Infovore: Playing Together

28 08 2008

Tom Armitage has given a talk on games and social software entitled “Playing Together” at NLGD and also at Develop. We unfortunately missed it at the latter because we were running Games:EDU a couple of rooms away, but Tom has now posted text and images.

It’s a really broad ranging talk with some great thinking on what humans are and how we use games. It moves through the kind of social circles we engage in, how social software has drawn on playful experiences to cater to those, how people in turn find new ways of playing with things and each other, and what videogame designers might be able to learn from all of this. The large structure makes it difficult to quote from, so I suggest you go and read the whole thing.

And what do you discover about Nike+? You discover there’s a metagame to it. People start syncing late – filling up their run data and then only syncing at the last minute – to disguise how much they’re doing. They mess around!

Nike+ is ticking so many of our boxes: it’s asynchronous; it’s designed perhaps best for small groups; it turns running into a social object, putting it online. It’s a really great example of future for social play.

And it goes where I am: it’s a game that I don’t have to learn how to play. I already know how to run.

(CC image of volleyball by flyzipper)

Global Game Jam

15 08 2008

I got this in my inbox, and it’s definitely worth passing on. Game Jams have been a venerable part of games culture around GDC for a long time, and now the IGDA Education SIG is aiming to send them global:

I am really excited to announce to friends the live website of a new project that the SIG is organizing. I hope with your help to make at a real success with everyone globally. The Global Game Jam will be announced at Sandbox and SIGGRAPH, where we are doing a call for host venues and looking for sponsorship money to pull of such a large scale project. The Global Game Jam is a first of its kind Game Jam that will take place in the same 48 hours around the world, January 30-February 1st, 2009. Our friends at the Nordic Game Jam will be our flagship Jam – they have had years of success. This should be a real experience in creativity, innovation and experimentation.

If you know of anyone willing to host a Game Jam in their local area or for that matter, help us sponsor the project, please let me know. Information regarding hosting and sponsorship is available on the site. We hope to have local jams throughout Asia, Europe, North/South America, South Pacific… and anywhere else willing to host a jam. The Global Game Jam is open to everyone. Sign-up for the local Jams will happen in late October. The GGJ will provide one representative of each winning local jam a round-trip ticket to present their game at the IGDA Education SIG Workshop at GDC.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results of this.

(CC image of seed packed Kiwi jam by rachel is coconut&lime)

NYC Apartment Has Games, JJ Abrams Has Rights

25 06 2008

NYC Apartment

Last week the New York Times ran an article on a stunning apartment overlooking Central Park, which had various puzzles and games built into it for the owners. The article is here, though may require a login to view (try

What Ms. Sherry didn’t realize until much later was that Mr. Clough had a number of other ideas about her apartment that he didn’t share with her. It began when Mr. Klinsky threw in his two cents, a vague request that a poem he had written for and about his family be lodged in a wall somewhere, Ms. Sherry said, “put in a bottle and hidden away as if it were a time capsule.” (Ms. Sherry said that her husband is both dogged and romantic, a guy singularly focused on the welfare of children, not just his own. Mr. Klinsky runs Victory Schools, a charter school company that seeds schools in neighborhoods around the country, as well as an after-school program in East New York that his own children help out with regularly.)

That got Mr. Clough, who is the sort of person who has a brainstorm on a daily basis, thinking about children and inspiration and how the latter strikes the former. “I’d just read something about Einstein being inspired by a compass he’d been given as a child,” he said. The Einstein story set Mr. Clough off, and he began to ponder ways to spark a child’s mind. “I was thinking that maybe there could be a game or a scavenger hunt embedded in the apartment — that was the beginning,” he said.

The flat is full of keys, ciphers, puzzles and hidden compartments. The article is an absolutely fascinating read, and there’s a slideshow here.

Paramount have now bought rights to the article from the NYT, apparently for a film to be produced by JJ Abrams, and I’m not surprised. He gave a fascinating talk at TED about mystery last year, about how it is a potent element in creating compelling experiences. Games and puzzles, by combining this with specific objectives, are among some of the most compelling experiences we’ve produced.

Spore Community Generates 375K+ Creatures

19 06 2008


The Creature Editor for Spore was released just over a day ago. EA are following a phenomenally good strategy with this. It has digital distribution and will also have boxed product. It has a free price point plus a paid option that offers more scope for building creatures, allows direct uploads to youtube, and all you have to do to prompt your version to get a copy of a creature is get the png file from Sporepedia.

The community has made a staggering 375,000+ creatures since the editor was released. At peak rates, submissions apparently topped 1000 per minute, and even now about 100 are appearing on Sporepedia a minute. Just like creatures I made in early web games a decade ago, every single one of the creations linked to above is a personal investment by someone in Spore. The full game will cater to all levels of involvement, allowing everything from tinkering with the editor to building a civilisation.

Electronic Arts started saying a while ago that Spore would be more of a franchise than a game, and it seems perfectly crafted to work virally and make money. I would have laughed if, a few years ago, someone had told me something this innovative and well crafted would be coming out of EA.

Online Grief

2 04 2008


Bill Fulton has written an excellent (and sweary) article about online behaviour for Gamasutra. He talks about the problem of abusive players, who have plagued multiplayer games in the form we know them for a decade or more. Since the advent of voice communications and online console gaming, have become particularly bad, and the answer often given is basically “grow thicker skin”.

The answer treats the emotional response to griefing very simplistically: even if what a person is saying fails to upset you, they can be an annoyance to the point that playing is no longer relaxing or fun. Fulton talks about engineering social environments to make them more welcoming to players and risker for people who want to be disruptive, and has some clever ideas:

Another example from Shadowrun is how we empowered the players in a game to protect themselves against griefers. Shadowrun’s solution to these two social problems with vote-kick systems was to decrease vote calling in all but the most serious of situations (i.e., when the majority of players are likely to vote to kick). Two specific changes we made to the typical vote-kick system:

We made calling a vote a risky behavior. Typically, voters have two choices: abstain or kick the target of the vote. The wrinkle we added was to give voters a third choice: kick the vote caller. This change meant that if a griefer called a random vote, there was a chance they themselves could end up out of the game.

I find it fascinating that the kind of behaviours common in some online games or servers are taken as givens, when the structure of a game can actually help to mitigate them. Another model that comes to mind is IRC chat, where many servers will allow a lot of content to go unchecked, but also have channels heavily populated by admins, where people new to IRC can get their hand held and learn from some extremely patient people.

Obviously, creating such a social environment would prove to be quite labour intensive for games, but Fulton makes the very important point that the designed environment, even before it has any inhabitants, is a factors that affects behaviour. That’s a crux of level design, why not the structuring of online games too?

(Image is of Hillary Clinton’s Second Life campaign HQ being griefed by a swarm of Marios. Purloined from the seemingly dead Second Choices)

Amateur Versus Indie?

13 02 2008


It started with a GameSetWatch op ed:

The gaming press is conflating two trends in game development into a single category that they label the Independent Game. The first is commercial oriented, casual, independently produced games by people attempting to make a living from writing and designing games without committing to a publisher. These I’m happy to call Indie Games, and they operate much in the same way that the independent labels in the music industry, or independent studios in Hollywood.

The second is subversive, modded, copycat, patched together from pre-built parts, non-commercial or anti-commercial. Amateur game development is done by people who are scratching an itch, who can’t not write computer games, who want to see their ideas in pixel form ahead of trying to generate a return.

and went on to Gamesutra too. The comments on both have been just as polarised as the article itself, but I think he may have hit on a useful distinction, even if it is very rough right now. He’s absolutely right in saying “Most modding efforts are amateur games although their creators may deny it”, and I think the difference between an “arthouse” game and an indie effort aimed at commercial success is going to become more apparent over time as more indie games turn up via digital distribution and others languish in beta on obscure corners of the net.

People seem to feel attacked by the division, as if their work is being called valueless. Some developers are offended by the idea that their games might have no commercial value, and others are offended by the idea that their games have no cultural value.

I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at. Aesthetes and businessmen coldly eyeing each other is an outright caricature of the indie games scene, but such a controversial and quite arbitrarily polarised division raises an interesting question worth examination by all indie developers: Are people doing it for the money or their art? I’m certain most people would answer both, but if they had to give one up, which would it be?

(Pictured: Braid, which as an XBLA game with some very deep thinking and concepts behind it seems to be the most prominent example of both extremes together).

Burnout Box Art

4 02 2008

Burnout Paradise

We were very pleased to see the box art for the recently released Burnout Paradise. When compared to the old box art, it’s much a more grown-up and aesthetically pleasing cover.

At least in part, it’s probable that the choice was made because burnout has attracted so much controversy before, to the point of having ads banned. There are also allegations of plagiarism, but regardless, it’s great to see games that are adopting an adult approach to visual design, in the sense of maturity rather than “mature content”.