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About the Archives

This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in November 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2009 is the previous archive.

December 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

GAMBIT Summer Program application details

Singapore students interested in applying for the 2010 GAMBIT Summer Program should check out our Join Game section. We've put up some details about what the program is all about, as well as what you'll need to prepare for your application. GAMBIT will only accept submissions from January 1st through January 15th, 2010, but you can start preparing today!

Time to start assembling those portfolios and resumes!

(Everything I Do) I Do it for You

Thumbnail image for gotw_emailsize.jpgWe Belong

I cannot recall with any certainty when precisely the Game of the Week idea was born. That is to say, I cannot pinpoint a singular moment where the idea for a running web series of behind the scenes content from our 9 week summer program came about, which likely speaks to the fact that it was not a "pop" into your head idea, but one that developed from a collection of conversations and ideas at the office.

I do remember that I was thinking about web traffic, and how we could draw more attention to our GAMBIT web presence. A good friend of mine, when talking to me about personal fitness, told me that doing the same action, everyday, for thirty days will make that action habitual. I am not sure of the scientific merits behind this statement, it may be the equivalent of Cosmopolitan science (lose 50lbs in 1 week with these 5 tips), but the core idea of doing an action repeatedly for an extended period of time, leading to a habitual continuation of that action, seemed like what we needed for our website.

I have a daily Internet routine. I check my email. I read the same news sources for the game industry. I flag particular articles that are of interest to me for reading later. Depending on what season, I check my fantasy sports team(s). I am a single hit to these sites, but more importantly, I am habitually hitting their sites. A primary goal for the GOTW series was to create habitual visitors, like me, to our site.

The Search is Over

We had huge coffers filled with content from the summer. We had digital coffers and hard-copy coffers. Even in a relatively short 9-week production cycle, the absolute glut of concept art, prototyping materials, game design documentation, production documentation, sound assets, concept music, etc. is impressive. At no point in the entire GOTW process was there any concern that we would "run out" of material to present. We knew we had the goods, there was some question as to how to present them.


I have an unrelenting fondness for 1980's power ballads. Maybe it is the Roland Jupiter-8 String patch. Maybe it is the soaring vocal lines. Maybe it's the hair.


It was a late afternoon at the lab, and while playing around on the keyboard, I started hammering out "Separate Ways" by Journey. Why? I don't know, cause it is awesome!?! A few hours later plus a ridiculous vocal session, and the parody, "This is the Game of the Week," was born. I was simultaneously proud and ashamed. It was somewhere between a moment of greatness and downright absurdity. I couldn't stop giggling however whenever I listened to it.

We concocted some hair brained schemes to replicate the hilarious original video for the song. It involved an abandoned train station, jean jackets, mullet wigs and Ms. Pac Man. Like many brilliant ideas, we released it to the ether, where it continues to haunt and inspire us to new levels of ridiculousness.

Video Killed the Radio Star

The lab had begun taking steps to keep video records of our work, and to publish small video podcasts about the projects here at the lab. This coincided nicely with the GOTW series, so we took the opportunity to interview each embedded staff member from each game to get insight on the projects. This was, to me, the greatest success of the GOTW series. I was learning things about the projects that I never knew from these interviews, and more importantly it put live faces and voices on the great people who make this lab churn out great work all the time. It is tremendously important that we are not singularly defined by what we've done, rather, we should also be known for the efforts and passions of those who are doing the work. I think the video podcasts presented that voice fantastically.

Digging in the Dirt

Calendar.jpgWith the tremendous quantity of material available for the series, the next step was to organize, collect and schedule the posts for our blog. This is where the project began to hit a bit of a logjam.

Each team had some organization to their materials, but no single team had their work meticulously archived for later use. This is not the fault of the interns from the summer, for we had not asked them to do such archiving work, but as we worked to submit these posts for publication, digging through all the data and even literally thumbing through all of the hard copy concept art and documentation became time consuming and difficult.

I felt there were times when I missed documenting important parts of the design process for some of the teams simply because I ran out of time to look for the artifacts or simply couldn't find them. I knew there were earlier builds for many of the projects complete with temp art and important design steps to acknowledge in the GOTW series, but they may have been left out simply because the artifacts of their existence were not properly archived.

Take Me Home

I wish I could tell you that our web readership jumped to youtubian levels as a result of our efforts. I wish I could point you toward the handful of news sources that picked up the series and gave us a mention. I really wish I could tell you that. I can't because it didn't happen, and if I did, you would call me a liar.

However, I do believe that what we learned from the process is most important, and moving forward we have tested and proved the concept of a "Game of The Week" series on our website. We have also learned to improve the organization of our archiving process across the board.

I do hope some of you had the time to read through some of the content from the series, and if you have not seen it yet, I encourage you to head over and look at some of the work our student-interns created over the summer. I hope it inspires you to do some great work of your own, or maybe just stop to play for a little bit longer during your usual day.

After all, we made these games... for you.

Games at GAMBIT 11/20: Ode to Treasure

This week's Games At GAMBIT will feature a selection of games from Japanese developer Treasure, perhaps best known for Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga. The games this week are lesser-known but all excellent in their own right, including:

  • Radiant Silvergun
  • Guardian Heroes
  • Silhouette Mirage
  • Sin & Punishment
  • Mischief Makers
  • Astro Boy

Games will run from 4:00pm to 6:00pm in NE25.

11/21/09: Tech Model Railroad Club Open House

The Tech Model Railroad Club was one of several organizations responsible for creating the first videogame at MIT, SpaceWar! If you're curious what they're up to these days, check out their upcoming open house.

The Fall 2009 Open House of the Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT will take place Saturday, November 21, in room N52-118 on the MIT campus (on the first floor of the MIT museum building, 265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge). The club will be open for two sessions, from 2-5 and 7-10 pm. This event is open to everyone, and admission is free.

Open Focus Testing: Thursday, November 19th, 5 - 7 PM

abandonpierre.jpgFocus Testing: November, 19th, 2009!

Games! Opinions! Munchies!

When: November 19th, 5 PM to 7 PM

Where: The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, 5 Cambridge Center, 3rd
Floor (aka MIT NE25, 3rd Floor)

(Please introduce yourselves as visitors to GAMBIT in the lobby when you arrive.)

On Thursday, the 19th, please come visit the GAMBIT Lab to play and give us your opinions on two of the games we've been working on this Fall, Abandon and Pierre! These two games were initially developed over the summer.

Abandon is a whole new game, with nearly 50 new levels, many new features and exciting new gameplay.

Pierre has added new levels, new art, and new sounds, and the gameplay has been improved and updated.

We are excited to see people playing our games, and we look forward to hearing your opinions about them. We take our focus testing seriously - come on in, and let us know how our games are playing, so we can keep improving them!

Video Game Orchestra Presents ~Awakening~

december.jpgThe Video Game Orchestra (VGO) will hit the Berklee Performance Center (BPC) stage again on December 5th, 2009 at 7:30 pm, nine months after its previous premium sold out success at the venue.

Nearly a hundred musicians will be presenting new arrangements of the classic such as Super Mario and Final Fantasy, as well as music from newer games such as God of War, Silent Hill, and Metal Gear Solid. Featured guests include Wataru Hokoyama, an accomplished film/video game composer. His score for the SONY Playstation3 game "Afrika" has won him both critical acclaims and industry awards. He will be guest conducting an orchestral suite of Afrika.

"This concert ~Awakening~ is going to feature the full VGO, as it is waking up from a long 9 months of sleep," said Shota Nakama, the founder and director of VGO. "We will be representing diverse styles of music and our renowned symphonic rock style with even better, impressive performance quality. We will surprise you."

The concert is $10 for students or 18 under, and $15 for the general public ($5+ on the day of). Purchase can be made at either Ticketmaster or Berklee Performance Center, located at 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. (visit or call 617-747-2261 for more information.)

A pioneer in raising awareness of video game music repertoire, VGO makes its tribute by performing non-stop at different venues and video game related events. The show this early May in front of about 5000 people earned VGO praise for its outstanding performance and contribution to the video game industry. As what Boston Local media described, VGO "is the new sound for the new generation."

About the VGO

VGO is a contemporary orchestra that performs orchestral arrangements of video game music. Founded in May 2008, VGO is the first and only student-run orchestra that showcase these interactive media compositions. It comprises of a 45-piece symphony, a 40-piece choir, and a 5-piece rock band. The regional and international award-winning musicians come from over 20 countries. This multi-cultural diversity contributes to the source of VGO's unique signature.

Contact info

Shota Nakama
Creator/Artistic Director/Arranger

Po-Ya Chang
Production Manager

Friday Games at GAMBIT: Extreme Sports Edition

tony-hawks-project-8-20060929023835228_640w.jpgToday, Games at GAMBIT is getting Xtreme. We'll be playing a batch of Extreme Sports games (loosely defined). Join us at GAMBIT from 4:00 - 6:00. Bring your own Mountain Dew.

Game selections include:

  • Tony Hawk Underground

  • Skate

  • Wave Race

  • SSX 3

  • Jet Set Radio Future

  • Downhill Domination

  • Fight Night 3

  • Super Mario Strikers

That Was the Game of the Week!

Well folks, that wraps up this summer edition of Game of the Week. We certainly hope that is was informative, or interesting, or insightful, or intriguing, or any other nice adjective that starts with the letter "I".

If you have any questions about our games, about our lab, or about anything we do really, please don't hesitate to contact us. We want to thank you for reading, and we want to encourage you to check back to our website often!

Finally, we will leave you with this great poster. This is a game I would love to see!


Some Concept Team Logos

Every team needs a good logo. Here are some concepts done by the Chatterboxers:


One last one for all y'all!

The Many Kirbies of GAMBIT

This is a great piece of fan art by one of the Camaquen artists!


Come right back, ya hear!

The Truth about Game Development

Here, before your very eyes, is the incontrovertible truth about Game Development. Don't say we didn't tell you!


More coming up around the bend.

Nice Hat

Each producer earned a hat to signify their authority. Little did we know they were actually going to wear them!


More coming right up!

Camaquen Dev Team Blog

Hello and welcome to the release of Camaquen, a colorful reflection on different ways for games to treat conversation as a game mechanic. We on Team ChatterBoxers are very proud of our work and hope that you find something worth listening to in it. Please run here and give it a shot!

We'd like to talk a little bit about the experience of making this game, and provide some food for thought. We'll address something that went very right for us, but also a pitfall or two that we learned about.

First, a positive experience for us: our team had a number of people familiar with multiple disciplines. Our artists were capable of adapting to multiple styles and techniques, our producer had a substantial amount of coding experience, our writer was also a designer, and our QA had a surprising knowledge of animation techniques. Because of this, we weren't locked into tunnel vision about the demands of our individual tasks. It's important for teams, especially small ones, to be able to meet at the edges and understand, if not the details about each others' tasks, at least the constraints that everyone else is working under. Not only does it help you make placeholder assets or help come up with good solutions to shared problems, but it also pays off when one person has to hand off work to another person. Everyone's job on a game team is really interconnected, and knowing that changing one line of text here will mean an art asset over there has to be redone helps evaluate priorities and keep bugs free.


Being close keeps team members in contact and helps join the pieces together.

Of course, knowing other jobs and thinking about consequences doesn't take the place of good communications skills and procedures -- if you are willing to let tasks bleed across roles like this, it's even more important that we keep track of exactly's what being done and when. We made good use of task tracking software and daily reports in our SCRUM meetings to let each other know what was implemented when, and what pieces other team members needed to take care of. Because of this, people knew when they were being depended on, and our team ended up with a remarkably fast turn-around on most of our tasks. This in turn let us make lots of small adjustments very quickly, which helped a lot in tuning our interface and conversational models, which were key to the research goals of the project.


Disagreements happen, but are less disastrous when the team communicates often.

On behalf of Team ChatterBoxers, I'd like to say thank you to the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab staff and administration, to all of our co-workers who provided feedback, and most of all, to the players. Thanks and please enjoy Camaquen!


Concept artwork from one of our artists, Fabiola Garza

Early Background Art

This may be programmer art. Heck, it might be sound designer art!?! Either way, I'm giving it to you, because it was an early background asset.


See you folks tomorrow, for the last day of this edition of GOTW!

Equally Meticulous Story Bible

Here is the Story Bible from Camaquen. It is important to note how thoroughly detailed it is, even with information you don't directly receive from the game.

Story Bible.pdf

More coming up soon!

Meticulous Art Asset List

Here is a very meticulously maintained art asset list for Camaquen. Never underestimate the value of thorough organization.

Art Asset List.pdf

Do come back now, soon!

"The Sacred Grove" Concept Music

Here is a piece of music written for Camaquen that did not make it into the game. Hans Zimmer's scores for The Lion King movie and musical (namely "Shadowland" from the musical) were definitely an inspiration, and this piece actually fell a little too heavy on the side of dramatic flare to make the final cut for the game.

Come back soon for more great stuff!

Hard Times At The Sacred Grove

Here is a depiction of the sacred grove in a far worse condition than we are accustomed to seeing it in:


More coming right up.

Cat Movement (Scaring Cats)

We had several problems arise while working on our Scaring Cats idea. We tried to begin simply by looking at the movement of the cat through an obstacle course. By then, we had already generated a number of objects that the cat could interact with (a bag would attract the cat and cause the cat to slide across the floor, a hairdryer would scare the cat away, etc.) We wanted to be able to model the cat's interaction with both the objects and the player (a dog who could scare the cat in certain directions) in real time. We attempted to do so by using a grid-based game space and allowing the players to alternate movements (as if in a turn-based game). We were forced to decide how fast the cat and dog could move. The cat, we decided, could move at one of three speeds (1 square/ turn, 2 squares, 3 squares) and the dog could only move at the cat's medium speed at the fastest (2 squares). We set up several play-throughs to test this motion, wherein one team member set up an obstacle course (with the goal that the cat would move from point A to B simply by influence from the objects attractiveness/ repellent power) and the others moved the cat and dog. We quickly discovered that we had not defined the cat's interaction with the objects closely enough. Here's an overview of what we found:

The problem with our current play-testing is that there are too many variables that determine whether the cat interacts with the object:

1. Each object has a different radius of interaction AND
2. The nature of this radius depends on the direction from which the cat approaches the object AND
3. The nature of this radius depends on the speed that the cat approaches at

If the interaction occurs at all (unclear) it is then difficult to determine HOW the cat interacts with the object:

1. Does the cat interact at all?
2. Which is the resultant cat vector direction (can depend on speed, entrance angle)?
3. What is the resultant cat magnitude?


So this means that our bag (which is only accessible from the 'front' and has a radius of the spaces located at (-1,1) (0,1) (1,1) ) has 6 directions from which it can be uniquely approached . [E.g. if that cat approaches from <0 1> it will always enter the bag, but if it comes from <0 -1> it will never enter the bag]. Notice how difficult already it is to describe interactions when the cat is not approaching from one of the 8 primary directions. For instance if the cat is traveling from (1,2) to (1,1) to (1,0), this is completely unique from a diagonal approach and yet had not been included in our original analysis.

The cat can also be traveling at one of three speeds, each of which may have a unique effect on the interaction. E.g. If the cat is to the North East of the box and traveling Westward (different spatial thinking then we were using before, but necessary to describe the movement) then it will enter at (0,1) if traveling at speed 1, (-1,1) if traveling at speed 2, and not at all if traveling speed three. So three speeds, six directions... that means there are 18 unique interactions that must be defined for each object. That's too many for a naive user to be able to just 'pick up on' while trying out the game.
If this seems confusing, that's because it is.


- Should we simplify objects down to basic properties? Similar to the excel sheet we were working on--need simpler objects with less unique properties.
- Should we scrap this idea and move to sinks and sources? May be even harder to model.
- Should we eliminate the ability to move diagonally?
- Should we reduce the number of speeds?
- Should we alter our thinking here--should the cat interact with the SPACES around an object the same way every time (regardless of the direction it entered the space) and maybe only vary based on speed.
o There are a lot of problems with thinking in 'vectors'

Round 1

The first task of the semester for the Fast Prototyping Team was to come up with ideas for a game about a girl and her dog. One of the more intriguing concepts from our initial brainstorming session involved having the player control a blind girl who depends on her guide dog to get around (rejected idea: Blind Girl Frogger). But how do you prototype a game where your protagonist is blind when all of your playtesters can see? Our first challenge! In the end, we went with the somewhat obvious solution of simply requiring playtesters to close their eyes or look away from the game boards that we created. We also set up the boards to conceal certain information from the "dog" (who was allowed to see the board), since a dog would have a much more limited understanding of the world than a human would.

Unfortunately, when your playtesters and your designers are the same people, any steps you take to hide information about the game world will end up being useless when you actually play the game. So, in order to keep some playtesters in the dark without making any designers sit in a corner and twiddle their thumbs, we broke into two groups that would each come up with their own version of the prototype. There weren't a lot of constraints---specifically, the game had to have two players, with one player taking on the role of the dog and the other that of a blind person, and the person had to rely on the dog to find her way around an unfamiliar space.

The first group drew out a set of corridors and required the player and her dog--represented by a couple of little plastic cubes--to navigate from one end to the other. The "human" was not allowed to look at the board, so it was up to the dog to tell her which directions they could go and if something was blocking their way. The corridors were marked with things like "Danger!" and "?", representing (unsurprisingly) danger and unfamiliar objects, respectively, but no further details were included. This was to model the fact that the dog might not be able to identify a particular object (for example, a dog probably doesn't know what a mop is--he just sees it as a non-threatening object) and also to preserve the interspecies communication barrier--even if the dog can see something dangerous coming up, he can't tell his person exactly what it is (spike pit? large carnivorous plant?), only that it should be avoided. It was up to the person to investigate and overcome the obstacles using her other senses ("I listen for any strange noises") and her ability to pick up and identify, and in some cases use, strange objects. And just to make it more difficult, parts of the board were covered up and were only revealed when the human and dog arrived at a point where the dog would be able to see more of the map.

The second group envisioned their playing area as a large, cave-like space for the human and dog to explore. In this version, the object was to find an unspecified widget (again represented by a little plastic cube) located at one end of the cave and put it into a widget-shaped impression on an altar in another part of the cave, all the while avoiding dead ends and traps. The walls of the cave and its passages were constructed out of Play-Doh, and the human player had to keep her eyes closed and "navigate" using her finger to feel out the paths formed by those walls. The dog had the ability to move freely over the entire map, regardless of the human's position, and could tell the human which way she should go next or which areas were dangerous and should be avoided. In addition, the dog was able to pick up and carry objects in its mouth if the human ordered it to do so.

When the two groups re-joined to play the prototypes, we were surprised that they had turned out to be so different from each other. We had talked about the problem extensively prior to splitting up, and I think we felt that we were all pretty much on the same page. I was in the first group, and I don't think we even considered the idea of 3-D features that allowed the player to physically feel her way around the game world. I was particularly interested to see that the second group had not included a representation of the dog or the human in the world. The human's position was marked by the location of her finger, and since the dog was allowed to run all over the map--in essence, he could move to any location at any time he wanted, with no restrictions--there was no real need for him to have a token on the board. In that prototype, the dog was actually more of an all-seeing advisor than an in-world guide. In general, the dog behavior in the two prototypes was very different--the dog in the first prototype could do about three things (warn of danger, warn of an obstacle, and indicate available directions for travel), but the dog in the second was much, much more capable (more of a guide chimp, perhaps).

Splitting into two teams like this may have its disadvantages, but we usually find that it's valuable to do so because we get to experience different takes on a game that we might not have encountered if we'd stayed in our group of 4. The technique is also applicable to pretty much any of the kinds of games that we've been asked to consider this semester, from word games to zombie apocalypses (note: this applies only to game design. Technique may not be valid in the case of actual zombie apocalypse).

Sprint Spreadsheet

The Chatterboxers were very thorough in their organization, and you can see here one of their early sprint pipelines including the designated responsibilities for each team member.


See you folks tomorrow!

Emotion Icon Sketch

How do you design an icon for an emotion? Well for starters you make some sketches:


Come back for more!

More Notes

Here is another page of notes with a great UI sketch!


Come back soon for more.


All game development has pages of hand scribbled notes. Sometimes there are tons of pages of such notes. Here is one:


More coming up soon!

Word Bubble Tests

Happy Veterans Day everyone! We'll start today off with a sketch of word bubbles. It is challenging to design word bubbles to convey specific emotions, here is some testing done by the artists:


More coming up soon!

Research Goals

Here is the text of a document from the beginning of the summer titled "Research Goals." It is interesting to see where the teams often start with these projects.

July 8, 2009

Overall Research Question: What different interaction techniques are there for conversation in games besides dialogue trees?

This game fits in to Marleigh Norton's greater research into games based on conversations. This game will be one of a series which will hopefully illustrate a set of techniques game developers can use to represent conversation in games.

This specific game will look at the interplay of emotional state and conversation.

Rules to get there:
• The emotional states of the brothers will be represented by some sort of dynamic, interactive system.
• The system should reflect the personality types of the brothers.
• One brother's emotional state should be able to affect the other.
• Players should be able to make predictions on how the system works based on their personal experiences with communication. This doesn't mean all their predictions should always be correct, but most players who put in concerted effort should be able to figure it out eventually.

Other considerations:
• As an additional goal, we will not be using a branching structure in which the word choice changes based on player input. In particular, we're trying to get around the assumption that the writer needs to write several versions of the story to make the conversation seem different and responsive to player input. Still allowed are multiple endings, including ending the game early. Also, the underlying logic of the game can have a branching structure as long as it does not result in the writer having to write unique text for each branch.

Come back tomorrow for more!

Test Screen Layout

Here is an early test screen layout from when the team was considering how the UI for the game could be presented.


Come back soon!

Early Version of The Two Chiefs

Here is an early version of the two chiefs in the game.


More coming right up!

More Little Gods

Here is another set of sketches for the "little god" character.


See you soon.

Little Gods

As the games narrative moved more toward centering on Inca civilization, more sketches of a central "little god" character were created.


More coming right up!

Two More Characters

Here are two more characters from pre-production for Camaquen. I think they were named Dove and Arlo.


Come back tomorrow for some more.

Another Character Sketch

Here is another Camaquen character sketch. This one is titled "Glory."


More coming right up!

Zombie Prototype v2 (Weise Zombie Project)

Our primary goal with these prototypes was to explore the role of communication and information exchange within the game, particularly in terms of how this mechanism could be used to influence NPC characters. We wanted to examine a) how a player could obtain information regarding NPC's goals/ character/ desires, b) how a player could use this information to influence the NPCs to accomplish a common goal, and, to a lesser extent, c) how selective or lacking information would affect the scenario's outcome. Play testers (naive group members) were informed that their goal was to elicit the information from NPCs necessary to obtain a given objective.

Version 2: Save Drew, Save the World

We approached this prototype by beginning with the scenario and working backwards to the characters. The scene was set with two houses. DREW was visible to the player and was in the YELLOW HOUSE. The player could also see DORIS and MATT who were hidden behind a ROCK. There was also a RED HOUSE to the north.

The goal of the scenario was to rescue DREW. DREW was stuck inside a house that was BARRICADED to keep out zombies (this was a point of contention at one point, see notes). The ability to take down BARRIERS was not available to all characters. The player was told that he/she was a good fighter and would win 5/6 times.



- Loyal
o High follow orders
- Afraid
o Low fighting
- Weak
o 2/6 chance of winning fight


- Trusts Doris
o High group with DORIS
o Follows DORRIS' orders
- Knows were PHILLIP is
- Normal fighter
o Kills 3/6 zombies


- Badass
o Kills 5/6 zombies
- Independent
o Will not follow orders that put her at risk


- Friends with DREW
o High will to group with DREW
- Knows how to build BARRIERS

We designed the level with the intention that the player would approach the YELLOW house to save DREW. Upon reaching the YELLOW HOUSE the player learned that DREW did not know how to take down BARRIERs and was trapped. The player could choose to fight the zombies at this point, seek out the NPCs, or visit the RED HOUSE. If the player approached the RED HOUSE, they would see a barricaded house and would not be able to enter. The player had to talk to MATT and DORIS to see PHILLIP. Upon talking to MATT and DORIS, the player would learn about the NPC's inner states. If the player asked them to join his/her party, DORIS would decline, explaining that she would not join the player if there was not a benefit to her/ MATT. The player could either demonstrate his/her benefit by killing the zombies or by furthering the conversation. If the player inquired whether MATT or DORIS knew how to take down barriers, MATT would respond that he could not, and if he could, he would save PHILLIP, who was in the RED HOUSE. The player could offer to save PHILLIP. Still, DORIS and MATT would not leave the ROCK unless sufficient danger was removed. Once the zombies were killed, DORIS and MATT joined the player's party and proceeded to the RED HOUSE. At the RED HOUSE, the player, MATT, and DORIS could together generate enough volume to alert PHILLIP to their presence. From here, PHILLIP dismantled the BARRIERS and would talk to the player's party. The player needed to convince PHILLIP to join his/her party. PHILLIP could be convinced if he was told the player wanted to rescue DREW as PHILLIP was friends with DREW. The player's party could proceed to the YELLOW HOUSE where they would rescue DREW. PHILLIP could take apart the BARIERS but DREW would not come out if there were zombies. The player could choose either to kill the remaining zombies or try to convince DREW to follow his/her lead. If the player ordered DREW to follow, DREW would follow, providing the player did not get too close to zombies.


- The dice rolling mechanism for fighting zombie's didn't work out so well, due to the still relatively high probability of death

• The randomization of the fighting was included for two reasons-- primarily to simplify the scenario, and secondarily to provide the player with a good reason *not* to engage the zombies. We wanted to include a sense of risk to knocking out zombies.
•This was not fully accomplished by the dice, as there was no real penalty in losing (play began over again).
•Perhaps a better way to model would include the use of a limited resource for fighting, so players must carefully choose which zombies to engage. This may also represent the players 'willingness to fight' as explained in previous posts.

- We needed to explain why DREW couldn't undo the barricades. The best explanation was, perhaps, because DREW entered the building with someone else who had been bitten. The person barricaded the room and then died. This was still a stretch.
• When using a GM to manage paper prototype playtests, this person must know the game *very well*. This is a problem we have encountered several times. A GM must be able to produce conversation on the fly and be able to explain why the set-up is the way it is. They must have a very clear understanding of the rules, and know how and when to answer questions. This is critical to a quality playthrough of the prototype.

A game with one button, no visuals?

Marleigh Norton came to our prototyping group with a daring concept for a game: no visuals, only audio. Only one button. And it's a conversation game. How?

Every time you press the button, you interrupt the person speaking to you with an interjection. The nature of your interjection varies based on when in the sentence you interrupt. Press the button early in a sentence, and you're likely to blurt out a rude interruption. Press it late, and you might say something more thoughtful.

So how to prototype this? We all came up with our own prototype (divide and conquer!). I figured that it would be easiest to have the player be faced with a ranting character. This way, if the player didn't say anything, the character would just keep on talking. Also, rants are filled with short declarations and rhetorical questions, which provide loads of natural interjection points. For my prototype, the player is conversing with a friend whose marriage is breaking down. Depending on how to player chooses to interject, the friend might be comforted, annoyed, or discover that the player is in fact having an affair with his wife.

One Button Dialogue Example.JPG

Crude written prototype of the dialogue game, with cards showing which phrase to proceed to based on when the player interjects

Each line of dialogue has several interjection points. If the player chooses to interject, the interjection corresponding to the next interjection point will be read. This will then lead to a different piece of dialogue being spoken in response. This process repeats until the player has ended the conversation, usually by angering or comforting his friend.

The Revolution Begins Tonight!

A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players
Monday, November 9, 2009
5-6 PM at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Jesper Juul chronicles the rise of the casual games: puzzle games, the Nintendo Wii, and music games. These are video games that reach beyond the traditional video game audience; games that redefine what a video game can be, and who can be a video game player.

Just published by MIT Press, A Casual Revolution is Jesper's take on what is happening with video games right now:

  • Why is the Nintendo Wii more successful than the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3?
  • Why is the audience for video games expanding?
  • Who plays Bejeweled, and why?
  • What is a casual player? What is casual game design?
  • Are casual games a return to the arcade game, or are they something new?
  • How did Solitaire become one of the most popular video games?
  • What is the secret behind the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band?
  • Why is Parcheesi/Ludo a social game? Why is Animal Crossing?
  • Does the rise of casual games mean the downfall of hardcore games?
  • ... and more!

A Different Story

Here is one possible story/sketch the team looked at from early in production.


Come back soon for more!

Another Sketch

Here is another character sketch from early Camaquen development. This is a character named Hazel.


Come back soon for more.

Early Camaquen Sketch

Before there were two kings, there were sketches, lots of character sketches.

Here is one!


More coming up soon!

New GOTW - Camaquen

Hey folks, our final GOTW from the summer is now up:


It is a dandy of a little game all about dialog. Well, it is also about a god named Alux, two feuding brothers, an ancient South American civilization, the downfall of humanity, and the fate of a sacred grove. But mostly it is about dialog.

There's only one way to really find out about it though, and that is to go play for yourself. Head here to play!

When you are done, click here to check out the video podcast with Marleigh and to see other behind the scenes content from the making of Camaquen.

Camaquen - GOTW

Well, here is our final summer installment in this little Game of the Week series we have been running. This last game is titled Camaquen. Check out the video podcast:

More stuff coming up soon.

Word Puzzle 101


After some good, hard thinking, the Sophocles group approached our prototyping team to come up with some quick and dirty paper prototypes for one of three minigames. They had already decided they wanted to focus on three areas--a game about violence, a game about escape, and a game about words. We were asked to focus on the game about words, inspired by the riddle of the sphinx in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.


An initial brainstorm gave way to two groups of thought. As such, we decided to break up the task and work in groups of two. Our group focused specifically on the idea of words building a bridge or tower from the player to a desired object. Since words are built with units, we gathered that each unit could become a building block in the tower. A structure could be built using these blocks by overlapping matching units in words. This could be achieved either with morphemes (the smallest meaningful units of a word) or with individual letters.

The unit-stacking portion could either be open-ended or restricted based on our design. In an easier to design, more restricted model, players would be given a scaffold of 'blanks' within which they could place letters/ morphemes. This may only have one solution depending on the design. Given that there were only one solution, players would be given cues as to which letters would overlap (see figure).


A more open-ended design would ideally allow players to build up as they go, with only limited constraints. This could be accomplished with a drag-and-drop interface using 'unit blocks' of 2-3 letters. Players could build vertically or horizontally such that the final result may look like a crossword. To ramp up difficulty, certain restraints could be built into the building landscape (e.g. a long word might span through the middle of the screen so that the player has to match the letters to build through it).

We built a quick prototype of the first version as described above. Some letters were filled in to ease the process for the player. This may or may not have significantly changed gameplay, which would need to be considered before taking this concept further. The initial board and final result are shown below.

Initial Board

Final Board

Yay Team!

Finally, here is a team photo so you can see the talented individuals who made Abandon possible.


Come back on Monday for another awesome Game of the Week.

Final Version GDD

Here is the final version of the Abandon GDD.


More coming right up!

More Menu Concept Art

Here is another piece of menu screen concept art.


More coming up soon!

Menu Concept Art

Here are some concepts for main menu screens. These are from when the game was titled "Alone."


More coming up later today!


Here is an interesting early character design I just stumbled upon. It breaks the "rough" chronological order of these postings, but it was too great to ignore. Without further ado, I introduce, Disgruntled Flamethrower Man.


More coming up soon!

Character 3D Model

Here is a 3D Model of the main character from Abandon!


See you all tomorrow!

An Early Version of the GDD

Here is an early version of the Abandon GDD.


See you soon!

Early Gameplay Screen

Here is an gameplay screen from one of the early builds of abandon. You can see some interesting things at play here, including emoticons (exclamation points) and a different score counter.


More coming up soon.

Protagonist Color Comparo

Here is the main protagonist, in some different colored outfits!


More coming up soon!

Meet the new bug, same as the old bug

Sometimes programming feels a lot like playing Whack-A-Mole. You get one bug sorted out, then another one rears its head, and then another, and then somehow fixing that one brings the first one back again. And it brings a friend.

Now that we have Maya installed, I wanted to start incorporating the original Abandon models into the Unity version of the game. First I found out, much to my annoyance, that I couldn't just change the mesh on the model player I had been using, because the Maya models had multiple meshes. (Say that three times fast.) So I had to create a new object for the new Maya model... and suddenly all those problems I had with the physics functions, where I couldn't get the avatar to stop bouncing off of things, came back to haunt me, and the previous fixes (increasing the rigidbody's mass and drag) proved ineffective. Plus, despite gravity being turned on, under certain circumstances the avatar will end up hovering in midair:


On the plus side, now that I've got the hang of adding meshes, I can start to put in the shapes for the household objects, too. So currently the avatar is getting chased around the screen by a bathtub.


An Interesting Sketch

The title of this sketch is "Lonely."

Pretty interesting.


See you tomorrow.

Games at GAMBIT 11/6: Abstract Shooters

This week's Games at GAMBIT will feature games where something flies around and possibly shoots things. At least, I think that's what is happening. Anyways, come play the games and debate the issue with us from 4:00 - 6:00!

Games include:

  • Tempest
  • Space Giraffe
  • Transcend
  • Everyday Shooter
  • Rez
  • Geometry Wars
  • Zoop

With a primary emphasis on streamlining a 3D animation workflow, one task before the Abandon team was to create many 3D objects to automatically rig. Here are some of them.


See you in a little bit!

Early Logo Concept

Here is an early team logo. In it you can see the development of the overall game asthetic with the black and white and red colors in stark contrast with each other:


See you soon!

Yet More Character Sketches

Here are a few more sketches for characters in the game.


Check back for more soon!

More Character Sketches

Here is another more developed character sketch from Abandon. You can see how the character is starting to transform into the protagonist that is in the current final build.


Come back soon!

Our Intrepid Spaceman

Here is another piece of concept art of our intrepid spaceman Ralph, surrounded by blown out junk.


Come back for more!

Richard Rouse audio podcast now available

The audio podcast of Richard Rouse III's presentation on "Cinematic Games" is now available on the Comparative Media Studies Website. Click here to subscribe or enter into your podcast client or RSS reader of choice. If you use iTunes, just click this link. You can also subscribe to the CMS email notification service.

Richard_Rouse.jpgMany people talk about "cinematic" games, but what does this really mean? Over their century of existence, films have been using a range of techniques to create specific emotional responses in their audience. Instead of simply using more cut-scenes, better script writers, or making more heavily scripted game experiences, game designers can look to film techniques as an inspiration for new techniques that accentuate what games do well. This lecture presents film clips from a number of classic movies, analyzes how they work from a cinematic standpoint, and then suggests ways these techniques can be used in gameplay to create even more stimulating experiences for gamers, including examples from games that have successfully bridged the gap.

Richard Rouse III is a game designer and writer, best known for The Suffering horror games and his book Game Design: Theory & Practice. He is currently the Lead Single Player Designer on the story-driven first-person shooter Homefront at Kaos Studios in New York City.

One More Disco Storyboard

Here is another disco storyboard that offers a different narrative structure for another type of gameplay.


Come back later today for some more content!

Disco Storyboard Sketch

Here is another storyboard sketch from early in production. This one is a little bit different!


See you soon!

Early Protagonist Sketch

Here is one of the early sketches for the main protagonist of the game. You can see the origins of the final style in this sketch.


Come back soon for more!

Early Storyboard Concepts

Here are some early storyboard concepts from Abandon. Since animation of inanimate objects was central to the research, you can see that reflected in these two rough fictions.


More coming up later today.

Early Gameplay Sketch

Here is an early gameplay sketch with a bookcase chasing/following a character. You can see the seeds for the final Abandon game in this sketch.


More coming right up!

This Time, A Spaceman

This time, he is a spaceman after a long day of work collecting space junk!


(This one makes me laugh harder)!
Come back in about an hour!

Construction Worker

Here is another early character sketch from Abandon of a construction worker character!


(That picture always makes me laugh).
More soon.

Early Character Sketch

Here is an early character sketch from Abandon!


Come back for more soon!

GOTW - Abandon

So this weeks Game of the Week is a little different. For starters, it is in stunning 3D! Also, it has two full-time GAMBITeers on the team. Check out the video:

Come back soon for more!

Tim Schafer's Metal Metaphysics.

NOTE: I wrote the following immediately after finishing Brutal Legend for the first time. It contains complete story spoilers, so be warned.

Okay, I see how the story works now. Yes, Eddie is from the future. His demon mother traveled to the future--which is apparently our present--and died soon after she had him there. Eddie's belt buckle was a originally a talisman intended to return her to the past if it ever touched her blood. This is, apparently, what we see happening in the opening cinematic. Eddie is crushed by a stage prop, blood splashes on his belt buckle, and suddenly the metal god Ormagoden appears to bring him back to the past (and apparently heal him in the process). This is why Eddie sprouts demon wings during battle scenes, why he wields demon weapons with ease, etc. It all makes sense, was clearly thought all out, and, yes, was foreshadowed from the very beginning. Yet...

My problem with Brutal Legend is that it tries too hard to justify a romantic logic that needs no justification. I see now that I was mistaken, but my original impression of the gameworld was that it was basically Eddie's fantasy. Either his dying fantasy of a heavy metal paradise--the world as he wanted it to be--or some future version of Earth which had been destroyed and remade according to his musical tastes. At first I felt the legends you find all over the gameworld, which say things like "In the Beginning...there was Ormagoden...", were suggesting that Eddie's love of metal had been so powerful that his death created an actual god. I thought the legends were explaining what happened between the moment the opening cut-scene faded out (with hundreds of fans cheering the newly created Ormagoden as he screamed fire into the sky) and when Eddie woke up in the temple. I thought that 10,000 years had passed, and his love of metal--personified as a giant metal god--had shattered and rebuilt the world according to what Eddie thought was cool. This is why all the silliness of "And God created... Tailpipes! And Said they were... Awesome!" felt genuinely funny and clever to me. I thought Tim Schafer had come up with an ingenious way of explaining how a world that functioned on the logic of heavy metal album covers could exist: by suggesting that a roadie's true metal-ness had spontaneously granted him the power of creation. Because, I mean, come on... that's the only explanation that could possibly suffice, right? Heavy metal album covers are funny precisely because their logic is so nakedly inexplicable, that you simply have to surrender to the knowledge that there is no possible organizing force at work other than their makers' love of leather, cars, bikes, the occult, and musical equipment.

Near the beginning it felt to me like Brutal Legend understood this very well and had its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. The only organizing force for all its absurd imagery seemed to be Eddie's love of metal. Why do all these things exist and the world work this way? Because Eddie thinks they're awesome, obviously. This was explanation enough for me, and I felt the game gained a lot of charm from expressing the romantic logic of metal fandom with such uncompromising clarity. This was only enhanced by the implication of an either morbid subtext (Eddie's actually dead) or apocalyptic subtext (the world was actually destroyed) which kept the fantasy from seeming mindlessly fetishistic.

To find out I was totally wrong, that Schafer actually expects me to believe that this world--this world of tailpipes, leather, mudflap girls, choppers, giant stereo speakers, and 1980's hair-styles--actually existed thousands of years ago on our actual planet Earth? I find that explanation less believable than no explanation at all. But then I suppose if I start asking such questions and saying it doesn't make sense, I'd simply be told it was like questioning the logic of a metal album cover. You could easily make that argument, that if I'm okay with it begin Eddie's fantasy, I should be just as okay with it being Tim Schafer's fantasy. But somehow I'm not... maybe for the same reason I prefer the outright fantasy of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 to the absurd pseudo-science of Metal Gear Solid 4. There's a quote I remember from a film critic criticizing the Midichlorians in Star Wars: Episode 1. He said "Adding physics to the metaphysics doesn't work." By trying to explain something magical too much you run the risk of making it seem both less magical and unsatisfactorily scientific.

Metal obviously needs no explanation. If Schafer had the conviction to really base the foundation of his entire story on this assumption it would have carried his vision all the way through to the end. Instead it only carries about half way, when explanations of the world's complex mythology begin to dilute a simple, compelling truth: that the best and only reason to do anything in Brutal Legend is because it fucking rocks.

11/9/09: Jesper Juul leads A Casual Revolution

A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players
Monday, November 9, 2009
5-6 PM at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Disembodied head

Spending the winter of 2006-07 in New York City, I was beginning to lose count of the times I had heard the same story: somebody had taken the new Nintendo Wii video game system home to parents, grandparents, partner, none of whom had ever expressed any interest whatsoever in video games, and these non-players of video games had been enthralled by the physical activity of the simple sports games, had enjoyed themselves, and had even asked that the video game be brought along for the next gathering. What was going on?

Jesper Juul chronicles the rise of the casual games: puzzle games, the Nintendo Wii, and music games. These are video games that reach beyond the traditional video game audience; games that redefine what a video game can be, and who can be a video game player.

Just published by MIT Press, A Casual Revolution is Jesper's take on what is happening with video games right now:

  • Why is the Nintendo Wii more successful than the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3?
  • Why is the audience for video games expanding?
  • Who plays Bejeweled, and why?
  • What is a casual player? What is casual game design?
  • Are casual games a return to the arcade game, or are they something new?
  • How did Solitaire become one of the most popular video games?
  • What is the secret behind the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band?
  • Why is Parcheesi/Ludo a social game? Why is Animal Crossing?
  • Does the rise of casual games mean the downfall of hardcore games?
  • ... and more!

Jesper Juul has been working with the development of video game theory since the late 1990's. He is a visiting arts professor at the NYU Game Center, but has previously worked at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Lab at MIT and at the IT University of Copenhagen. His book Half-Real on video game theory was published by MIT press in 2005. His recently published book, A Casual Revolution, examines how puzzle games, music games, and the Nintendo Wii are bringing video games to a new audience. He maintains the blog The Ludologist on "game research and other important things".

Confessions of an Impatient Cheater

I have a confession. I never beat The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past without infinite magic. I used infinite lives to finish Hyperzone, Thunder Spirits, or any of the other SNES scrolling shooters that I loved. My first full play-through of Final Fantasy 6 was made a little easier by starting the game with four of the most powerful weapons and accessories. Game Genie made it all possible. Did I miss out on some of the fun by cheating my way through challenges?

"Some of the puzzles will be hard. But when you manage to solve those hard puzzles, you will feel very good about it. The game will feel very rewarding. Don't rob yourself of that feeling by reading a walkthrough! Please do not use a walkthrough." That bit of advice is from Jonathan Blow's official Braid "walkthrough." He even encourages the player by confirming that "All the puzzles can be solved. Some of them might take an hour or two, but you will get it. If you try. And you will feel cool and smart." Of course, this is assuming that the cool and smart feeling you get as a reward outweighs the two frustrating hours you spent staring at a single-screen puzzle. For some players I'm sure it is a sufficient reward. I'd compare the feeling to that of players spending hours memorizing enemy patterns in Ikaruga to get a high score or making a record speed run of Super Metroid. This hard fun results in an emotion called fiero.

The key distinction between a high score or speed run and finishing Braid is that mastery is a choice. The player chooses how much time they want to devote to perfecting their play, but will already have experienced all of the game's content. Braid requires 100% mastery just to progress to the ending. If the player wants to see the mind-blowing twist at the end, they are supposed to just tough it out.

But what if the player isn't as affected by fiero, if it isn't their personal "ultimate Game Emotion"? What if their biggest emotional reward is curiosity or relaxation or excitement? That player wonders what happens in Tim's quest for his princess, wants to see what the next puzzle's twist on time manipulation is, or finds the art direction fascinating. Wouldn't their net enjoyment of the game be increased if they used a walkthrough to avoid some of the frustration? Wouldn't it be nice if they could press a button and have the avatar automatically progress through the next puzzle so the player could still see the solution? That's what a feature in New Super Mario Bros Wii can do, and it has been faced with very mixed reactions.

A major element of the argument against such an automated walkthrough is that it promotes accessibility over engagement. Leigh Alexander claimed "History has also never disproven... the principle that any medium and any message degrades the wider an audience it must reach. Art was never served by generalization, nor language by addressing all denominators. Entertainment for the masses ultimately becomes empty." Well now, dissecting that argument can fill a blog post in itself. But in the case of Braid, the casual player won't be able to experience some of the most artistically challenging content. It's not that the art is difficult to interpret; the art is in fact hidden behind a barrier. Anyone can look at a painting and see every detail. They can read every word of a novel or watch every second of a movie. Understanding or appreciating the art is a different matter. Imagine if halfway through a novel you had to take an SAT-style verbal skills test to unlock the second half.

What Game Genie allowed me to do was complete the game. I was playing SNES while in elementary school and didn't have the skills or patience to memorize attack patterns, but I really wanted to see what happened in the next level. In some cases, I was able to play around more freely with the mechanics when aided by cheat codes. For instance in Link to the Past, magic is limited such that some of the more powerful items can only be used sparingly. I remember using infinite magic to turn the Cane of Somaria into my primary weapon since creating a magic block that explodes in four directions was a fun twist on combat.

One of the reasons I feel the quality of my experience playing games with Game Genie was preserved is that the game didn't do everything for me. In Zelda I still had to solve puzzles (though I did use a strategy guide occasionally). Even in shooters where I had infinite lives, I would try to kill as many enemies as possible and would be disappointed when I died. I determined my own level of challenge by choosing not only what cheat codes to use, but how to approach my play experience. The automated walkthrough still allows a player to be challenged by puzzles; it is a choice whether or not to use the feature. If a player doesn't want to their experience to be "spoiled," then they could just not use the walkthrough. Or they should only use the walkthrough on puzzles that have them completely stumped. It's only different from including an easy mode if you think the challenge of the gameplay trumps the desire of a less skilled (or less patient) player to continue forwards.

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