This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.
July 2008 is the previous archive.
September 2008 is the next archive.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.
Got Facebook? Get Muzaic!
Last year GAMBIT released AudiOdyssey, a visually impaired accessible rhythm game that used the Wii Remote on the PC. While the game was successful and managed to push the accessibility envelope we were left with several areas we still wanted to improve:
* AudiOdyssey is single player only. But what about visually impaired users who want to play multiplayer titles?
* Futhermore, a multiplayer game in which visual ability is not a determining factor would be valuable as it would afford sight impaired players the chance to play a game on equal footing with sighted users.
* A social networking element would be an attractive feature as well, letting players make new friends through the game.
These goals led us back to the development board. Over this past summer a team of eight talented MIT and Singaporean students (Michelle Ang, Jeremy Kang, William Hutama, Steven Bartel, Jennifer Fu, Alvin Leong, Joanne Loo Ling, and Pradashini Subramaniam) made Muzaic, an accessible Facebook game designed to address these issues. To download the game log in to Facebook, search for the Muzaic application, install, and start playing!
I won't tell you too much about the game play because I want you to give the game a shot. I will tell you that for a prototype it does a lot of things right, and serves as an interesting basis for what a larger game could look like. The player interactions are currently minimal, but compelling - you breed pet "muses" with other people's muses to get new musical offspring. The offspring, of course, are a genetic mix of their parents. The mechanic is currently very simple, but it's a great spring board that shows how one could make a much more complete game centered around the muse breeding scheme.
The prototype has a fun, lighthearted aesthetic which comes through in the art and music style. The island you breed your muses on is initially drab and quiet, but start breeding successfully and it grows to include colorful and musical rewards. The early versions main drawback, however, is that the game is only playable multiplayer, and does not work if you play by yourself. Therefore if you go and download it be sure to have a friend or two grab it as well so you can play together!
First Games by Famous Designers
One of our Game Nights this summer showcased the first games of famous designers. The idea was to show how first game designers started, and teach our students that it is okay if your first game is not genius, and that good games are the result of teamwork and not of individual personalities. As I was working on videogame archeology to prepare the session, I realized that lesson was not going to get across with these examples, because they all turned out to be really great games, and some of them made by the designer himself. What is interesting is that most of these games have nothing to do with what these designers have become famous for. So let's travel back in time and play these "first games".
Cheese! Picopoke is now live!
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab is proud to announce that the Summer 2008 games are being unveiled now in our Load Game section under 'Prototypes'. Preview pages of all the games are up now and the download links will be appearing over the next few weeks.
We'll be announcing each new link here on the blog with commentary posts from the game developers. Our first post is from the product owner for Picopoke, Kevin Driscoll.
We set out to make a multiplayer game in which location affects gameplay. Familiarity with your surroundings should be an asset. In Picopoke, players take photos to match a set of abstract captions (for example, "human bowling pins" or "feet in the air") to be voted on by their friends and fellow players. Criteria and challenges change often and there are many different ways to win. Facebook freaks will especially love the awards and profile customization options.
Perhaps the most difficult game in the lab to test, Picopoke challenges begin on Thursdays and last for a full week. Once a set of challenges has been closed, a new set opens, winners are announced, and voting begins on the new photos. We've already queued up a good five months of challenges and are excited to see what you create!
The Picopoke Team smiling after the US post-mortem!
To play Picopoke you need a Facebook account and a digital camera. Optionally, AT&T and Verizon users can submit their images remotely with a cameraphone. Add the app now to join the current challenge and vote on last week's submissions!
Hardcore Gaming and The Price of Indie Development
Everyone who's played Braid seems to agree that it's pretty hard. I myself was able to finish it without too much trouble, although there were a handful of puzzles I found frustrating. There are others I've spoken to who are having a much rougher time with it, complaining that it demands too much of the player too quickly.
Braid is definitely a hardcore game. It is brutally difficult at times, both in terms of puzzles and platforming. On the other hand it is a very beautiful, unusual game that one imagines might appeal to a diverse audience. The intro especially seems to suggest a casual aesthetic, with minimal instructions and simple controls that ease the player into the experience. However, it betrays this simplicity quickly by escalating difficulty at a steep rate.
It's not simply that Braid is hard. It's that Braid reverses player expectations so continually and so rapidly it gives less determined users almost no time to build a stable foundation of competency. Put another way, it teaches the player a solution once and then immediately undercuts that solution in the next puzzle. For example, in World 2 there is a puzzle where you must rewind time in order to open two separate doors with the same key. This puzzle is clever and takes some figuring out, but once you get the principle it feels rewarding. However, the next puzzle actually punishes the player for employing the same strategy. In the new puzzle using the same key on two different doors actually breaks the puzzle, forcing the player to restart the level.
The second puzzle is a devious riff on the first, a trap of sorts set by the designer that forces the player to question their existing mental model and adjust. On one hand this is excellent game design, since it keeps astute players on their toes. On the other, it expects the player to comprehend, internalize, and adjust to new mental models with zero iteration.
Whether or not this is a flaw of Braid is an interesting question to consider. From the point of view of my own game experience I can't say that it is, but from the point of view of many players it might be. I certainly don't think a gentler difficulty curve would have hurt the game, but perhaps Jonathan Blow felt he didn't have the luxury of easing players into his puzzles as much as one would in a longer commercial game? I can easily imagine how an indie developer, having lived with a game design for several years, would want players to experience the true depth his core mechanics afford. It would be disheartening to spend all that blood and sweat and then just give players 25% of the complexity you know your system can support. On the other hand, an indie game of modest scope means the game will likely be short, which further means that the ramp up from easy to hard puzzles will be extremely steep. Given that Braid has only 35 screens, it has no choice but to up the ante significantly between puzzles in order to reach its peak by the end. There are only two ways to alter this curve: lower the peak or lengthen the game.
As an indie developer functioning on scant resources, Jonathan Blow perhaps didn't have the option of lengthening the game. It seems fair to assume, though, that he had the option of lowering the peak and chose not to... assumedly to give users the "full experience" of Braid. While I can understand this, it is a decision that may have cost him some players. Some people just can't scale a cliff that steep.
All this makes me wonder whether there is a paradox in indie development. Indie games in some ways can take risks that bigger games cannot, and they can attract game designers who have strong personal statements to make. But these strong personal statements may bump into a wall when the limited scope of indie games "forces" developers to choose between depth or accessibility.
Even if this paradox exists (and I'm not convinced it does, but it's intriguing to consider) I think there are some clever ways around it. Braid in particular I think would have benefited greatly had Blow taken a page from Miyamoto and made only a percentage of the levels mandatory. Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, and Mario Galaxy all employ an excellent system by which players only need to finish about 60% of all the levels in the game in order to unlock the final level. This means that, if players choose, they can skip the harder levels and play mostly the easier ones and still finish the game. Going back and finishing all the levels afterwards becomes a more hardcore task that only players of a certain level of dedication will do. These games successfully appeal to both kinds of players without flatly sacrificing content.
Braid is so modular that it seems like a similar system could have been implemented with virtually no change to the current game. I don't understand why Jonathan Blow felt it was necessary to force players to gain every single puzzle piece in order to even have the option of finishing the game. Braid basically forces players to 100% the game on the first play through, which seems needlessly demanding. To my mind, making some of the puzzle pieces optional for completion would have not only made the game easier on more casual players; it would have enhanced the invitation to interpretation that characterizes Braid, motivating players to go back, after the ending, and find more puzzle pieces to unlock the mysteries of the story.
Perhaps not all these choices were up to Jonathan Blow? I'd be interested to hear what he has to say about why Braid was balanced the way it was. I can only speculate of course. Still though, I think this is proof that Braid is an extremely useful game to analyze. It seems like future indie developers have alot to learn from it, both good and bad.
[WARNING: The below post contains some small spoilers.]
Braid is a very strange game. I just finished it and I'm not sure what I feel. I wasn't expecting something so... lyrical, maybe? I don't know what the right word is. Braid is one part poetry, two parts hard-core puzzle game. I'm not sure how seriously the metaphorical layer is meant to be taken. On one hand the poetic bits feel very "separate" from the game. You can simply ignore all the text if you want. Yet the graphics, the lovely Van Gogh-like art style, is a bit harder to ignore. The music also does much to create an introspective, dream-like mood. Even without the text, it's difficult to take Braid simply as entertainment.
The big mystery of the game, I suppose, is what the gameplay has to do with the story. There clearly is a connection, but it seems deliberately obscure. On the most basic level, Braid's traditional platforming elements and time manipulation stuff seems intended as a loose metaphor for the trials, mistakes, and corrections in a relationship. The "princess" of this game seems like some weird ideal of romantic love that the protagonist is forever in search of. Or maybe she's a metaphor for failed relationships? I have no idea really. Whatever the case, it is clear that she is a metaphor, which, at least, is something Braid seems determined not to let the player walk away from the game without realizing.
I haven't put much thought into interpreting Braid. I finished it after several hours of play, and my immediate impression is one of dreamy confusion. I confess to reading most of the text quickly, without really trying to find a coherent thread in it. I'm not sure if there is one, or if the text bits are meant to be disjointed fragments. The only reoccurring theme is the princess. This is probably why the final sequence, where you finally find the princess, gave me an emotional reaction. I couldn't believe I got so close to her, and even cooperated with her, only to have time rewind, and have her disappear like a phantom. Did I do that on purpose? Why was rewinding the only thing I could do? I wanted to be with her, if only to get some answers to all these bizarre feelings and images. But she just vanished.
Braid makes the most sense if you conclude that everything in it represents a dreamer's waking life filtered through a host of subconscious symbols. It feels like the dream of a gamer, an expression of the collective unconscious generated by a life-time of game playing. This, to me, explains all the references to other videogames, which are all videogames with princesses. Braid may be an attempt by a gamer to make a game that expresses the connection between frivolous game conventions and real life, of how silly ideas like "save the princess" seep into our consciousness and become part of our shared cultural experience. It may be an attempt to reform that silliness, by giving these ideas metaphorical value they normally lack. Braid could be seen as a critique of games like Mario in this way, where "saving the princess" is just some meaningless goal. Here it is meaningless as well, but its phantom nature has been twisted into a meditation on the elusiveness of happiness. The design goal of Braid, in essence, seems to be to reformulate the words "I'm sorry, but the princess is in another castle" as an existential crisis. So that when the dinosaur eventually asks you "This princess... does she even exist?" you honestly don't know. Even at the end, when you find her, she may still just be a phantom... one that you are forever chasing.
GAMBIT Open House, Friday August 8th 10am-noon
Come to our last Open House this summer!
With eight weeks of development behind them, our summer development teams are finally finished. We have seven very different games to play, and we want to show them all off. Come and play one - or all - this Friday! As usual, there will be munchies and drinks.
One of our games this year is targeted at children aged 12-14; we could especially use players in that age range!
|When:||August 8th,10 AM to 12:00 PM.|
|Where:||Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab|
5 Cambridge Center, 3rd Floor
(aka MIT NE25, 3rd Floor)
Please sign up as visitors in the lobby when you arrive. Also, please RSVP to gambit-qa AT mit DOT edu, so that we will know how many people are coming - we wouldn't want the munchies to run out!
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab is a five-year research initiative that addresses important challenges faced by the global digital game research community and industry, with a core focus on identifying and solving research problems using a multi-disciplinary approach that can be applied by Singapore's digital game industry. The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab focuses on building collaborations between Singapore institutions of higher learning and several MIT departments to accomplish both research and development.
For more about our lab, please click here.
Go! Go! Go! Bionic!
Now this is what I call a trailer.
Bionic Commando was, in many ways, the game that made me love videogames. Oh sure, I played Super Mario Bros. and other games excessively before that, but Bionic Commando was the first time I became genuinely obsessed with a game as a fictive experience. Why do I still like games with stories? Why do I still hope every game I play has an epic final sequence that I'll never forget? It's because of Bionic Commando. It's because it set the bar. It's because I was 11 years old and suddenly some dude put a bazooka in my hand and said the fate of the world depended on me shooting Hitler in the face while free falling off a cliff.
Bionic Commando Rearmed is a remake made by fans who, as far as I can tell, had the exact formative experience I did. Their interviews read like what I just wrote in the above paragraph. It's for this reason that Bionic Commando Rearmed will be Rated 'M', even though there seems to be nothing in the trailers that's particularly bloody. It's because Bionic Commando wouldn't be Bionic Commando without this:
My favorite exploding Hitler.