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Naomi Clark [暗悪・直美] @metasynthie
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PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail is starting at the @NYUGameCenter with some opening comments by @flantz! I’ll be live-tweeting a bunch of talks on game design over the next couple days. Feel free to mute #Practice2018 if you’d rather opt out?
First up, social psychologist Daniel Ames of the Columbia biz school on roleplaying exercises for learning how to negotiate #Practice2018
Starting with a few examples of negotiation both simple and complex: two siblings trying to split an orange, pressure from a mother to a daughter to obey tradition at her wedding, an indie developer making an offer to a collaborator #Practice2018
Negotiation defined as a non-violent, coordinated way to pursue a need or goal, as opposed to use or threats of force. A pervasive part of the human condition, we’re doing it all the time—but 90% of people wish they could do it better, feel uncomfortable with it. #Practice2018
Although book-learning on negotiation exists, the most common way people in all sorts of settings learn these skills is through roleplaying! Now the talk goes interactive: a group exercise where participants are a buyer, seller (of a food truck!) or facilitator. #Practice2018
And just as in some tabletop RPG sessions, Ames is exhorting participants to take the premise, goals and roles of this scenario seriously! :D #Practice2018
Folks at #Practice2018 are getting into small groups and intently reading packets that tell them all about their characters’ financial circumstances, hopes and constraints. One pizza truck owner who wants to sell and retire, and one new truck-restauranteur... who needs a truck!
Participants are also asked to roleplay a particular negotiating strategy depending on their birthday. And at first glance the deal may seem impossible: the buyer can pay $33.5k but the seller needs $39k for retirement savings plans! #practice2018
Roleplaying the negotiation has begun: there’s a lot of talking up and negging the quality and age and utility of the truck going on, at the outset! #practice2018
“I need to think about the ergonomics of the interior of the pizza truck!” “Well, you’re going to have to remodel it yourself, but I could give you a slight deal...” Some serious highball/lowball offers! $45k vs $25k! #practice2018
Talking about other comparable trucks on the market, caginess about exact price/cost needs, “my poor old popping knees...” sympathy play #Practice2018
Now the other two players are starting to step in to try and help facilitate, find a solution, ask key questions. “Is this your first food truck? Where are you planning to do your daily food prep?” #Practice2018
Groups are pausing to assess how the negotiation is going so far, temperature check and write down one word about how they feel about the situation #Practice2018
A #Practice2018 group facilitated by @nmikros (Killer Queen) has successfully reached a sale, after figuring out a number of other deal-sweeteners that could be offer d on either side, beyond money alone
Getting back together to debrief and hear about how Dr. Ames designs and teaches with these exercises. With the creators of TTRPG classics like The Burning Wheel and Monsterhearts in the crowd, what will this audience think? #practice2018
“How many of you felt stuck when you were halfway through the negotiation?” Lots of hands. A big gap between these negotiating positions, which sit on the surface of a negotiation. #Practice2018
Common keywords that come up: standoff, greedy, gotta win... does that mean it’s time to pull out dirty tricks? Ames says some students come in thinking they’ll learn this kind of trick. But of course, there are other ways to strike a deal. #Practice2018
The key, according to Ames, is to look beneath the surface position and reframe the negotiation to see the deeper issues and needs that inform the positions. #Practice2018
The bargainers were assigned mindsets that are often driven by fear, insecurity, pure competitive drive, even narcissism—these get in the way of seeing the deeper needs, of course. #Practice2018
Ames cites Mary Parker Follett, who pioneered the idea of collaborative solutions in negotiation almost a century ago, but was ignored because she was a woman writing about business. #Practice2018
Follett is the source of the anecdote about the siblings and the orange: for her an integration is not “split the orange in half” but based on realizing differences: one wants zest, the other juice! #Practice2018
“If you’re at an impasse in a negotiation, and you feel stuck, don’t give up—ask why. Dig deeper into what’s going on and the productive differences between the negotiating parties.” #Practice2018
The template you’re operating in has a huge influence over how you define success and pursue it. #Practice2018
Fantastic example of a study on framing that used the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two versions with the exact same setup and payouts, only differing in the name. In the “Wall Street Game” players were much less likely to cooperate (and got screwed) #Practice2018
Individuals have somewhat stable personal templates too: most are pro-social and want win-win, but some are individualists (don’t care at all about other side’s outcome) or purely competitive (want to do better than other side even if it’s overall worse!) #Practice2018
Last note: information asymmetries are crucial for making a negotiating roleplay engaging, and to teach about common real-world problems. (Related to what we call “perfect / Pareto-optimal markets are boring” in economic game design...)
Also very interesting: without being told this overtly, just through roleplaying these kinds of scenarios, Ames’ students attitudes about unpredictability and transparency shift. No longer the “keep ‘me guessing” strategy. #Practice2018
Closing words: Ames sees negotiation training as being important not just for finances or business but for relationships with other people, for our lives (especially in a time when some world leaders are so unpredictable, non-transparent, maliciously competitive) #Practice2018
Interesting question about analog games where players are hesitant to negotiate, especially in zero-sum games (do games where only one can win mean that negotiation is impossible?) #Practice2018
And @SamanthaZero points out something similar: this model of win-win negotation is so different from most games, the;narcissism of Secret Hitler or “only one wins” of battle royales. What can we do? Maybe we need to show the benefits of different frames for games #Practice2018
Now @flantz asks a theoretical question about how recently game-theory economists have concluded there’s no reasonable method for locating Nash equilibria. Ames is more interested in the pragmatic approach of each side gradually inching towards full transparency. #Practice2018
Another good audience point about how this game would not work at all if it was “just” a competitive game or just a cooperative game (all cards on table right away). Narrative and roleplay is important here, a bit like an escape room? #Practice2018
And @dreamaskew asks about whether Ames also uses intense, less financial negotiations like splitting up a departed parent’s possessions or a custody battle. The closest he gets is aesthetic judgments and negotiations in arts & museum context. #Practice2018
Day 2 of #Practice2018 is beginning and I’m continuing live-tweets of our talks at the @NYUGameCenter. Feel free to mute the hashtag if you need to opt out of this long thread on game design! First up, @MsMinotaur on game jams!
She’s best known as the organizer of the Train Jam, and also for doing a game a week over the course of a year. Wallick studied electrical engineering and worked in aerospace on the way to working in games (including Rock Band Blitz) and going indie! #Practice2018
When she first went solo she figured she’d do a prototype in a few weeks and release in a year. Turns out that “all the non-programming tasks were harder than expected”—and Train Jam was born in part out of avoiding those problems! #Practice2018
Eventually @tha_rami suggested that Wallick just try to make anything, just to get practice making—so she started releasing a game a week. Her method was regular but varied and reflective, every week for a year #Practice2018
Quantity over quality: the lesson of books like Clay Pots, about making lots quickly rather than spending forever on one Master Pot. But burnout was real, self-enforced crunch was real, and none of these prototypes went further. #Practice2018
What did she learn that was positive? Rapid prototyping practice, for sure. She’s done it so much that most of her projects now get off to a quick start. But are games are ever finished? Her weekly prototypes ticked many boxes of “finished” but felt very unpolished #Practice2018
So now she wishes that after a few months of Game a Week she had picked four favorite and switched to “polish and production a quarter,” a less catchy title but more satisfying results after another year. #Practice2018
The other lessons learned were about scoping: even after a lot of studio experience of halving scope and doubling estimates she found that every idea was too big and had to be pared down to a tiny level, e.g. a single mechanic. #Practice2018
As a result what she wasn’t able to practice in that year was having multiple interacting mechanics, or longevity of one mechanic, something she says is necessary for most commercially-successful games. They ended up being more gimmick or proof of concept than game. #Practice2018
What about taking an older prototype and building atop it or combining it with another prototype? These are things she wished she had tried, to be able to build bigger and keep work alive. #Practice2018
The third important lesson: throwing ideas away. In her first ten weeks she clutched her ideas and had to learn that some of her ideas were terrible and could be thrown out. The dark side: some design problems with discarded ideas could have been worked through!#Practice2018
Fourth thing Wallick practiced in that year: getting over the terror of release by forcing herself to send those one-week babies into the wilds of the Internet. In the first few weeks she was trying way too hard to avoid getting criticized, but feedback was useful! #Practice2018
Fifth, she was able to practice new skills, the non-programming tasks she’d found difficult in the past. Tried to attempt a new skill or tool every week, often haltingly. Ultimately she found what she already knew: her strength is programming, she doesn’t like art. #Practice2018
BUT! She did discover that she likes writing much more and could learn to be a good writer—with more practice than one-week bursts. #Practice2018
She always learned something. In reviewing her post-mortems, the most common lesson (19/52 weeks) was “start earlier in the week!” But this summer is the first time she’s gone back and read them! We should go back and reflect! #Practice2018
The most practical skill: hitting a deadline every week, great for productivity. Even in the six weeks when she didn’t release a game she did a post-mortem and examined why. But sometimes, would missing a deadline result in a better game? #Practice2018
Game a Week helped @MsMinotaur go from thinking of herself as a “tech person” to knowing she’s a creative person too. She discovered she loves it! But it also taught her that jamming and crunching for 52 weeks is BAD for your mental health. #Practice2018
She was working all the time. “You’re your own worst boss.” She was constantly shifting gears & juggling new ideas; it was exhausting. The whole year after, she couldn’t work on anything of her own. Now she’s better at taking breaks & recognizing burnout. #Practice2018
Summary: some stuff was learned! Other things were not. Each of the lessons above was accompanied by something she did not learn or improve upon. Take a step back and see the balance of what you are NOT learning! #Practice2018
Question about lessons from Game a Week for games that are ongoing or exist as services. Wallick suggests that you could look at new features in the same way, but may not be applicable beyond that. #Practice2018
“What are game jams out there doing wrong?” Wallick feels, with ample everyone-is-different caveats, that competitive game jams discourage cross-team collaboration, aren’t in the spirit of jamming, & favor games that are flashy, gimmicky, or funny for ten minutes. #Practice2018
“How could game jams support games going into production?” She points to Ludum Dare as an example that has an ongoing community. She says like, 1% of teams that insist they’ll keep working together actually follow through. Antithetical to how jams are structured? #Practice2018
“Were you tempted to reach out and find collaborators?” In her Game a Week year, the reverse happened a lot (people offered music, etc) but she didn’t reach out. #Practice2018
“Will you ever do Polish and Production a Quarter?” She keeps thinking she will each year, but has too little brain space, too much “ugh” and burnout when considering it. Interestingly, she now feels like a full 25% have potential, not just four. #Practice2018
Does she go back to ideas that she’s tossed out? Nope. She’s discovered that if she has empty space in her head, suddenly everything around her is inspirational and she has all sorts of cool new ideas. #Practice2018
“Is there a competition or event for games that aren’t new but were started at a previous jam but then abandoned?” Ooooh everyone here seems to love that idea including Wallick (although maybe not the competitive part) “Everyone think about that!” #Practice2018
“If you went back to (being a subcontractor for) NASA how would your experience change it?” Working without creative freedom is stifling. She says even $12 billion projects and those who flourish in rigidity and antiquated systems could benefit from creative space #Practice2018
Last question: “Jamming may be antithetical to polish, but what about games that really depend on polish, like Thumper?” Wallick feels like most games rely on polish (though what that polish is varies). But you can’t polish a bad idea; that’s what jams are good for. #Practice2018
Personal PS: “polish” often gets a bad rap because we think of it as commercial or market-driven. But we should consider what Adriel said more broadly, about all kinds of creative revision. For non-commercial purposes it’s also often lengthy! #Practice2018
Coming up next: Avery Alder @dreamaskew on the dialogue between two transformative tabletop RPGs Dream Apart and Dream Askew! #Practice2018
Lots of folks in the audience familiar with independently produced roleplaying games! Alder opens by talking about previous games: Monsterhearts (secret shame, teenage drama, messy relationships) #Practice2018
The Quiet Year, where instead of individual characters you play a community in tension with itself after an unspecified apocalypse. What does it mean to belong to a community? #Practice2018
And Brave Sparrow, a game you play in everyday life by knowing that you are a sparrow keeping an eye out for feathers that could be yours. #Practice2018
Dream Askew, just funded on Kickstarter, is a post-apocalyptic game that’s not about rugged individualism, but about communities that have been pushed to the margins. It was originally a “Powered by the Apocalypse” Game based on Apocalypse World #Practice2018
Here’s Alder’s list of design trends in RPGs just before Apocalypse World. Resolving conflicts is the fulcrum; elaborate dice mechanics to do this take up a lot of space, or are minigames. #Practice2018
These trends were a procedural framework for moving a story forward on predictable beats where the outcome mattered. But the individual fiction of the game didn’t matter much. Apocalypse World flipped that and put fiction first, games as conversation #Practice2018
Collaborative storytelling took the driver’s seat and fiction suggested when mechanics might show up at all. Partial success to conflict created more messy story possibilities and “agendas” for GMs guided them on what and how to propel plot and conflict. #Practice2018
When Alder began running Apocalypse World, it was at a queer drop-in game group with short sessions and lots of new players. Huge character sheets to fold and flip, acronyms, math, arcane nomenclature were all barriers to entry. #Practice2018
So AW’s harm clock replicates the feeling of a Doomsday Clock in a cool, imminent-danger way, but it’s lost on new players who are juggling too much. AW doesn’t have much math but the oblique language can make it feel like it does! #Practice2018
Dream Askew (prototype character sheet shown) was born when Alder thought about addressing some of these issues and amping up what she loved about AW: more community and collaboration, less gasoline and bullets #Practice2018
To design a character you just circle adjectives on the left side, including many different (meaning up to you!) genders. You always have Moves available to lean on, everyone having “take a risk and leave yourself vulnerable” #Practice2018
Instead of a GM who has to develop strong aesthetic vision or read a long setting book, each player also plays an aspect of the setting that would usually be played by a GM #Practice2018
In 2014 Alder was approached by Benjamin Rosenbaum about doing a Dream Askew mod in the setting of a fantastic Jewish shtetl in the 1800s #Practice2018
Rosenbaum introduced some new ideas that Alder adopted into Dream Askew. Queerness, she realized, should be just as much about relationships in community as an aesthetic project. Settings could change hands fluidly based on events. #Practice2018
Iterating for the Kickstarter version also helped Alder fix some visual design issues and tone down hard-to-use actions like “explore themes of compulsion and vulnerability” #Practice2018
The Lure actions give players a tangible way to get other characters to depend on their character; Rosenbaum’s “Pick Up and Give Away” rules cut down on bookkeeping of the setting roles #Practice2018
Dream Askew now also has a community worksheet for the queer Enclave where you circle visuals and conflict elements, then scrawl notes and draw maps. For the shtetl, visuals and conflicts became blessings and curses. #practice2018
They were clearly co-developing two sibling games, and by positioning them in conversation with each other (“Two Points Make a Line”) they could see what their design was about, had in common. #Practice2018
But differences too: Dream Apart has rules for falling in love and an extensive Yiddish glossary. Alder didn’t want to specify the messy, negotiated ambiguity of these things in queer community. #Practice2018
There were themes in common, as well—and the top line that emerged: “Belonging Outside Belonging” (separate from a dominant culture). That and “No Dice, No Masters” became the themes of their new engine for anyone’s future games/mods/hacks. #Practice2018
Games in conversation with each other (and “tempered by each other”) are different from just working on a team. So many Apocalypse World games have sprung up in response to D. Vincent Baker’s generous invitation to make more #Practice2018
Dream Askew is different than most of these: most PbtA Games tossed out the theme and kept mechanics, Dream Askew did a bit of the inverse, changing some of both. Similarly Alder wanted to let Rosenbaum challenge her vision #Practice2018
Next up: #Practice2018 is doing a new spin on the yearly “Open Problems” session where designers toss each other rapid-fire suggestions for their challenges. This year @joshdebonis is going to talk one of these problems from the past... that he solved!
DeBonis has had a lot of problems. He’s asked for help at each year’s Open Problems session. The answers he hit on weren’t necessarily directly suggested at #Practice2018 but often were inspired by the suggestions. First example: Dice Miner was hard to set up!
The suggestion last year was “I’m not sure, but it has something to do with gravity!” Turned out to be right: now the dice are diagonally stacked instead, on a 3D mountain range! #Practice2018
His second example is from 2012 when he and @nmikros asked for help with @KillerQueenGame! Here a (beardless!) @joshdebonis explains how workers used to upgrade to soldiers (with a... helpful interjection from @zimmermaneric) #Practice2018
All sorts of great suggestions combined to create the eventual solution: @hysuma and @flantz and @rich_lem all contributed components of how to streamline and make it rich and meaningful. Great teamwork! #practice2018
And now a new problem: in the upcoming home version for PC and Switch, Killer Queen Black, some gates have TWO weapon upgrade choices and some only one, how many depending on level. How to make this less confusing? #Practice2018
Not going to share all the suggested solutions but they went all sorts of interesting directions! You Killer Queen fans will have to wait and see what happens. #Practice2018
#Practice2018 resumes for the afternoon shortly, with WWE superstar and YouTube host @XavierWoodsPhD talking about storytelling inside and out of the ring, with video games, and beyond. We’re all admiring this animated WWE logo right now.
Woods introduces himself jokingly as a “professional LARPer.” In the WWE, he says, they love what people bring from and are involved in outside. So while wresting (for 13 years!) he got two masters degrees and a PhD in educational psychology #Practice2018
Woods is not a tall guy (5’9”) not the strongest or fastest. So, following his dad’s advice, the New Day became the most creative, dancing, playing trombone and wearing unicorn horns, etc. “Brought magic back to wrestling” #Practice2018
WWE is a very, very full time job that keeps him away from home a lot. Woods sees it as universal storytelling (“painting with our fists and feet with the ring as our canvas”) of “good vs evil” tales with physicality as conduit #Practice2018
And they playtest their story arcs, which he thinks of as short stories in a longer campaign. Before the culmination of this rivalry arc they created a trailer to recap the fourth month arc & fire everyone up #Practice2018
If you’re not familiar with the New Day, there’s some pretty great CG intro reel stuff out there where they’re riding on a unicorn, on a rainbow, playing trombone. That’s what you need to know. #Practice2018
“We all know what wrestling is, we want to go home with our families, we’re not trying to absolutely destroy each other... most of the time.” Hell in a Cell was an exception, very real with weapons. The crowd’s mood changes to “omg... please stop.” #Practice2018
Woods has scars all over his stomach for life from getting beaten with practice katana. Why? Audience knows it’s real. They experience real emotion and intensity, grown men cry, and he is willing to help that happen. #Practice2018
Nowadays, he puts more time into storytelling via the WWE gaming channel, Up Up Down Down. Still doing big shows matches, in public arenas—but vs IGN journalists, for instance #Practice2018
Fans wanted to see New Day vs the Elite (of WWE rivals New Japan Pro Wres). That won’t happen anytime soon in the ring. So they duked it out, with a storyline over time, in various barcade games and eventually w/Capcom in Street Fighter V at E3 #Practice2018
When Capcom got involved, it blew up because it was more like an official match, and they snowballed it with a story with a contract signing for a fight, announcing the teams one at a time, etc. Very different than most FGC matches? #Practice2018
They were across from the Fortnite booth and a huge crowd formed that almost shut things down. They were throwing pancakes into the crowd (as at wrestling matches) and had agreed that losers would eat habanero peppers. #Practice2018
Because the New Day is about friendship, Dr. Woods said “Guys, I’ll eat all the peppers. Mistake.” They were fresh picked. The crowd started cheering because they felt bad for him. So the lead of the rival team also declared he could TAKE THE PEPPERS TOO #Practice2018
A pepper later they were both about to die, so they paused to drink milk and explain the whole backstory of making the competition happen, while moaning and bending in pain. “Guess what everybody, we don’t hate each other, we want to work together!” Aaaand HUG. #practice2018
Woods then spent an hour hugging a public toilet. Now that’s showmanship. Woods feels very intensely about the experiences and emotionality of video games: the gateway for him was Earthbound #Practice2018
“The stories are why we’re here, whether they’re the stories you guys put in the game or the stories that games allow players to experience.” And that’s @XavierWoodsPhD ‘s talk! #Practice2018
Now @charlesjpratt is asking Woods about how WWE performers communicate about improvising in the ring. Woods won’t give away the secrets, but says a lot of it is driven by live audience feedback that they hear together. #Practice2018
Woods is comparing the scripted outcomes and improv performance of WWE to a season of a TV show. The overall journey is structured, but individual performers must figure out how. And not a season—52 weeks a year. #Practice2018
“How do you get people invested even before they know what’s happening?” In the case of the New Day cereal (Booty-Os) they started cutting promos and making up slogans before it existed. And that created the demand for the cereal to be real. #Practice2018
The New Day also incorporated ideas from cheerleading, like a signature clap that they start to get the audience to pick up, for moments when their team needs help. Inspired by Pavlovian response + Goku’s spirit bomb #Practice2018
Last question: what Street Fighter character does @XavierWoodsPhD play? Ibuki. #Practice2018 will continue soon with @ZakMcc of Bioshock 2 and Psychonauts 2 on iteration!
All right, next talk, on process. A Practical Framework for Holistic Design Iteration with @ZakMcc , currently project lead on Psychonauts 2 at Double Fine, formerly of Crystal Dynamics, Harmonix, 2K Marin, etc. #Practice2018
The tool/process he’s talking about is the big board, a single cork board (or similar) that describes the entire game. (No, we can’t see what the Psychonauts 2 features are.) #Practice2018
McClendon believes games are communication and convey values that you should think deliberately about shaping and putting into the world, and that’s all on the board too! #Practice2018
In 2006, McClendon finished Project Snowblind and impressed enough people to become a team lead, allowed to pitch and start Downfall, which was a huge failure. “Don’t name your first big risky project Downfall!” #Practice2018
His characterizes his strategy then as hoarding, trying to find a home for everyone’s ideas, every team member contributing precious things that had to be piled together, big enough for five games. Oops. #Practice2018
The alternative: a “yard sale” philosophy. You don’t need everything, even if everything could be good for someone in some context, maybe you don’t need it all in your home right now. What to keep? What to sell? What did each feature mean? #Practice2018
In the process the Downfall team (which was on its way to cancellation) did discover that they had core conflicts in the very concept, ideas in opposition. And way too many ideas overall. #Practice2018
Now McClendon describes the process: a board, pushpins, tons of notecards, ideally 4-10 key team members or stakeholders. Start with a prompt, practically anything to get the ball rolling. #Practice2018
Then some high level categories: creative goals (the big purpose, for you) and values (the ways it matters how you reach those goals) and content/features (what you want to put in to get there). Fill these categories with ideas by brainstorming, and rank them. #Practice2018
Then the discussion has to get concrete: what do each of these ideas literally mean, not for all time or the industry in general, but for your team during your project. #Practice2018
For instance, in Bioshock 2 the team decided that Immersion meant continuously first person, consistency in how the game simulates, and saying “yes” to players’ expectations of how things will work. #Practice2018
Stack Ranking puts ideas into conflict automatically; you have to choose which is more important — also horizontally between goals (“linear story”) & values (“replayable”). Wow, much shade for monetization, sad games, Kratos finishers on this slide. J/k contextual. #Practice2018
This is a crucial phase because it exposes creative conflicts and helps clarify priorities, drives deeper discussion. Or, if a huge argument happens over something minor like a tiny rank difference, it may be a symptom of other kinds of personal conflict. #Practice2018
And you don’t just do this once at the start! You iterate towards a board that has a better sense of unity, purpose, and intentionality. Greater buy-in and understanding from everyone, and group values expressed. #Practice2018
He has a problem with all these frameworks for somewhat obvious reasons, and uses “creative promises” instead. A commitment from you to the audience about what they will experience that you try to keep. #Practice2018
Iconic promise from Bioshock 2: You Are a Big Daddy. This overarching idea drives all sorts of other things players want, what they think will make that experience cool or meaningful #practice2018
Psychonauts 2 promises may seem very clear and straightforward, which is part of the point. You have to be able to stand by these, they can’t be vague. #Practice2018
Values are a useful framework because they get you to consider competing “goods” and prioritize or articulate definitions to understand one value better. One Psychonauts 2 value is “Playable Surrealism”—novel but consistent breakage of physical rules. #practice2018
But there are also Cultural Values! This is your game’s agenda, what kind of impact you do and don’t want to make on the world. Shoutout to Values at Play in Digital Games by @criticalplay & Helen Nissenbaum #practice2018
Psychonauts 2 cultural values include diverse representation, no mental health stigma, and optimism about finding solutions. But for The Bureau Xcom Declassified, arguments arose between representation and historical accuracy (in Xcom?!) #Practice2018
Interaction Paradigms are much like what many people call verbs: what do you do? And do you actually need a crafting system if it ends up low on the ranking? All other features consist of everything, anything you’ll be building and working on #practice2018
The other features go into five buckets: required features (often intrinsic or needed for your creative promise), desired features (hopefully in there, but most won’t make it) and wishlist (not in the plan, but very important so ideas aren’t totally discarded) #practice2018
Last three, the boilerplate (can’t forget these even if you don’t need to discuss and have no choice). The cornfield, where bad ideas are banished. Foggy notions, “that would be awesome, but HOW?!” #Practice2018
Once you have the board you can use it to hold the team accountable to your values and promises, decide how to cut features, and to do hypothetical design: what game would we be making if we moved all these elements around? #Practice2018
McClendon takes the creative promises seriously and has found that asking “are we keeping our promises” allows team members to speak out honestly. Take “no” answers seriously and get into why. #Practice2018
Conflicts over ranking might be naturally resolved or result in ties... but CAN be symptoms of a deep deep problem between people or the creative heart. #Practice2018
Beware of “negative” promises about fixing other games or not doing things. Frame them positively! You might not be able to “fix” what made other games simultaneously work + not work. Might be connected! #Practice2018
And McClendon points out another kind of conflict: unintentional hypocrisy, as in “moral culpability” games where you must kill everyone to then feel culpable. Subtweeting Spec Ops and God of War, eh? Eh? #Practice2018
When doesn’t the big board work? It’s better for analytical team members who like discussion. Large initial time investment where you need key creative participants and stakeholders early on. #practice2018
Another risk: you can eliminate your creative whitespace by packing everything tight with a million features (even on wishlist) too early. “Your ideas later on will be better than your earlier ideas!” #Practice2018
Last tips: do it with a physical board. Revisit it regularly. Always be building something alongside, not just talking. Don’t use post-its, they fall! Everyone gets to put ideas in! Don’t avoid the hard conversations. #Practice2018
Questions: is the board used to track and check off tasks or features? Nope, it’s not really a task tracker. You always need the whole picture shown on the board. #Practice2018
You can start a board partway through a project to drive conversations and get things on track, even though you may not get the creative buy in of early planning. Another possibility: sub-boards for specific disciplines and sub-systems. #Practice2018
Live-tweeting of #Practice2018 talks will resume tomorrow morning with Joseph White talking about Pico-8!
We’re back for the final day of #Practice2018 to hear from Joseph White aka Zep, indie dev since 1993 with many games as @lexaloffle, talking about the fantasy console Pico-8 (used for some dev classes here at th @NYUGameCenter) and cozy design spaces!
First, what’s Pico-8? “The thing that makes a console a console is not the hardware, it’s everything else. The community, the design sensibility, the dev tools, the distribution platform.” #Practice2018
This talk is being given inside Pico-8 and @lexaloffle is entering LUA commands in runtime to show how the tools are built-in. The specs are deliberately minimal, for “the minimum game someone would want to make.” #practice2018
Sound editing and multi-track editor inside Pico-8. “Music is sounds that are played slowly.” #Practice2018
And @lexaloffle is coding live with a premade bunny spite to make an animated logo for #Practice2018. “When you type CLS() you’re not just clearing the screen, you’re clearing your mind and your soul.”
Pico-8 cartridges are saved right to the website, you can send them to friends, who can then see your code, play the cart, fork it, etc. Audience reaction: “what!” #Practice2018
One of the first things @lexaloffle did when making Pico-8 was to glitch it! You can poke the memory addresses and because the code resides separately, it’s easy to create glitch modes for games. #Practice2018
Zep’s motivations for making Pico-8. “I’m not an angry person and I don’t ever get road rage, but I do get software rage.” Interested in process, not trying to pick, trade off or struggle with platform. #Practice2018
The feelings he was trying to capture: discovering what’s in mysterious old piles of software, doodling, the joy of creating for each other in the demo scene, little computer science problems #Practice2018
An earlier experiment was Voxatron, more like a level editor for a voxel engine. But it was less like a console, more of a monolithic experience, with less feel of authorship. So the idea of cartridges as a unit of authorship was a seed for Pico-8. #Practice2018
Notably Zep was not trying to capture or preserve a moment of history, recreating an actual old platform. Plenty of emulation doing that. Instead, a minimal new platform with tools and complementary palette, boring problems taken care of #Practice2018
Screen size is square, may seem impractical but distinctive, means there is no “primary axis,” and Voxatron is equal to 64 Pico-8 screens on top of each other? #Practice2018
The palette is very carefully chosen! There’s a greyscale ramp that intersects with a range of blues, and then a range that goes from cool to warm. And of course a rainbow (bottom half of grid) #Practice2018
Cart size is small for “design over content” and to insist “it’s ok to make small things,” forces confrontation with “cute problems.” The music allows you to just draw a series of notes and make it pentatonic by holding down CTRL #Practice2018
What changed based on how users were making things? Fill patterns were added, the code size limit was increased so that users weren’t minifying their code beyond human-readable (shareable!) limits. And multicarts for bigger projects that still have the cart feel. #Practice2018
The boot sequence has a startup musical flourish like many consoles; a little identity signal to call you back to a place inside the machine #Practice2018
Pico-8 is “impressionist hardware” that seeks to feel like a medium because of how it’s framed, expectations, and the use of specific language like “cartridges.” #Practice2018
Calling back to @dreamaskew’s talk, @lexaloffle talks about how 2 projects in relation (in his case Voxatron and Pico-8) can help you understand your design better. He even made a Pico-16 and Pico-64 precisely to mark out what doesn’t work (will never be released!) #Practice2018
Tools of course influence a medium, but can capture your process as well. Design problems are often tackled by stepping up a level and looking at the meta-problem to carve out a new design space; tools can help crystallize this process. #Practice2018
Pico-8 seeks to be a cozy design space. It’s cute—a complex concept, but small and inviting to make something for and safe to experiment and play in. #Practice2018
Pico-8 also wants to feel cozy by reducing decision fatigue: you have freedom within (or as a result of) boundaries and don’t have to pick palette, scope, resolution, distribution method, etc. #Practice2018
And cuteness means it’s ok to play around and then decide to stop working on a project, because it’s just in a small little bounds of possibility. “You don’t have to feel bad, you can blame that on me, the creator of the space.” #Practice2018
“It’s ok to ignore the real world sometimes.” You can let yourself be carried along by the affordances and constraints of the medium, to see where they take you. Make something small, you don’t have to keep making it forever. #Practice2018
Next @lexaloffle wants to “join the party” and just be a Pico-8 developer. He feels like he’s in the kitchen making snacks and can hear everyone having fun, so he wants to reach 1.0 and then come out to have some wine! #Practice2018
Why LUA? At first he wanted to use BASIC, partly for nostalgia! The easiest way to do that at first was to compile from BASIC to LUA, but he started to notice features in LUA that he liked and began to aesthetically enjoy it. #Practice2018
Now @bfod wants to know if @lexaloffle believes that LUA is a cute language. Yes, yes it is. He says it’s the cute hamster running in a wheel making Pico-8 go. #Practice2018
The Pico-8 palette was influenced by Commodore-64 in that it has colors bordering on different hues, odd color replacements on multiple ramps. The music editor is influenced by Amiga, overall feel by BBC Micro. #Practice2018
What’s the opposite of a cozy game engine? Well, anything that’s as general as possible. Unity. But you can create cozy spaces inside Unity, and it does reduce some friction for certain tasks. #Practice2018
“There’s no primary red in the palette, is this so you can’t make blood and violence?” Well, more that he didn’t want primary colors. The red in Pico-8 is quite pink, has a distinctive feel. There aren’t many violent Pico-8 games, probably for many reasons. #Practice2018
“How do open-source developers working around Pico-8 fit into the cozy space?” He thinks they’re great especially so everyone knows cartridges can live on. But Pico-8 is closed, in part to keep the community and constraints coherent, without tons of variation. #Practice2018
Next up at #Practice2018 is programmer, poet and designer @aparrish, who explores many intersections of computing and language through poetry bots, books of generated poetry, and card games like @rewordable!
Rewordable involves creating words from building blocks of one or more letters; Parrish will be talking about a tool she made to balance it. The game was part of the @NYUGameCenter incubator, was funded on Kickstarter, and has been picked up for publishing. #Practice2018
Parrish is empirically definitely a game designer (her card game will be showing up in bookstores soon) but she’s mostly interested in “punching language in the face, and for some reason I want to use a computer to do it.” #Practice2018
Parrish trusts her publisher’s marketing team but it makes her sad that they describe Rewordable as “Scrabble meets Bananagrams” because Rewordable is better than that, she made that game years ago and it wasn’t great #Practice2018
Their goal was to make a game that wasn’t about learning obscure vocubulary words & lording it over your friends and family (Scrabble) but with letter-sequences that felt intuitive and common #Practice2018
But which sequences? In an early deck, cards were based purely on frequency, but some common sequences (like “ATI”) are hard to use because they require a lot of scaffolding from others, not versatile #Practice2018
So then she looked into finding the “friendliest” sequences that worked well with others. But this method of finding versatile sequences was still suggesting “ATI” and “TIO” #Practice2018
Then her collaborator Tim Sztela made a much smaller deck, just 64 cards that he chose by intuition. Although she was reluctant because it wasn’t based on data, a smaller deck turned out to be easier to use! #Practice2018
To go further she used a genetic algorithm that was working on a simulation of gameplay; it suggested lots of interesting ideas and would have been great for PhD research but wasn’t eminently practical #Practice2018
Eventually they found a hybrid approach: a python script that automated the process of validating decks, which were proposed by intuition, based on observing playtests (data from playtesting was used too!) #Practice2018
Reflecting on the design, Parrish has found that they had to unlearn the “unspoken axiom” of word games that’s been around since Alfred Butts was using an INTUITION of letter-frequency to design Scrabble (and evaluate skill via scoring!) #Practice2018
Butts was in turn inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s example of a cipher text letter frequency. (These frequencies are wrong.) Goes back even further, to 9th c. And does it make sense to say “using rare letters is worth more points?” #Practice2018
So Scrabble does not optimize for words that are easy or hard to spell or form with letters, but for words that are *hard to decipher*. This leans towards words like qoph or syzgzy which have to be remembered by rote, rather than using other language skills #Practice2018
Of course, MOST languages in the world do not use an “alphabet” but other forms of structure like a syllabary, an abjad, ideograms, etc. But in alphabetic languages thinkers started to believe the letter, the alphabet, was fundamental. #Practice2018
The alphabet instructs us that there are 5-6 vowels in English, but there are actually 10-14 vowel sounds in English as spoken, depending on counting diphthongs, dialects, etc. A lot, relatively speaking! #Practice2018
The fetish of the alphabet hides the way language is really used, it’s a map that claims to be the territory. #Practice2018
Here’s @aparrish’s fantastic list of implications deriving from the traditional word-game “letter-frequency” axiom that she wants to punch in the face, and inspirations for future work! Feel free to borrow inspiration too, she says. #Practice2018
And lessons learned from designing Rewordable — you can’t do everything with frequency analysis, and there’s no substitute for actually playing with people. #practice2018
In the end, people who bought and reviewed the game did indeed get the point! And said it was quite unlike Scrabble or Bananagrams! #Practice2018
Next speaker is Friedemann Friese, designer of Power Grid, a very popular board game, and subsequently a number of much stranger games like 508! First off, he says he’s not much of a storyteller #Practice2018
Instead he sees his work as theory applied to create physical structures (cards, blocks, etc) that attempt to be neutral, are space for theme to enter, player stories to happen, and react to decisions without casting players out of the system #PRACTICE2018
Friese has brought with him, from Germany, an example of his tools: a very heavy pair of cardboard-cutting scissors. With tools and in materials he sees things; materials from the raw (glass, wood, cardboard) to structured (dice, representational pieces) #Practice2018
His theory tools start with math; he often favors a 60-card deck because it splits naturally across 2-6 players. Another inspiration, Hare and Tortoise chart, which uses triangular numbers to make costs go up; the easiest way to scale since analog must use integers #Practice2018
“Everyone thinks dice must have sides 1-6, but this is horrible!” The difference between 1 and 2 is huge (2x) while between 5 and 6 hardly matters (1.2x). So he thinks this scale should be broken for dice, victory chips, etc. #Practice2018
A good example: in Catan you start with two settlements, not one. So whoever gets a third is only 50% ahead. If it was zero to one, or one to two, it’d be a huge lead. #practice2018
Or look at the small numbers on the top of the resource cards in the classic Civilization board game (not Sid Meier). It shows how each resource scales to help players in valuation, since 1s and 2s are more common #Practice2018
Another element of structure: spaces (chess) vs nodes (go) but when it comes down to it, he sees the fundamental patterns as hex or square, although Risk (and Power Grid) are networks of nodes. Australia: important things happen at edges! #Practice2018
Friese’s toolbox has many standard mechanisms (“used to make decisions in the game.”) Worker placement (Agricola) can be used in a huge number of ways to different effects, may not “look like” workers or involve actions! It’s abstract, not thematic. #Practice2018
He loves auctions for reasons many designers do (self-balancing value) but has found that they intimidate less experienced players. Too wide-open! This is why Power Grid has implicit guides to upper/lower bounds: minimum bid, guaranteed power plant for last bidder. #Practice2018
Mechanisms are parts, but concepts are superordinated systems of the whole game. Sometimes they’re the same (a game with one mechanism, like a simple trick-taking game). #Practice2018
Outpost (top left) is “a beast”—it’s all engine that snowballs, very fragile. You can play for 3 hours and get knocked out in 2 turns. Power Grid is a “domesticated beast” engine-builder with rubber-banding and turn-order rules, upper bounds, to keep it accessible. #Practice2018
He mainly just sees two goal concepts in board games: races to a goal (his style) or the game ends and you count up points to see who won (which designers like Uwe Rosenberg prefer) #Practice2018
Friese is discussing Legacy games as akin to railroading in RPGs; play once, quite a bit on rails, and never play again. The biggest challenge of analog design: no tutorials? #Practice2018
And he uses digital tools as well; here’s an example of a hex grid game being simulated in Director! #Practice2018
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