Archive for January, 2007

blog your decisions & hunches


We all make decisions, have hunches and believe that we knew how things would turn out. In most cases we don’t make any record of decisions or thoughts, and don’t use any process to validate if we were right or effective. We tend to look back, on an ad hoc basis with a great heap of hindsight bias.

Try using a blog to enter key decisions, thoughts or forecasts as they happen. You can then simply review your notes, add comments to entries as new information becomes available or you see the result of decision. You will be better able to tell if your hunch was right, when it is written down with a time stamp…If you spot a pattern or learn a lesson for the future, you can tag it and create a rolling list of useful learnings as a reference.
If you want to cover personnel matters, or write freely about people or a team, you can keep the blog private. If you want to share within a group and allow others to contribute or comment – open it up to that group and encourage contributions.

To make posting easy, use a service like to allow you to post using email.

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sleep on it


Sow the seeds for a brainstorm or creative session the night before running it, that way everyone will unconsciously consider the subject and will be primed to start.

Also, when making tough decisions on complex issues – sleep on it before making a call.
The conscious mind is only able able to focus on limited amounts of information – as a subject gets more complex (especially in a distracting environment; most workplaces) considering the problem before deciding has a marked positive improvement on the outcome.
“Once you have the information, you have to decide, and this is best done with conscious thought for simple decisions, but left to unconscious thought – to ‘sleep on it’ – when the decision is complex.”
(see also rule of 5 & 50)

Evidence supporting cognitive benefits & improvement to learning and memory are growing. Your unconscious mind works through connections in data that was received/collected during the day.

vs rapid cognition (Blink)

Watching most TV programs is less mentally stimulating than sleeping
Neurobics (Keep Your Brain Alive)
Actively use all of your senses in variation to create multisensory connections, to help drive brain activity, and stimulate growth.

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design language : user investment


The more a user or player invests in their part in a game, the more they are likely to keep playing, come back to and arguably, enjoy the game as a whole.

A MMO/Second Life requires a high user investment, this is a barrier to entry for many people, although once you have started the investment in your avatar, character or world it is far more compelling an experience.

From a design paper on creating virtual pets …. the trick is to create a positive feedback loop on the user investment in taking care of the pet. The more the user has spent time interacting with the pet the more it is crucial for him that the pet does not die or run away and matures properly. The initial investment may simply rely on the money spent to buy the pet. Then, the relationship merges from this self-reinforcing dynamic.
The also argue to include uselessness in to the design of pets, to encourage a dependence on the player.
(Sony CSL)

Rewarding user investment, psychologically, the more someone is invests in a game the more valuable the benefits and rewards that come from it are.

Clan games & RPG’s expand on user investment in characters to include guilds, clans & any number of social groupings.

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movement as part of communication

By understanding how movement patterns communicate connotative information, we are able to combine characteristics to movement patterns that suit our needs….Movement is extremely powerful in gaining our attention and communicating to us various information

As the director is working with the actors on stage, it is very important to choreograph the movement. The audience often will have their attention guided to the main characters in various scenes by the hierarchy and use of movement. Depending on the context, the movement of the non-central characters should bow down to, not overtake, the central characters in a scene.

In psychology, movement has also been associated with communication, as with the theory of affordances….When we look at the world around us, the way an animal or person moves communicates to us a great deal of information. A butterfly’s movement may afford chasing, where a spider’s may afford avoidance. We are able to recognize the creature by just the movement alone and from pattern of movement we are able to interpret the “meaning” of the creature.

We are very self-centered and see ourselves in almost anything. “We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image.”

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gesture and body language

Un momento!

The believability and quality of a game character is hugely influenced by the fidelity of movement and the multiple layers of body language.
Sir Francis Bacon put the relationship of gesture and language in the form of a simple analogy: “As the tongue speaketh to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye” (Bacon, 1891).

We respond to changes reflexively; small gestures, body orientations, the time of silence, the spatial difference and the utterance are all examples of the factors that can bring us a hint of this instinctive awareness.

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angst reaction


According to Wikipedia, “Angst is a Dutch, German, and Scandinavian word for fear or anxiety. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of emotional strife

Angst is caused when a person makes a decision that has unpleasant consequences and leaves that person feeling guilty and remorseful

Angst can be a more emotional reaction to a difficult and meaningful choice. Creating angst in players, is a sign that you have achieved a good emotional range, immersion and that you are offering meaningful choices.
Too much angst might lead to frustration,  may not be what you player’s want from the game.

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simulation with a score

As a definition of a game
The game will be a simulation of something; often straight forward, other times an abstracted fantasy, but a simulated model of something.
With a score; (implicitly) providing goal, reward and progression.

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less is more

As a rules-of-thumb, ‘less is more’ is easy to remember and can help constrain over gilding & extravagance in design. As an absolute statement it is not always appropriate, when designing for ‘enthusiasts’, detail and depth are essential parts of a design.

“Less isn’t more, just enough is more”

‘Just enough is more’, works as it implies a relative measure. ‘Just enough’, as appropriate for the audience, players or customers.
Focus on the ‘just enough’ 20%.

Interesting article on “Why Simple is Complicated“, covering feature comparisons & what drives people to buy more complex products.

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the 80-20 rule








The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule and the law of the vital few) states that in many things, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80 percent of the land in England was owned by 20 percent of the population. Over the years, he and many others observed this rule in action in different spheres. Some examples:
Relationship: 20% of the people you know (friends, colleagues, family) provide you with 80 % of nurturing support and satisfaction
Business: 20% of customers will account for 80 % of profit
Productivity: 20% of your activities will account for 80 % of your success
Gardening: 20% of garden peas are produced by 20 % of the peapods…
Software : 20% of the code is executed 80% of the time

The idea has rule-of-thumb application in many places, commonly misused – to state that a solution to a problem “fits the 80-20 rule” just because it fits 80% of the cases; it must be implied that this solution requires only 20% of the resources needed to solve all cases.

In computer science the 80-20 rule can be applied to resource optimization by observing that 80% of the resources are typically used by 20% of the operations. At run-time, an approximation is that 90% of the time is spent executing 10% of the code (known as the 90/10 law in this context).

Don’t try to do more. Just do more of the right things.

Links to…less is more

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design language : choice & decisions

Meaningful and agonizing decisions make great games

“The thing that makes a game a game is the need to make decisions.”
from Greg Costikyan’s great article on a design language
(I have no words and I must design)
Considering the game state, the goal(s), the resources available or at stake and the opposition; you can then make a decision.

“The Agonizing Decision. How presenting the player with impossible choices help make a game great.”
from The Games Journal
(Game Theory 101)
An agonizing decision should have something worthwhile at stake, have an uncertain outcome and be framed as an
understandable set of alternatives with clear possible consequences.

It is easy to say, hard to deliver on effectively, but meaningful choice is the heart of good game design.

an alternative and good definition of what makes a good game
“A game with good design makes playing it easy.”
from deep in the game
(good design)

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design language : gambler’s fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy is the notion that the odds of something with a fixed probability change depending on recent occurrences.
E.g. lottery numbers are more likely to come up if they have appeared recently.

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design language : ronseal



It ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin’ is a great marketing strap line and a great principle to consider in game design.
Sometimes you want to consciously misdirect a player’s perception of a situation, but mostly you will be best served by making a unit, creature or feature ‘do what it says on the tin’. By clearly communicating with the player, and using conceptual models that they understand you will allow them to interact and enjoy a given feature or creature more.
Think about archetypal characters in narrative, e.g. Darth Vader or Gandalf
or tank design in RTS games
or characters in RPGs
or bosses in classic arcade games
Once you have developed the player’s familiarity with something, you can create variants or misdirections knowing that they are familiar enough to enjoy the development.

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design language : rules of 5 & 50

Two rules with some very naive science & assumptions based on ‘limited’ user testing experience.

The rule of 5
Based on the classic ’7 + or – 2′ cognitive science, I suggest that in game design you need to carefully balance the number of active or significant factors a player has to consider as critical to difficulty. A player’s ability to keep decisions, data, key points or themes in their active short term memory varies wildly, but as a rule 5 concurrent things should be considered a reasonable limit. More than this, and the player will more than likely lose track, not make links between things and generally be unable to decode the model or make correlations between things.
Younger kids tend to be able to maintain less concurrent things related to the game, although they may have more concurrent things in their heads at any one time. Experienced gamers, and people who become absorbed in the flow of the game, tend to have more concurrent things.

The rule of 50
Players tend to be able to recall ~50 connections, contacts, facts, locations, names or whatever associated with a subject. e.g. in a MMOG, recognizing 50 avatar names or player contacts is possible, more than this and they become just names or faces.

The two rules work together; you could reasonably expect a player to carry on conversations with ~5 players from a pool of 50, they may switch around which specific players from inside the pool but are unlikely to be active dealing with more than ~5 at any one time.

How many units can you deal with in a strategy game?
How many sub plots or narrative points can you cope with in a story or RPG?
How many moves ahead can you think in chess?
How many people are in your address book, that you can honestly say you currently deal with or recall in detail?
How many bits of data can process to understand the cause and effect model in a build/sim game?

(google use 6 things)

(the magic number)

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design language : near miss

Use near misses to encourage, tease & stimulate the player. Even failure should be used to your advantage, creating an illusion of skill and confidence in the player which will keep their engagement, attention and enjoyment.

There’s nothing like a near-miss to encourage a gambler to keep pumping coins into a slot machine or laying their chips on the table.
Not only can gaming machines be set to provide a certain number of near misses, these have become more sophisticated in the past decade so as to make a near-miss look even more tantalising.
“A near-miss causes a gambler to over-estimate their chances of winning,” says Dr Luke Clark, a Cambridge University psychologist. “If their horse finishes second, or in a casino they watch two cherries come up on a slot machine and then see the third almost click into place, they’ll keep playing. A problem gambler will keep playing for a third as long again.”
And when a gambler feels their skill can influence the outcome – throwing the die, say, or choosing lottery numbers – a feeling of control develops that keeps them gambling longer.
“There are subtle ways that casinos and slot machines can introduce near misses and perceived skill that encourage people to gamble,” Dr Clark says.

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design language : tension/suspense

Creating tension & suspense is about managing the viewer/player’s uncertainty of the price to be paid to achieve the outcome.
In games (or film) the outcome is more than likely known or at least desired, the costs and risks of achieving this success are at the heart of creating positive tension (in games the ending is less known, but enjoyables games tends to have the player’s succeed or stand a good chance).

Babe the pig as an example;
(A Small Thing About Suspense)

Reference to coaching;
(Success and Learning)

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