segunda-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2017

MIND ALONE: an experimental mobile game

1.Introduction

Mind Alone (2017/2018) is an experimental mobile game that I created in a partnership with Sioux, a Brazilian gaming publisher (it'll be launched in February). The main mechanics is puzzle-based (ADAMS, 2014) and most part of the gaming interface is built using alphabetical characters, only. Narrative is the main feature in this case and puzzle mechanics create the perfect blend for the gameplay. The main idea of the game is to follow the notion that “story, dialogue, character profiles, etc., should all be created in a way that add to the design of the gameplay” (INCE, 2006, p.36).



Based with slight modifications on the “High Concept Document” proposed by Adams and Rollings (2009, p.63), in this brief paper we aim to discuss some main features from Mind Alone’s game designing process, its business model conception, and how an experimental mobile game can be used to promote a gaming studio and become an example for game designing classes.

It is important to highlight that the “High Concept Document” (HCD) is an interesting exercise of “elevator pitch”; in other words: the document must be brief, objective, take no more than 10 minutes to read, and contain the essential features from the game. This kind of document is a good tool for game designers to register ideas for further consulting, and to explain ideas to studios/publishers/gaming companies.

Below we present the main features from Mind Alone described in the HCD format.

2.Mind Alone’s High Concept Document

Name of the game: Mind Alone
Team: Vicente Martin Mastrocola (game design, sound design, information architecture); Gabriel Romano (user experience, Unity programming); Guilherme Camargo (business model; planning strategy).
Publisher: Sioux
Country and year: Brazil (São Paulo), 2017/2018

Game summary: Mind Alone is a non-competitive single-player game based on plot/story-related. The player embodies the role of a character trapped in his own mind. It is impossible to say if they are dreaming, lying in a coma or dead. To reach the answer for this mystery, the player must solve a series of puzzles; each puzzle is a memory that brings hints of what happened. The memories start in the character’s childhood and advance until actual days. The player must solve all the puzzles to reach the surface of the conscience. Mind Alone is an authorial game and does not demand special licenses.

Gaming references: The Witness (Thekla Inc., 2016); Dark Room (Doublespeak Games, 2013); Lifeline (Three Minute Games, 2016). Games with a focus in narrative features and a clear invitation to players become “co-creators” of the plot.

Player’s motivation: the character needs help to wake up from the prison of their mind, in which they are confined in an infinite loop of disconnected memories. Players must solve the puzzles, which have different difficulty levels, to reach the surface of conscience.

Keywords: puzzle game; mystery; terror; enigma; mobile, transmedia; immersive; narrative

Target audience: 16+ year-old players, fans of puzzle/enigmas, escape the room games, and horror/terror literature.

Highlights: game 95% created using only alphabetical characters with interesting artistic interface. Freeware. Some puzzles offer transmediatic features inviting players to explore blogs and sites. Fast. Dual language: Portuguese and English.

Platform: mobile game developed for iOS and Android systems (created with Unity programming).

Game designing goals: through dark/mysterious narrative and puzzle-based gameplay, offers the players an experience of immersion, fear and tension. Generates thought-provoking puzzles with a simple interface.

Music and sound design: dark ambient soundtrack with incidental sounds (doors opening, moans, screams, piano notes, etc.). Some sounding references come from projects like Lustmord, Robert Rich and Zoät·Aon.

Business model: freeware. The goal of the game is to participate in game designing contests, festivals and gaming fairs to promote Sioux studio. As a freeware game, another goal is to use Mind Alone in game designing classes.

Mechanics examples: Mind Alone uses various smartphone features to constitute its gameplay. There are puzzles that use touch screen, assembly of elements, movement of the device (through accelerometer and gyroscope) and puzzles with textual responses. Below, we can analyze some puzzle wireframes with mechanics:

Puzzle example 1:

Solution: turn the smartphone to 90o to move the words from the shelf to the ground.

Puzzle example 2:

Solution: touch the dots in order to create a star pattern. If the player does not touch in the right sequence, the lines will disappear.

Puzzle example 3:

Solution: the player must search and touch the word “ON” in the middle of the characters. The screen will become white and the next puzzle will appear.

Puzzle example 4:

Solution: this puzzle is a transmedia enigma; the answer is outside of the game. Players must access the URL https://imoldforthis.blogspot.com.br/ to verify the image of some trees and type the answer in the blank field.

3.Final thoughts

Despite being a free mobile game, Mind Alone is one important tool for Sioux studio to present its work and participate in game designing contests and gaming fairs. The game is also a case to be used in the classroom and to discuss how to create independent experimental/artistic games, and to digress on how the gaming industry is plural in this sense. The strategy of distributing a free game could guarantee other profits like posts in specialized gaming websites, discussions in academic articles, and prizes in gaming contests etc.

Following the thoughts of Fullerton et al. (2008, p.15-16), Mind Alone used one very synthetic game design process based on stages: 1) conceptual stage: to define the game’s theme; 2) brainstorm stage: to think how the theme will materialize on the gaming interface; 3) Physical prototype/pre-prototype stage: to create a fast pre-visualization of the game using paper, pen and simple components; 4) Layout stage: to establish the initial concepts of the interface; 5) Digital prototype and test stage: with the previous mechanics and first layouts, it is possible to develop a simple version to be played on browser or in smartphones. In this stage, it is possible to start the beta-testing sessions; 6) Production stage: the feedbacks from the digital prototype beta-test sessions are the main information to produce the final version of the game; 7) Evaluation stage: to make the final tests to assure it is error-free; 8) Launching stage: to put the game available for download in mobile platforms (Android and iOS). It is important to highlight that, during this whole process, the game is documented using specific files (like the “High Concept Document” discussed previously).

By discussing the creative process and the business model structuration of Mind Alone, we hope to demonstrate how strong is the relationship between players and gaming companies in the contemporary digital gaming ecosystem. We claim it is of utmost importance to use a methodological process, even for small productions. We can see the importance of working with a consistent methodology and it is possible to imagine the iterative process applied in bigger projects. We hope we can contribute to the field of gaming studies and that this paper earns future developments and inspire new relevant discussions.

The Brazilian gaming market, as an emergent market, reveals itself as a privileged ambient to observe these game design processes. We welcome the opportunity to present this relevant discussion as a means of contributing to the on-going efforts in exploring the gaming market in contemporary culture.



References:

ADAMS, Ernest. Fundamentals of puzzle and casual game design. San Francisco: Pearson, 2014.
ADAMS, Ernest; ROLLINGS, Andrew. Fundamentals of game design. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.
FULLERTON, Tracy, et al. Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2008.
INCE, Steve. Writing for video games. London: A & C Black Publishers Limited, 2006.

domingo, 26 de novembro de 2017

GAME ON 2017

In December 9th I'll be in Buenos Aires (Argentina) talking about my new mobile game MIND ALONE (that I created with Sioux Studio). The presentation will happen at the event GAME ON - one festival focused on experimental and artistic games. Below you can check the reel with some games (mine included):



Below, my presentation's flyer.



As soon as possible I'll share the content from my presentation here.

#GoGamers

domingo, 19 de novembro de 2017

Immersing deeply in gameplay through sound

From time to time, I like to replay games so I can have new points of view and (re) discover aspects and elements of game design, gameplay, narrative or creative process. Last weekend, checking my Apple Cloud to verify some old downloads, I found this very unique game: Dark Echo.



Created by RAC7 Studio the game offers an experience to “explore a mysterious world through sound”. And “sound” is the core and keyword of this game. Using only a black interface with minimal white sound waves ricocheting around the scenario, the player is invited to explore a kind of a dungeon filled with monsters. Check the gameplay:



It operates by touching the screen to walk and generate the sound waves. The important detail is the fact that the sounds of your steps will attract terrible “monsters” (again, you will only hear the creatures’ grunts) and sometimes you need to run into the darkness. Anxiety is an important game design component in this example. The whole game is based in it, and all fear/horror/terror reactions derive from it.

Sound is strategically built in this case, the perfect blend between the minimal interface and the sounding experience. This is a great example of how we can construct a game using few elements to create big impact.

#GoGamers

domingo, 29 de outubro de 2017

What isn’t an advergame

We have already discussed the idea of advergames here at GAMING CONCEPTZ (you can check it here and here). On the other hand, it is also important to contextualize what cannot be considered an advergame.

We’ve already explained that an advergame is an advertising piece of campaign that : requires planning and an interface that puts together a brand/product/service and the gameplay

In this context, an advergame is not a ready-made game that one can simply insert a logo or a company’s feature. In the following hypothetical example below, we see the interface of the classic Pac-Man game with elements from McDonald's brand. To insert these elements on the gaming interface does not make this game an advergame; there is no strategic view or branding planning, we only notice elements scattered in a videogame screen.



According to Cavallini (2006), the notion of advergame – a neologism formed from the juxtaposing of the words “advertising” and “game” – could be described as a marketing strategy that uses games, mainly electronic, to advertise brands and products. That includes a large range that goes from complex games that are developed specifically for advertising purposes to common casual games – much more complex than to only insert a logo in a classic gaming interface.



Reference:

CAVALLINI, Ricardo. (2006). O marketing depois de amanhã. São Paulo: Digerati Books.

#GoGamers

segunda-feira, 16 de outubro de 2017

Blood, sweat, and pixels: the triumphant, turbulent stories behind how video games are made

In this moment I'm reading the excellent book "Blood, sweat, and pixels: the triumphant, turbulent stories behind how video games are made". True stories about how the work in the gaming industry could be full of anxiety and despair.

Jason Schreier (the author) interviewed more than 100 professionals from this field and the result is a book with many different views about the creative process behind a game, the difficulties, the mistakes and victories.

Schreier (2017) in the introduction of the book discusses about why is so hard to make games. The author points out that: 1) games are interactive; 2) technology is constantly changing; 3) the tools are always different; 4) scheduling is impossible; 5) it's impossible to know how "fun" a game will be until you've played it. From this point to the end, in each chapter, one game is used as an example to explain the how this area (as the title of the book says) is full of "blood, sweat, and pixels".



Excellent reading.

Click here to buy.



Reference:

SCHREIER, Jason. Blood, sweat, and pixels: the triumphant, turbulent stories behind how video games are made. New York: Harper, 2017.

domingo, 1 de outubro de 2017

About gaming narrative

The gaming field is a plural space for different genders, styles and types of products. Nowadays, we have a multifaceted environment where indie games coexist with AAA productions; one place in which hardcore gamers are experiencing extremely challenging games in consoles and, at the same time, casual games in their smartphones. We are facing an ecosystem where games could be played anytime, anywhere.

In this sense, there are abstract games that are completely based in mechanics, with no storytelling background, and games fully developed in complex narratives. In the very beginning of gaming industry, we didn’t have much to tell in the limited interfaces. Pong, as example, is about bouncing a square ball using a vertical rectangle. On the other hand, Donkey Kong, for Atari console, has an interesting narrative layer where the hero must save the lady from the giant gorilla on the top of the building. Many years in advance, we can find some publishers like TellTale or Quantic Dream that created games fully based on narrative components like Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and many others.



As we’ve discussed previously, it is a market full of opportunities for many types of ludic products. However, in this post I want to focus my attention in some interesting narrative features and how they are important in a gaming project.

First of all, it is essential to point out that the player “is at once the subject and the object of the play” (EHRMANN, 1968, p.56). We must always keep that in mind in any kind of gaming project. The game is an inanimate thing: codes, pieces, cardboards, miniatures etc., but the experience with the game is full of life. This experience is what we need to focus in: how we will deliver a good experience to the player.

A good narrative is one possible way to deliver a meaningful experience to the player. Following some ideas from Dansky (2007, p.5), it is possible to say that

On the most basic level, narrative strings together the events of the game, providing a framework and what can alternately be called a justification, a reason, or an excuse for the gameplay encounters. At its best, narrative pulls the player forward through the experience, creating the desire to achieve the hero’s goals and, more importantly, see what happens next. At its worst, narrative merely sets up the situation and turns the players loose to do as they see fit. It achieves these goals through three important techniques: immersion, reward and identification”.

This author (DANSKY, 2007, p.5-6) also explains that there are three fundamental pillars that we need to think about gaming narrative:

1) Immersion: in a simple way, it refers to the state of mind where a person is completely absorbed in what they are doing (we’ve already discussed this feature using the idea of FLOW in this post); immersion refers to the moment in which we are so involved with the game that time passes different and we can’t notice the world outside the experience. We are talking about games, but a good book/movie/conversation could have the same effect. Consuming many references is the secret to create a good narrative.

2) Reward: Dansky (2007, p.6) says that narrative can also be a reward to the player and “the narrative events can be revealed gradually, delivered as rewards for achieving in-game goals”. As an example, in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice great part of the game’s rewards come from narrative pieces that tells us the background of the main character and some tales/legends from the Nordic culture.



3) Identification: something that, in the gaming context, provides justification for the actions during the experience. In Papers Please, for example, you assume the role of an immigration police officer from a dystopian nation and your job is to stamp entry visas. You must take some moral decisions based on the characters’ backgrounds and part of the meaning of this experience comes from the identification feature of the game.



Narrative in games is a great subject to discuss in future posts. Soon, I’ll bring a wide discussion about it.

#GoGamers


References:

DANSKY, Richard. Introduction to game narrative. BATEMAN, Chris (editor). Game Writing: narrative skills for videogames. Boston: Thomson, 2007.

EHRMANN, Jacques. Homo Ludens Revisited. Yale French Studies, No 41. Game, Play, Literature (1968). pp. 31-57.

quinta-feira, 21 de setembro de 2017

Six years of GAMING CONCEPTZ!

Six years of gaming content in 286 posts.

Thanks to the followers.

Long live to GAME ANALYTICZ!



Check the first post by clicking here.

#GoGamers