The heading says it all, but let me elaborate: one of our programmers worked hard yesterday, and as a result, I present to you the windows -version of our game jam game:

Omniludens for Windows

If you can’t figure out how the game works, or if you encounter some problems or bugs, please check out the game’s site here:

Omniludens in globalgamejam.com

The game still has some work to do, since some bugs and other issues have come up now that a notable number of people have been playing it. Our programmer dudes will try to fix the encountered bugs as soon as possible. We’re also working on a short tutorial that will show at the beginning of the game, plus tweaking the UI in general. Graphics will also go through some changes, since the background is a bit gloomy and heavy at the moment, and a lot of graphical elements are still missing from the game.

Also, we now have a Facebook fan page, so you can go and click “like” if you like our game. And post screenshots of funny animal constellations, such as this one of a giraffe and a snake kissing:

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Omniludens

January 31, 2011

Quite a while has passed since the last entry, but now I have a good motivator for a new entry: our Finnish Game Jam 2011 -game called Omniludens (meaning “All-Playing”). Better yet, the game is a nominee for the FGJ 2011 category Best Windows Phone 7 -game!

Omniludens is a 2D platformer puzzle game where you play as an omnipotent creator god. First you create life, then destroy it. The game is available for Windows Phone 7 but we will also port it to other platforms, starting with a Windows -version. The present version can be played with a Windows Phone 7 -emulator. Since it’s a game jam game, and was made in less than 48 hours, lots of tweaking and polishing is still needed, albeit the game does work well already. The UI is still under construction, so here’s a gameplay video to demonstrate how the game works:

Omniludens gameplay video (on YouTube)

The game changed a lot during development, but the basic idea – by our designer Kosti Rytkönen – remained the same. First you create, then annihilate. If you fail at the annihilation, you lose the game. The gameplay and UI were built around this idea iteratively, gradually evolving better and better during the development process. As always with game jam games, we too had a moment of desperation, thinking we’ll never be able to fix a big programming issue in time, but in the middle of saturday night, our awesome programmed dude Olli Alatalo found the tiniest bug, and all was well. The physics still need some tweaking and UI even more, but overall our team is very happy with the resulting game. We will continue developing it further, for we think it still has a lot of unused potential.

The graphic style of Omniludens was originally planned to be cubist, to match one of the achievements set by the Global Game Jam committee. This soon changed to something quite different. Since the working title of the game was “God throws dice”, the god game -idea affected the graphic style very strongly, but we didn’t want to make it into a christian -themed game. In stead, we decided to mix elements from all sorts of religions – flat earth carried by a turtle and elephants, a god hurdling thunderbolts, an almighty god able to create and destroy life, and so on. Very soon, we found ourselves thinking of Monty Python more and more, and deliberately let this show in the graphic design and the story of the game. Unfortunately, most of the great graphics Noora Heiskanen created could not be implemented to the first version of the game, so here’s a picture containing most of them:

The next version of the game will feature a notably better UI and all the graphics that got left out from the original version, plus some smaller changes in the physics and gameplay side. More info on the game can be found on the games’ Global Game Jam -page, and later on on a Facebook fan page. I’ll keep you posted!

Just a quick one this time.

Since I’ve managed to finish up a total of three games during the past week, I figured I should write something about all of them as soon as possible. I think it’ll go in the following order:

1. Terminator (or Derpinator?) – A cardgame we designed as a three member team in Erik Svedäng’s cardgame workshop today.

2. MindPlane – A mind controlled paperplane flying game for N900, made as a demo game for Nokia with a four member team and finished last friday.

3. A nameless pervasive game demo – A pervasive game demo designed with a three member team as a part of game design research projects we’re conducting at the game research group at Tampere University.

Karma is still not quite there, but maybe these will keep you entertained until it is. Keep your eyes peeled!

This is a sort of a sequel to the previous post I made about Score Game Jam so please read it first if you haven’t yet.

So, I took part in my first Game Jam ever, as a participant at least. Obviously my game concept was way too big to be finished during mere 42 hours, and that is lesson number one I learned: you can never make a game concept too small if you’re in a game jam. Well, maybe you can, but that would be a positive problem.

Another useful note to self: make a schedule, even if you want to chill (or rather: especially if you want to chill). Making a game in such a short time requires some grand master project planning if you actually want to finish it. Or loads of experience on rapid prototyping. Also: define a clear goal for your game project. And no, “finishing the game” is not a clear goal. Plus, using some sort of a Scrum-ish development tool scaled down to jamming purposes might be a good idea.

As some might’ve already guessed, we didn’t finish the game. Not a big minus though, since most assets are now done both design, graphics and audio-wise. Some programming and lots of tweaking still left, but we decided to finish the game, hopefully during September. So, I would like to thank Juhani Hujala (programming), Vilma Pekola (graphics) and Jani Palovuori (audio) for daring to go along with my slightly megalomaniac visions, we’ll make it into a great game!

Since the game isn’t ready yet, here’s a piece of concept art for you to enjoy:

As a conclusion, I’d say that the Score Game Jam was an excellent opportunity for me to try out my skills as a game designer, and a soft landing to the world of game jamming. Big thanks to the organisers. Can’t wait for the next one!

Score Game Jam

August 29, 2010

On friday at 6pm (or so) started my second game jam ever, and the first one that I’m participating as a jammer, not as an organizer. Since there’s still plenty of time – about 1.5 hours – until the game should be ready, I figured I’d waste precious crunch time on blogging.
The jam started the way the apparently always do: with a short motivational speech including the legendary video with the legendary Tyra Banks + white eyeliner -clip. Plus the theme was revealed: Everything is different.
Then it was time for some introductions, pitching and teaming. Although I have quite a bit of experience as a producer, I finally wanted to give game design a proper try. I also happened to have a game idea that went with the theme so I went around pitching my idea, mapping who seemed to be on the same page with me. I ended up teaming with a graph designer and a coder who I knew beforehand but never worked with before. However, I had loved their Global Game Jam game (With Strings Attached) so I had quite a good idea of their skills.
My game idea got it’s original inspiration from an article about a rat temple located in Deshnok, India, called Karni Mata. It got me thinking about the Hindu religion and the concepts of karma and reincarnation and how that would make a very interesting game. Starting from this basic idea, we ended up deciding that the game would be a platformer where the goal is to reach the top and enlightenment. The player would start of as an ant, and although they could play the whole thing trough with that avatar, they could also collect tokens that would allow them to reincarnate from the bottom of the temple as something bigger, better and faster.
We decided to have five different animals in the game. The first one is ant, the next one rat, then a Jungle Cat, then a Macaque, and the last one a character from Hindu and Buddhist mythology called Garuda – a mix between a human and a bird. The different parts of the temple get more challenging the further you get, but reincarnating makes it easier to advance. However, reincarnating also means you return to the bottom of the temple. There is a western tourist trying to get rid of you, and although we had originally planned you could also attack the tourist – which would obviously affect your karma negatively, meaning you would reincarnate as a slower animal the next time you died – we had to give up on the idea due to lack of time.
Another limiting factor is the dev tool we’re using – Unity. It doesn’t seem to be the most ideal one for platformers. Getting the level layout work the way it would be desirable was a real puzzle game that I spent most of yesterday evening and night solving. At the moment we’re struggling with getting the ant move the way an ant would, not to mention tweaking all the other creatures. Although, the ant seems to be the kid causing the most trouble. Audio is also still on the way plus the graphics need a few more elements.
Fingers crossed that the next post will contain a link to a working game!

I present to you, my innumerable readers, the latest step forward on my winding road towards the Master’s thesis:

My thesis seminar paper

The biggest issue right now is what I should do in the thesis and what later on. I’m planning on doing quite a comprehensive study on the topic in the long run, and doing some sort of a ground building study in the thesis, but should figure out what that ground is.

The most important question that needs answering before I can do anything else is: Will I be able to get the answers I need through this method and from these people? From these test interviews I can see that there may be a difficulty proving, with interviews, the need for emotional grammar in game design. Since proving this hypothesis is vital for the rest of my research, I will have to reconsider the method and the focus group. One possibility would be collecting massive amounts of questionnaire data for proving the hypothesis, allowing me to build my further research on a solid, quantitative base.

If the hypothesis proves to be correct, I am planning on doing interviews on three game designer groups: game design students/hobbyists, indie game designers and established game designers. I would also include another factor – nationality – and do comparative research on game designers of the Western and Eastern cultural domains. The aim of this would be to map whether there are differences in opinions and values between these three groups, in these two cultural domains. As a result and with the help of these different informant groups, I am hoping to be able to create more communication between the groups and to form a set of tools for creating emotion in games.

Might sound idealistic but definitely worth a try.

Back on track

April 13, 2010

Like I promised yesterday, I will now try to briefly summarise what my upcoming thesis is about.

My hypothesis is that digital games are lacking the basic grammar of emotion, and this lack is hindering their evolution, their maturing up if you will, as a medium [I am aware of the issues related to games being called a medium, better suggestions are warmly welcomed].

A majority of digital games are first and foremost challenge structures, not least due to goals being seen as one of the defining elements of games. I am going to challenge this view and claim that the most important and defining element of games is player activity and that emotion should be created first and foremost through this. Giving the player the illusion that they are in control and free to do what the game implies possible at all times is crucial for upkeeping the 360° illusion* but also for creating emotion with games’ own means.

‘Hold on a minute!’, you say. ‘Games do create all sorts of emotions already! I became really distressed just a few days ago when I was playing Bioshock 2 and Big Sister attacked my character and almost got it killed!’. And I say you are absolutely right. But here’s a question for you: did it make you feel anxious because you got scared of Big Sister, or because you got scared of your character’s health getting too low? If your choice of answer is the latter, we are, again, talking about games as challenge structures. The first one, however, is the one I feel is often lacking in digital games: diegetic emotions**.

Diegetic emotions are emotions that are connected to characters, events and things only true in the game’s world but not outside of it. Diegesis in general, as well as diegetic emotions, unlike the game’s basic rules and goals, are strongly subjective and dependent on each player’s personality, past experiences etc. The good thing about digital games is that they have all the means of previous mediums, such as literacy, movies and comics, at their disposal for building a shared diegesis for all players, but also their own means for creating diegetic emotions through player activity.

‘Oh come on, why couldn’t games just use the previous medias’ means for creating emotion? Why do it the hard way?’ you ask. This is why: creating games’ basic grammar of emotions is what is required for games to rise to the next level, for until this is done, games are forced to lend the tools of previous mediums, thus being stuck as a mere leeches and not a medium by their own right.

Now, this is all pure hypothesis, so I need something to prove me right – or wrong. Since many of the now mainstream phenomenon were once underground ones, I figured I should go and consult indie game designers on what they make of my hypothesis. I will do this by executing a number of thematic interviews, using IRC and similar real-time chat environments. I believe that of all the people I could interview, the people who design games are the ones who might have the best insight on games’ potential in evoking emotion by their own means. Another reason is the fact that although game players have been studied numerous times from numerous viewpoints, the people who actually design the games being played have mostly been disregarded.

I have already started grounding work for the thesis through two test interviews and looking through previous research, but a lot more needs to be done, both interview wise and hypothesis wise. So, all suggestions and critique concerning my thesis is welcome, as well as suggestions for further reading and useful terms.

[* and ** Thanks for both the term ‘360° illusion’ and the term ‘diegetic emotions’ goes to Annika Waern. I decided no to put any references into this post since wordpress doesn’t have any smart way for doing it.]

I figured I should finally try to face the facts and try to fix the situation: since master thesis topics tend to change more often than bed sheets (at least on my ‘once in two weeks’ changing rhythm), the last time this blog was up to date was October.

I had, of course, realised this ages ago. However, the crucial ingredient required for change, it seems, was a seminar held at University of Tampere last week, called Games Research Methods. As is usual in such events, the socialization that took place outside the actual sessions (or during them on an IRC shadow channel) were the most fruitful ones. A thesis topic that had been stuck for weeks took some giant leaps towards (temporary) completion in just two days, and special thanks goes to all the people I talked with during the seminar. Not only did I get some excellent ideas on my topic, I also got a lot of practice on trying to explain the focus of my upcoming thesis.

So, I figured I should probably give it a try in writing too. Keep your eyes peeled for my post tomorrow, for I’ll be waiting for your comments on it!

The Digital Agora

March 9, 2010

Time for the third, and at the same time last one of the abstracts. Finally something closer to my own field and interests, with Valentina Rao discussing playfulness in her article

Facebook Applications and Playful Mood: the Construction of Facebook as a “Third Place”

Rao frames the focus of her paper in an interesting way. She proposes an interpretative framework
for a better understanding of Facebook Applications and similar products and practices in social networks, arguing there are similarities between social networks and the socialization areas defined as “third places”. She also aims at defining the status of Facebook Applications in relation to the various definitions of game and play.

The writer argues that novel cultural practices are establishing play as a central cultural value rather than an alternative to or escape from everyday reality. I agree with her; play and games are characteristic to the human nature [1], and when one doesn’t have to worry about staying alive anymore, more room is left for playfulness and creativity, and mental practices are given more value than before. Another interesting point she brings out is the diffusion of play in conventionally serious settings, the blurring of the distinction between everyday reality and play space, and the increasing importance of “playfulness” or “playful mood” in domains other than game design. The question that arises is: is this the prelude to a new era or are humans simply doing what is natural to them?

Games?

Rao argues that when Facebook Applications are complex enough to fulfill the definition of games, they usually are casual games. At a closer look, most are even more simplified. The actual gameplay is often substituted by a text offering a narration of the events and their outcome, and this narrative quality questions the essence of Facebook Applications as games; they do not allow the player to perform actions that will modify the behavior of the system. The writer states that other types of applications are even more problematic if one views them as games.

An interesting fact that Rao brings up is that although Facebook Applications are thought to increase the social interaction between people, people are not actually playing together or even asynchronously, due to the construction of the applications. On top of this, the users of Facebook Applications don’t usually see themselves as players. Thus, they do not seem to be games as such. They do, however, act as enablers of playfulness and game-like situations. The social construction of Facebook Applications is actually quite similar to the way people used to play in arcades back in the day: it is based on displaying the results, resulting in people competing for higher scores with their friends.

Third places?

“Third places” can be seen as a contemporary version of the agora, the tavern, the café – places where people can simply be together and unwind. According to Rao, important features of “third places” are conversation, socialization and playful mood. Social networks seem to fit the model well as their focus is indeed on conversation and socialization, and add-ons – such as the Facebook Applications – seem to be vital in establishing the playful mood.

The writer defines three main qualities that the playfulness of virtual “third places” can be analyzed with. The first one is physicality; according to Rao, playful mood in real-life “third places” is strongly related to the physical dimension, and since online settings lack this dimension, add-ons are needed to convey it. The second quality is spontaneity, which is also difficult to reproduce in virtual settings, and since Facebook’s architecture of participation doesn’t allow the user to express herself in an
unmediated fashion, it seem that the Applications can also play the role of a regulated outlet for the individual need for free expression. The last quality Rao lists is inherent sociability; according to her playfulness is intrinsically connected to social situations and cannot exist without them. Thus, most of the actions expressed by Facebook Applications can be seen as representations of playful actions or performances.

From gameplay to social play

When discussing how Facebook Applications situate themselves in current game theory, Rao states that we can regard them as the casual version of social play, being to social play what casual games are to video games. The single Facebook Application is usually an extremely simple game, and more often a representation, hinting to a symbolic, ritual construction of the place by social agreement. The elements of play in Facebook Applications, while not always corresponding to the strict definitions of game or play proposed by game theory, take a crucial part in “setting the mood” of social networks, and participate in the larger game of identity construction of the social network place as a virtual “third place”.

This seems like a good definition, and I am definitely looking forward to reading Rao’s later research on the topic.

[1] See for example the classic Homo ludens : a study of the play-element in culture (1955/1980) by Johan Huizinga.

References:
Rao, Valentina: Facebook Applications and Playful Mood: the Construction of Facebook as a “Third Place”. MindTrek 2008 proceedings. Tampere, Finland. http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1457199.1457202

A Child of Our Time

February 21, 2010

Another week, another abstract. Continuing with the same theme, social media, with a finnish article by Katri Lietsala and Esa Sirkkunen:

Talking about social media
(in Social Media: Introduction to the tools and processes of participatory economy, 2008)

The structure of the article is quite simple. Lietsala & Sirkkunen start by defining how they understand the term ‘social media’, and then specify the different components social media consists of. After this, they process these components more thoroughly, constructing six different genres of social media.

Defining the components

Before defining the term, the writers successfully invalidate the resilient idea that social media would be the starter of a new era, even a revolution. Previous media forms have not been any less social than the contemporary ones, the forms of sociality have just been different. Thus, Lietsala & Sirkkunen suggest social media to be used as an umbrella term under which one can find various and very different cultural practices related to the online content and people who are involved with that content. I couldn’t agree more since I see social media as simply doing what is natural for us humans: being social.

Going through the defining features of social media, Lietsala & Sirkkunen find five main characteristics and five minor ones. The main characteristics they define are as follows: there is a space to share content, the participants in this space create, share or evaluate all or most of the content themselves, the space is based on social interaction, all content has an URL to link it to external networks, and all actively participating members of the site have their own profile page to link to other people, to the content, to the platform itself and to the possible applications. The minor features also occur quite often but are not, according to the writers, obligatory for something to be social media. The minor features are: the space feels like a community, people contribute for free, there is a tagging system that allows folksonomy, content is distributed with feeds in and out the site, and the platforms and tools are in development phase and changed on the run.

While I find these characteristics to be correct, they do rouse some questions. For example, how do the writers define a participant, or a user? Although Lietsala & Sirkkunen do not downright define these, they do examine the difference between the terms ‘prosumer’ and ‘produser’, and find the latter to be more accurate since it emphasizes the users’ activity in producing media, not just consuming it. Another term pair the writers discuss is ‘social software’ and ‘social media’. They make an interesting notion on this one, pointing out the obvious difference between the two; social media is the content, while social software is simply the technological enabler.

On top of these, I really liked Lietsala & Sirkkunens’ notion on what social media actually signifies; without the interaction between people, platforms would be empty and could not succeed even with the most amazing software.

About genre and genres

For Lietsala & Sirkkunen, genre is not just a certain type of text, but rather a way to understand, classify, express, interpret and produce content, and the social relations coded in these conventions. This might be quite a broad definition, but I find it a lot more functional than most of the definitions I’ve come across before.

Based on the defining components specified earlier, the writers find six different main genres of social media. The first one is content creation and publishing tools, including production, publishing and dissemination. The second genre is content sharing, meaning users sharing all kinds of content with peers. The third one is social networks as in keeping up the old and building new social networks, promoting oneself, and so on. The fourth genre is called collaborative productions, meaning participation in collective build productions, while the fifth is virtual worlds, including play, experience and life in virtual environments. The last genre is add-ons – software that transforms a service into a feature of another site or adds new use-value to the existing communities and social media sites through 3rd party applications.

Lietsala & Sirkkunen state that various genres signify that users can choose between varieties of activity types and user roles and thus we now have lots to choose from compared to traditional media. Social media might not be starting a new era, but it definitely enables a whole new level of sociability and participation that older media could only dream of.

References

Lietsala, Katri & Sirkkunen, Esa (2008) “Talking about social media”, in Social Media: Introduction to the tools and processes of participatory economy. Tampere University Press, p. 17-28. http://tampub.uta.fi/tup/978-951-44-7320-3.pdf