For me, day 2 has been about automatic logging, or instrumentation as it is called now, which apparently is gaining lots of interest at the moment – nice and a bit strange then, that it has a part in my thesis as well. Microsoft Game Research showed how they instrumented Halo 3, using the logging data to fix bugs, learn about player strategies, balancing the game and many other things. Their instrumentation strategy relied on three things; context logging (game situation at time of logging event), attitude logging (player mood at time of logging event) and data visualization (graphs, maps and videos). They did player skill logging too, but did not get much into that in the talk.
The next good talk was about instrumentation as well. An open source project named ingimp was designed to log usage data from the Gimp drawing application, and had some interesting ways to actually show the logging data to the end users, instead of just using it for usage analysis. For example, each user was granted a persona drawn in a unique way based on that userâ€™s usage data. I like this direction, as it matches with the ideas I have of applying game design techniques or concepts to the design of other applications.
Of less interest I attended a talk on the history of video conferencing and a talk reaching the not very surprising conclusion that Donkey Konga is more fun using the bongo controllers – how did they miss that the game was specifically made for the bongo controller? No wonder it is less fun using a regular controller.
I then sat through a full session about sound. Fascinating stuff which created melody and music from just a song using a hidden markov model trained in producing popular music, and then a talk about an amazing gadget which produced sound by touching a surface – every surface gave its own distinct sound. I hope to try the gadget later.
I ended the day with a panel debate on agile development. The panel consisted of people who had participated in both waterfall and agile development, and they all had a nuanced view on agile development. One claimed that iterative development and short sprints are hindering user experience experts and system architects or designers in their work, because it is difficult to keep a hold of the big picture when everything is evolving – it cannot be any different though, because iterative development is good for everyone else. One suggested having functionality requirements produced upfront, keeping only development iterative and another recommended keeping everyone in the same room – including creative people and user experience designers. I can support that last recommendation.
Having completed the first day of CHI 2008, I am writing down my experience of it. The day opened with a great talk about memory, creative synthesis and interaction design. The speaker gave examples of renaissance mnemonics, such as the memory palace and a rose window and then mapped her model of creative synthesis to the latter. Having studied creative synthesis myself, I found her model very interesting and insightful.
After that, I walked between different sessions trying to find something interesting. Eventually I found a fun experiment combining physically simulated sound and motion sensing to create direct sound feedback. The example setup had motion sensing build into the equipment on a dinner table – strange and funny sounds came from eating! Another experiment made virtual boxing more physical than on the Wii, but the technology was still quite clumsy.
The next interesting talk was about a simple concept the speaker called temporal trajectories. It is a simple 2-axis graph which can be used to map multiplayer narratives to a shared timeline, with game time on one axis and clock time on the other. Seemed like a nice design tool if one is creating multiplayer story-based games, and the goal is to let people affect each otherâ€™s story.
Quickly forgetting a few dull robot talksâ€¦ I went to a great session about touch and target selection. Three innovative touch screen interaction techniques were presented, as well as variations on the bubble cursor. The talk I liked best, presented a touch selection technique named Escape. It allowed quick and accurate target selection on small and close targets using only your thumb – even though the thumb occludes and touches all the targets at once. Very neat! Diagonal rubbing was another interesting technique, demoed as a way to easily zoom in and out on an image or map.
The day ended with a reception and more crappy Italian food. Their appetizers taste bad, their pizzas are dry and thin and their cakes are boring. Italian food is better in Denmark. Iâ€™m so disappointed. The only redeeming factor is the pasta – it is quite good.
On Saturday I attended a workshop on user experience evaluation in games. The workshop was part of the CHI conference in Florence, which I am attending at the moment. It was quite an interesting workshop, and very nice talking to people doing research within the same field as me. We discussed different approaches to user experience evaluation, and the industry attendants from Microsoft and IO Interactive had interesting insights into how they are approaching user experience evaluation, and also which novel techniques they are experimenting with.
There were traditional usability techniques, several somewhat advanced biometrical measures and a few experiential approaches attempting to capture a more holistic view on experience. My own contribution fell in that last category. The most interesting biometrical technique was, in my opinion, eye-tracking, which was used to get a convincing picture of where in the game the player turns her attention. The other biometrical techniques seemed quite expensive and unreliable to me. As for usability, I think Microsoft is doing it right. They are testing for usability very early, and they are using many different techniques. It did not seem that important to them which technique was used, as long as the test gave solid results early. I think testing for usability early is the right way to do it – then the more overall, holistic testing can take focus later on along with game balancing.
Next up, day 1 at the CHI conference!
In many games (good games too) a lot of the interaction is in essence trivial. The player keeps repeating actions that has long lost their ability to challenge or excite, because they are needed to succeed at higher level goals. Level grinding in World of Warcraft comes to mind as an obvious example, but lots of games include a layer of trivial interactions that the player must suffer through before the real fun begins.
In many cases, trivial interaction is hard to avoid and not necessarily unwanted, depending on which kind of player you are. Especially achievers, as in Richard Bartle’s player types, might like trivial interactions if they result in a higher score or level. With other player types, removing trivial interactions can shift the focus toward more interesting parts of the game.
I have two examples of well done removal of trivial interactions. The first and well know example is EVE: Online, where level grinding is replaced with an automated leveling system. This allow the explorer type players to do what they love, and what EVE: Online is build for – exploring the vast galaxy and the enormous ship configuration system. My second example is a casual game called Bingo75 – a pretty straight forward multiplayer bingo game created where I work, but before I arrived there. The ingenious part is the removal of player controlled number marking (for those who pay to play it). This is instead done automatically, resulting in a game with close to zero player-game interaction. The game just plays by itself. This might seem really stupid at first, but with the socializer player type in mind, this removal of trivial interaction enables them to do what they love the most – use the in-game chat.
With social gaming on the rise, socializers is becoming an increasingly prevalent player type which we should cater for. Other players might not like it, but putting part of the game on auto pilot is often an effective way to do so.
Not all casual gamers are the same. Some play to win and achieve a rank. Some play to explore the possibilities of the game. Some use play as a way to connect to other people. There are even those who are just playing to relax – this post is about them.
If a game is about challenge and skill development, then it requires player effort before it delivers any kind of emotional impact. This is the traditional view on games; that they should be challenging and reward efforts to achieve or explore. Problem is, that challenge is tiring – not relaxing. To get around this, and make a game relaxing, the game should not only reward efforts to achieve or explore, but also simply any effort at all – each player input should be immediately rewarded. Deliver lots of output for any little input, and do not punish the player for not thinking about her input. Games like Chuzzle and Balloon Buster 2 are quite good at this, in some of their game modes; almost all input leads to an obvious, but not complexity changing, change in game state and lots of small, happy explosions – both on the screen and inside the player.
It is like doodling on a piece of paper – goalless, mindless and random, but full of small, happy details which is really the only reward these players need. Some call these games zen games – I think doodle games is a more fitting name.
The blog software has been updated to the latest WordPress release. I had to change the design a bit, but luckily I like it better now. In the progress I saw how awful my old css layout is. I’m sure it must be written by someone else… When I get the time I should really start from scratch. It’s almost amazing that the site passes W3C validation.
I also changed the site name to better reflect what I’m mostly writing about – game design.