The Bill Murray Theory of Game Design

John Teti of Gameological Society drew interesting parallels between game design trends and classic films of Bill Murray. The two films he specifically references are Groundhog Day (1993) and Scrooged (1988).
  • In both films, Bill Murray plays an asshole in the television industry who eventually becomes better due to supernatural forces that only he experiences.
  • In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, is trapped reliving a single day over and over again. Through the course of the movie, he becomes relatively superhuman and gains intimate knowledge of the everyone in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The film is regarded one of the greatest comedies of all time.
  • In Scrooged, Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a cold-hearted television programming executive. Frank is visited by three ghosts who show him the error of his ways in the past, present, and future. The film is a zany, loud version of A Christmas Carol.
  • Imagine Bill Murray as the player and the worlds he inhabits are the video game systems.
  • In Groundhog Day, Phil replays the day over and over again until he gets better. He retains memories of past events, even though nobody else does. This is very similar to a videogame where the player can die and revive, gaining more knowledge whereas all the enemies replay their same routines.
  • Phil is ultimately able to leave Groundhog Day, essentially beating the game. But it took five essential steps for him to get there.
    1. Exploration and testing of the boundaries.
      • After realizing that he is reliving the same day, Phil decides to test the limits of the world. He drives his car in a crazy fashion, playing chicken with an incoming train, and when he is pulled over by a police officer, he makes fun of the situation by pretending to order fast food. As he drives his car, he claims, "I'm not going to live by their rules anymore!" This act gets him thrown into jail, but he wakes up the next morning back in his hotel room. He cheers as his test succeeded.
      • As a player entering a new game, you explore the mechanics and systems. You find out what are your strengths and your weaknesses, your abilities and your limitations.
    2. Strategic Action
      • After understanding the mechanics, Phil takes advantage of his superhuman ability. He courts Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, by taking her out on a date over and over again. Being the self-centered and misogynous personality that he is, he often says the wrong thing on the date and gets himself slapped in the face. However, he learns from his mistakes each time and corrects it in the following date, ultimately creating the perfect date.
      • The player plays with their perceptions of the conditions of the world.
    3. Failure
      • Phil tries to end the loop by committing suicide, but fails repeatedly. He electrocutes himself, gets hit by a truck, drives off a cliff, and jumps from a tall building, but none of his deaths can prevent the day from repeating.
    4. Reassessment and Growth
      • Nearing the end of the film, Phil shifts his focus on connecting with the people around him. He gains intimate knowledge of everyone in town. He also makes time out of his day to help people in need including saving a boy who falls from a tree and replacing a flat tire for a group of old women. Despite knowing that all these good action would be undone the next day, he still fits it into his personal routine.
      • He did not necessarily realize this was the goal for him to leave the loop, but he does it anyways. The relation between objective and personal growth may not be superficially obvious.
    5. Success
      • After he finally gets the girl, he was able to break out of the loop. He came out of there as a new man and in the final scene, even suggested to stay in the town.
  • Taking the five steps into account, we can define a "Groundhog Day game" as one that achieves player growth by the design of its world. In these games, failure is an option and the world has consistent ethos. The world itself is a source of guidance and the creator (the Hand of God) doesn't directly intervene. It leaves room for epiphany and also for disorientation. Examples of Groundhog Day games include Myst, Spelunky, Metroid, Journey, and Norrland (a game by Cactus).
  • In Scrooged, the three ghosts lead Frank around and punish him for not following their directions. In one scene with the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost tells Frank that he must have an emotional reaction when he sees his parents. He leads Frank by the neck even though Frank is completely against it. Instead of letting Frank have that emotional connection naturally, he basically forces him towards that path.
  • The ghost of Christmas present is a fairy who obnoxiously leads Frank around, very similar to The Legend of Zelda's Navi.
  • John defined a new term. To scrooge is to subvert the player's agency, prompting or making decisions for them. The Hand of God directs the player where to go and the player ends up not trusting the world.
  • Examples of scrooging include the "woman in the ear" that happen in many shooters like Splinter Cell: Conviction. Other examples are dialog boxes that pop up after you fail a few times asking, "Do you want to switch to easy mode?" or worse yet, a super guide mode that asks you to give up already and let the computer play the game itself. In the reboot of SSX, after failing a few times, the game allows the player to skip the level altogether while still gaining XP and bonuses from that level. The level does not even matter at that point. These mechanics let the players make the rules, in which case he's no longer the player anymore, he's a creator.
  • Choices are the fabric of the game and when you are able to simply skip the level, all efforts have nil value.
  • Some other examples of scrooging include internal monologues. In Arkham City, Batman constantly reminds himself that he should go to the next plot point, turning an open-world game into a very linear experience. In Alan Wake, Alan's internal monologues often gives the player the solutions to the puzzles. These types of scrooging alienates players from his own avatar.
  • Problems with scrooging is that it values nominal success over personal growth. Without failure, the Scrooged game skips steps 3 and 4 of the Groundhog Day model.
  • In the final scenes of each movie, you can clearly see the results of the different models. In Groundhog Day, Phil is genuinely a good person, having undergone a permanent change in his behavior. In Scrooged, he rants about having a second chance in life in a superbly crazy fashion. He seems completely crazy like he was tripping balls.
  • Scrooged games give you thrills and power trips, but these only last temporarily.
  • Scrooged games  are mass-market. These types of games are defined by business models. Older games followed the Groundhog Day model because they were arcade games that were meant to make the players pump as many quarters in the machine as possible. In the console generation, value was put into longer, more densely packed games, so games shifted to the Scrooged model to ensure more players are able to get through the content.
  • Groundhog Day games force you to be more intimate and nuanced with the mechanics and world.
  • In the current generation, games are too expensive to fail, so development cannot be put in the hands of the creative people.
  • In the indie scene, however, financial motive is secondary. Indie developers have modest resources and personal expression is not directed by marketing or the lowest common denominator.
  • There are also social factors. Helicopter parents (who over-direct their children's lives) tend to have better educated kids, but the kids are stunted in social development. Over-direction is not a good thing.
  • In the US, there is a safe playground movement where seesaws, merry-go-rounds, and anything deemed remotely dangerous are removed from playgrounds. However, studies have shown that protecting kids would make them more neurotic. Parents shepherding kids are more harmful to them.
  • Instead of letting kids go down a slide on their own, many parents put their kids on their laps and slide down with them. However, many kids get their legs caught on the side and the weight of their parents going down end up fracturing the kid's leg. This is a completely preventable disaster if the parents have more trust in their kids.
  • "I learned something, I gained something, I found something."
  • Hardcore vs. casual gamer is a false binary. Casual players are just like hardcore gamers but they are not so familiar with all the videogame tropes yet.
  • Survival horror needs procedural generation to keep it scary without scrooging the player.
  • Facebook games do not have true failure. Their type of failure, such as the withering of crops, is so binary and basic that it doesn't illicit any personal growth by overcoming them.