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Archive for October, 2008

Falling off the wagon (or is getting on the wagon?)

October 29th, 2008 Bartman No comments

The grand warhammer online experience turned out to be…well, not so grand. After a little over a month, I decided to cancel my account. The game did provide an interesting experience in the early levels, but things started to taper off towards the level cap of 40 (I had reached level 37 before calling it quits).

On the flip side, I re-activated my World of Warcraft account to play with some of the new talents before the next expansion hits, Wrath of the Lich King. Taking a minute to reflect on WAR and make some comparisons to WoW:

Achievements: I believe Xbox was the first to really push an achievement system, and WAR definitely took that idea and ran with it. Unlocking special novelty items while exploring off-the-beaten-path areas can be fun for a bit, but I’m not big on achievements. Besides, Warcraft just patched in it’s own system so it’s a wash.

WAR’s Public Quests vs. WoW’s elite quests: These are basically tasks in the game that require multiple people to complete, offering very good rewards. The Warhammer public quest system was a great idea, but once a player gets past level 20 or so, the public quests are often deserted. If they somehow tweaked the system to make it either more rewarding or easier to complete with fewer people, I’d like the public quests a lot more. For now, I think the Warcraft model of simply creating outdoor, 5-man encounters is the way to go. Do it on your own time, with your friends.

Player vs. Player: this is WAR’s claim to fame. 80% of the game is dedicated to PvP, with a large focus on massive combat involving 100+ players fighting against one another for control of keeps and castles. Between the instanced scenarios and the open realm vs. realm combat, WAR clearly has the upper hand in PvP. It was also nice being able to gain experience and level through PvP. I hear Warcraft might be implementing a similar system, which is a good idea.

Player vs. environment: in the end, this is why I canceled my WAR account and went back to WoW. The PvP in WAR was a great time, but the scenarios got dull. The large, open PvP was a blast, but it seemed to only take place during prime time playing hours. I found myself looking for people to run dungeons, but I could rarely find enough people to run one or there simply wasn’t a dungeon for my level. In Warcraft, it’s much easier to find 4 people to run a dungeon, and dungeons are everywhere.

Warhammer was refreshing for a bit, but lost its appeal quickly. Even though WAR had one of the better releases in the history of MMOs, it was plagued by server ques, bugged quests and talents, and periodic bursts of latency. Mythic is still hot fixing the game several times a week to try and squash bugs. I hope Warhammer goes on to be successful because it is never good having a single, dominant game for an entire genre. Competition is a healthy thing, and will force Blizzard to keep innovating and improving their game.

Categories: Games, Virtual Worlds Tags:

Guitar Hero World Tour

October 27th, 2008 Bartman No comments

When both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour were announced I decided to go with Rock Band 2. “I don’t need more plastic instruments littering my house”, I thought to myself. Besides, Rock Band 2 does a better job of content updates and I tend to like the interface better. So…I still found myself at Circuit City yesterday, with a Guitar Hero World Tour bundle in my hands. I’ll have more to say about the “GH Tunes” store when i have more time to check out the user-created content, but this post is more about the instruments and the gameplay.

The best thing about GH WT? The DRUMS.
GH WT Drum set
Having the raised pads (the ‘cymbals’) adds a whole new experience to playing the drums. I’ve never played any real drums before, but I’m guessing this is the first of many steps that will bring the instruments of rhythm games more in line with the real instruments. The pads are also made out of a thick rubber, which creates a more springy feel, at the same time making them quieter. It just feels much better, providing a better experience vs. the Rock Band kit. My only issue thus far is the foot pedal. It only compresses a small distance compared to the Rock Band pedal, making it much harder to get a feel for.

The guitar is basically the same as all the other GH guitars but with an additional ‘slider’ panel, below the normal 5 buttons. I’ve only tried the guitar a few times, and I don’t particularly care for it. I prefer playing the Rock Band guitar using the low, smaller frets for entire songs. The slider feels gimmicky: you can only use it for specific sections of songs where you see a visible line on the screen connecting notes. With the easier songs, this is very rare. I’m sure it is more useful when you get to songs with long solos, but so far it’s useless.

Aside from the slider gameplay feeling underutilized and a bit awkward, deploying star power on the drums is strange. You need to hit both cymbals at the same time (assuming you have your meter to the point you can use the star power, similar to the guitar). This method gives you more flexibility when playing, but overall I like the way Rock Band gives you an improvisational section to trigger star power. The drums also have velocity sensitivity, and the gameplay takes advantage of this. If you see a note with a white cap on the top, strike the corresponding drum pad with greater velocity. This provides ‘accents’, which give you more points. Not a bad touch. Finally, the UI. The drum UI is strange in that it shows your current score multipier on the right side of the notes, and the note streak and star power meters on the left. It’s frustrating having to glance both left and right while playing to get this information vs. putting it all on one side.

Aside from the drums, I still prefer Rock Band to Guitar Hero. One of John Maeda’s 10 laws of simplicity came to mind when I compare the two:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful

Guitar Hero World Tour excels at one thing: a fantastic drum set that enhances the drumming experience. But some of the additional gameplay elements like the slidebar, the UI layout and even the single player career mode make things more complex and feel overdone. A final “in yo face, end user!” comes in the form of no cheat code to unlock all songs from the beginning. I have yet to find a code online, and I remember in an interview a designer said that all songs WILL NOT be open until you beat the game. Terrible, terrible idea. I usually try and setup a demos at the university of these things as part of the EGC, as well as happy hours at my house for friends when these games come out…but now I simply can not do that.

Once I have time to play around with the user generated content and the GH Tunes store, I’ll have more thoughts on GH WT. For now, Rock Band still has the upper hand.

Categories: Design, Games Tags:

Connecting the instructional design dots

October 23rd, 2008 Bartman No comments

This may be a “duh Bart, we knew this already” post for some of you, but for some reason this morning (after a large coffee) my brain started to connect the dots on a couple topics I have not thought about in a while.

I was doing a basic web search trying to figure out how to capture video footage from game consoles down to a computer. The third hit was a YouTube video, so I checked it out. Not exactly what I was looking for, but the ‘related videos’ on the right led me to this gem:

I then ran this query in YouTube, “record video game console to computer” which yielded 51 results. Many videos are great, step-by-step instructions on different methods to do this. I then recalled using YouTube for Second Life Tutorials in my class a few semesters back (that search string yields 1,200+ results). For fun, I then ran “change car oil”: 800+ results on YouTube.

From an instructional design standpoint, we talk a lot about “Just in time” learning, or JIT. The design field has struggled with this for many years. How do you get that critical information to your employees or students exactly when they need it the most? I think YouTube provides a great example of doing this well. I’m finding it extremely easy to use an application like Fraps or Screenflow, capture video, drop it into Movie Maker or iMovie, add narration and publish.

By putting these small snippets of information on something like YouTube or your organization’s network in a searchable manner…JIT learning becomes very feasible and easy (for both you the designer and your audience!)

Categories: Design, Learning Tags:

The flow of a good flash game

October 22nd, 2008 Bartman 2 comments

The folks over at Kongregate posted a nice flash game called “Hunted Forever“. It’s hard to describe…it has a context like Portal, plays like Braid and has a feel similar to what I see in Mirror’s Edge videos.

A couple standout points from the game:

  • Directions and hints. These items are often found either in a separate menu or on loading screens. Hunted Forever embeds this content in the early part of the first level in the terrain. The first time you walk up to a cliff, you’re standing on a sign that points out “no fall damage”. Lots of good examples on how to embed direction/navigation within the actual gameplay.
  • The flow of the game. It just feels very fluid. You’re character easily shifts in mid-air, wall jumps, and swings throughout the level with ease. The balance between the sensitivity of the controls and the automatic acrobatics makes for a very fluid experience.

Categories: Games, UI Tags:

Karl Kapp visit

October 22nd, 2008 Bartman No comments

Karl Kapp was in town yesterday speaking at the Hub on virtual worlds. Below you will find my un-edited notes taken during the talk.
—————————————
Why are virtual worlds interesting?

In the ‘hype’ phase of virtual worlds for non-entertainment purposes

Apprentice program – work and education was the same, not seperated

Karl then went through iterations of school (blackboard style to centra)

Now, 3D worlds can take us back to the apprentice-style educaton…

BUT…people setup many second life spaces by just like classrooms

Tony O’s 7 sensibilities

There has always been a sense of self with a computer (emoticons): People want to express themselves.
Avatars allow a sense of selse to be applied in the learning environment, much moreso than a simple text-based name “Dr. Kapp” in something in Centra.

3Dnet – a world dedicated to putting 2D content from the web into a 3D world.

Imagine an assignment on another country or culture, where you are graded in a virtual environment for how well you represent that culture or can identify/find certain content elements in a 3D world imitating the real world.

Power of presence in the virtual – MUST have a dedicated task to complete in the world, or else it turns into a very boring event just like 2D webx conferences.

Ability to change your perspective is also powerful in virtual worlds. Example: if you’re looking at landscape architecture, you can actually fly above the space to get a bird’s eye view, something you couldn’t do in real life.

NOAA SL space – enrichment of the experience. Able to send students through simulations, provides a great springboard to discuss content.

Nic(olodean) junior . com – good mashups made by kids.

Good SL example for EDU: building a ‘green’, eco-friendly house. Not only do they need to build the house in SL, they need to research what constitutes a green house and find ways to build it in the virtual world.

Info fez – SL moracco where you can put a hat on, and stand on specific spots for additional information.

conceptual orienteering – provide a context for a concept. Example: NOAA Tsunami

Good idea to setup common spaces for people to gather before/after scheduled events. Example: online highschool that has a photography club and yearbook. Common spaces help these a great deal.

Final closing thoughts: Synthetic worlds offer FREEDOM:
F – flow of a situation or experiment
R- repetition
E – Experimentation
E – Engagement
D – Doing
O – Observing
M – Motivation

3rd person vs. 1st person perspective – based on a study, could it be possible for 3D worlds enhance learning via a 3rd person perspective vs. a first person perspective.

Q: SL Scavenger hunt – is there a way we could direct PSU students to this? Or to re-create it on PSU land somehow?

Q: Learn more about the IIT + freshman project in SL

Q: Whyville smallpox (related to Karl’s comments regarding Center for Disease control slide)

Categories: Virtual Worlds Tags:

Rob Pardo, Lead Game Designer from Blizzard

October 16th, 2008 Bartman No comments

I wish Rob Pardo did more interviews, like the recent interview from Blizzcon. The guy has been a designer or lead designer going back to the original Starcraft from Blizzard. Oh yeah, he was also listed as one of Time’s “100 most influential people” for 2006.

Joystiq sat down with Rob to talk about design elements of Diablo 3, a game that probably won’t see the store shelf for over a year but is already at the top of gamers’ wish list. A few things worth pointing out:

One of our goals with Diablo 3 was to really to add a lot more role-playing game feel to it. I think that some of the knock on the previous games is that it’s too action based, that you don’t get enough story, that you don’t have RPG choices. That’s something we really want to add to Diablo 3, but we’re not going to slow it down.

Apparently, the the story driven system they are playing with is somewhat dynamic, in that NPC characters will talk to you differently based on your chosen class and gender. Nothing ground breaking, but a nice touch to add to the replay value of the game.

It’s a system that we developed by looking at a lot of first person shooters out there that don’t have medkits anymore, they just kind of have a shield health system, like Halo or Call of Duty. Hey, if they can do it, what can we do in an action RPG that makes sense for us but can keep a similar sort of pacing?

This is referring to the health globe system they are implementing. For anyone familiar with Diablo, we all remember stacking 75% of our inventory space for that fight with Baal. Not the best mechanic. Rob always does a great job of pulling new mechanics from other games and other genres, perfecting them, then rolling them out in Blizzard games. He once said about World of Warcraft, ‘we aren’t doing anything innovative, we’ve just perfected what people have done before us’.

It’s really tricky because you come up with an idea that’s great on paper, everyone around the room is nodding their heads and you’re like “this is a great idea” and you start putting in all the work. You get an emotional attachment to the design, and you have to be able to say “You know, this really isn’t working” and let it go. The thing you get out of that is the knowledge and experience that process, but unfortunately it ends up on the cutting room floor.

This one really hits home, because I’ve been guilty of this on several occasions as have many of my co-workers. Some ideas sound great when you have designers in a room brainstorming, but once they are implemented…well, they don’t work so well. It is hard to let go though, and occasionally a bad design will be implemented because of it at the expense of the end user. A designer in an old issue of Game Developer said it best:
“Don’t horde your ideas. Learn this immediately: most of you ideas, initially, will suck. But if you’re willing to share your ideas with others and iterate, the chances of your idea becoming something great increase exponentially.”

Categories: Design, Games Tags:

Educational Game Development on consoles and the web

October 15th, 2008 Bartman No comments

Several emails bounced around today regarding educational gaming on all three major consoles as well as flash game development.

The first story comes from Kotaku, where a writer sent a list of questions to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo executives dealing with the companies stance on educational games on the respective platforms. As you could guess, Nintendo stressed the Brain Age series, Sony talked a lot about the PSP and Microsoft hyped the soon-to-be-released XBOX LIVE Community Games Portal. Each organization also mentioned special initiatives designed to engage universities or partnerships with other groups to include educational content on consoles. Personally, I think Microsoft may have the best approach: relying on the community to build XBOX LIVE games with the freely available XNA studio via the Creator’s Club. From the article:

That means we’ll see games that intentionally have an educational focus like “City Rain,” “Future Flow” and “Clean Up” which were all created by teams of university students to teach concepts of environmental sustainability.

On another front, casual gaming giant Kongregate released free tutorials on their site for creating flash-based games. I hadn’t realized this, but they have built a sizable developer community of flash developers submitting games for publication on the Kongregate site.

Of the 3,000 developers that have contributed 8,000 games to Kongregate, the vast majority of them are garage developers who don’t work for companies. Greer estimates that only about 1 in 100 games come from professional studios.

Considering Kongregate has only been in existence for 18 months, this is staggering! Building a game, by yourself, in flash is an extremely time consuming endeavor. With a community of 3,000 people often developing multiple games for Kongregate, as well as the tutorials for beginner developers, I’m looking forward to many more creative, engaging games to play during Friday morning faculty meetings :)

Categories: Games, Learning Tags:

The effect of video games

October 9th, 2008 Bartman No comments

I already posted this once on a another blog, but it’s worth re-posting here. This is a fantastic view into the impact video games have on us. I can’t say I share all the views expressed in the video, but I certainly share the majority and can see where the creator is coming from.

If you’re a gamer, you will probably share a lot of Michael’s ideas and find certain pieces of the 8-minute video very thought provoking.

If you are not a gamer, I hope you find this interesting, thought provoking and poigniant. It’s a glimpse into the effect of growing up surrounded by interactive media.

Categories: Games Tags:

Design in games (and maybe learning?)

October 9th, 2008 Bartman No comments

The recent Game Developer magazine has a great article by Damion Schubert, lead combat designer for BioWare Austin, that delves into designing choice in games. It’s a great read, and gives me a lot to think about in terms of designing learning environments. Here is the intro to the article:

Sid Meier once said that games are a ‘series of interesting choices.’ I’ve always liked this definition. It speaks well to what is unique about our craft…interactivity remains the defining feature of our genre. And interactivity, when you think about it, just means your decisions matter. In this light, the true definition of the game designer becomes clear: creating interesting choices. So what makes decisions engaging? Understanding this has the capacity to turn a shallow game into a deep and engaging one.

To be honest, I think the phrase “shallow game” experience maps very well to many of my student experiences, which I could easily call “shallow educational experiences”. Most of my classes, particularly undergraduate and a few PhD level, have been lean on engagement. And that’s being kind. What sort of choices are designed into a typical course experience?

From a student’s perspective, the choices seem to revolve around assignments and grades. “What assignments do I need to complete in order to receive an ‘A’ in this course? What grade do I need on the final to end with a B+?” Do students have any interesting choices to make in terms of engaging with the course content? Do their decisions matter, or are they simply making a decision because we, as instructors, force them to? How do instructors create, as Schubert puts it, interesting choices for our students? Choices that matter, that have consequences. This might be the key to engaging our students and creating course that take interactivity to a new level.

Aside from tossing out the use of games and simulations as part of a course, what other methods could instructors design and develop to address this dilemma? One idea is to take a general assignment with a good rubric, and have students choose what type of technology platform they would use to complete the assignment. The assignment would need to be structured so only one or two platforms could fulfill every rubric item. Create it so most of the platforms fulfill 70-90% of the rubric, but allow students to make the choice. This example is not thought-out and may fall back to “what do I need to do for an A?”…but I think there is a way to do this…

Categories: Design, Learning Tags:

Making the B(r)and

October 7th, 2008 Bartman 1 comment

Going through the feeds today, I came across an interesting Rock Band announcement: the Merch Booth has opened. Taking a page from Warcraft Merch, players can go to the rock band Merch Booth and order custom, 6′ figurines of their avatar rockers.
Rock Band figurines
Sounds kind of silly at first, but the Warcraft figurines sold like hotcakes at $99 a shot. I think there’s something going on here…

I spent countless hours playing Warcraft for nearly four years. But I do not have any physical artifact from the experience, everything is stored either on the WoW servers or various Guild websites. I believe a lot of people like the idea of a figurine because even after you’re long gone from the game, you have an artifact from the experience that lives on. Plus many people seem to build some sort of attachment to their avatar, so a physical model of a digital creation you’ve spent months (or years) shaping is appealing.

Categories: Games Tags: