The Wife Factor in Games

(Uncharted 2 Among Thieves Commercial)

Developers know that the average gamer is in their 30s, but have they realized that the average gamer is not single?

I saw a commercial for Uncharted 2 (image and link above) and it made me realize that gamers are not alone on the couch, even with single player games. Funny enough, I realized that my wife’s presence factors into what I play.

Has your significant other ever influenced what games you play because they like/don’t like watching it? My wife did not like watching me play Halo Reach (or listening to my frustration) but she enjoyed Fable 2 so much that I wasn’t supposed to play while she wasn’t in the room. With Puzzle Quest, my wife was over-my-shoulder so much that I let her take over.

Are couples a sub-demographic that developers can target? Perhaps, but predicting one person’s likes is difficult enough, let alone two different personalities. My friend raves about how spot-on Netflix is with picking movies for him (Netflix spends crazy money on generating favorable recommendations) but my Netflix is always off the mark with me because my wife and I share an account and we have very different tastes.

When it comes to facilitating hardcore and casual gamers, there are a few games that shine:

  • Mario Galaxy: The hardcore gamer can enjoy the complex 3D puzzle platforming while the casual gamer can wave the Wii controller with the second player support aka “Girlfriend Mode”.
  • The Lego titles (Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones): Simple mechanics, no failing and layered progressions. The casual player can make their way to the end and the hardcore player can try and unlock/collect everything.
  • Little Big Planet: Again, simple mechanics that casual gamers can pickup and master, with the ability for hardcore gamers to customize complex experiences.

Collaborative game play is another emergent multiplayer experience that naturally occurs with couples. Sometimes in the form of a “back-seat gamer”, slow-paced puzzle and strategy games are enhanced by collaboration.


The Rail in BioShock Infinite – What I Hope to See

There are many things about BioShock Infinite that I am looking forward to. One mechanic I am wondering about is the rail/roller-coaster. Great idea for travelling between floating islands but I hope it does more.

Why talk about the rail over weapons or enemies? The rail looks like a mechanics that makes BioShock Infinity possible. Separating the massive indoor and outdoor floating islands means they don’t all need to be loaded. Should the player ride a rail to a new area, the destination time becomes predictable (possibly controllable) so the plan can land without any hiccups or waiting. I don’t know this for a fact, this is just what I think is going on.

One thing I am wondering is how rail destinations will be advertised. Will the player always know where they will end up? Can they change mid-way? I imagine most times, the player will know where they will end up before they get on the rail so they will associate rails as a major part of progressing.

My rail wishlist:

  • Mystery Destinations: A rail that’s destination is a mystery so that the player has to ask “Am I prepared?” before they get on.
  • Jumping Between Rails: If two rails come close enough, the player can switch rails (without the possibility of falling). The player may, or may not know where the new rail may go, but it will make the player think “Should I switch?” and come to a decision quickly. The rail already has timing-based events with the rail-riding enemies, a traversal timed-decision would fit.
  • Hazards: Swooping “Columbia Freight” crates could knock an enemy off the edge if pushed into one.
  • Rail/Wrench Melee Attack on Ground: If a rail moves along the ground, so that it is not a necessary form of travel, the player or an enemy can use this as a way of making a melee attack at high speeds. (This would imply a way of getting off a rail at will when close to the ground.)
  • Items on Rail: It would be nice if awesome telekineses objects were in constant supply thanks to a near-by rail. Also, if exploding objects were on the rails, the player could shoot them as they pass by enemies taking the “exploding barrel” mechanic to another level.
  • Dropping Off (scripted): Allowing the player to drop off at will would create the potential for accidental death, but scripting such an event to allow the player to fall to a new or dangerous location is exciting. The rail sets up an expectation of where the player will land. Scripting a fall to an unfamiliar (potentially dangerous) location takes advantage of this expectation. A scramble to gather information and create a plan, or react to unexpected events is a necessary experience in a modern FPS.

General Note: BioShock was one of my favorite games. The verticality of their level layouts was an awesome change of pace from other FPS games and I hope they keep that element in Infinite, as it will set them apart from Call of Duty, Dead Space, Gears and all other FPS titles.

Fallout New Vegas – Gambling Mechanic Wish List

When you think of Las Vegas gambling, you fantasize about high stakes, beautiful women, huge prizes and danger. In New Vegas, you get internet poker minus other players.

I know, its not a core part of the game, but why add it then? It takes so long to make even the simplest features in a game, especially a big title like Fallout (don’t believe me? do a game jam).

There are a few things I wish happened with the Gambling Mechanic in Fallout New Vegas:

  • Gamble Benny for the Platinum Chip: The first time the player encounters Benny at the Tops, I wish I could have tried to gamble the platinum chip from him instead of walking into a trap (an obvious and unavoidable trap). Even if I couldn’t get it, it would have been cool. Seeing Benny on the other end of the table, trying to guess his tell. It would be a moment right out of a movie. And just before you beat him, he pulls a gun, fires blindly (you duck) and he bails with the chip.
  • Gamble to Free Slaves: One of my favorite things to do in Fallout 3 was free slaves and kill slavers with Lincoln’s repeater rifle. In New Vegas, I wanted to encounter a makeshift, slaver-run casino where the player can win slaves (and maybe free them).
  • Strip Poker: The game has prostitutes dancing in the streets topless, but doesn’t have strip poker. It’s a great mechanic for winning unique armor or rare clothes at the risk of losing whatever you  have equipped (you can always get it back anyway).
  • Gambling for your Life: Imagine entering a poker tournament where there is an awesome grand prize for a single winner, but all losers become slaves and has to battle in an arena to escape or find another way out.
  • Side Quest: Player discovers Caps Wild, a make-shift casino run by a group of slavers. There, the player meets a woman in a Vault 49 jumpsuit trapped in a cage. The owner and head of the slavers, a guy named “Bad Luck” is hosting a poker tournament where the winner receives a free penthouse room and a slave of their choice. However, there can be only one winner, and all losers become slaves and must fight in the pit. Any pit fighter who kills all other losers earns back their freedom. The player can also attempt to pick the lock and sneak out.

(I have not played “Dead Money” yet. I read a review and watched the trailer. It doesn’t look like it uses the gambling mechanic.)

Global Game Jam Day 2 and 3

Fantastic Game Jam! The theme was Extinction, check out my team’s game: Dino-Soar (made with XNA)

Busy weekend for game jammers in Albany with 14 games. Most teams were burning the midnight oil Saturday night with your standard chaos minutes before sub mission. My team mostly worked externally and we were debugging in the car on the way to the final event.

For being new to the game jam, there was a fair turnout for board games. It was difficult to judge and rate the board games because sampling them took more time and players.

The game voted best overall, Fade, had a simple mechanic and art style that was perfect for a game jam. The first two rules of design (beyond just game design) are “Know your audience” and “Keep it simple (but no simpler)”. Fade made a core mechanic of “white objects no longer exist when under the cursor” and built a simple puzzle platformer about getting a hamster to an exit by temporarily clearing obstacles. The audience at the game jam is your typical expo/judged audience. A group of people who want to quickly pickup, understand and progress in your game and then remember it after leaving. Fade was a perfect fit for the audience and also was one of the few seemingly polished games.

If you know someone who participated in the Global Game Jam, congratulate them.

Side Note: A few groups thought the word “Congratulations” had a “d” instead of a “t”. If only photoshop had spellcheck.

Global Game Jam Day 1

The theme for the 2011 global game jam is “Extinction”.

Kicking off the game jam, we were treated to a recorded key note from Keita Takahashi, a Japanese game director known for Katamari. His keynote was… inspirational? It was odd and entertaining. It made me smile.

With the theme “Extinction”, many of the Albany IGDA teams had ideas revolving around human annihilation, hunting endangered species and evolving to avoid extinction. One thing I admire about the global game jam is their intent of grouping people who do not normally work together (even though most people come in pre-formed groups).

Pre Global Game Jam 2011

The 2011 Global Game Jam is this weekend, January 28th – 30th.

Great news for the Albany IGDA. The Albany IGDA chapter has reported double the signups and is anticipating even more last minute developers. Our venue, SUNY Albany, is making more dev-tools available in their computer labs along with their basic audio and image editing software. Talking with the some of the new IGDA people, a handful are local startups and hobby-programmers. This game jam is going to have a lot of variety.

Game Bikes

Expresso Exercise Bikes, a real workout for gamers.

Rode a video game exercise bike, it was everything I expected and more. I had to make a special trip to the East Greenbush YMCA (because they are much fancier) but it was worth it.

When a goofy looking biker in a pink top passes you from nowhere, you petal and you petal hard. As a game designer, my hat is off to the developers, they did everything right. Biking through a virtual trail is one thing, but let me talk about what kept me biking longer than I planned to.

  • Other virtual bikers. They were never going much faster than me so with a little extra effort, I could pass them.
  • Pace biker. Presented a “standard” that seemed fair, not too challenging. He was always on the mini-map so I could see how close I was to the finish line in relation to him.
  • Landmarks in the virtual world gave me emergent short-term goals such as reach the monster truck up ahead.
  • Progress bar achievements such as bike five miles, or complete three trails were basic but effective. I could have stopped after my second trail, but I did another to get the achievement.

One thing that irked me but I respect, was that when ever the end on a trail is in sight, more bikers came out of the wood work, most of them out of reach. At first I tried to beat them all, but it seemed impossible. Another thing about AI bikers, you can’t ram them off the road. I tried, but they don’t have collision (its no Road Rash). Some trails are narrow, but you can take the inside curve on an AI biker and get in front of them.

Each user can generate an account for stat tracking purposes. The bikes supposedly have multiplayer competitive modes and social networking options, but the bike I was on did not have an internet connection.

There was an older gentleman using the game bike next to me. I asked him what he thought of the bike and he said “It was something different, a change of pace.” I wasn’t sure what he meant but he seemed to enjoy the bike. Maybe he thought my question was weird.

I asked the lady who facilitates the exercise equipment room a few questions about the bikes like who uses them and if they are well received.  Her response was that they are always in use by all kinds of people. They used to have four but two of them broke from over use and they don’t make their model anymore. “Everyone loves them” she said.

Games that get people up and moving are one thing, a game that gives you a legit cardiovascular workout is a whole other level.

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