VA 306 – Intro to Game Design (Spring 2012)

Readings for Wednesday, April 25
April 23, 2012, 7:13 pm
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The last game in the art games series you should look at is But That Was Yesterday by Michael Molinari (two of his other games are available on his website). Note if you have a machine that’s about 7 years old, you probably won’t be able to play it at full speed (it runs fine on a dual-core machine and above, but is unplayable on machines with single core processors).

We will also have a presentation on Brian Moriarty’s famous GDC presentation, “The Secret of Psalm 46”.


Readings for Monday, April 23
April 18, 2012, 7:27 pm
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For next Monday, continue to revise your art games.

Think closely about what your purpose behind the game is and what symbolisms you are using through mechanics and imagery. Work on polishing those connections as well as solving any problems with your game’s mechanics.

Also, take a look at Knytt Stories. Note this game is for Windows only.


Wednesday, April 18
April 16, 2012, 4:52 pm
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For Wednesday, play Jason Rohrer’s game Gravitation and read his artist’s statement for more ideas.

Here’s a couple guidelines to keep in mind as well when revising your games.

When creating a game with the focus on gameplay:

  • Mechanics first.
  • Revise and polish.
  • Concept last.

When using mechanics for the game’s message:

  • Concept first.
  • Mechanics second.
  • Revise and polish.

The difference between these two methods is the difference between Mario 64 and Gravitation. That’s pretty much the difference between these two design styles in a nut shell.

Game Design Challenge 7: Art Game
April 11, 2012, 7:23 pm
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Game Design Challenge 7 is to produce an ‘art game’, however you wish to define that term.

This game may be designed using any platform or medium of your choice.

Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber loosely define them as games produced to create an artistic message or with an artistic intent, but there are many different ways of thinking about them. Here are some characteristics I have identified as being fairly widespread among art games. Consider these elements for ideas when creating your game:

  • Autobiographical
  • Making important statements about the world
  • Producing a profound emotion
  • Encouraging reflection on the game’s themes
  • Every object, rule, color, sound, and action is meaningful
  • There is an emphasis on beauty
  • There is a tight consistency with style and aesthetic

Play Jason Rohrer’s game Gravitation and read his artist’s statement for more ideas.

Newgrounds also has an interesting collection of art games.


Readings and Assignment for Wednesday
April 9, 2012, 7:15 pm
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Your readings for Wednesday, April 11 are the following:

  1. Play Today I Die by Daniel Benmergui
  2. Play Samarost by Amanita Design
  3. Play all three games to completion
  4. Discuss one of the three games played this week in your blog.
  5. Be prepared to discuss these games in class. We also have a student presentation scheduled.

In addition, continue to make revisions to your socially conscious game.

Finally, begin to think of the types of experiences you will want to create for your art game. Ideally there will be time to begin outlining these ideas in class if your game has been tested.

REMEMBER: Keep your blogs updated. If you made a digital game, there should be a link to that game. Remember to make comments on your classmates’ blogs.

NOTE: Class will end at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, April 11 instead of the normal 4:20.


Readings and assignment for Monday, April 9
April 4, 2012, 3:09 am
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Your assignment for Monday is the following:

  1. Continue to revise your socially conscious game.
  2. When revising, consider what system you are trying to describe with your game. Consider how your rules reflect the structure of that system.
  3. Read Braithwaite & Schreiber, Chapter 17
  4. Play Passage by Jason Rohrer
  5. Read the artist’s statement.

The idea behind the socially conscious games is to think about what aspects of society you are trying to discuss and to express that through the rules system.

What is the goal of your game? What do you hope to communicate to your players?

What is the system at work you are exploring? How is that system expressed through your rules?

Remember to think in terms of The McDonald’s Game or Airport Security rather than Super Chick Sisters.

Making a game like this is hard. It is hard because you have never thought about games in this manner before, because this is something you have never done before and because very few people have done this before.

But it is also exciting because you are one of the few people to make a game like this. This is a mountain that has never been scaled before, and you are the first to climb it.

A Short Definition of ‘Compelling’
April 2, 2012, 7:25 pm
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Almost always, we talk about games as being ‘fun’. After all, games have been traditionally a form of entertainment, designed by an industry that makes its money based on how much people enjoy their products. We often see in game reviews lines such as ‘Funfactor’ (or at least we did in the old days of Gamepro), and most people are simply interested in how much fun they’ll have playing the game, how frustrating it is, and whether or not they’re getting their money’s worth.

However, games have also served a lot of other purposes over the years. Chess, for instance, has been used politically to demonstrate one country’s intellectual superiority and technological prowess over another (as in Cold War chess tournaments), and games have also been used as teaching tools and simulations.

Still another thing to remember is that the types of enjoyment we get from games differ. For instance, when we play Pictionary or Mario Kart, laughter and smiling faces is often the emotion these games evoke. However, when you observe Chess players, rarely will you see them smiling. Instead, they have a concerned expression, more akin to The Thinker than New Years revelers.

It is probably pretty easy to conclude based on their expressions that the Mario Kart players are enjoying themselves. We would say they are having fun?

But is The Thinker enjoying himself? Is he having fun?

Likewise, are Chess players enjoying themselves? Are they having fun?

Whatever these people are doing, they have one thing in common, and that is they are completely absorbed in an activity they are presumably doing of their own free will (two requirements for play based on Huizinga’s definition). Normally with games, we would say the thing that keeps a player ‘completely absorbed’ in the activity is ‘fun’. However, this term seems clearly inadequate to encompass both Mario Kart players and Chess players, and certainly not The Thinker.

For the rest of the semester, we will instead be using another term to describe this property. That term is compelling.

Something is compelling if it keeps a person absorbed in an activity they have chosen to participate in of their own free will.

There are many different things that can make an activity compelling, including, but not limited to: intellectual stimulation, riveting narrative, and ‘fun’.

Thus compelling is an umbrella term that can encompass a lot of things, including ‘fun’. If a game is ‘fun’, then that game is also compelling, but a game may be compelling and still yet not be ‘fun’.

The goal then of game designers is to create compelling play.

The purpose of this exercise is not to provide a definition for ‘fun’, nor to disparage it, but rather to adopt a term that can be used to describe that property which keeps people absorbed in a task of their own free will.

(Also note compelling is not to be confused with ‘flow’, which is the emotion somebody may experience while completely absorbed in a compelling activity.)

For another discussion on this topic, see Warren Spector’s old Escapist article, ‘Fun’ is a Four-Letter Word.