Monthly Archives: March 2009

Free Online Game Design Course

Ian Schreiber is doing a free online game design course this summer. It's open to everyone, and you can either just follow along on the blog or actually sign up and get some additional material by email. He doesn't specifically mention the title in his post, but I'm sure the book he's using is the one he wrote recently with Brenda Brathwaite, Challenges for Game Designers: Non-Digital Exercises for Video Game Designers.

So, if you've played many games and want to get an idea of what goes into designing them, check out the blog or sign up for the course.

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The grind house

Following on my series of game levels in real life... (Possibly also known as "Zarf blogs random coolness...")

Maria Zacharopoulou's Ramp House (created by Athanasia Psaraki) -- article in Architectural Review

You know those skateboard games in which, by genre convention, every wall has a ramp and every edge is grindable? This is what happens if you really build one.

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Natural-language UI in the wild

Not directly IF-related, but interesting: the developer of a Mac task-mananger app tries out a natural language prompt for setting up repeating events.

Not being satisfied, and after throwing away all of my mockups and even code, I went back to the drawing board. I'm glad I did because here is the end result:

There is no myriad of buttons and fields to choose from. All the user has to do is directly type in what he wants.

(--from Better Software Through Less UI, Andy Kim)

The comments discussion that follows is good. People hit all the topics familiar to I7 debates: discoverability of underlying syntax, feedback (Kim's UI repeats its understanding back to you as a form as soon as you hit Enter), initial learning curve versus long-term friction, non-English versions.

We also have an announcement of Bot Colony, an upcoming game from North Side Inc.:

In Bot Colony, the player speaks to the characters and they answer intelligently, providing clues that help the player advance through the game. The English used is completely unrestricted: the player simply speaks and the characters answer naturally using speech, asking questions, seeking clarifications or offering comments in return.

(--from North Side's initial press release

It's not clear at all what this means or how well it works; we're supposed to get more details at GDC this week. But they do contrast it with an earlier natural-language game that didn't work:

Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic is perhaps the first game where the player chats with the game's characters (also robots).

However, the level of "understanding" of the Spookitalk engine powering the game is very different from what we target in this proposal. To quote Wikipedia, "Spookitalk had the ability to converse with the player in an almost lifelike manner, partially because it incorporated over 10,000 different phrases, pre-recorded by a group of talented voice actors. The recorded phrases would take over 14 hours to play back-to-back."

In our game, the response will not be pre-recorded, but rather a result of a parsing, reasoning on a fact base, and generation (which means turning a logic formula back into English).

(--Eugene Joseph of North Side, in an interview at gamesetwatch.)

This is somewhat unfair to Starship Titanic. That game did parse the player's input, matched it against topics, and tried to choose an appropriate response. I'm not sure how much "reasoning" it did, but you can't characterize it solely by its output mechanism. As we know from IF, output is the easy part, or at least the technically tractable part.

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IFWM: My Week 4 Assignment

(See Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.)

The final week's assignment was to add at least one custom verb that contributes to the story in some way. The secondary part of the assignment was to make the story polished and try to run it by at least one beta tester.

So, the verb part I had done in Week 2 ("pluck" and "scoop", although I also allowed you to do the same thing with "get"). I spent a little bit of time, though, implementing another verb and some fun stuff around that. I won't go into too much detail in case you want to try it for yourself in the game.

And then that was pretty much the time I spent on it this week for various reasons. However, I did have one observation, which likely made this week worth it. It was that I spent about an hour coding something that, in my vision of the complete game, wouldn't be necessary to win. In fact, it only lead to another way to lose. However, I think it was worthwhile for two reasons. First, it was fun to code. Second, it is something that would add a little depth to the final game if someone were to try to do something suggested by the room description. And I think this could be a quality that I want to keep in other games that I make. I want to have things that contribute to the depth of the world, even if they aren't essential to "winning" the game and even if most people probably won't run into them. They make the game more interesting for me (which hopefully will help the game get finished in the first place) and reward the curious player.

So, anyway, you can play my Week 4 submission. It's pretty much the same as last week's, except that you can do a few more things to David, and there's an object in the living room you can mess with. Same way to win as last week, but there are a few more ways to lose.

And I'll take this opportunity to thank Lea for running IFWM. It got me and a handful of other people writing IF when we might not have ever gotten around to it otherwise. If you haven't done so, I highly recommend checking out all of the assignments, since there is a lot of good material in them.

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GAM3RS: The Play

I went to see GAM3RS: The Play last night at the MIT Museum (265 Mass Ave). It was a lot of fun, and it was also free. Here's the summary from the MIT calendar:

GAM3RS is a one-man show written by Walter G. Meyer and Brian Bielawski that humorously explores the conflicts that arise when one man puts his online gaming life ahead of his work and relationship priorities. Part of MIT Museum's Student Night program. Performances will be followed by a talk-back with the guest performer and playwright. Event is free Friday and Saturday with doors opening at 7 PM.

Tech-support operator Steve (Brian Bielawski) is overqualified, underpaid, and around-the-clock dealing with vacuous customers, his harpy of a boss, and a girlfriend who doesn't seem to understand that rescuing an entire kingdom from utter annihilation at the hands of an army of bloodthirsty elves is at least as important as their anniversary or saving the manatees. And along the way he must convince his mother that uniting gamers from around the world in this noble cause takes precedence over re-applying to MIT. Steve, as his alter ego Boreas, must rescue the sacred relic and restore the kingdom's power--if his annoyed co-workers in his cubicle hell don't kill him first.
It was genuinely funny, filled with the type of language and humor you'd expect from a gamer geek, and it works really well as a one-man show. There was a talkback session with the co-creators after the one-hour show, and it was interesting, too.

It's playing again tonight (Saturday) at 8:00 at the MIT Museum. Free and open to the public.

I gather that they generally perform the play in Los Angeles and that they've performed it in New York as well, so you may get a chance to see it at some point even if you're not in Cambridge today. Also, they said that they're attempting to get it onto TV or the Web, so you may get a chance to see some form of it at a later date.

And speaking of webisodes, at the talkback session, someone mentioned The Guild, which I hadn't heard of before. I just watched the first episode, and it looks like it could be worth checking out if the idea of a humorous look at the lives of people with a gaming addiction appeals to you.

And speaking of games in general, I played Quiddler before the show with the people I came with. We got several people to comment on the game and one person (a child of, like, 10? I'm bad with ages) to join us. I had forgotten what it was like to be gaming in a public space and have people be interested. It was pretty cool doing a bit of game evangelism. I should do more of that.

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IFWM: My Week 3 Assignment

(See Week 1 and Week 2.)

You can check out everyone's Week 2 assignments. If you don't check them all out, I highly recommend at least Octopus's Garden by mhilborn and Grocery Shopping by Squinky.

Our assignment for Week 3 was to create an NPC and have that NPC be crucial to winning the story. As usual, I spent more time on the recommended reading than I did on the assignment itself. After having heard about it all over the place, I finally played Galatea by Emily Short, and it's highly recommended.

I was away at a conference most of this week, so I only ended up spending a couple of hours on my assignment. It is therefore very simple. I kept my Week 2 assignment as the first act and added a second act. I had grand plans for making a wandering NPC with scripted events, but that just didn't happen. I figured it was best to actually complete something simple than to give up and not turn something in this week. I'm using IFWM to just get something done, even if it isn't very exciting; I'm hoping that doing that will give me enough motivation to continue in the exciting world of interactive fiction.

Anyway, enough with the disclaimer. You can play my Week 3 submission thanks to Parchment.

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