Lazy game design

I picked up Wii Sports Resort the other day, and playing it reignited something that burns me about recent trends in videogame design.

I get the feeling that fewer videogames are being built upon thoughtful design, clever problem solving, and storytelling. In contrast, it seems that there’s an abundance of games that feature mindless collecting, whiz-bang toys, pointless achivements, crap user-generated content, and an abundance of make-your-own-fun sandbox simulations.

It all reeks of lazy game design and disrespect for the player. I don’t want a box of toys that I could use to possibly make my own fun. I bought a game damn it. Set an objective. Teach me the rules. Challenge me fairly. Don’t make me do menial tasks. Give me a dozen good levels over a million ordinary ones. You can’t placate me with your hollow achievements! Don’t patronise me!

Designing for “emergent gameplay” tends to be the gaming equivalent of producing reality television – it’s easy and cheap to produce. Just create the set, plant a few challenges, and wait for the “magic” to happen. “Sandbox gameplay” is a often catch phrase for providing the equipment for a game, but no game itself. It’s like kicking a ball around. It’s exercise, but it’s not sport. Football is what people dedicate their lives to.

It’s easy to see why game developers would seek to include these new types of gameplay (maybe they should just be called “play”). They’re low-hanging fruit and seem to appeal to a broad market. I’d also throw in that people can be very insecure (and companies very adverse to risk). Why risk designing something that consumers might not like when you can just provide them some fun toys and let them do whatever they want?

There’s nothing inheritly wrong with toys (or reality television). Why don’t we just call them toys though? I don’t want to see games always seek to include toys to supplement poor gameplay or to cover the lowest common denominator.

And now back to Wii Sports Resort. As expected, it’s a collection of fun toys and shallow games. Fortunately, it doesn’t purport to being anything else.

Games uncollection

I’ve amassed a fair games collection over the years.

I guess that I’d always hoped to curate a sort of video game museum, gallery, or library. However, it’s not something that I’m really that interested in now – at least not enough to pursue it anymore. I’m much more interested in just having less stuff.

I’ve previously trimmed my collection down, but now I just want to get rid of it.

It’s not that I don’t like all these old games. (Quite the opposite, I love them!). It’s just that keeping them doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s not likely that I’m going to play them again – and they just sit there in case I ever want to.

I’m not sure exactly how I’ll get rid of everything. There are heaps of options: eBay, GameTraders, setting up my own online store, etc.

Donating to a library seems like a good option because it will make the games available to a wider audience. I performed a few quick searches for video games on the State Library of Western Australia website, but all turned up nothing (aside from related books and movies). So I sent the following email:

Hello,

As an avid video game player, I was wondering if the State Library or public libraries in Western Australia, have any video games in their collections. Much like literature, film, and music – video games contribute to the cultural environment and background of a large portion of the population.

I am also head of “Let’s Make Games”, a local initiative to support the local video game development community which has a 20+ year history and is currently growing very quickly. I would love to see products of the Western Australian games industry collected as a means of recording this emerging culture and community.

Could you please let me know if video games (locally developed or international releases) are collected? If not, are there any plans to collect them in future?

Best Regards,

– Nick Lowe

I hope that I didn’t come off as too smarmy or directive.

Anyone out there have some other ideas for (or experience in) dissolving a games collection? Please comment!

Pretentious game journalism

What a load of whiny crap:

Translation:

What you like is stupid. You should like what I like.

It doesn’t take a genius to determine why mainstream titles sell better than esoteric “art” games. There is obviously much broader market appeal for high-quality 3D graphics and familiar gameplay, compared to low-res 2D graphics and confusing interactivity.

Since when is Passage objectively better than Assassin’s Creed? And why should the average mainstream gamer be held accountable for their subjective preference – not donating money to support stuff that they don’t like?

I’d love to see more people embrace games like Passage… just so that pretentious game journalists lose their perceived moral high ground and have to find some other cause that they can champion and feel superior about.

Note: Obviously, people should donate to indie developers if they want to support them. Calling mainstream titles crap, and talking down to consumers for buying them, is clearly not the best way to go about encouraging people to do so.

Moving to Albany for 6 months

I haven’t posted much recently as I’ve been busy with various things including helping to organise the next Let’s Make Games event and looking into buying a house (at some point).

In other news, it looks like I’ll be moving to Albany for 6 months from around February next year…

Albany_location_map_in_Western_Australia

Hopefully I’ll be able to work on my second independent title during my time there, and I’ll be able to make it back to Perth for major Let’s Make Games events. 😉

Exciting times!

AniGames Arcade this weekend

I seems that almost all otaku groups in Perth (PAniC, UWAnime, POWA, JAFWA and AniCu) are working together to run a videogames competition this weekend.

Here’s the flyer posted over at PAniC’s website:

anigames1

It looks like Let’s Make Games will be helping out with some of the retrogaming action. (Phil from JAFWA asked if we could lend a hand and we’re very happy to! The more games events in Perth the better!)

The future of open source?

Being an independent software developer is an interesting business. If working on products that you intend to bring to market (eg. rather than contract work), it’s best to reach as wide an audience as possible. That means being fairly pragmatic regarding which platforms you develop for.

I have a strong preference for GNU/Linux for personal use, but it’s important to be able to develop and test under Windows. I’ve also been thinking about getting an Apple computer for cross-platform testing and possible iPhone development.

I’ve previously kept work and personal computer usage very separate. While at work, I would never check personal email, use social networking sites, post to my blog, or browse the Internet. I would just check my personal email and my newsreader when I was at home. This was great as it helped me maintain some distance between my professional and personal relationships and forced my to divide my time appropriately. I would use my Windows work laptop for work and my Ubuntu home desktop for everything else.

I resigned from my position at Interzone Entertainment a few months ago, and I’m finding it fairly impractical to maintain seperate work and personal computers when I’m working for myself and I need to develop across multiple platforms. I ran into the following problems:

  • I knew hardly any of my passwords other than my desktop login (I just get my installed applications to remember passwords) so I couldn’t check email etc. unless I was using my home desktop.
  • Moreover, I rarely used my (Vista) laptop since it didn’t have my stored passwords, my desktop feedreader, or my desktop notes. So it never had everything I needed.

I figured that it’s probably better to have my main work machine be the laptop since I could take it with me anywhere. Since I greatly prefer Ubuntu, I installed it on the laptop as half of a clunky dual-boot setup before finally just wiping the machine and installing Ubuntu standalone (with Windows Vista running in a VirtualBox VM). Unfortunately this still wasn’t the answer: even with Ubuntu installed there was a lot to setup, especially if I wanted data synchronisation with my desktop machine (which is more comfortable to use).

At this point it really hit home how much of a mess account/data management and cross-platform development/usage are. There are so many kludges (desktop password keyrings, virtual machines, meta-accounts, etc.) to try and make it work, and no practical ways for people to really manage all their own data on their own machines, and still engage in all the Internet has to offer (especially social networking).

I started trying to determine how best to consolidate my various accounts and data (spread across multiple email address, IM accounts, social networks etc.) and I’ve come to the fairly disappointing realisation that the only practical way to have single sign-on access to easy-to-administer services accessible whenever/whereever I want it… is to use integrated, externally-hosted, proprietary services (such as those offered by Google).

Now there are heaps of open-source programs that I can use to run my own web, mail, chat, and other services. However, they don’t provide everything I need and there are a lot of deal-breakers:

  • Integration: I want single sign-on and a consistent interface.
  • Maintenance: I don’t want to worry too much about software being out-of-date or getting hacked. (I auto-update my desktop).
  • Front-end: Few services have standard web front-ends and I don’t want to have to configure custom clients across multiple desktops.
  • Federation (and social networking): There are very few real open source options here as the market is dominited by closed platforms.

It’s great to see Google’s utilisation of open standards (IMAP, XMPP, Jingle, etc.) and provision of them as well (OpenSocial, GoogleWave), but it’s distressing that we’re still very far from competative FOSS web services that could take on Google/Yahoo/Microsoft and popular social networking sites. There are many fantastic standalone projects (Apache, courier, ejabberd, laconi.ca, WordPress, etc.), but no cohesive solution. Moreover, it seems that people are far less fervent about it (I get the impression that a lot of people who will run nothing buy FOSS on their home machine will happily use youtube, facebook, and twitter).

When Windows was the closed system on every desktop, Linux offered a valid FOSS alternative (and packaged distributions made it accessible). When everyone is using closed remote services, I hope that there are comparable packaged open source alternative: a standards-based, federated, web-services option that you can host wherever you want (on a remote host or on your own server).

In the meantime, I’m probably going to use Google services and some sort of social networking aggregator while trying out (and maybe helping to develop) promising alternatives.