Over on ihobo today, my thoughts on the game design of The Lords of Midnight, and its new iOS port. Essential reading for fans of the original, but some interesting points for anyone interested in the history of videogames.
The loyalty cards work on a system identical to B.F. Skinner's fixed interval schedule of reinforcement… the schedules pay out roughly 1 in 6, with the best offering a free coffee every 5 and the worst (Costa) effectively offering just a 1 in 20 (5%) return. But all these loyalty schemes are superior in dividends to Microsoft's Gamerscore scheme (or G), which until last year offered no tangible rewards at all. And yet, G is far more effective than the coffee shop loyalty cards at promoting loyalty, and it is interesting to see why that might be.
Over on ihobo today, an exploration of War and Peace in digital games. Here’s the introductory paragraph:
Although videogames are strongly associated with themes of war and violence, the cutting edge of the artistic exploration of imaginary worlds is happening under peaceful regimes. In this piece, I examine four different regimes of play (War, Challenge, Puzzle and Peaceful), their brief history, and their essential nature.
Over on ihobo today, my thoughts on how Achievements and gamification might be the enemy of free play, based on the overjustification effect discussed by psychologists:
When the game offers explicit rewards in advance – for instance, and now most commonly, as a result of Achievement or Trophy schemes – these rapidly condition the player’s interactions with the game in question to the point that whatever intrinsic enjoyment there might have been in the game soon becomes secondary to the pursuit of the next badge in the collection… Once the badge has been earned, many players will move on to other things, even if the activity they are passing from would have been fun for much longer.
What are the origins of the dungeon-and-village structure of computer role-playing games, and is there some equivalent parallel to be found somewhere in the design of contemporary first person shooters? In order to explore the concept of village and dungeon, it is useful to look at the kinds of activity players undertake in the fictional worlds of games, and how that relates to the spaces of play.
Over on ihobo today, I describe a game mechanic from a project that never came about. I still think this is an interesting idea, so I thought I’d share it. You can read all about the No Reload Bonus over on ihobo.com.
Over on ihobo today, some musings about Drop7 and the notion of volatilty in puzzle games. Here's an extract:
The essential play of Drop7 draws from the well established tile-stacking genre that flowers fromTetris. Whereas Pajitov’s classic relies on the simplicity of it's mechanics for its appeal (anyone can work out how to stack tetronimos), later tile-stackers such as Dr. Mario, Super Puzzle Fighter, Baku Baku Animal and Puyo Pop focus on combos to drive interest. The player learns to stack tiles in such a way that, when correctly prepared and then triggered, a giant chain reaction occurs. This reaction is the core of Drop7’s appeal as well, but unlike earlier stacking games Drop7 has a secret weapon in its rules. Failure in tile stacking games occurs when the board becomes stable, which results from a configuration where the reactive combinations of tiles cannot be made to come into contact e.g. in Super Puzzle Fighter, tiles of the same colour don't touch. Conversely, it is possible to stack tiles chaotically in such a way that a small landslide will trigger large (accidental) chain reactions. This quality, volatility plays almost no role in Tetris but has been core to all other tile-stackers since.
I’m thrilled to report a new book edited by Drew Davidson and Greg Costikyan entitled Tabletop: Analog Game Design. It’s a collection of essays by both pen-and-paper and digital game designers about tabletop game design. (I’m a little disappointed Greg didn’t mention it to me when we met up in Seattle, actually! He knows I like my board games…) Amazon has it as an ebook and the publisher, ETC, is offering it as a paperback from Lulu.
But I have to ask: when did ‘tabletop game design’ become ‘analogue game design’? This may sound odd – obviously boardgames are not digital, so shouldn’t they be labelled analogue? Well remember that analogue is an adjective that was originally used to describe electrical or mechanical devices in which the variable elements had continuous rather than discrete values. There didn’t used to be a sense in which everything that wasn’t digital could be labelled analogue – now it seems a book can be called an analogue ebook, perhaps even an organic tree can be called an analogue tree, as opposed to those digital trees in the fictional world of your games.
While I can’t support this shift in the language, it is extremely indicative of the extent to which computer technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. I’ll be picking up on this point in a little more detail at the end of the month.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the rant over on ihobo today… At first glance I seem to be knocking those game designers whose work is essentially focused on copying other people’s designs – the game duplicators of the title. But as I get going, the criticism seems instead to fall at the feet of game designers who strive for creativity at all costs, and ultimately on the industry as a whole for its failure to offer thanks when it is due.