Archive for Videogames

Serendipitous Mistakes


In art there is something called the serendipitous mistake.

One of the reasons traditional artists hesitate about working in a digital format is that you have the ability to undo anything you don’t like.  You’re not forced to work around it.  You don’t have to think outside of the box to come up with something clever.  In a traditional piece of artwork, you have to work with what you got, warts and all.  That constraint can push a piece of art or illustration or animation to new levels.  When I first started in the industry, I worked with artists who deliberately introduced serendipitous mistakes.  They restricted the undo stack to 1 action, they did all of their under-painting on top of an upside down photograph or a text created from paint splotches on the floor.

That serendipitous mistake effect carries over into game design as well.  Whenever you work with a team there are going to be design issues.  Sometimes they stem from mis-communications between team members, sometimes they are constraints with the hardware or the software.  Design inherently forces the serendipitous mistake, so keep your eyes peeled and be ready to embrace it when it happens.

I ran across this interesting paper tearing down this type of effect here:



Retasking biology



It’s one of the great misconceptions, that nanotech will be “machines” as we know them now.  Most likely they will be assembled by clever tricks of chemistry and conscripted biological processes.  That’s not to say that individually assembled mechanical machines are out entirely, but when you are working at a near-molecular level, it will be much more efficient to co-opt existing processes rather than reinventing them.

Don’t be evil…



Image courtesy:


Why don’t we trust Facebook to “not be evil” the way we trust (or seem to trust) Google?  Is it an outreach thing?  Is the faceless wall of Google less intimidating than the faceless wall of Facebook?

And now, we have the breaking (or broken) news emerging that Facebook has been experimenting on it’s users by hilighting posts in a specific stripe (depressing or uplifting, shall we generously say) to see how the readers will react.  But this kind of data collection is not new.  Not really.  Advertising agencies have spent decades testing out how their ads make people feel, they test  to see if the picture with the guy in the blue short sells more cookies than the picture of the guy in the red short (if you get deep into ad-psych you’ll find they’ve tested race, hairstyle, clothing style, background, should the person own a dog or a cat, etc. etc).

We do this kind of A/B testing in mobile apps all the time.  Know why so many icons on your phone have smiley, happy bobbleheads on them, even if they’re not in the game?  Yep.  We tested for that.  You like faces.  Go figure.

So I am given to wonder how deep this kerfluffle with Facebook goes.  Is this just a spin tactic layered over some garden-variety testing to see how users react to ad placements?  Or is it genuinely the kind of emotional manipulation that the headlines are touting?




If it jams, force it. If it breaks….


Image courtesy Core77

I have a special place in my heart for brute-force solutions.  I tend to have a “make it work, d*mnit” approach to many of the projects I take on.  If you peek under the cowling, it may not be all pretty, but the end product will do what it’s supposed to.



In-App Purchasing and FAIL


Image credit

I have the advantage of being in a job I love.  Working in the Games Industry, and these days in the Mobile Games Industry is really freaking maddening, but the GOOD kind of maddening, the kind that makes you obsess for days over hitting level 255 in PacMan or getting EVERY pair of socks you own to match up properly.

But make no mistake, I’m a gamer, heart and soul.  While my current poison of choice is the AAA powerhouse “Titanfall”, I’m also a sucker for free to play mobile games as well.  I use the word “sucker” somewhat ironically.

Most of the FtP games I stick with give me the option of either grinding or paying up in order to get the next cookie being dangled in front of me.  If I hit a hard paywall (i.e. pay or play), then I’m out.  I don’t mind watching an ad or two, but when the *only* option, halfway through the game is to pay-up?  That’s a bait and switch.  The game has to be *really* good in order to get around pissing me off like that.  As a game designer- I try to do the same thing, allow the player to have a choice.  Do they want to spend 10 hours killing rats to get a cookie?  Or do they want to push the BIG SHINY BUTTON, send me $0.99 and be on their way.

For a lot of people, $0.99 is easier.  It’s simpler.  It’s the way they want to game.

For me as a gamer though, the game is no longer the game (in mobile).  The game has become beating the IAP.  How quickly can I acquire this item without paying cash (in-app ads are okay, it’s just the direct transaction I am trying to beat).  It’s gone rather “meta”.

Which gets me wondering, as casual gamers become more sophisticated, is this going to start becoming the norm?  Are more players going to play, not to beat the game as designed, but to beat the larger game of how not to pay for IAP?  Or is it like sneaking in through the exit door at the movie theatre, does it lose it’s shine after a while and you just pay up for your tickets like everyone else?