F-Zero GX analysis: Multiplayer game mechanics

f-zero mute city

F-zero GX was one of my personal favorites during the Gamecube generation. Its sense of speed, focus on skill and ability to (almost) always create thrilling races made me and my brother play it for years on end. It perhaps isn’t strange it was a major inspiration for the Wheelchair Racer project during my second year at university.

This article is a translation of an analysis written during my third year at university. As part of a “game theory and play mechanics” course, the analysis mostly covered the mechanics of the game. Also, it was written in Swedish. As such, I couldn’t use it as-was on this blog.

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On Making a Tutorial

tutorial-dash-evade source Five years ago, I wrote a post here basically complaining about game tutorials. Having spent the last year on Cloudbuilt alone, and spending the slight dev time I had on its tutorial level (I had a handful of other things to do), I believe it’s time to explain myself to my 5-year-younger self.

In other words, consider this a “making of a tutorial level”.

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Life-note: Going to GDC, looking for meetings

In addition to my intended post this week, I wanted to throw in an important note.

And if you actually got that, we should totally meet. I have no idea what the Tank or Healer is, but I am probably both those guys?

LFM DPS to GDC! Got key!

I will be going to San Fransisco (which, as a note, is literally half a world away) to talk about, show and play Cloudbuilt. So, let’s babble a bit to justify this as a “Life Note”. It’s the first time to the Americas, I’ve been looking forward to going to GDC for years now and… yeah. It’ll be great.

But I don’t run a blog to talk about my life (I’ll save that for my retirement, if the world cares… hah, who am I kidding, this is the Internet!), and I don’t post this just to express happiness. I want to reach out for finding meetings. I would love chatting with press, of course: Being a small indie studio, making news is our best option. We make news only by having a cool game. And do we have a cool game! Which of course is super-subjective, and I of anybody have some kind of self-interest to claim so; but, honestly, having played the game for months I still find it fun to try new challenges and revised levels. But, hey, don’t take my word for it (especially in these days of preview controversy); let’s meet up and have you play!

We’re working on a new trailer, which is likely to be a lot better than that half-a-year-old-from-Alpha thing you’ve seen so far. We’ve also made – and let me finish this sentence – collage level using bits and pieces of actual levels without spoiling the fun of those actual levels. So… game! Play! Yay!

On Pre-orders

Rawr!
In the wake of the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines, the debate about previews re-surfaced. Total Halibut made a 20-minite case for why previews are anti-consumer and generally hurts the industry. Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition made a very verbal case, as well, calling profilic developers “liars”. A colleague linked the latter, whereon I decided to write a post about it. Not having thought as much about this topic in advance as I did for last week’s Violence in Video Games, I had to do some research. And I found this is kind of a thorny topic, but one well worth investigating.

After these two videos, surely we can claim lock-in previewing a bad game on false premises is a problem. Let’s begin by finding the source of  and, rather than focus on what the gaming press or consumers can do to solve it, which Halibut and Jim seems to have done so well, let’s focus on what the games business can do itself.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are my own, and not necessarily those of Coilworks as a whole. I may have a voice, but I’m just one voice. I will not dictate what we think, but will hold open discussions with the the team as a whole.

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On Violence in Video Games

Last year, a debate took place regarding the level of Violence in Video Games. In May, The E3 press briefings in general got Nathan Grayson on RPS to react, and The last of Us in particular managed to get Kris Graft on Gamasutra to react with  “If you were an average Joe who strolled into one of these E3 press conferences, and saw hundreds of people hoot and holler when a guy’s face gets blown off in high-resolution detail, you might think you walked into an ancient Roman coliseum.” Towards the end of the year (or, rather, this January) Leigh Alexander, also on Gamasutra, wrote a more nuanced article about when it might actually be good sometimes.

So you could think all has been said, especially since these people are a lot better with words than I am. However, violence in video games has been a topic I’ve been thinking about for years, and I wouldn’t like the debate just pass by without speaking my mind.

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Back from GDCE/gamescom 2012

I just got back from a hectic, crazy fun and invaluably… valuable week in Cologne. I could do a long write-up about this with impressions, and I will later, but for now I’m happy to just break my own silence to say that’s what’s been up.

A collegue reminded me after my last post that what I type here could colour the perception of Coilworks. So I really should stress that what I type here is my own opinions and thoughts.

Finally, Breakthrough

Maybe they should call themselved "Cirkus starter"?

Cloudbuilt got announced last week, and this picture, used as Rock Paper Shotgun’s header image, turned a small story into a big circus. Click to reach their story.

Wow, what a week!

Last weekend, we at Coilworks uploaded an announcement trailer for our game Cloudbuilt. A colleague expressed an expectaton of at least 500 views, which I found optimistic. We had worked hard on the promotion for Ovelia: The Wake, reaching just a few hundred, so how would we reach that when most videos on youtube reach next to no-one? Oh, how wrong we turned out to be.

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Pre-travel GDC-Europe/gamescom -12

Last year, I volunteered at “Game Developer Conference – Europe” in Cologne, and I’m happy to say I’ll get back this year!

Last year’s visit was really great. A lot of new people to meet and greet, loads of valuable presentations and my first impression of an international games fair.

It was probably the latter that left the strongest lasting impression. I had checked the prices before-hand, in an attempt to get my head around the cost-structure of marketing, and I noticed it was *expensive*. Like, a thousand dollars per square meter expensive. Just for the floor space. So when I entered the halls and saw giant monters with loads of empty space in them, I was baffled – how these guys could complain about risk and profits and spend this kind of money on empty space was beyond me (it later turned out those plazas was intended to hold a crowd, so it wasn’t so wasteful after all). And on top of that, it was 5-10 meter high structures, massive screens and speakers for trailers and of course dozens of computers for the games, gladly with multiple screens so the line outside the booth could watch. Add to that, I also knew this wouldn’t be re-used for other fairs, as I had asked a booth-person at GameX about it the year before. As a new, indie fellow who hadn’t seen the industry before, it was intimidating (and kind of awesome, in the true sense of the word). With the perspective given by distance, I still feel there must be a cheaper way to get your word out. Something smarter to do with a booth to grab attention than be bigger and louder than the next guy.

Before I went home last year, I spoke with a lad who had booked a bed in the room for the duration of gamescom which I and a friend had been staying during GDC-E, and he noted the prices had gone up threefold for the duration of the event. I didn’t think it was this bad at first, but reading about tent-towns setting up in the city of Cologne I understood he wasn’t kidding. After all, gamescom pulled a quarter of a million visitors to a city of a million, I understand if the hotels can’t take the pressure. And, missing out in it, I can see why they were visiting!

Perhaps needless to say, I started to get worried when the application for volunteering this year wasn’t up when I checked in early May. Or late May. Or early June. All room would be flooded if this kept up, and I refused to book rooms and travel I might not get to use.

But the application form finally got up, and I’ve got accepted. Which meant, looking for room wasn’t that easy. Checking the hostles, and even some available apartments (note: not the hotels – it’s way too expensive), and turns out every place is booked during gamescom! I may have found someplace now, but damn was it difficult. Lessoned learned – look ahead better than any bottleneck in your “pipeline” is if you want to do stuff as you want.

Politics is Game Design

It’s all a matter of scale, really.

I’ve always had an interest in game design. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at first, I just found it fun to draw fictional maps on paper, imagining boss-battles play out in my head and – more often than not – imagine what game X would be like if I got to make a game like it. After playing World of Warcraft… no, that’s wrong.. after nudging Interface Elements within an Interface for more time than actually playing the game, just to throw the Interface away for a new one as soon as I finished… I realized what I was doing.

Meanwhile, in a completely different part of the head between my shoulders, some brain cells started having opinions. And a lot of them. And discussing the topic of politics back and forth.

And, suddenly, I was knee-deep into student union politics while studying games design. And felt like both parts benefited for the other. I believe I now know why.

Ask yourself, what is politics, really? Some likely say “a bunch of people who know and do nothing but talk”. Others may say “Game of Thrones, but less action (and sex scenes)”. I guess they’d both be right. But, really, isn’t politics about acting on a core belief and, together with like-minded people, draw or adapt the rules that governs society? I would say it is, and I’ll build the rest of this reasoning upon this premise.

Now ask yourself what game design is. This usually has as many answers as there are self-proclaimed designers. Some focus on the artistic and the creative, comparing the task to that of how a film director uses all channels of stimuli movies bring to send a message. Others focus on the technical side, saying it’s to mathematically construct the a logical rule-set that creates a system. I’m going for a premise somewhere in between these, saying game design is to mathematically construct a rule-set and use all channels of stimuli to create a system that send a message.

Do you see a similarity here? Maybe all I’ve done is imply it, so let’s make it more explicit.

Politics is about connecting with people – like-minded or of a completely different opinion – and either have one side convince the other or, more commonly, find an agreement both parties can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour. Game Design is about connecting with people – engineers and artists, producers, business, marketing and other designers (one or more of these can be the same person) – and either have one side convince the other or find an agreement all parts can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour.

In other words, politics is game design. And, very often, the game designer plays a game of politics (see? The “Politics is like Game of Thrones” had a point – although I’d say the latter was about the former than the other way around), navigating between the interests of artists, engineers, designers, producers, business and marketing.

Basically, they’re both about communication – convincing, debating, defining, change.

It’s just a matter of scale, really.

Initial Thoughts on Second-hand Sales Rulings

The European Court was recently requested by the German federal court to answer the following questions (shortened for readability, full quotes can be found through sources liked at the bottom):

1.      Is the person who can rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute a copy of a computer program a “lawful acquirer”?

2.      If ‘yes’: is the right to distribute a copy of a computer program exhausted […] when the acquirer has made the copy with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier?

3.      If 2 is “yes”: can a person who has acquired a “used” software licence for generating a program copy as “lawful acquirer” […] also rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute the copy of the computer program made by the first acquirer with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier if the first acquirer has erased his program copy or no longer uses it?

In which the reply was (again, in shortened form):

1.     … the right of distribution of a copy of a computer program is exhausted if the copyright holder who has authorised … a right to use that copy for an unlimited period.

2.      … in the event of the resale of a user licence entailing the resale of a copy of a computer program downloaded from the copyright holder’s website, […] the second acquirer of the licence, as well as any subsequent acquirer of it, will be able to rely on the exhaustion of the distribution right […] , and hence be regarded as lawful acquirers of a copy of a computer program […] and benefit from the right of reproduction provided for in that provision.

In other words, they deem a sold digital copy as being legal, although note this isn’t a legislating decision as much as an answer to the german federal court.

Rock Paper Shotgun – whom shall a huge thanks for finding this, spreading it and being a generally awesome site to read – then spins this as “all distribution sites nowmust allow re-selling”. This is based on the paragraph of the ruling’s press release, which writes:

Under that directive, the first sale in the EU of a copy of a computer program by the copyright holder or with his consent exhausts the right of distribution of that copy in the EU. A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy. In the present case, Oracle claims that the principle of exhaustion laid down by the directive does not apply to user licences for computer programs downloaded from the internet.

Which sounds as going a bit contrary to what the ruling above say. If we take the most central line of this phrase, “A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy“, and read it in a very literal sense,  doesn’t mean they are forced to allow re-sales. It means they can’t actively oppose owners to re-sale. This may sound like making a double-negation for argument’s sake, but it’s really worlds apart. Rather than “everyone is able to re-sell their games super-easy now!”, it means “if you make it through the hazzle of sending the copy, recieving the money and removing your copy (otherwise it’s copying), they can’t stop you”.

In any case – given that consumer pressure, or demand, makes sites like Origin or Steam open the gates for gamers to re-sell, what would this mean for gamers and for the business?

The gamer may see only up-sides to this, at least initially. The physical stores have long made a fortune re-selling copies early and at a cheap price, meaning gamers may see reduced prices even on digital games. However, with the ecosystem of regular mega-sales and price-points going down as far as to 5 dollars/euro, you could ask if the demand would be the same for second-hand small games.

For the indie game developer, this could be anything from a slight inconvenience to a major problem, depending on the game you’ve got going. A free-to-play service or a game with loads of replay value may not take too much damage. A short-but-sweet single player game, however, will have to do some major convincing to hinder people from getting a nickle back of their dime (for others to save, what, 2 bucks?). On their side is the image of being the small underdog. As long as the indies as a group and the developer as itself can maintain the feeling of true-to-it’s-soul artist, they are way better of than…

… the big players. Who are likely to have the biggest problem with this, money-wise. They may be more financially secure, and have spread their risks more, but a major investment into a PC game is about to be a hard sell again for single-player pay-up-front games. Especially if they only hold, or are designed for, one play-through. As if the pirates weren’t enough.

Luckily, an ability to re-sell digital games could mean somewhat less piracy. Attempts have been made for years now from various media businesses to “stop” pirates, but that’s been as effective as stopping water from pouring in to a boat with a leakage. As people smarter than me have already said, piracy is a problem with a lack of proper options – as consumers and digital natives, we want stuff easy, fast and preferably cheap or even free. If you get us caring, however, we can pay a lot. That’s pretty much why free-to-play work while Collector’s Editions also does. And being able to buy a game super-cheap, and be able to sell it on from there could make it very cheap to try a game out you’re not sure about.

I pretty much started writing this as Coilwork’s Skype channel got ablaze with discussion. They were, to understate thing, worried. I think they – and anyone else worrying – can relax. You should really take this change into consideration when finding your business model for a game, but it’s not the End Of The World. It could actually be a change for the better!

By the way, for the last year I’ve become increasingly politically active and concious about it. I don’t want to write two separate blogs, though, and this blog isn’t as active as I want (besides, “[my name] on game design” sounds arrogant and cheesy as hell). So I guess this is as good a time as any to merge this “game design” blog with my old Oh-so-insanely inactive politics blog. The two topics are very much alike, in my opinion – but that’s a matter for another post.

And, in case any reader wonders, it’ll be leaned towards liberalism, feminism (in the “free people of both genders from our own oppression”-style) and, to some degree, (secular) humanism.

Source: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2012-07/cp120094en.pdf (via http://www.rockpapershotgun.com) – full source at http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=124564&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=2613954

A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy