Saturday, March 14, 2009

Collection and other goal-oriented things

I was listening to the GameSpot podcast a while back, and the guys fielded a question related to challenge in games. The caller explained that games' challenge should not be 'watered down' to make the game more accessible to casual gamers. Furthermore, he claimed that the only fun to be had in games was defeating particularly difficult boss fights.

This opinion is in stark contrast to the opinion of my girlfriend. Her favorite thing to do in games is collect things. She likes things where there are many different objects scattered randomly throughout the game world, and she likes exploring to find all of them. She thinks that overly challenging bosses can be fun when you win, but if a boss is too hard it is just frustrating and will cause her to give up.

I, personally, find fun in exploring the game engine itself. I like finding new ways to do things, and I tend to get bored fast if I find something so abusive it degenerates the game. I tend to look at overly challenging bosses in a couple of ways. If the only barrier to victory is precision (you must do X boring thing over and over as perfectly as possible otherwise you get hit) then I tend to really hate those games. If it's strategic, where there is a formula for victory, I find a lot of fun in finding and implementing that formula, even if the execution is also difficult.

Anyway, the collection thing is what I wanted to focus on today. For some reason, we seem absolutely enamored with the idea of going out and getting things that have little to no ingame value to us. XBL has Gamerscore, which 'rewards' you for achieving random things within a game. But... this Gamerscore does nothing - we don't qualify for any sort of promotion or get to trade in gamerscore points for products on XBL. It's just there for cool points. So why do people go out and play games just to get gamerscore?

Another big example for me is games where doing collecting gives you an ingame benefit up to a certain amount. I am pretty excited about collecting a string of jellybeans if it means I get to do the EX Jellybean Throw after collecting 500 of them. However, if there are 2000 jellybeans in the game, I am pretty likely to give up after collecting 500. My girlfriend, however, will at least attempt to get all 2000 jellybeans.

Why is all of this fun? Why is it even important? Well, there are a few things we can really take from implementing collections in games (obviously this is not so important for writing).

The first thing that I think is very important to collections is to establish patterns for how you hide things. Most game designers of the ancient days did not understand this, but it is pretty often in modern times to see patterns in these things.

An example of patterns might be showing the player some clue (a small pickup, or coin, or some other item) in a place they think to be inaccessible, so that they search around trying to get to the clue. Once they get there, they find themselves on the road to a secret. This is very common in Half-Life 2, for instance.

Another thing that is important in developing collection quests is to make them meaningful. As I said before, I like being able to cherry-pick collection quests to only get the good rewards. If the quest rewards me periodically, I'll be more apt to keep going too. Bonus points too if the later rewards don't completely make the game trivial. It's not very fun to get the golden rocket launcher of infinite ammo and just blast through the last 15% of the game (this is subjective, but taking all challenge out of a game is usually unfun).

It's also really important that collection quests not be extremely frustrating. Hints or guidelines inside the game can help a player know how many objectives are left in each game area and possibly give small clues as to their location. The more cluttered the game areas are and the less help the player receives, the less likely the player is to find stuff in your game.

I guess the end goal is that collection quests should not be tedious. If they take a long time to do, that's fine, but a trail of breadcrumbs of sorts can really ease off the frustration. One of the things that caused me to avoid looking for secrets in HL2 was that I never really needed them. At best they would give me a little ammo or armor that I was short on, but many times I came across secrets that I didn't need at all.

So back to the player side of things, why is collecting stuff so fun? Is there some sort of magical rainbow land that people go to when they get all of the hidden packages in the game? Or is there some unusual region of fun left to be explored?

Leave comments, because I'm curious!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Elitism is a very bad thing.

Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you're good at something. If you're good at something, you have a pretty high chance of being elitist about it. In fact, even if you aren't good at anything, there is a pretty good chance that you're elitist about something that you think you're good at.

Elitism is universally bad. It is the number one killer of gaming communities and it is the sole reason we nerds continue to be small, exclusive groups of people.

I shouldn't even say all nerd communities are like this. Anime culture seems somewhat resilient to the elitist phenomenon, and anime culture is BOOMING. Localizing anime creates probably billions of dollars in revenue annually in America.

Actually, that's a made-up estimate; I'm assuming that there are over 10 million anime fans, and they spend an average of 100 dollars a year on anime, manga, and other related merchandise. I don't think that's a crazy amount. I might even be shortchanging it.

Anyway, elitism is bad. But before we can talk about anything we have to define exactly what we are talking about. So let's give it a stab: Elitism is an attitude where people look down upon others who lack a particular skill, trait, or knowledge.

It is universally looked upon as a bad thing, but unfortunately for them, the elitists are usually experts. Most elitists have skills not common to most people. A good example of an elitist clique might be 'the jocks' in high school. The stereotypical jock weighs the value of all the people he comes across on the basis of their physical prowess. The stronger, faster, and tougher you are, the more likely the jock is to think you are a good person. If you are not physically capable, the jock is likely to think you are worthless.

In gaming culture especially, the elitist phenomenon is huge. There are numerous circles of people who exclude others largely on the basis of skill. Even if they don't condemn a person directly, most people cannot accept failure or ridicule for long and leave the group of their own volition. Gaming clubs and groups expand slowly, and the people who come to stick around usually have to go through a 'trial by fire' in order to gain the skills needed to be accepted.

I know that by now, you are probably thinking to yourself that you are not one of those people. I am telling you now that you almost certainly are. If you are critical of others, call them 'noobs' or any other derogatory name, or exclude them from activities on the merit of skill or ability, you are an elitist. Even if you aren't a vocal elitist, and many aren't, if you aren't actively working to accomodate new people you are probably a part of the problem. I know only a few gamers who really fall into this category. If you are one of those people, I will publicly recognize you for it if I know who you are and know that you are a person actively working to better the community.

Ha, I'm elitist of people who aren't elitist!

Anyway, the single largest cause of elitism is pride. The idea that "I'm better" is pretty strong, especially in the male psyche (although women are not exempt). If you want to make a difference in the nerd community, shove your pride in the trash can and never look back. This means that you need to get rid of the attitude that you're better than people. This attitude is also a big reason why people don't improve (they think they're already good) so you'll be doing yourself a double favor. If you get rid of pride as much as possible, you'll start seeing the flaws in your own game and work to improve them. Then, when you are teaching someone new, you'll also have a new perspective. "Well, I did this a lot when I was starting out, but I got punished for it a lot, so you shouldn't do this unless you know they aren't going to counter."

Be encouraging of others. When someone new asks you a question, treat them seriously. If someone doesn't know how to hotkey a building or throw a grenade or do a dragon punch, show them how. If it's a tricky thing like a dragon punch, give them as many hints as you can. And above all, be encouraging. If someone fails, you should pick them back up and encourage them to keep trying. Never tell someone they suck or that they should just quit. They probably will!

You also have to get the other 'pros' to adopt the same mentality. Tell them that it's not cool to pick on the kids in the arcade because they keep jumping in. If you're in a XBL game and someone really makes a brilliant play, you need to compliment them instead of bashing them. If you can make the people in your community more accepting of 'bad players' then you will get a lot more of these bad players wanting to learn.

There is a very serious problem that stems from pride and elitism as well. Failure is really common to all of us. When we lose, it is our first and most natural instinct to blame something other than ourselves for our failure. I'm not sure why human nature is that way, but it is. When someone does a trick that beats us that we feel is unfair, we have a tendency to cry 'cheap'. This is very very bad. If we lose to something that we weren't planning for or don't know how to beat, we MUST accept the loss was our own fault. If I do not know how to beat something and then lose to it, it is my own fault for not having the knowledge or skill needed. I should ask my opponent how the trick works, and compliment him on his superior play. Most people will gladly give you all sorts of tips if you ask nicely and give compliments. If you call someone cheap and lame, they will probably not tell you anything.

Elitism is a horrible thing and it is a cancer to any community that measures a person's worth on some sort of skill or ability. Eliminate elitism from your community and encourage understanding and cooperation. That new kid might be a scrub now, but you never know if a new kid will find something really amazing that benefits your entire community.

Swallow your pride and stand up for what is right.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Irresponsible Parents and Messed-Up Values

Watchmen came out recently and it has quite a bit of objectionable content. For those of you worried about it, it really deserves its R rating.

But this article is not to talk about Watchmen. It's to talk about parents and values in society today. How many of you guys went to see Watchmen and there were families in the movie? It seems like parents are totally oblivious to taking kids to see an R-rated movie. How many of you guys had parents walk out of the movie?

This is an angry rant because it pisses me off that parents can't do the bare minimum of homework to make sure that an R-rated movie is suitable for their kids. When in doubt - it's not. I'll generally agree that at some point before they reach 17, kids can probably see R-rated movies. But do they really need to see a movie where both genitalia are visible onscreen, and where... well, the violence in Watchmen is really, really gruesome - I'll just leave it there.

The other thing that really pisses me off is the screwed up values of people. Seeing people's hands chopped off or watching people put an axe through someone's head or watching scenes of a dog eating a person's dismembered leg (this is actually tame compared to what happens in the movie, btw) is okay, but seeing a dude naked (including the naughty bits) is not okay? What the hell?

Wait, I'm supposed to have a purpose in this article. Hang on, it's coming to me.

Nah, it's not. Our values are screwed up. While gratuitous sex and violence are probably both bad to observe, is our community that screwed up that something natural is more repulsive than murder, dismemberment, and general pleasure at human suffering?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Discipline - Nerds' worst enemy

It's also one of the most important life skills we can get. Rarely does life ever reward us for being good at anything. I think the worst thing about RL is that really, life doesn't care if we excel or not. It just cares if we show up on time and put in our eight hours. It likes us more if we do overtime (usually).

Discipline is the natural enemy of nerds everywhere. Most of the time, nerds are smart enough to do anything we really want to. Even if we're not good at it right away, most nerds will pick it up in fractions of the time that most people do. While this is awesome in school (I didn't study in college either) it is not so useful later on in life when we can't procrastinate as much and have to do regular work.

So in the long run we have to force ourselves to work. Most of us put up with lame jobs somewhere, although some of us end up as pro geeks like Ken Hoang or Boxer.

So what really is the point of all this? Well, nerds are undisciplined in other nerdy ways too. It's sort of our nature to be good at things so oftentimes we develop inflated opinions of ourselves. It's pretty normal to think you're good at something, especially when feedback from others says so.

When we get arrogant we tend to make dumb decisions. I'll take a classic example most of us should be familiar with. You see an opponent down the hall in an FPS game and shoot at him. Your aim is pretty good so he takes some hits, but he manages to get behind cover before you can finish the job. You dart around the corner and your opponent hits you with a 1-hit kill (knife or other melee, shotgun blast, or even a mine or other explosive). If you'd thought for 1 second you probably would have not died (thrown a grenade or something) but we have to train ourselves not to do that. Even when we learn things like "don't chase after people behind cover" or "don't snipe right on top of the sniper spawn" we still tend to make dumb, predictable mistakes that could be avoided if we would just THINK.

Discipline is the key. Whenever we make a decision to do something in a game, there should be an actual thought process where we weigh the options at our disposal and make a choice. We don't even have to take very long at this process; just a few seconds will do. The important thing is that we think about it!

So many people I know just totally glaze over the decision-making process. I safe jump and block against knocked down people in SF4 all the time, and they continue to reversal against me, then I block their dragon punch and hit them with a combo, knock them down, and safe jump AGAIN. You'd think they would learn, but no! I'm sure they are quite smart people normally, but they turn their brains off because they are "sure" that they can win.

When I explain this to people, they seem very sure of themselves that they are not the ones I am talking to. But really, unless you are a top level competitive player in some game or another you are probably one of the people I am talking to! Really! I'm calling you out!

I mean that most likely, you play whatever game or even do other things - like gamemastering or writing - you need to have discipline to accept the fact that you probably can learn something. Even if you were the absolute best you need to stay the best, and that means having the drive to improve yourself.

I think a good start is reading this site, but I can really only put you in the right mindset. I certainly can't teach you the nuances of Company of Heroes or whatever game it is you play. I can help with the writing/GMing things, because they are more general, but the burden is on you to improve.

So moving right along with the discipline topic, it applies to TEAM PLAY too. Even if you get good at thinking about the best decision for yourself it does not mean you'll be the best at making the best decisions for your team! You've got to think about not just you, but the other people you're with.

The first and most important thing we think about a lot is team roles. Who's doing what? In a team, you need to communicate what you think should be done. If you've got a leader, that person should definitely be communicating the team plan. Once that's done, you need to go do what needs to be done. If you're a more casual group you can come to a group consensus, but you still need to do things like:
1) Map control
2) Scouting
3) Resource gathering (weapons, ammunition, etc.)
4) Plans of attack and defense (mostly for objective-based games like CTF)

You might think this only applies to first person shooters, but it really applies to any team-based game where your opponent's position is unknown. Lock the map down and scout, and make sure to cover your backs - try to pin down important resources and deny your enemy access to them, and secure them for yourselves.

How many teams that you joined in the last public server you joined had anything other than a bunch of Rambos? Even better are the kids who say "don't tell me what to do!" While we can easily say "that isn't us," if you're not the ones following the team too you are just as much a part of the problem.

Hopefully I've pointed out the painful, obvious stuff that everyone should know. Honestly it feels like this stuff is obvious. Actually, it probably is - the big revelation is that YOU - yes you, the one reading this article - are guilty of some of this. You need to really think a lot more before you take action and do things - don't just go in all guns blazing without a plan. And anytime you have a moment, rethink your plan - heck, if you don't have a moment, rethink your plan too - because those are the moments when you are most vulnerable.

I'll write more about the mindgame stuff soon. Ta for now!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Languages of Love? Pfft...

I would feel as though I would be giving you guys a disservice if I did not do this.

In this world, there are people who think they are smart and that they know things. These people are very convinced that their way is correct, and that they are experts and quite good at many things.

In an unsettling state of affairs, apparently some of these people have doctorates, and are practicing doctors! And to top this all off, they write books. This is one of the most infuriating things I have ever heard.

The person to incite this spite in me is Dr. Gary Chapman and he is the author of The Five Love Languages book series. He's a Christian writer, but this does not reflect for or against how much he sucks. His failure is really his own doing.

His books contain such morsels as the idea that people are receptors for only one type of affection, and if they get that one type affection, a relationship will most likely be successful. As an example, he claims that people who like attention or recognition (as a priority) don't need sex, and that people who primarily want sex don't react strongly to most other emotional triggers.

As anyone who has been in a relationship can tell you, this advice is totally retarded. What is funnier is that he tries to teach that we have to focus strongly on what our partner or spouse wants, neglecting our own wants and desires if we want our relationships to succeed.

I worded that as cleanly as possible, but the clear emphasis is away from self-fulfillment, which is absolutely critical in a strong relationship. It is of absolute importance that you are happy or a relationship will not go very far, and neglecting your own wants is relationship suicide. Yes, sometimes we have to make compromises with our spouse or partner, this is the nature of any relationship, even between friends. However, if we aren't happy, our relationship is gone city.

But the best part is that he distills love into five different types - and the best part is that they aren't the same as the types of love that are commonly taught in university textbooks relating to the subject. It's clear that when Dr. Chapman got away from the world of peer review that he totally neglected anything he ever learned in school - or maybe he deliberately decided that every other psychologist was wrong. I'm not sure. Regardless, love is not something you distill into five different types, and while everyone has their preferences, everyone needs certain things from people and you can't just say "they need material wealth - sex, affection, praise... screw those."

The five languages of love are sharply defined and don't blend into each other at all. Chapman makes up his own terms (or rather, defines existing terms like Physical Touch or Quality Time) and then uses them freely throughout his book, using his defined five languages of love like a crutch. Rather than just use words and phrases we all understand, he hides behind the banner of his made-up definitions for the "Languages of Love."

If you've ever read a good self-help book or a book about interpersonal relationships, it will conflict with everything Dr. Chapman writes. If you've studied more than 2 years of psychology or sociology, it will probably also conflict heavily with what Dr. Chapman has to say.

Where did he get his Ph.D anyway?