Marketing, Indie development and other various links

I recently stumbled upon a handful of links about marketing/PR and indie development, so I thought I’d sort of bookmark them here for future and public access.

It all started with this article from Gamasutra: The Real Cost Of Marketing Your Game With Social Media. It turned up to be a follow-up article to the article Listening Is Your First Step: An Online Game Marketing Audit Primer. Both are really worth reading if you’re interested in social media marketing.

If you’re not, then maybe Haunted Temple Studios’ First Indie PR Tour – Lessons Learned will be of interest. It might be a new trip, but it deals with issues such as “how much work is selling a game to webzines, anyway?” and “how much does it cost to park a car in San Fransisco?”. And that’s just some anecdotes!

Really, a key to marketing – and a bit of everything, really – is about knowing the right people. So how do you get to know the right people? Well, there seems to be guides for pretty much everything these days, and I happened to come across one for this topic! It’s called Effective Networking in the Game Industry and could be great. No promise, though – I haven’t read it myself yet (I told you these were bookmarks).

This is on the “Indie dev”-side of the article. From Develop 2010, “5 Things Big Publishers Don’t Understand About Small Games”. It’s an interesting piece, especially if you have interest in independent development and wouldn’t like a publisher minding your business (that weird pun wasn’t intended).

And it really would be unforgivable to miss Wolfire’s GDC-speech about internet marketing in a context like this. Thankfully, I didn’t miss it, it’s right there <—.

Happy reading! :)

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Level Design Articles

I just read a feature series on Gamasutra about pre-producing level design (and, as a consequence, atmosphere, presentation of story etc.) The first part deals with the layout of a level and how the character’s motivations can align with the player’s to create a strong motivator to achieve the intended objective. The second part emphasizes the importance of research and giving all the space within a level an in-world reason. The third parts puts all these levels in perspective to see how levels can be chained together. Well worth a read!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

On the topic of pacing, which is sort-of-the-same as the third part of the articles above, a former student at the University of Skövde’s game development program got an article features on Game Career Guide with what I believe was his thesis. It’s about how to pace a level.

Link

These articles really complement an old article series I know I’ve linked before, but it was a good read (I should read it again some time). It’s about multiplayer level design, and frankly I can’t remember much more than that.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Yes, it’s a lot to read – good thing you’ve got all the links right here, no? :)

What makes a “smart” AI?

For a few weeks now I’ve been studying about AI in computer games, wishing to know what makes it so difficult and perhaps learn what makes a “good” AI opponent/side-kick. Turns out the course was all about the programming of it (which I should’ve known, as it was a programmer course called “AI programming for computer games”), but after some scratch-the-surface research (ask people and ask google) I found no course (at least in Sweden) about the subject. So I started googling if there was anything released on the topic, and did find a few worthwhile sites to read. I’ll try to not make it another Link-Tips, even though it’s very tempting (and way easier and faster).

The first impression of this quick research is that computer games AI is a fairly programmer-dominated area. Most of the links appearing gives the impression of code-related tasks, such as techniques here and there and stuff. But just a few links away and I started to discover some really interesting things. First off a page I read a long time ago and been trying to find again ever since – a very design-oriented piece giving 7 ways to make the AI opponent smarter. Although it only scratches the surface, it gave a good overview. Use some scripting for entries and exits, make sure the player is aware of what the AI is doing, don’t make them shoot (if they shoot) really inaccurately, make it robust, design the levels to utilize the strengths of the AI and, lastly, if you have a good AI, increasing their health will make them seem smarter as they’re alive longer to show their smarts off.

Just a bit of searching later, I stumble over an old GDC session about the AI of Halo. It seems like they learned some of the things the former link mentioned, but they seemed to have a very methodical approach – design the characters so they map between visible character and AI in an obvious way (“if it’s not too obvious, it too subtle”), increasing toughness will give the illusion of smarter AI and play test, play test, play test to make sure the intention of the AI’s design gets across.

Another article that gives a good, although theoretical, picture of how it’s done is at bittech.net. Although not giving practical game design-lessons on AI, it says a lot about how the programmer-design of the AI affects the final outcome. And sheds good light about why AI can become so very complicated. Take this quote, for instance:

Chris Jurney, a senior programmer for Relic, offered the example of the state machines in its RTS, Dawn of War 2, to illustrate this. “The AI for Dawn of War 2 has roughly three main layers: the computer player, the squad and the entity,” says Jurney. “The squad and the entities are both hierarchal finite state machines, and we have roughly 20 states at the squad level and 20 at the entity level. The states at the squad level pretty much map directly to orders that can be issued by the user.”

The article then goes on to explain how much of what we percieve as AI is in the proper animations at the right place and how dynamic terrain makes it even more complex.

Then, when I’d started to think it’s all about animations, some links turns up which ties it in to game-play, as well. In their pre-panel discussion about AI and designers, Soren Johnson et al mentions that the strenghs of the AI should be taken into consideration when designing mechanics that would give players an unfair advantage (which they’ll already have by being humans, anyway). And on ai-blog.net, where the authur Paul Tozour argues for navigational meshes as replacement for waypoint graphs, the question appears why no FPS:es are mentioned in said article, with the following reply:

The problems are still there in many first-person shooters, but they’re harder to spot due to the nature of the gameplay.

– Most AIs don’t live long enough to let you spot the flaws in their pathfinding.
– AIs will usually stop and shoot the moment they have line-of-sight to you, so their paths are a lot shorter.
– In many single-player FPS games, AIs don’t move very much, and will attempt to snipe you from a relatively fixed position.
– A lot of modern FPS games provide AI sidekicks who will kill the enemy AIs so quickly they don’t have time to move very far.

Conclusion

So, what’s the conclusion of all this? Well, pretty much that a “smart” AI isn’t supposed to be smart, but rather the dumb guy showing off all the smart things he does and makes a big scene of being defeated when you triumph him, so you felt you out-smarted someone smart. To create the illusion of smartness, the following can/should be done:

  • Consider the AI’s ability when designing mechanics. What is the AI’s strength? How can the mechanic play at those? Will this mechanic make the AI seem dumb?
  • Make everything the AI does give visual or audible feedback so that the player knows what the AI is doing and why it is doing that.
    • If the AI reacts to something, make an animation and/or make it shout something to say what its doing (“grenade!”, “suppressive fire!”, “cover me!”).
    • If there are different kinds of AI opponents, make it obvious which one is what. “If it’s not too obvious, it’s too subtle”.
    • What the game chooses to portray can affect how much is demanded to make the AI believable. We expect less of animals then of humans, and you can get away with more of aliens or robots or something then with humans.
  • Adapt the level-design to play at the AI’s strengths, just like how you did with the mechanics.
  • The longer an agent lives, the more visible its strenghs and weaknesses will become. If the AI isn’t that smart, it probably should be killed off pretty quickly by either the player or a side-kick (which then must feel smart). If the AI is smart as it is, making it live longer is more likely to give the player the impression of the AI being smarter.

Last, but not least, actually the most important of all: The AI isn’t there to be smart. It’s there to make the game more fun.

Link Tips #6

Back from another Stockholm-visit, so this article got a bit late. And it doesn’t have many links, which is a shame.

The must-haves: Article and Papers.

On gamecareerguide, a thesis about Adaptive Audio

On Gamasutra, an article about.. I think it’s supposed to be learning stuff from games, but it took a while to get to the point. And an article about expressing a mechanic with graphs.

Anyway, summer’s almost over, and I’ve got a few things to do so these won’t be as regular – perhaps I’ll actually post some of those things I said I should, then! That is, unless I’m working my butt off doing what I’m supposed to, which I bet I will be.

Link Tips #5

There weren’t any Link Tips last weekend, as I was away. As I have decided to not talk about my life in this blog (unless the extreme cases), I won’t delve further into the why. To compensate, I’ll add last week’s Sunday papers and GI.biz article.

I’m not entierly sure, but I suppose this is the GI.biz article (here called “editorial” to my confusion) about The Free Trade. And last weeks Sunday Papers. And also this week’s article and papers.

I was just about to think this post would only be the articles and papers – I haven’t found much this week worth linking – but just in the nick of time I find this: An article on edge-online about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

That was… short. And I’ve still got a bunch of games to write about – why don’t I?! (Answer: I dunno, there’s no good reason)

Link Tips #4

Yay, another week of link-tips! And this week I actually posted an opinion in-between. I might actually have the momentum I want from the blog now… although I could do more (but now I *want* to, last year I felt I *had* to due to self-demand). Anyway, you’re not here to hear my ramble about my blog, but to get some nice links – and here are some!

As always, gamesindustry.biz’s weekly article and Rock Paper Shotgun’s Sunday Papers (the latter is actually the only link I put here *before* I read it myself. There’s just always something good in there).

On Gamasutra, there’s an opinion about Infusing Games with a Moral Premise. and a cute poem called Gameplay and Story: An Ode To The American Junior High School Dance.

Another on gamasutra, a piece on satirical games. And then two such satirical games: Upgrade Complete and Steamshovel Harry. Not to forget Achievement Unlocked! And, no, I won’t describe them: It would ruin the point. Besides, two of three are self-describing. And, just before posting, I found this through the Onion.

Yet another on gamasutra – damn, if I keep up like this I’ll have to call it “gamasutra links” – Designing games that don’t suck. Describes the way a user or player goes from saying “I should do this” to when s/he consider him/herself successful or not, and what designers have to do along the way to make the transition go as smoothly (and, in most cases, quickly) as possible.

From edge-online, a fine piece about Eternal Darkness. If I would’ve had more time on my hands to plan my old “review” a bit, it would probably be closer to this (but not just like it – me mention things I didn’t even notice!).

This is a source to keep a hold of: Sloperama’s advice section. It’s for anyone who have thought about working in the games-business, with sharp, witty and funny comments along the way. You learn a bunch and have a good laugh doing it (why can’t all teaching be that way?).

There they are! For those who worry I post everything I get my hand on: Don’t. I do read a lot more then this, and I do think “is this something worth hinting about” when reading things. These *are* tips, not “what I’ve read this week”.

Link Tips #3

I see I haven’t made any real updates this week. Which is strange, because I’ve been reading and playing more stuff then usual. I guess I should start making myself some opinions and get writing! Anyway, I made sure to make the Link Tips-posts less a sad thing then they’ve been before, and took a new strategy to build them (that is, throwing all links in and edit a draft during the week). And, lo and behold, it seems to have worked!

As always, Rock Paper Shotgun’s Sunday Papers and Gamesindustry.biz’s article Depth Changes – and a Eurogamer-blog article about Gaikai turned up while I was searching.

On Gamasutra, an opinion called Can Games Become “Virtual Murders”?. I’ve always had a worrying feeling about the “shoot people in the face”-focuc of gaming (as some earlier posts goes through), so this is really refreshing to read – but it seems like the post gets the same sort of opposition I tend to get while speaking about it aloud. I hope it’s the first step in realizing things, denial, but it could just as well be a defense of the established, home-blindness or plain “I want my guns!”. Anyway, great article.

Eurogamer has an interview with Rob Pardo, talking a lot about Blizzard’s design philosophy. There’s a quite a bit of good stuff to remember in there.

A gamasutra compilation of Expert Blogs posts, including weapon balance, questioning if frustration is all bad, what makes a good game story and more. These Link-tips are starting to become a compilation-compilation!

From Edge-online, an article series about making “Non Fun”-games. Here’s the last of four linked, the earlier three is up to you.

From MMORPG.com, a column about accessibility. Not much that should be new to anybody, but still worth reminding yourself of once in awhile.

Link Tips #2

Yes, I know I didn’t post any last week. But here’s one!

First off, the returning Sunday Papers and Gamesindustry.biz article.

Also, a gamasutra feature about Dramatic Play. And another gamasutra article on Infamous’ pacing.

Some marketing-posts: First off Dev.Mag’s Zero budget indie marketing guide, which links to Kieron Gillen’s How to Use and Abuse the Gaming Press and How the Gaming Press Wants to Use and Abuse You (and, yes, I do think I found that thanks to RPS). Finally a edge-online post by Introversion’s Thomas Arundel called Selling to Customers.

I think that’s enough for this time. Embedded links makes these posts seem shorter then they are, or if it’s “not longer then they are”…

Link Tips #1.5

I recently posted a Link Tips-like post in a school-related forum, which was originally intended to be the Link Tips #1. As I sort of forgot the draft while writing it, and having to translate it from Swedish, I pretty much missed it for #1. As this isn’t enough to justify a #2, I’ll simply call it #1.5

Statistically Speaking, It’s Probably a Good Game

This is an article series in three parts about probability and statistics. Although the third part is not published yet, the current two parts are well worth the read. It might seem to start in all seriousness, but it soon turns a lot more… fun.

Part 1 | Part 2

Multiplayer Level Design In-Depth

Another article series, this one about – take a guess- multiplayer level design! There’s a bunch of tips about stuff to think about for a multiplayer level to give variation and attract new as well as old players.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Bad Designer: No Twinkie Database

A yearly article series about design mistakes so common and, frankly, easily avoided that it shouldn’t be in games but still is.

Imagine these being in Issue #1 and you’re on track of the level I want this Link Tips to be at.

Link Tips #1

One of the reasons I resumed my blog was to share links to interesting articles and such things. It’s not all to seldom I’ve been thinking “hey, this thing was interesting, I wish I could tell some one!”. Now I can! Truth to be told, I’ve been thinking about writing the first issue for a few weeks already, but it hasn’t come at a good moment to post it.

So, let’s start off with two points that’s likely to be returning every time: gamesindustry.biz articles and Rock Paper Shotgun’s Sunday Papers.

Hmm.. I wish I actually had anything interesting to post this week.. o.O